Q&A with THQ's Ben Sipe, Lead Producer of Fantastic Pets

THQ is no stranger to success in the motion gaming genre and they're now set to take on Kinect with two family oriented titles. Dance Paradise, a Dance Central-esque game which features simultaneous multiplayer and 40 licensed songs (more than any Kinect game to date). Plus Fantastic Pets, the first Augmented reality game for Kinect. Today we've got Ben Sipe, Lead Producer for both games, to answer a few questions about Fantastic Pets. We've also got the first finished box-art and an exclusive image. Dance Paradise will be available soon and Fantastic Pets on April 12th! 

Nobody has attempted an augmented reality game with Kinect yet. How do you feel Fantastic Pets can benefit from Kinect's unique abilities?
As you know there are other technologies that can simulate an augmented reality like a camera, but they only measure on the X and Y axis and can only attempt to fake the Z axis. With the Kinect's skeletal tracking this is the first time players will be tracked and shown in a true three dimensional world and is revolutionary because it can also measure depth.

Will Fantastic Pets be using your own tracking solution which you've spoken of in the past, and if so why did you decide to circumvent Microsoft's software?
Fantastic Pet's tracking is really a joint relationship. We use some of the Microsoft tracking and some Blitz proprietary technology.

How do you feel Fantastic Pets stands out from other titles such as Kinectimals, Nintendogs and Eyepet?
Fantastic Pets uses technology and game play mechanics from all pet titles and combines them into a total package deal. Eyepet has an augmented reality mode but it doesn't have the skeletal tracking and lush environments that Kinectimals has. Kinectimals has the Kinect technology but no augmented reality mode and Nintendogs has the pet caring aspects that Kinectimals and Eyepet has. All of them have unique features, but are lacking in other areas. Fantastic Pets has all those features and combines them into one cohesive experience.

Most pet care titles typically focus on one type of animal. What made you decide to open it up to not only more standard animals, but mythical creatures too?
We wanted the game to appeal to more than your average pet care player, and we wanted it to seem realistic or mythical depending on whichever the player wanted. That's also why we chose to allow the player to actually share screen space with their pet in augmented reality mode yet there's a world to explore inside Fantastic Pets as well.

How does morphing work?
Well, it's not technically morphing but there is a robust pet customization feature. At first players will have a limited amount of pet customization options, but they can spend the in game currency (Genetic Energy Modules abbreviated GEMs) in research expeditions around the world which will in turn unlock more customization options. In the pet customizer players can alter their pets weight, skin/fur type/texture, pattern color, eyes, ears, legs, tail, add horns, wings and there are some "epic" pet models scattered throughout the game that look very cool. I've included a screenshot of one of the "epic" pet models for you to see what's in store for the players. Lava Lizard, for example, looks like he just crawled out of a volcano.  We have others that are really cool, but we don’t want to spoil the surprise. And there are more "girly" pet models, but of course I personally like the "boy-ish" ones more. 

Meet Lava Lizard - an example of the customization features in Fantastic Pets.
How does the game make use of voice control?
Players can use voice control to command their pets. Each pet has a name and all you have to do is say the animals name followed by a command. One animals name is Rowdy so a couple examples would be "Rowdy jump", "Rowdy sit" and "Rowdy rollover". It's pretty cool to not only gesture commands at your pet, but say them too like you would in real life.

Will the game allow users to share video and pictures of themselves with their pets?
Unfortunately there's no video, but players can take pictures of them interacting with their pet and save them.

How will progression in the game work? Is there a story of any kind?
There is a story, and it goes a little something like this. The game starts in Doctor Menagerie's house. The doctor is your uncle and is away on an expedition. He's found these rare and mythical creatures on his travels and needs the player to take care of one of them while he's away. The player is then introduced to Natalie. She's a computer that takes care of the house and animals while the doctor is away. She acts as the tutorial system to show players how to interact with their new found friend. Players progress through the game by earning GEMs to unlock new content or by winning talent shows.   

Have you had any issues with lighting, lag or space problems given that you're the first to primarily use the RGB sensor for gameplay?
We haven’t had any problems with lag, but we understood from the start that the games needed to be designed to be played with basic gestures for kids and families to play together.  Each game went through several iterations and tests with kids to make sure that the technology and player interaction felt natural. With any Kinect title, having the proper lighting and space definitely helps enhance the experience.

Blitz Games have been highly supportive of Kinect publicly. What made you to decide to embrace it so early on, and what do you feel it can ultimately bring to the industry?
The major factor for the Kinect is how unique it was. We couldn't have known what the launch was going to be like, but we had tremendous support from Microsoft and high hopes that the general consumer was going to embrace the unique and fun technology. The decision for Blitz was easy because of their strong technological background and the great experience in rapid prototyping using the Blitz Tech engine.

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