Dive: The Medes Island Secret Interview

by Neal Ronaghan - May 4, 2010, 8:05 am PDT

We talk to the game's developers about its origins and gameplay, and whether or not it is an underwater Metroid.

Dive: The Medes Island Secret, from Spanish developer Cosmonaut Games, is due out on Wiiware very soon. We talked with José A. Giacomelli, general manager at Cosmonaut Games, about how the studio was formed, how they came up with the idea for Dive, why they're working with the NyxQuest engine, and more.

Nintendo World Report: How did Cosmonaut Games form?

José A. Giacomelli (JG): Cosmonaut Games was set up in 2009 after Nintendo granted us an official license as a developer. We are a very small studio situated near Barcelona. Since 2001, under the name 46TSM, we have been developing redemption machines, video games (for family entertainment centers), and slot machines. We have also published video games in Spain, and we have made casual games for PC.

Last year, we launched our first game for WiiWare: 5 Spots Party.

NWR: What are the origins of Dive: The Medes Island Secret?

JG: The idea of Dive emerged when travelling around The Medes Islands last summer. We had just finished 5 Spots Party and were searching for a new idea to develop. It was there where we thought that a platform game that takes place at the bottom of the sea might be great, so we started to draw the first sketches of the game, with its content and structure. We used those sketches to create the first version of the design document.

Our priorities at that moment were focused on gameplay, graphics, and playtime. These three concepts were very important to us as we had seen various comments and critiques in different forums about them. The Medes history by itself let us create a fiction script with its own secret.

NWR: Why did you choose the NyxQuest engine for this project?

JG: We wanted to develop the game in a few months due to our small budget. Over The Top Games is a Spanish studio internationally recognized for their work on NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits. When we started the Dive development, we didn't have our own engine. We thought that Over The Top's could work since both NyxQuest and Dive had a 2D lateral view. As we worked with it, Over The Top had to add new elements to their engine, and they have helped us during each stage of the development process.

NWR: How involved is Over The Top Games with Dive?

JG: They have helped us a lot during the game's development. They added caustics and water effects to their engine, and they have collaborated with us during development in regards to the engine operation and how we could obtain the best profit from it. Dive would never been the same without them!

NWR: What is the main gameplay like? Is there combat, puzzle-solving, etc. in addition to the exploration?

JG: The game lets you be John Sanders, an explorer that has the ambition to explore 10 different islands all around the world in search of 10 great hidden treasures.

This is nothing but the initial concept for Dive: The Medes Islands Secret, though. The game hides a second plot the player might discover, which is in fact a clue to end the game. To achieve this, the game keeps a record of what you do in the Expedition Log where John makes notes about each of his achievements.

There are five main basic elements involved in the gameplay:

1) Oxygen: It is the character's life. When you swim faster or you face your enemies or fauna, your oxygen levels will be affected. If the player runs out of his oxygen, he'll start the current level over from the last checkpoint.

2) Depth: Depending on your equipment, you will not be able to achieve certain depths. It also affects the character's visibility; the farther down you are the more darkness there is, so the player must use his flashlight to go through certain places.

3) Wetsuit improvement system: there are about 300 treasures all over the game and every time you find one of them you earn some money that might be used to improve your diving equipment, which ranges from fins (+ speed) and oxygen (+ capacity) to torch (+ light) and the tranquillizer speargun (+ fire power).

4) Levels: the different levels are quite big with plenty of passages and caves. The progression within each level is not linear, so you can achieve each of the objectives in different ways. All the levels remain unblocked as you complete them, and the player can go back to a previous level at any moment in order to keep on exploring, obtain a special relic, or complete a mystery.

5) Enemies: There are a lot of them. They appear at different levels throughout the game in passages and hidden behind rocks. They chase you and impede your progress, so you might have to eliminate them to continue the game.

NWR: How is the game balanced in terms of combat versus exploration? Will it be more exploratory with occasional entanglements or more like a traditional Metroid/Castlevania title with a fair amount of battles and bosses?

JG: I think it is equally balanced. There are no bosses at each level. The objective of the game is to find treasures, not to eliminate the enemies, though they obviously do not facilitate your way so you have to use your speargun quite often to survive and to achieve your objectives.

NWR: With the focus on exploration, was it a challenge to design levels in which the player has more freedom?

JG: Yes, and we had to take into account the limitation of the player at each level, such as how deep he could dive with his equipment at every moment of the game. We added one different compass and map at each level and we imagined various situations, passages, enemies, and supplies to balance the difficulty of the game.

We wanted to avoid monotony as 10 huge levels under the sea might be a bit monotonous. We changed the story for each level, generated different lightings, drew 3D sceneries, and determined a different objective for each level. We have worked really hard to achieve playable levels.

NWR: Which games are the biggest influences on Dive?

JG: I have already read comparisons between Dive: The Medes Islands Secret and other games, such as Endless Ocean or Ecco the Dolphin. I have to say that I have never played any of them, but if there is a game that really inspired us, it was Scuba Dive, an old Spectrum game dated from the 80s.

NWR: How do the character's abilities evolve between the beginning and end of the game?

JG: Basically, the game lets you improve your wetsuit, oxygen levels, speed, torches, and spearguns with four different levels.

NWR: Since you can purchase upgrades with money, can you buy upgrades in whatever order you please, or are upgrades tied to specific treasures?

JG: You can improve your equipment however and whenever you want to. The game warns you when the treasure is located at the very bottom of the sea and you need to improve your wetsuit. Besides, you can sell your equipment to recover your money and to find a different configuration in order to solve a specific level. For example, there are dark levels in which you can improve your torch instead of your speed. The player has total freedom to choose his configuration whenever he'd have enough money.

NWR: If we compared Dive to an "underwater Metroid", what would be correct and incorrect about that statement?

JG: Metroid is faster than Dive, but I can assure you that the comparison between them could be very right. Both games have a lot of characteristics in common, but many different ones, too. However, Dive is not an exploring game, but a platformer-inspired game with the typical ingredients of enemies, weapons, challenges, levels, mazes, checkpoints, and objectives.

NWR: Will there be any multiplayer or co-op? If not, were there ever any plans for that?

JG: No and Yes! We had a few ideas for an online game and to generate online records as well, but the scenery's sizes, the soundtrack, animations, and the number of enemies restricted us from realizing all of our ideas. Anyway, it was not a suitable game to play online so we ruled out this option.

NWR: Do you have plans or desires to utilize online at all? Perhaps in the form of user-generated content, DLC, or other surprises?

JG: No, we do not have any intention to add special online content. However, we do not rule out the idea of creating new content in the case we'd see that the game works really fine. But we first obviously want to observe how Dive fares in the Wii Shop Channel before making any decisions.

NWR: What games do you prefer to make? What is your dream genre to develop?

JG: My favorite games include four different types: platformers, racing games, shoot-'em-ups, and strategy games. I would enjoy developing a super-production of any of these genres, but I know it is only a dream. This year we want to develop two more videogames besides Dive: The Medes Islands Secret. Both of them will be for WiiWare.

NWR: Do you have any final thoughts to share with our readers?

JG: Thank you very much Nintendo World Report for giving me a space on your site to explain to your readers a bit more about Dive: The Medes Islands Secret. We are approaching the launch date of the game, and we cannot wait to see the results and the comments of the players.

Thanks to José A. Giacomelli and the rest of Cosmonaut Games for the interview!

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