Ilomilo Interview with Southend Interactive

Ilomilo is probably one of the most anticipated Windows Phone 7 and XBLA game coming out this fall so I decided to ask Southend Interactive a couple questions about  the development process and Xbox Live features of the game. Ilomilo first started as an XBLA project and was later ported to Android to showcase Qualcomm’s MSM7X30 platform (and the Adreno 205 GPU) and is now a Windows Phone 7 launch title published by Microsoft Game Studios. Want to learn more about it? Check out the full interview with Ilomilo Associate Producer, Malte Olson:

1) Windows Mobile users probably already heard about Southend Interactive thanks to the Xtrakt and Experiment 13 games that came pre-installed on Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X1 and X2 and also the famous OpenGL ES 2.0 Tech-demo Electopia. Can you give us a quick background on the company’s mobile work?

Malte: Southend is a game studio owned by Tactel, one of the leading software developers of mobile applications. For mobiles, Southend has developed Xtrakt, Experiment 13, Virtua Fighter, Da Vinci Code, Aqua Driller (free game: http://southend.se/games/aquadriller/index.php), Electopia and ilomillo mini for Qualcomm’s chipset, and later this year ilomilo for WP7 will be released.

2) Ilomilo seems to be one of your most ambitious projects so far. What is it all about ? Who are the Ilo and Milo ?

Matle: ilomilo is a beautiful 3D puzzle game with the goal to reunite the friends ilo and milo. They seem to always get lost and you have to find a way for them to meet up anywhere in a puzzle. A set of cubes with different abilities are introduced and will help you to overcome obstacles. The puzzles can get quite mind twisting since you can move around on all sides of cubes. ilo and milo are some cute characters our Art Director Simon Flesser has been drawing all his life and this game became a perfect match.

3) Ilomilo was originally announced for the Xbox 360 (on XBLA) and is now an official launch title on Windows Phone 7. How did this happen? Did your close relationship with Qualcomm and the fact that Snapdragon is currently the only certified platform for WP7 play a role in the decision?

Malte: We really like to work with Qualcomm and we have done exciting projects together, like Electopia and ilomilo mini. This time Microsoft approached us since we’re developing ilomilo for XBLA and it turned out to be a great idea to put ilomilo on WP7.

4) The first mobile version of Ilomilo was shown during MWC in February on Android 1.6 to showcase Qualcomm’s Adreno 205 GPU and the MSM7x30 platform (and will apparently come pre-loaded on the MDP 8655 development device here ). Is an Android version still in the works or did Microsoft get the exclusivity now that they are publishing it on WP7 via Microsoft Games Studios?

Malte: Of course we would like to see ilomio on as many platforms as possible, but right now we’re enjoying working with Microsoft and their expertise they’re providing. But who knows what the future might bring.

5) The Android version was obviously developed for OpenGL ES 2 but since Windows Phone 7 only support Direct 3D mobile via XNA can you tell us how long was the porting  process? The vast majority of the 3D mobile games are built for OGL 2ES so it would be interesting to have your take on this. Especially for current iPhone / Android developers who wish to port their games to WP7.

Malte: We had to rewrite all code to C#, LOD all 3D models and create exclusive WP7 assets. Re-designing XBLA features, new interaction design and level design. We started the porting in March and getting closer to the champagne.

6) As seen in the Windows Phone 7 Ilomilo footage the game graphics have been scaled down a bit compared to the version showcased during MWC. Was this because of the GPU (Adreno 205 ->200) or the current lack of programmable shader support in XNA?

Malte: It sure was a challenge for us to port the XBLA version to WP7. ilomilo is a beautiful game with stunning graphics, ambient lighting and effects like rim light, vignette and DOF to name a few. That’s what makes the game really pop out in comparison from other games. The biggest challenge was that XNA doesn’t support custom shaders so we had to mimic the effects in work-around ways. We couldn’t use as many polygons as we wanted to but the programmers and the artists did an awesome job and the game turned out really beautiful.

7) Windows Phone 7 devices will come in several for factor and some of them will feature hardware keyboards. Will the ilomilo be only touchscreen enabled or will users be able to play the game will the hardware keyboard too ?

Malte: There’s only touch input. You can use hardware buttons but only for exiting game and such.

7) Xbox Live is Microsoft’s big differentiator in Windows Phone 7 compared to other mobile platforms. Are you planning to leverage it with Ilomilo (Achievements, downloadable content, turn based multi-player etc) ? Are the levels identical on the Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7 versions?

Malte: We have filled ilomilo WP7 with 15 achievements and 200 gamerscore. You can compare your level score with your friends on the leaderboards. Like the XBLA version you can collect Safkas, which unlocks bonus levels, and in the WP7 version we also added other extra bonus levels for you to unlock. All levels are designed to suit WP7 to ensure high quality gameplay for shorter sessions, rather than just copy the XBLA levels suited for a big screen and longer sessions.

8) Ilomilo hasn’t shipped yet but can we expect to see more games from you featuring both characters? And are you currently working on more Windows Phone 7 games (and maybe Android too?)

Malte: Yes! We’ve just scratched the surface and open up this magical universe where ilo and milo lives. You don’t see games with this clever gameplay, distinct art style and charming characters everyday. We have ideas how we can develop ilomio even further and we see opportunities in merchandise, movies and upcoming sequels.
We are constantly working on new IP’s for several platforms and WP7 is of course one of them. We have a working development pipeline and we will have a very good understanding of the whole certification process for WP7.

10) Is there anything else you would like to say about Windows Phone 7 and the development pipeline for the mobile version of Ilomilo.

Malte: Not at the moment…

So there you have it! I will be interesting to see how things will evolve once Microsoft enables programmable shaders support in XNA in the future. Remember that this is only a software limitation and that all Adreno 2xx GPU support them. Will games be later updated ? Only time will tell. Xbox Live intergartion is also going to play a key part in Windows Phone 7′s success as a viable gaming platform.

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