Destructoid interview: Chatting with The Maw developer Twisted Pixel

Watching the above video of Twisted Pixel’s The Maw, you’d never guess you were looking at an Xbox LIVE Arcade title. The game’s style — coupled with the level of detail and polish — looks closer to a full retail product than some of the other titles you might see on Microsoft’s service. 

“We loved the idea of being able to download fun, high-quality games from consoles,” Twisted Pixel’s Chief Creative Officer Josh Bear told us, “so that was the goal of the company: making awesome downloadable titles and pushing that whole thing forward.”

From what we’ve seen so far, they look to be on the right track with The Maw. We recently caught up with Bear to find out a bit more about The Maw, bringing “retail-quality” experiences to the downloadable space, and more. 

DESTRUCTOID: Tell me a bit about Twisted Pixel.

TWISTED PIXEL CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER, JOSH BEAR: Twisted Pixel was formed a couple of years ago by Michael Wilford, Frank Wilson and myself. We loved the idea of being able to download fun, high-quality games from consoles, so that was the goal of the company: making awesome downloadable titles and pushing that whole thing forward. 

A lot of our friends in the industry liked that idea as well, so we grabbed some great talent … Mike Henry, Dave Leung, Sean Riley, and some other good friends who were excited to try something new. A lot of us had worked on projects together in the past, so it was nice to have a team that worked really well together.

Your upcoming XBLA game, The Maw, just was chosen as one of the finalists in the “PAX 10” indie games competition. Cograts. Can you give me the low down on the game’s story and what players will be doing?

Awesome, thanks! We are really excited to be one of the PAX 10, and looking forward to people checking out the game. 

As far as the game’s story, our player character is an alien named Frank.  When the game begins, Frank is a prisoner on a ship along with other creatures. One of those captured creatures is Maw, who Frank teams up with once the ship crash-lands on an unfamiliar planet. From there the story elements start to play out as you get further into the game. 

A lot of the story is told through the animation and expression of our characters.  Music plays a big part of this as well, we didn’t just want to put up a lot of text or shove the story in your face or anything like that.  Some of it is left up to interpretation, which is something we were interested in seeing how players responded to.

Based on what I’ve seen of The Maw in screenshots and the trailer you passed along to me last week, it has a unique style. It’s very different than some of the other stuff on XBLA and on the 360. I might  even liken it to a first-party Nintendo title, stylistically. What inspired the game’s look and feel?

Thanks, that was definitely something we decided on early on.  A lot of us in the company — especially our art director Dave Leung — is a huge fan of first party Nintendo titles.

We love characters that have a great sense of style, and we really spent a lot of time making sure that our animation was top notch. One of the vision points for The Maw was personality, and I am really proud of what we accomplished with that, especially for a downloadable title where I can see animation as one of the first things developers think they need to cut.

The world looks pretty expansive and fully-realized, something you don’t see very often in XBLA titles, which are often simple puzzle titles and remakes or ports. How large is the world of The Maw?

The game is a good size, it depends on the player really. We have some fun achievements and hidden things in there, so if you didn’t want to find everything you could finish the game a little quicker. 

This “fully-fleshed out” vibe carries over to the music as well, it seems. You picked up veteran composer Winifred Philips to handle the score. Why not just handle that internally and call it a a day?

Winifred and her producing partner Winnie Waldron are awesome. From the very start of this, music was really important to us, not just for this game but for everything we do.  I had worked on a previous game where Winifred had composed the music, and it was the best part of that game. 

I met her a year or two later at GDC and told her about The Maw before we even knew if we were making it or not, just because I was hoping she would be interested in doing it.  It has been a great collaboration; she exceeded all my expectations.  I really think we have one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in awhile. 

The music does a great job of matching the characters and the world, and was composed in a way where we introduce new music layers, or “stems,” as you make progress, to help show the player that they are doing the right thing in the level.  We also went with Gl33k for sound effects, which are awesome. Matt Chaney was our go to guy for all the sound, and he did a great job.

Was there anything about the XBLA platform that led you guys to choose it over PSN or WiiWare?

The XBLA interface is easy to use and its been around the longest, so that was a big factor. When we started The Maw, Nintendo still wasn’t sure what they were doing with WiiWare, and Sony was still figuring out their whole process, so XBLA made sense because we wanted to start. 

David Edery at Microsoft is a great guy and has been really awesome to work with, so all of those factors just kind of pointed us towards XBLA. There really hasn’t been a game like The Maw on the XBLA platform, so we wanted to show that its possible to do this genre in downloadable space.

Do you consider The Maw the start of a franchise, and is it possible we’d see the universe expanded in other titles on other consoles? How about a full retail game?

I think the whole team loves The Maw and would be up for doing another one if players enjoyed the first one. It definitely wouldn’t be an easy out where we do more of the same thing though … the idea for the sequel floating around is totally different and something I think players would get a kick out of. We never want to do the same thing twice, we want to come up with a bunch of different cool stuff for people to play with. 

A retail release, anything like that would be awesome, we are all up for it if people enjoy the characters.

Any word on a release date or pricing?

Not yet. Whenever Microsoft is ready to talk about it, so hopefully soon. I think the price will be a steal for what we have come up with, we really wanted to try to give XBLA players a game that pushes the service forward. There are a lot of great games up there, but I think people can get a little bored with more shooters or racers. This is someting a little different, we hope everyone enjoys it.

Big thanks to all of the folks at Twisted Pixel. Look for our hands-on impressions of The Maw soon.

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