PagodaWest Games are soon to release their upcoming title Major Magnet, a physics-based platformer where players tap on magnets and swipe to jetpack around levels filled with orbs, cannons, and secrets, all in the name of getting high scores. It’s a uniquely-executed concept, but one thing stands out when playing the pre-release build of this upcoming game, due in February: it's very much like the Sonic series.

The resemblance is not so much in gameplay as it is in terms of style: character designs, level backgrounds, even the fonts, all bear the kinds of hallmarks that the series has been known for. It’s very familiar, yet somewhat new. And it was no accident, as PagodaWest Games was partially born out of the love of Sonic, as the team of Jared Kasl, Tom Fry, Khoa Ngol, and Tee Lopes explain in this interview about the game.

148Apps: How exactly did your team come together initially?

PagodaWest: Tom and Jared initially met through the fan game Sonic 2 HD. After only a short amount of time spent socializing outside of the project, it became apparent that besides the obvious love of classic Sonic, our philosophies on game design were perfectly aligned, and so a close friendship was born.

At what point did you folks decide to make a mobile game?

Before our time on Sonic 2 HD was over, we started discussing the idea of starting our own game company. Due to circumstances in both our lives, we were at a point where it felt right [to] start PagodaWest Games, so that’s exactly what we did. With mobile gaming on the rise and the many game design possibilities a touch screen can provide, going mobile seemed like the way to go - added to which, the start up costs for development on a mobile platform were far slimmer than developing for home console or handheld.

Are there games besides the Sonic series that you feel are influences on Major Magnet?

As we were growing up, every so often a game would come along that would bring us pure joy the whole way through. We wanted to recreate this feeling in Major Magnet, so naturally the games that influenced us when we were younger have found their way through. Don’t be surprised to see a hint of NiGHTS into dreams… or the old Kirby’s Dreamland games as you make your way through Lastin Magnetic!

What kind of lessons from the Sonic 2 HD project were you able to apply to Major Magnet?

Shortly after we finished with Sonic 2 HD, we were able to reflect on what went right and wrong on the project. Even though it was just a fan game using an IP owned by SEGA, there were a few of us on the Sonic 2 HD team that tried to treat the project with a professional attitude.

We also learned, whether through ourselves or others, not to treat any piece of work too preciously. For example, there were some pieces of art that should have taken a matter of days to complete, yet they were taking months! With Major Magnet, we give ourselves a deadline for any feature, piece of art, or asset and plan accordingly to make sure it’s finished on time.

One of the most important lessons we learned from Sonic 2 HD was to formulate a team of people we can trust and depend on. It’s important to know if you ask for something to get done, you can trust that it’s going to be taken care of in a timely manner and to the very best of their ability. We chose our team very carefully for Major Magnet, and so far things have gone off without a hitch!

How did the magnet gameplay mechanic come about? Was it a big part of the title initially, or did it become an important part of the game later on?

The concept of tapping button-like magnets within the level was conceived from the get go, working along the lines of Newton’s law of universal gravitation for attracting Marv to a given point. However, it was the “swing ball”/“orbiting” mechanic which is now core to the gameplay that was refined and honed a couple of months into our prototype development.

We had initially planned a hybrid system that allowed the player to select between standard attraction to a magnet or forcing Marv into orbit by either tapping the magnet once or holding down on it respectively. Due to the fact that the game is rather fast paced and holding the magnet would not only require the player to “track” the magnet if the camera moved but also obscured the screen with their finger, we settled on a tapping and timing system using only the orbiting physics, solving these problems and streamlining the gameplay.

The animation for the game is very crisp and clean; is this just a case of high production values on your end, or does the Corona engine that you worked in have any effect on that?

With regards to the engine, our only base requirements when going into using Corona was that it could display sprites cleanly and plentifully without a loss in performance across a wide range of devices. Having satisfied these criteria with aplomb and having a clear idea of what aesthetic we were after, the rest of the power was indeed in the artist’s hands.

For all of the character animation, every single frame (for which Marv’s in-game sprite has roughly 200 alone) was painstakingly hand-drawn adhering to the strict principles of 2D animation that have been well established in the West for over 80 years. A few animations used for special effects like Marv’s particle trail use a mix of “baked in” animation and real-time particle effects making the trail look rich and dense without stressing the CPU.

Major Magnet does appear to have a currency with upgrades, and there’s the ability to buy additional currency. In a world where many retro-focused developers are eschewing IAP, was there any reason why you felt like this was an acceptable inclusion?

From the beginning of development we felt IAP could have a place in our game, but only if we really felt it added something meaningful for the player and would not hinder their experience in any way if they did not want to use the in-game store. Firstly, our system uses an in-app currency, Magnorbs, which you collect in the game’s levels and mini-games. If you save up enough Magnorbs, you can spend these in the store to purchase useful items to help you along if you’re having trouble - such as the Super Boost which can be used at any time during gameplay, freezing Marv indefinitely until the player swipe-boosts him in the direction they choose.

If the player chooses to rely on these items more frequently, they may wish to buy additional Magnorbs to purchase more items at their discretion. However, unlike freemium games whose sole income is from IAP, there is absolutely no obligation for the player to spend more money in Major Magnet in order to progress, it is simply a means to enhance their enjoyment of the game by saving them time if they ever come unstuck.

Thanks to PagodaWest Games for their time. Major Magnet is scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2013.

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