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Ricochet Infinity Preview

The Ricochet games are well known. In fact they're very well known. In the world of Indie games they are one of the biggest series with 3 games to date (Ricochet Xtreme, Ricochet Recharged, and Ricochet Lost Worlds), and later this year, the next in the series. Ricochet Infinity is the continuation of the series, taking the classic games, and adding new and improved goodies to make the ultimate breakout game.

The new Ricochet Infinity has many tweaks and enhancements but the biggest and best are the ability to pull the ball towards the paddle with the right mouse button, and the integrated community features, being able to edit and share levels within the game. Apparently there are now over 20,000 levels available!

I recently got hold of a copy of the Ricochet Infinity beta, and had a chat with lead developer James C Smith.

Hi James - Thanks for doing the interview with Binary Joy. Could you just give us a quick run down of who you are and your role at Reflexive.

jamescsmithJames : I am one of many partners who founded Reflexive Entertainment nearly ten years ago. I am the producer and lead programmer of all the Ricochet and Big Kahuna games that Reflexive has created.

The Ricochet games are very well known, and must have sold more than a handful of copies. Why did you decide to create another sequel?

James : On every project there are always many features you wish you could implement but there is never enough time to do them all. The hardest job a producer has is deciding which great ideas will not be included in a game. If the game is successful enough to warrant a sequel it provides the developers with a wonderful opportunity to include many of the great ideas that weren’t included in the original. For a long time I have wanted to do another Ricochet game because there were lots of great ideas in my head that wanted to get out. You could say Ricochet Infinity as the “Director’s Cut” that includes everything I have always wanted to include in previous Ricochet games.

What reasons are there for people who have old versions of the game to buy this new one?

ricochet1James : If you enjoy the brick bashing action of the other Ricochet games you will enjoy getting a fresh dose of new music, power-ups, special bricks, environments and levels. We have taken the idea of dynamic levels to the extreme. We made many enhancements to the scripting engine and the level editor to allow level designers to make new types of levels that are more dynamic and can even react to the player. Then we hired some of the best Ricochet level designers form the community to get a very diverse group of designers who were very skilled with the unique Ricochet scripting tools. The end result is a new kind of level you have never played before.

But the more significant changes are in the community features. The built in Internet enabled features give you direct access to thousands of levels to play. There literally is an infinite supply of levels to play because the community generates about 500 new levels per month. The improved tools in Ricochet Infinity help you browse, categorize and rate levels so that you can find the levels that YOU want to play. The new ranking system also keeps things interesting as you play the endless supply of levels. Collecting golden rings moves you up in rank and unlocks new balls and new ships with different specialties.

You've made quite a few games at Reflexive, what's your favorite game and why?

ricochet3James : I enjoy Big Kahuna Reef 1 & 2 a lot. I am really pleased with the way the flowing pieces make the shape of the board matter and the “net” adds a lot to the game. But Ricochet is my favorite game by far. I love the combination of action and strategy used in the Ricochet levels and power-ups. For years I have read the Ricochet Lost Worlds forums every day and helped new level designers learn to build better Ricochet levels. I am very excited to see that community explode with the new innovation found in Ricochet Infinity.

Do you have much time to play games yourself, and if so what games are you enjoying at the moment?

James : I “research” a lot of the PC casual games and occasionally find myself getting pulled into really playing a few of them. I played a lot more Cake Mania and Alice Greenfingers than I like to admit. But my favorite games that I play for fun are on the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS. I have logged many hours of Wii Sports and Wario Ware: Smooth Moves on the Wii. On DS I really enjoyed single player games like WarioWare: Touched!, Brain Age, and Elite Beat Agents. But my favorite kinds of games are “face to face” multi-player games (not over the Internet). Every Tuesday we have a DS battle at Reflexive playing games like Mario Cart, Bomber Man, Big Brain Academy, and New Super Mario Bros. mini games. My love for face to face multi-player is why Ricochet Infinity and Big Kahuna Reef include a Mouse Party™ (editors note: Mouse party is a game system developed by Reflexive) mode that lets two players play on the same computer at the same time.

Now that Ricochet is on it's third iteration it must be getting hard to come up with new ideas for levels, and power ups and new features in general. How do you keep the inspiration and originality flowing?

ricochet2James : Many of the new features and power-ups in Ricochet Infinity were not new ideas. They were things we had wished we could have included in the first Ricochet game but we had to draw the line somewhere. Other new features are ideas that emerged after playing hundreds of hours of Ricochet Lost Worlds. And some were inspired by silly things like watching a hockey game or shopping at a hardware store. I am always thinking about new games ideas and new Ricochet features on night and weekends as part of everyday life. When you make a new Ricochet game every two years you have plenty of time to make a new wish list for the next game.

We have also gotten lots of great ideas from the Ricochet Lost Worlds community. Some ideas were posted by players in the suggestions area of the forums. Other ideas were based on formalizing a way to do something that we saw the community trying to do in their level designs that wasn’t directly support by the level editor. But the main way we got new inspiration for Ricochet Infinity was by actually hiring new people to work on it. Contracting level designers from around the world to collaborate with us on the development of the game helped tremendously.

The new game places a lot of emphasis on community, with user created levels accessible from inside the game, what were your thoughts behind this?

ricochet4James : As a kid, my favorite games were the ones that included level editors with them. Load Runner, Arkanoid, and Mean 18 golf were some of my favorites. I had fun making levels but more run trading levels with friends. It’s always fun to have an endless supply of levels made by a diverse group of creators. The Internet has helped supercharge the level swapping I used to do with a floppy disks or bulletin boards.

Ricochet Lost Worlds was Reflexive’s first game to include a level editor and menus to access player created content. Ricochet Infinity is the 6th game we have made with support for player created content. Over the course of those six games we have been incrementally improving the player created content support based on lesions we learned from the previous game. Improvement in Infinity focuses on providing ways to sort through thousands of levels to find the levels YOU want to play. Other improvements behind the scenes help make sure the levels are properly play tested before being released to the public. This was a real chore which previous generations of our player generated content systems.

Slightly off topic, but my favorite Reflexive game is Wik and the fable of lost souls. Is there any chance you'll be doing more of these less commercial, more unique games in the future?

James : Absolutely. We have many prototypes and ideas we are picking away at. Some are more unique than others. We try to take a balanced approach of some risky, innovative projects and some that are more market driven. Simon Hallam (producer of Wik) has a rather unique project in full production at this very moment. Or course everyone has a different idea of what is commercial or unique or casual or indie. This new project may not be as far out there as Wik was, but it is rather unique and not at all what most people would call “casual” even though we try hard to make it as accessible and simple as possible. You can expect to see a very original game from Reflexive later this year and more in the future.

Thanks for your time James - I'm sure you're busy and I look forward to trying the finished game!

Ricochet Infinity is due for release imminently (I don't have a date, sorrry!) and based upon the beta (and past performance) is sure to do incredibly well indeed. Maybe you'll even get a full review on Binary Joy once the game is released.

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