XBLA Fans recently had the opportunity to talk to Dan Pearce, developer of the upcoming Xbox release 10 Second Ninja X. The game is a time-constrained platformer where players traverse a small level and destroy all the enemies using melee attacks and a limited number of ranged throwing stars. Depending on how fast the level is completed, players will receive 1-3 stars that allow them to progress through the level.
10 Second Ninja X was always planned for console, and the game flows wonderfully with a controller. Dan Pearce lamented “10 Second Ninja was always for consoles [laughs], which is why it is kind of embarrassing it’s taken us four years to actually accomplish that.” When we asked about the differences between console development now and over the last generation, Pearce replied “[Indie Development for console] is definitely a lot more open now… definitely a lot more accessible.” However, he was quick to qualify those remarks with the fact that he expects things to tighten up a bit as the consoles start to find their footing within this generation. Pearce had incredibly high praise for his publisher Curve Digtal and the work they have done to help on the console side.
As an 18-year-old student, Pearce enjoyed playing platformers in the back of the classroom. He realized that the ones he particularly enjoyed had a time restraint but, at the same time, weren’t built from the ground up. That’s where the concept from 10 Second Ninja came about. The platforming mechanics started to create a sort of puzzle when players were constrained by time, and the result was an incredibly fun game to design levels for. As Pearce put it, “Anything slower than the fastest route possible can feel a little bit odd, and that’s OK.” When you flow through the level correctly it feels incredibly different; it feels more natural and rewarding.
Pearce explained that even if you are just “OK” or “not great” at platformers, you should be able to reach the end of the game. But for the top one percent of players who can breeze through the levels, Four Circle Interactive has implemented a marathon mode. Pearce explained the goal was that no matter the skill level of the player they wanted something that could engage them and keep them moving forward at all times.
The name 10 Second Ninja X came from fans suggesting different legnth levels in the sequel. Some pushed for five, which felt untenable for quality level design. Others wanted 11, which just felt like a worse game. In the end, the team “doubled down” and went with 10 Second Ninja X, putting 10 in the title twice.
Finding the right tone for 10 Second Ninja X was a balancing act. The first game featured Nazi robots as the villains. Four Circle has backed away from that a bit with the sequel but not for the reasons you might expect. The team wasn’t pressured by platform holders to abandon the Nazi villains. According to Peirce, “When you are writing Nazi robots, it is really hard to make them interesting.” The Nazi robots were entirely unsympathetic to players for obvious reasons. “It wasn’t because it wasn’t politically correct, it was because it was boring. And we want to make a non-boring game. Thus Captain Greatbeard was born, a spiritual kin of Dr. Eggman. Greatbeard has his own existential crisis due to his nemesis, the Ninja, never talking.”
One of the most interesting aspects of 10 Second Ninja X is how the level concepts gradually introduce and later iterate on new mechanics. The middle levels are a tad more puzzle feeling, which is very deliberate. It was almost impossible to just keep ramping the action up, so the team sought other ways to keep things interesting. Pearce stated he’s always been a systems-heavy developer and thus a lot of that kind of methodology was applied to the platformer. The game is also super forgiving to players. It is actually possible to finish a level in slightly longer than 10 seconds or even to die as you complete the level. Pearce made it clear Four Circle was focused on making success feel very rewarding vs failure feeling punishing to the player.
When we asked what’s next for Four Circle, Pearce was very cryptic beyond stating that the studio has done some serious production work on something completely different. The game will have a large range of mechanics that interact together, and the team was excited to use procedural level design this time around. However, he promised players will recognize some of the basic 10 Second Ninja DNA in the game.
10 Second Ninja X will release on July 19 on Xbox One for “around $10.”