Papaya Studio gives us extensive insight on how the cartoony brawler came to be and everything that makes it unique.
The Cartoon Network made history in the early 90s by being the first channel to feature cartoons 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While at first pre-existing, popular cartoons were on the schedule, eventually the channel focused on original programming and created many popular animated characters.
It is these characters that are the focus of Papaya Studio's latest game, Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion, a Nintendo 3DS fighter based on Cartoon Network's most popular series, with old and new, wacky, and even surreal characters included. Nintendo World Report recently spoke with Richard Robledo, Senior Producer at Papaya Studio and here he discusses how working on Cartoon Network games helped them create this multi-franchise brawler, the challenges of bringing so many characters together, and more.
Nintendo World Report: Who came up with the fantastic idea?
Richard Robledo (RR): First, I’d like to thank Nintendo World Report for the outstanding coverage and support you’ve given for Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion. We’re all huge fans of your website and the NWR team.
Papaya Studio and Cartoon Network have been partners for years. Together, we created two Ben 10 titles (Ben 10: Alien Force Vilgax Attacks and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien Cosmic Destruction) that did very well, both critically and commercially. For our next collaboration, we wanted to create a game that would use the great TV shows and characters from Cartoon Network, and give fans and gamers something very special. On a warm afternoon in sunny Southern California, Papaya’s company President said these simple words, “How about a fighting game with all the best Cartoon Network characters…on 3DS?”
We immediately presented the idea to Cartoon Network and it clicked instantly. Soon, we partnered with Crave Games and focused our efforts on making an original game on a new console. Concept docs flew in from the Design department and everything moved at a rapid pace as Nintendo announced the launch date for the 3DS. Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion was born!
Even Cartoon Network's latest hero Ben Tennison joins the fight
NWR: What's the story behind the name? It's a mouthful.
RR: When developing an original game, it’s always given a tentative title, or codename, that you hope will stick for the duration of the project and show up on the retail box. However, once the codename is run through the legal filters, it usually ends up having to change. That was the case for PTE; the codename (Cartoon Network Superstar Rumble or CNSR) had to be dropped, and a new name was needed. Papaya, Crave, and Cartoon Network all came up with dozens of new titles with the goal of capturing something that represented what the game was about while sounding fresh and hard-hitting; Originally it started out as a gag internally at Cartoon Network and was even more of a mouthful, Cartoon Network: Super Fist Crazy Punch Time Explosion but was shortened because Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion nailed it!
NWR: The game seems heavily influenced by Smash Bros. What lessons did you learn from looking at the Nintendo series?
RR: Even though we make video games, we’re also just a bunch of gamers like everyone else, which means the Smash Bros. series is on our list of all-time favorites. We wanted Punch Time Explosion to have extremely responsive and intuitive controls; you need these elements if you want to create a competitive fighting experience. Numerous focus testing sessions were done, where we had people first play Smash for 15 minutes, and then jump into PTE. This process was repeated until the overwhelming feedback was that PTE felt more responsive and the pacing of the game was very smooth; this equaled less button-mashing and more control over characters and their combos. Once we felt comfortable with the game’s controls, we were able to really bring out the best in each character and the TV shows they represent.
Samurai Jack sets out to undo the evil that is Aku
NWR: What did you do to make it fit Cartoon Network and be special?
RR: The core gameplay experience fits so perfectly with all the Cartoon Network brands in the game, because it allows fans to answer the questions we all ask, “Who would win in a fight between….?” This is asked by everyone, whether it’s your favorite comic book heroes, TV and Movie characters, and even cereal box characters (ok, maybe that’s just me, but I think Captain Crunch would own Count Chocula). We knew we had something very special on the day when Samurai Jack and Ben 10 had a sparring match. Their moves and abilities fit with everything a fan would expect from them. The best part is that we’re all fans ourselves, so we were very passionate about including both obvious and not-so-obvious nods to CN fans. This extends into the levels and arenas in the game, as well. Players will appreciate the level of detail and care within every location they explore, whether it’s the Metropolis in Samurai Jack’s world, or Stormalong Harbor from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. This is the heart and soul of Punch Time Explosion, to deliver to fans what they love most about their favorite Cartoon Network characters and TV shows.
NWR: Where do you think other developers have failed in making games similar to Smash Bros.?
RR: There are too many variables involved in determining what makes a game a success or failure. I can’t speak for the teams who created other titles similar to Smash, but hopefully they worked hard and were passionate about their work. I can, however, speak for all of us who created PTE, and I will tell you this: we are fans of Smash Bros., fans of Nintendo, fans of Cartoon Network and we love video games.
NWR: Do you think this game has the potential to be welcomed by more than the Cartoon Network crowd? Why?
RR: Absolutely. Granted, the game is loaded with Cartoon Network characters; however, this is a brawler at its core. This game is for those who want something original on 3DS. PTE is not a port or sequel, but was built from scratch. It’s one of the few 3DS titles to offer 4-player wireless connectivity. Players can select from 18 fighters, each with their fighting styles and abilities. PTE also features a single player adventure mode with 32 levels, boss battles, puzzles and platforming gameplay. Overall, PTE is a robust title that can be enjoyed by a large audience.
NWR: Were there any challenges in adapting the game for a portable system?
RR: If you don’t mind me rephrasing your question, “were there any challenges in adapting the game for a NEW portable system?” Yes. Any time a new console is released, developers must work hard to learn what the system can do and how to utilize its features. It takes time to “get up to speed,” where, normally, on an established console that time is spent making the actual game. Luckily, though, Nintendo was very supportive of us throughout the project. They even came down to visit us and work with our engineers, which was a tremendous help early on. As a result, PTE runs at a high framerate, looks beautiful and has exceptional networking capabilities – a very important thing to have when playing over wireless.
Captain K'nuckles and Samurai Jack walk into a candy bar...
NWR: How do you make use of the 3D effect?
RR: Since PTE is an original title, our designers and artists created worlds with many layers of depth between the foregrounds and backgrounds. They were also keen to focus on bringing the action toward the screen. This can be seen in every level of the game, as well as with items, assist character, and Punch Time Explosions (final moves).
NWR: What's your approach to using the 3DS control options? Are the touch screen or motion controls used at all? Do you think those features make sense in a fighting game?
RR: PTE uses a lot of the 3DS has to offer. As I mentioned before, we use its wireless capabilities for 2-4 player skirmishes. We support Download Play, which allows 3DS owners who don’t have a copy of PTE to still play it by connecting to their friend’s 3DS that has a copy of the game. The touch screen is used everywhere in PTE, for menu navigation, character swapping and even for an “Angry Birds” style of gameplay in Story Mode. We also utilize the 3DS microphone to help solve puzzles in the game. When used creatively, all of these fun features make sense in a fighting game.
NWR: What do you think of the 3DS system in general? How long did it take to get up to speed?
RR: Nobody can deny the initial shock they experience when they first see the glasses-free 3D screen in action. Even as developers, we were very impressed by Nintendo’s innovative hardware, not only for its great end user features, but also for it power “under the hood”. The early development kits we received were literally boxes of computer boards and parts that our engineers had to piece together. They weren’t the actual 3DS handheld systems that we were expecting (those came later). However, we had the benefit of working with Nintendo on PTE to help get the game up and running fairly quickly. With their support and the hard work of our engineers, PTE showed up for the first time on a 3DS screen within a few weeks.
Much to everyone's surprise, the purple cat/bear/bunny Chowder has the advantage over Dexter the child genius
NWR: What can we expect from the game? Will there be an extensive single player mode like Brawl or will it be primarily a fighting game to be played with friends?
RR: Players can expect endless hours of fighting with their friends over wireless connectivity, as well as battling up to 3 computer-controlled opponents in 21 arenas. The single player story mode offers 7+ hours of gameplay, which takes the player through 9 of Cartoon Networks most popular shows along an original storyline written with the help of a Cartoon Network writer.
NWR: The cast of announced characters is very impressive. Did you choose them based on the popularity of the show they originated from or the potential they offered as fighting characters? What constituted a good character?
RR: The cast was selected based on popularity, gameplay potential and availability. A good character, like Dexter for example, brings something unique to the fighting arena where his attacks and combos focus on his high-tech and laboratory themes. All the characters that were chosen had something about them that allowed our designers, artists and animators to have tons of fun with. I mentioned availability, because not all of the characters we wanted in the game were able to be licensed in time for the game to ship.
It wouldn't be an all-star brawl without villains!
NWR: How did you decide on the final moves?
RR: Final moves, or Punch Time Explosions, needed to be big and spectacular. This was another opportunity to really show off what our animators can do with these great properties. Collaboratively, we worked with Cartoon Network and Crave to come up with final moves that best showcased what each character is known for. This lead to some PTEs being large screen nukes, while others can be controlled by the player for maximum effect.
NWR: Which character proved the most challenging to design and create moves for?
RR: There wasn’t any one character that was challenging. The bigger challenge was to decide on what was actually feasible to get into the game. Every character is so unique, that our designers came up with tons of great ideas, but we only had a certain amount of time in which we can get everything finished on time. We accomplished a lot with the characters we had, so that each one feels good to play with, and accurately represents who they are from the TV shows.
NWR: Why did the team decide to make each Powerpuff girl a different character rather than making them a team of three, similar to Mac and Bloo and Billy and Mandy?
RR: The Powerpuff girls each have their own personality and super powers that are strong enough to stand on their own, so we decided to make each one a selectable character. Players will be able to utilize the girls’ powers from the TV show and recognize just how different each one is from the other. Aside from their special attacks, keep an eye out for how they differ in speed, power and agility.
NWR: What about characters like Ed, Edd and Eddy, Johnny Bravo, Courage the Cowardly Dog and Cow and Chicken? Is anything included from Regular Show?
RR: These characters just weren’t available at the time we needed to lock down the final roster, although Johnny does make an appearance in the game. As we move forward future renditions of the PTE, there will be opportunities to get more great Cartoon Network character into the game. We’re huge fans of Regular Show, and hope one day to see Mordecai and Rigby in PTE.
A cartoon brawl isn't complete without sticky goo!
NWR: Were there any Cartoon Network characters that were off limits? What about Adult Swim characters?
RR: Going to back to the availability of certain characters, some just weren’t able to be added to the roster due to the timing of the project. Also, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim are two very different brands in their own right with different fans and demographics, so combining them in to one game wouldn’t happen.
NWR: What would be different about a game featuring Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Space Ghost, Harvey Birdman, and Robot Chicken characters? Are there any particular obstacles preventing a version featuring Adult Swim franchises from happening?
RR: A separate PTE game featuring these characters would be just as exciting and fun as the 3DS version. We would take great care into making sure each TV Show is accurately represented and meets fan expectation.
NWR: Are there any unlockables in the game?
RR: Out of the box, players will have a handful of characters to play. As you spend time in both single player and multiplayer games, more and more characters become unlocked as do cinematics and other secret unlockables.
NWR: There are home console versions in the works for the fall. What will be different about those versions from the 3DS version?
RR: All we can say at this time is that there will be more of everything.
An adventure mode will tell the story of how these cartoon universe collided for one epic fight
NWR: Why doesn't the 3DS version get all of the characters that the console versions will have?
RR: If only all the characters we wanted were available. We’re working hard with Cartoon Network to try and get as many popular characters into future versions of PTE.
NWR: Why wasn't online multiplayer gameplay included?
RR: 4-player wireless offers great fun for 3DS owners, so we focused on making that feature run quickly with little to no lag. I think players will be impressed with the results of wireless connectivity and Download Play.
Mac may be doing all the fighting, but you can bet Bloo will hog all the glory
NWR: Are you considering a sequel with the additional characters and/or online multiplayer added?
RR: We’re considering many great things for future PTE versions, and will release more details as they become available.
NWR: Do you have anything planned for Project Cafe? Have you had a chance to see the system yet? What direction would you like to see Nintendo go in with their next gen home console?
RR: We’re confident Nintendo will continue to provide the innovation and creativity their known for. We just as excited as everyone else to get our hands on the next Wii and we look forward to developing great games for the system.
Special thanks to Papaya Studio for taking the time out to discuss the game with us.