#Devstories : Witch n’ Wiz by Matt Hughson

A brand new puzzle-platformer for the Nintendo Entertainment System!

A young boy has been kidnapped by a Dark Sorceress! It’s up to his best friend, a young Witch, to rescue him but it won’t be easy! Over 100 levels of brain-melting puzzles stand between the two, and it’s up to you solve them all!

Interview with developer Matt Hughson

What is Witch n’ Wiz’s origin story?

Witch n’ Wiz started in early 2017 as a Pico-8 game (Pico-8 is a small game engine that mimics 8bit consoles of the 80’s), and is still playable in that form today.

The core game mechanics are inspired by a game called Catrap/Pitman. As I remember it, I had met an artist, “Nebelstern”, with the goal of making a small game that could be developed in a month or so. Nebelstern suggested a spiritual successor to a Game Boy game they loved, Catrap. I hadn’t heard of it at the time, but really enjoyed it, and together we made a short 32 level version of the game.

A few years later I started working on NES games, and Witch n’ Wiz seemed like a good fit for the NES. I started working on it in late 2020. Initially I created a 1-to-1 port of the Pico-8 version. It included new graphics and music, but kept the same levels and gameplay mechanics. In March 2021, this version of the game was entered into the yearly NESDev competition, and won 2nd place!

After that I began expanding on that initial 32 level demo, with new gameplay mechanics, updated graphics and music, and over 100 levels. The Witch n’ Wiz released this month on Piepacker is the culmination of all these things!

Screenshots from Witch n’ Wiz

Why did you choose to develop a game for the NES instead of a more modern platform?

I actually do both! I’ve been a professional game developer for 15+ years now, and my day job is working on large, modern games (Gears of War, Dying Light, and Destiny, are a few games credited), so in my spare time I enjoy working on much smaller projects where I can “do it all”. I still rely on Artists to make the games look and sound great, but other than that, I try to do everything myself.

“Witch” Character design evolution

The NES is the perfect system for that. For me, it occupies a sweet spot between “too primitive”, and “too complex”. Games for the system can feel fairly modern, but at the same time, the system imposes such strict limits that it’s realistic for someone to hold an understanding of the entire program in their head. I love that I can (for example) completely re-write the entire rendering engine in a few hours with a complete understanding of how it will effect every part of the game. Once a game gets more complex than an NES game, that kind of thing becomes very difficult because there are so many pieces to track; so many complex interactions between sub-systems in code.

And of course, I also have a nostalgic connection to the NES. I was born in 82’, so the NES was everything during my childhood. I’ve been collecting NES games since the late 90s, and it’s my favorite system of all time.

You designed Witch n’ Wiz to be the “most accessible game on the NES”, what were the biggest challenges you faced?

The biggest challenge is simply finding subject matter experts; people who live with disabilities that can play the game and tell me what is and isn’t working. I have quite a bit of experience with accessibility in games so I have a lot of theories about what I should do, but it requires people to actually validate those ideas. In the end a handful of people were very gracious with their time, and gave some great feedback on what I had done. I was able to make some adjustments to improve things.

You can find more details on what is available, as well as a detailed walkthrough of the menus for users using screen readers, here: https://www.witchnwiz.com/a11y

Witch n’ Wiz is releasing on all platforms at the same time. What made you choose Piepacker?

From the player’s perspective, it’s an amazing experience! They get to play the entire game for free, no strings attached, and no downloads. As a gamer myself, I’m looking forward to even more games showing up on Piepacker!

Obviously this is a little nerve-racking as a developer, because Piepacker players may be people who would have paid to play the game! But my feeling is that this low-barrier-of-entry format will introduce the game to entirely new swaths of players who otherwise would never have heard of the game before. I also think that there is room for multiple formats to coexist and feed into each other. Someone might buy the physical version of Witch n’ Wiz as a collector, but while they wait for that to ship, start playing the game in Piepacker. Or vice-versa, maybe someone who comes to Piepacker to play classic games from their childhood is introduced to the world of modern NES homebrew.

Time will tell, but I’m excited for the possibilities!

🎮 Play Witch n’ Wiz now on Piepacker and come discuss it on our Discord!

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