Dev Interview: It’s Quiz Time!

Over here at Sidequesting, we pride ourselves in being insufferable know-it-alls, and therefor it is no surprise that one of our favorite franchises of all times is the Buzz! series. Unfortunately, the latest edition of a Buzz! game came out in 2010, which means we have lacked the means to show off our extensive knowledge of useless trivia to our peers for quite some time now. As The Hashtagonist was lamenting about this on Twitter recently, a message of hope was relayed by developer Snap Finger Click. A spiritual successor to Buzz! was coming. This year!

We sat down with Development Director and Co-Founder, Martijn van der Meulen to get to the bottom of it.

What is Snap Finger Click and what is their story? 

Snap Finger Click was founded by myself and Ed Gladwin (our Business Director). We met several years ago when we both worked at Sony PlayStation. After Sony, I went on to work at Relentless Software, who are known for making the Buzz! quiz games. And after a few years I left Relentless to form Snap Finger Click with Ed, deciding that we wanted to start a company that focused on making great local multiplayer games.

Starting off with just me and Ed, whilst working from my living room, we originally released a small local multiplayer party game for PlayStation 4 and Wii U called Act it Out! A Game of Charades. This all happened last year, and it has been quite successful, but in that same year Relentless closed down. Thanks to the success of Act it Out we could however expand the studio with several ex-Relentless staff who were part of the core Buzz team: programmers Adam, Scott and Stuart, and game designer Jo. We’re now in a situation where all of our staff have worked on the Buzz! quiz series and some of them worked on it from the very first PlayStation 2 game, so there’s a lot of experience here.

We loved the sass and attitude of former host Buzz, what do you have in store for us this time around?

The host of It’s Quiz Time is called Salli and she’s a sophisticated supercomputer. She’s different from Buzz in many ways, but she definitely has sassiness!

We wanted a quiz host that has never been done before, one which really feels at home in 2017, and we thought Salli was the perfect fit for a quiz game. She’s inspired by characters such as the Star Trek computer, HAL, and GLaDOS – as well as digital assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa. Being an AI, she feels superior to humans: she creates all the questions, she knows all the answers, and she doesn’t understand why the players can’t always get them right. There’s a part of Salli that wishes she was doing work for NASA or calculating Pi to a quadrillion decimal places, but she’s somehow ended up as a quiz master. Despite that, she still has a soft spot for humans and is in some ways quite fascinated by them.

We spent a lot of time fleshing out Salli’s character and backstory. We worked with a talented writer called George Poles who previously worked on the Buzz! games as well. There was a great deal of back-and-forth between George and Jo, our designer, about the type of things Salli would and wouldn’t say. We’re really pleased with how she’s turned out, and we can’t wait to see what the world thinks of her.

Other than the host, will there be a fresh new set of contestants?

We see Buzz! as the game that brought the player from their living room and into a game show. In It’s Quiz Time, we bring the game to you and the living room is your stage. When playing Buzz!, you assumed the role of a contestant and the comments were about that character rather than to you. When Salli makes comments in It’s Quiz Time, she’s talking directly to you and your friends. We still have multiple colourful characters you can choose to represent your score – or you can take a selfie if you prefer and use that as your avatar – but the emphasis is more on Salli’s personal relationship with the players. She knows who you are, and since she’s an AI she learns how you play.

Will Salli be able to call us out by name then?

You can enter your name or a nickname, and Salli will actually address you by it. Another cool feature of It’s Quiz Time is that the host is powered by the latest text-to-speech technology. This means she can say anything – player names, questions, answers, scores, whatever she wants! We loved the level of personalisation on Buzz!, but we decided to take it even further for It’s Quiz Time. Buzz! let you choose a name but only from a set list and it could only be said at the beginning of a sentence. Using text-to-speech frees us from all the technical and logistical limitations, and lets Salli be truly intelligent and personal.

How about weird Dutch names?

This is my favourite thing about using text-to-speech – you can play with your own name, no matter what it is. And if Salli doesn’t pronounce it correctly, you can even fix it by spelling it out phonetically – and the game remembers. Being called Martijn, I never got to play Buzz! with my own name either (I always had to use Martin), so I personally am very excited about this feature.

Will the game come with it’s own peripherals? 

The smartphone is your controller and we won’t be using the buzzers. We’ve designed the rounds to make the best use of smartphone input. We have some rounds that use secret information on each player’s screen, some that require dragging and connecting answers together – things that just aren’t possible with a buzzer. The team’s experience on Buzz! meant there were lots of ideas over the years that couldn’t be done before, but now we’ve been able to achieve them by using the smartphone.

Another point is that, for us, the buzzers are something so closely linked with Buzz! and we wanted It’s Quiz Time to have its own identity. While we do see It’s Quiz Time as a spiritual successor to Buzz!, we also want it to be its own game. We know there’s still a lot of love for Buzz!, and we hope people will love It’s Quiz Time just as much, if not more.

We did seriously consider having a mode in It’s Quiz Time that worked with the Buzz! buzzers. We already support regular controllers in one of the game modes. We do like a challenge at Snap Finger Click, so I’m sure we’d have fun trying to adapt our rounds to work with the buzzers. You never know, maybe in a future update of It’s Quiz Time!

Hashtagonist’s father in-law, a wise and knowledgeable man (Hi Pierre) claims that the only reason he keeps losing to him over and over again, is because he lacks the finger speed. Will speed be just as important?

That’s an interesting point. Speed was a common theme throughout many of the Buzz! rounds, and could result in the same person winning each time. We’ve tried to address the balance in It’s Quiz Time by having a variety of different mechanics. We have rounds where you need to bluff, deduce, or guess. We still have classic multiple choice, and some rounds use speed, but we’ve added several new things into the mix. The game also comes with over 9,000 questions, from thousands of categories, and with this amount of content it means there’s a much better balance between players. Hopefully this will give everyone a chance to win, not just those with the quickest reactions.

Also, for It’s Quiz Time, you can expect to see lots of new content after the game comes out. We have something called Event Quizzes which are all about big topical events such as the Oscars, the World Cup, Shark Week, the Olympics, and so forth. Alongside this, we’ll also be doing smaller updates which will keep the questions fresh and relevant.

Good luck, Pierre!

Now that streaming is a thing, did it influence the game design at all?

Very much so. Streaming is one of our big interests at Snap Finger Click! We’re actually committed to having a dedicated streaming mode in every game we make. We have our own technology called Live Show, a concept we invented for our previous game – Act it Out! – that we’re bringing to It’s Quiz Time. In Live Show, the player will host the game, competing against up to 10,000 people watching the stream. Anyone can join in via the chat, with no copy of the game or even a controller or console required. The viewers will be battling against the host player to see if the one brain of the host is better than the collective brains of the viewers. There’s also an in-game leaderboard to show off the scores of the best viewers, and Salli even picks up on their names and answers. It’s a really fun way to play and it’s something that’s never been done before.

As well as the Live Show feature, we’ve taken care to ensure the rest of the game works well for streamers. Players won’t be required to be on the same Wi-Fi to connect their smartphones, meaning it’s possible to stream the game and have your friends join you remotely. Players can drop in and out of games at any time. We also have a ‘stream friendly’ setting that lets the audience play along whenever you’re streaming the game. This makes sure players have enough time to answer, and shows live feedback of what the people watching the stream think.

That is quite the innovation! How did you come up with that?

We started experimenting with streaming in our first game, Act it Out. Originally, Act it Out was a simple party game for local players only, but we quickly realized the potential to make something truly innovative when we saw people streaming it over Twitch. This is when we came up with our Live Show game mode, allowing viewers to join in and play simply by using the chat. In Act it Out, the host player acts a secret phrase out on camera, while the audience can type their guesses in the chat. As soon as the correct answer is detected, the viewer is awarded points and their name shows up on a leaderboard.

The best way to understand streaming is to do it yourself, so we stream every Thursday and Friday evening on our Twitch channel. We even built a dedicated streaming booth in our studio! It’s a great way to bring our games to a bigger audience and to hear feedback from our players. Streaming is a massive market that’s growing every day, and we think it’s really important to pay attention to it. There is a lot to learn here for developers, and the Live Show feature in It’s Quiz Time will be considerably more expansive than what we had in Act it Out. We have so many ideas of how to use streaming platforms to unlock new potential in our games – we’re really only just getting started.

When will we be able to see It’s Quiz Time in action?

We’re bringing It’s Quiz Time to the Insomnia and EGX gaming festivals over the next few weeks here in the UK. We’re also planning to start streaming it on our own Twitch channel soon. We believe in being open with our development and we’re doing regular user testing with lots of different people to get their feedback.

Very early on in development, we actually made a companion app that worked with a web-based version of the game to play the rounds as we were building them. After a paper prototype phase, we created a simple playable version for the app which anyone could download from the Apple or Google app stores. It was useful to gauge player feedback, as well as having something we could send to our friends. It helped us to decide which rounds worked well, and which didn’t.

We’re always happy to show It’s Quiz Time to anyone who wants to see it! We’re really proud of it, and we’re always listening to feedback to keep making improvements. And, of course, it doesn’t stop when the game comes out – we’ll still be listening to feedback after launch and improving features, just as we did for Act it Out.

 

It’s Quiz Timewill be available in English (for UK and US), as well as French, German, Italian, and Spanish. It’s Quiz Time will launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC (Steam) in November 2017.

Author: The Hashtagonist

The Hashtagonist is the spoonful of sugar that makes the microtransactions go down

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