The Great Giana Sisters is a game with an unusual history, but what started off a flagrant imitation of Super Mario Bros has evolved into a successful platform series. Designed by the now-deceased founder of Black Forest Games, the company has finished a Kickstarter project to release a brand-new game for the series that will serve to celebrate the original title's 25th anniversary. Freelancer Christopher Floyd spoke to the team to get the skinny on the benches that morph into coffins, "chiptune metal," and the full story on Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams.
What especially separates Giana from other platformers out there is the implementation of the new dual worlds mechanic. What was the inspiration behind it?
Jean-Marc Haessig: I thought that the time was right to do something new with Giana. We asked ourselves what modern technology would do with the old Giana Sisters. Not only visually but also in terms of soundtrack and gameplay. Also there was something else we had in mind. The original game was a Super Mario clone, and a rather cheeky one, too. So obviously we wanted to differentiate a new Giana game more, rather than just cloning a game again. To do a "Great Giana World" wouldn't be right.
In the original game, Giana morphed into a punk after she collected a power-up. That was the spark. We took that aspect of the original game and expanded it to the whole game world. Not only Gina transforming into her punky self, but also the world surrounding her, the monsters, and of course the music.
Will both sisters feature in the game? I haven't seen Maria anywhere.
Jean-Marc Haessig: That'll be revealed in the final game. As for now, we only tell that she will indeed play a role.
The visuals are Trine-like in their hyper-saturation of color. How did you decide which way you wanted to take the art direction?
Jean-Marc Haessig: Once we decided to go for the twist between the two dream worlds, it became clear we would need something very contrasted. While the previous Giana games had no twist, they were defining for the generally childlike look and feel, with funny creatures and an overall colorful universe.
For the creatures, we used the previous Giana as a starting point, giving our artists freedom to reinterpret it and bring in new ideas. We decided to not use morphing for the characters. This allowed the artists much more freedom than for the environments. Basically they just had to come with pairs of creatures fitting together from a gameplay point of view.
For the environments, it was much more complex. The artists had to follow several rules for the environment assets. In cute world everything had to look friendly while the dark world version of the objects had to look gritty, but still childlike. Another rule was to make cute world objects more rounded and fat, to give a feel of generosity and opulence. In the dark world, everything had to look more dry and spiky. The idea was to create a feel of a breathing world, with objects getting inflated/deflated when switching Giana.
The real challenge for the artists was to stick to the idea of objects that suggest a luxurious princess world on one hand and a horror world on the other hand. Sometimes we had an idea for an object in one layer, but didn't find the opposite object on the fly. For example, we had the idea of a typical lover's bench, made from a trunk with some engraved hearts and suchlike. It took quite a while to find the idea of a coffin, with the back of the bench morphing into the coffin lid which tilts during the transformation.
So, to summarize, the atmosphere of our levels is a mix of fulfilled intentions and the result of trial and error processes. We hope our players enjoy the results.
Machinae Supremacy had only a cult following when they released their "The Great Gianna Sisters" [sic] track back in 2002. How and why did you get them on board for the game's soundtrack?
Vladimir Ignatov: Some people in our team were part of that cult following. When it was clear that the music would be transformed as well, Machinae Supremacy was the logical choice to consider. Their 2002 interpretation of a metal Giana tune just fits perfectly to her punky side. We asked them, they said yes—and we were happy to have them join the project.
Original composer Chris Hülsbeck also came back to score the new game. Have the two been composing their own material, or are MaSu in charge of adding "metal" to Hülsbeck's works?
Vladimir Ignatov: Chris added a wealth of insights and information about the original game, not to mention an amazing soundtrack for Twisted Dreams. While Chris produced most of the tunes, MaSu added their distinctive chiptune metal style to it. But they, too, wrote some titles of the soundtrack.
You reached your $150k goal on Kickstarter. What are you plans going forward? Do you still intend to approach publishers for more capital?
Vladimir Ignatov: No. We achieved enough money to deliver 23 levels in three worlds for the first release and to port the game to XBLA and PSN. That's our main focus right now. After that we will deliver additional levels as DLC. If Kickstarter hadn't worked out at all, we would have considered finding a publisher or just waited until we had enough money laid aside to continue. But that isn't necessary anymore now.
Some of the puzzles can be fiendishly difficult to overcome (I'm thinking of the ghosts, and the rising/falling platforms in the Haunted level). Have you had much feedback on how the game plays? Do you plan for the game to be more casual, or more difficult?
Vladimir Ignatov: Our plan is to make the game challenging, even more we want to gain a tough as nails reputation. Having said that, the Haunted Swamp level was very far into the game in the final world. So by then the players should have had a lot more experience controlling Giana's actions. In the demo, players didn't experience that learning curve. Of course we listen to the feedback. We also implemented a tracking log into the game and asked players if they wanted to send us the data. A lot of players agreed and sent us valuable data on which we were able to further improve the game.
You had added an Ouya version in your Kickstarter's stretch goals. Have you investigated much into this? How confident are you in the Ouya as a system?
Vladimir Ignatov: Ouya is an open platform. And as indie developers we are very supportive of the concept. And it can indeed be the right device to support indie developers and gamers who want to enjoy their smartphone games on a big screen.
At this stage, do you have any other plans for console release?
Vladimir Ignatov: The Windows-PC version was released on Oct, 23rd 2012. XBLA and PSN will follow in early 2013.