(The following are excerpts of eMail conversations taken from different times and strung together into an interview-like structure:)
[JUMP TO A QUESTION]
JOHANNES SÖDERQVIST (JSö): After a few years it seems like our little game has gathered a real cult following. It's selling for high prices on ebay and there are often a lot of bids. I still work in the games industry and I often get compliments on the game. It's cool to have made a game people remember so fondly. Having a fansite is fantastic! Please feel free to ask me anything and I'll try to answer...
NEIKE PABST (N): Where does the name Kula World come from?
JSö: We wanted a name based on a Swedish word, "kula" is the word for those small marble balls kids play with and "kul" means fun.
N: Why was it called Kula Quest in Japan and Roll Away in America?
JSö: It was meant to be KulaQuest all over the world, but we had some trademark problems, mainly because of the music group "Kula Shaker". One more detail about Kula Quest: The packaging design in Japan was also different. There is also a standalone demo made for the japanese market.
N: Did you make any other games before or work with Sony prior to Kula World?
JSö: I did make one unpublished shoot'em up for the Atari ST in '91.
N: What are your favorite levels?
JSö: Frankly, I don't remember the levels that well without playing...
N: Do you even like the game? [grinning] Were you surprised how the game ended up being?
JSö: I love the game, although it is not the kind of game I usually like or play, but it came out so close to how we wanted it to be when we started and I think it's a very unique and original concept. At one point in the early stages of developement, we made some tests with a bouncy character instead of the ball...
Although I designed a lot of it I have not even finished all the levels myself... I think I solved most of them one by one when we developed them, but I have not played the whole game back to back... as I said - I'm not a fan of playing puzzles, although I can appreciate a good concept... :)
N: How did you come up with the idea?
JSö: I actually came up with the idea after a dream... I woke up and drew a quick sketch... the idea stuck in my mind and after a few months the game concept became clearer and I presented it to the other two guys I worked with and they also thought that it was supercool. We were in the upstart of a tunnelracer, but we quickly changed to Kula instead.
N: A tunnel racer? How does that fit into the picture? Please explain.
JSö: We'd started the company with three guys, Jesper, Stefan and I, to make a futuristic tunnel racing game. We worked on that for about 3-5 months before changing our minds and started work on Kula instead.
N: What exactly was your dream about?
JSö: The dream was just the basic concept of a metal ball rolling around on a vast structure of labyrinthic wooden beams. The basic movements you have to conform to when playing Kula was in the dream. However it took several months before we decided to include jumping!
N: How the hell were the levels designed? Sketches are a bit hard to do with such complex 3D structures, I'd imagine!
JSö: We had a DOS based editor for the level design, it was only in wireframe. We moved a block "cursor" in 3d space and used it to place out the main structure, then we highlighted one block and could scroll throught all six sides, then we scrolled through all "traps"... that's it, fairly hardcore. Jesper Rudberg was in charge of the levels - he works here too!
N: So how many iterations did a level tend to go through? I'd imagine a small miscalculation could, especially in later levels, end up with an unsolvable level... how did that work?
JSö: Most levels went through many game tests, keep in mind that they are not totally separate, most levels must conform to a learning curve and must fit in with the overall game progression, so many times they were changed depending on where they were placed in the game. There were many rearrangements until we came up with the order they are in now. The DOS editor could transfer levels fairly instantaneous to a debug playstation, so we could try out a level easily and often to see how it progressed.
N: Were you surprised of the popularity of the game? Was it even popular? I heard it was, but, er...
JSö: It was not extremely popular, it sold about 150.000 copies worldwide, but as you might know, those who liked it really loved it! I have heard that the guys behind Super MonkeyBall were influenced by our game... It is a bit brainy this game... :) I also think it's quite addictive, it's easy to pick up and play, but the puzzles are often too difficult. I think that the unforgiving way they are lined up - that you have to clear one before you can move on - is the biggest flaw of this game. If you do get stuck it's extremely frustrating and I think many players give up...
N: How old were you when you were in Game Design Sweden AB and made the game? Are you still working as GDS?
JSö: I'm 30 now, all of us were about 22-24 when we started work on Kula. I'm working at Dice (Digital Illusions CE) now.
N: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
JSö: You mentioned that this game looks very good and that it doesn't need to be updated to a next gen machine. I can agree with what you're saying, but when it comes to gameplay and features I think there is a lot that could be done on a next gen game.
Also, you mention that you don't think this game takes up all CPU. It actually does! For instance, we have quite advanced things for the fogging of the world... When the first Gran Tourismo came out, we had a meeting at Sony and they had this analyzing tool that could graph how much the CPU and texture cache was utilized. When they made GT they used this to optimize the code, they were very proud of this and claimed that GT was a new generation of games that actually used all the power of the PSX. The graphs for GT were all filled with red, meaning that it was as optimized as it possibly could been. They made the same test with Kula and it was also red! - and we didn't use this tool when we made the game! There's some bragging for you!
N: What is it that uses the CPU power?
JSö: We have quite a lot of different versions of the textures used on the structure, many mip steps and fog alternatives, it takes some power to move all those around. We also have quite a lot of transparent polygons and those takes time to draw. The environment sphere is costly as well. The sphere is just big enough to hold the levels and not to introduce parallax effects. As it is in effect just a 2D backdrop you don't get perspective problems so it can be at a fake distance, just as long as the curvature looks ok.
Oh, by the way, just last month I found something on ebay that I was not even aware of that it existed - an official game guide made by sony! It has the same level drawings as the japanese manual and it contains 150 levels. I'm assuming that they used our editor to copy the designs.
I then got myself that guide, it's very nice, very japanese... not easy to understand. It has one drawing for each level. One of the UK mags made a guide with screenshots which is much easier to understand.