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PAX Aus 2015: Assault Android Cactus Interview with Witch Beam

Twin-stick studio Assault Android Cactus has been a favourite around the Power Up Gaming office, and we awarded it with much acclaim in our review earlier in month. With developer Witch Beam on hand at PAX Australia 2015, I was able to spend time with Jeff Van Dyck, one of the studio’s three-man team, asking him about the strategy behind Assault Android Cactus, how it rewards players of all skill levels, and the secret to creating an entertaining shooter.

Hayden Waugh: Well, Jeff, I just had some hands-on time with the game and it was really fun. What separates Assault Android Cactus from other twin-stick shooters?

Jeff Van Dyck: I would say the battery mechanic is probably the biggest difference from other games like that. Traditionally, with games in this genre you have a limited amount of lives and you die and it’s over; it can be very punishing. With our game, if you go down, you can rapidly push the fire button and get back up  again. But, what you have going against you is this battery that is always draining and the only way to replenish your battery is to beat more enemies.

What it means is that if you’re a beginner kind of player, you can kind of limp along and complete the game in a couple of hours but you won’t have a very high score to brag about. It means that it’s really easy to pick up and play but difficult to master if you want to get the high scores – that’s probably the biggest difference, I would say.

HW: How does Assault Android Cactus balance the campaign with its co-operative play?

JVD: Basically, as each additional player joins in, we add an additional 25 percent of enemies to the levels. What you’ll notice with this choice is that we’ve balanced it, we’ve tuned it, and there’s a lot subtlety in the controls and strategy in the game.

See, over here we’ve got four players having a crack at the game and it’s absolute chaos! But fun chaos. And, in that scenario, Cactus becomes more like a party game. And it’s local multiplayer, so it can make for a fun night in with friends on the couch.


HW: So, what was the reasoning behind not choosing to go online [co-op]?

JVD: Mostly, it was a technical issue as well as feasibility. We’re a small team – a three man team from Brisbane – with one coder who is also the artist and the animator and he also sort of came up with the game itself; a multi-talented person. So, we decided that the game is this, it’s local, and now we’re focusing on porting it to as many platforms as possible.

Also, with a game like Assault Android Cactus you can imagine online latency: you push fire and 15 milliseconds later your bullet comes out; I don’t think that would be fun for anybody.

HW: How does the game reward players of all skill levels?

JVD: As you progress through the game you unlock characters and each character has a different play style. So, as you play through, whether you’re a beginner or a professional, you get rewarded by unlocking characters and also you gain credits as you play.

With these credits in the game, you can open up really interesting game modes. Like for instance, we have first-person camera mode which is actually quite fun and even more hectic than the top-down view. We also have the option to turn on AI players and ‘mega weapons’, where we replace secondary weapons with an amped-up version of the primary weapon; it’s absolutely spectacular.

HW: I noticed while I was playing there was another dynamic that was at play with the co-op. When another player got a power-up I was a little bit annoyed because I wanted to get the highest score at the end of the level. What’s the feedback been like about that?

JVD: Well, of course you have the option to work together and ultimately when there are two players in the game you can compete together. But your high score gets registered on the two-player leaderboard, so you can actually compete with other two-player teams that are out there. There’s also a three-player leaderboard and four-player one.

Then, as far as the pickups work, you either work with each other or against each other. You’ll notice that one of the characters has a crown over their heads, so they’re currently in the lead for that particular level. There’s no real indication of what their score is currently, but they issue some smack-talk to the other players when they get it.


HW: During my game, I noticed there were power ups related to freeze, speed, health and ones that gave me extra firepower. Are there any plans for ones on top that?

JVD: At this point, no. The thing is that when you play the game it’s so well balanced right now that people seem to really like it, you know what I mean? There’s also a lot technique involved with these power-ups because they change colour the longer they remain stationary, and that becomes a strategy, because you think “am I absolutely surrounded right now? Than I should probably grab the blue one and freeze everybody.” If you’ve got a bit of space, a good thing to get is the red one that gives you extra firepower – then you can start mowing them down. So, yeah, there’s a lot of strategy in micro-managing the power-ups.

HW: That’s all of my questions, Jeff. Thanks so much for talking to us about Assault Android Cactus!

This game is a ton of fun and is out now on Windows, Mac and Linux. A PS4 version is on track for a February 2016 release with PS Vita integration to be implemented later. After that, a Wii U version will be in the works with Xbox being the last port of call for the game. You can follow its progress on Twitter @AndroidCactus.

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