Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Big Divide

I think most gamers believe that developers of original games always create games that they want to make. This isn’t true.

For me, Dementium: The Ward was certainly a case of us creating a game just for us. But, after that, Moon came along. Moon was an opportunity that arose from discussions with Mastiff, who wanted to work with Renegade Kid on a FPS for the DS. I dug into my bag of ideas and resurrected the essence of an old sci-fi game concept for the Gameboy Color and pitched the basic idea in FPS format, and then we got started into development. Getting the game signed was a ridiculously quick and easy process. This is not typical. Now, I’m not saying that Moon was a game that I did not want to make, but it wasn’t born of pure game-making desire. It was a business deal that afforded us the opportunity to cobble together some ideas in an effort to convince a publisher to pay us to develop an original game.

There was no publisher input with Dementium: The Ward. It was literally made just for the pure sake of making a game. Moon, on the other hand, had a publisher involved from day one. Those of you who have played both games will hopefully agree that both Dementium: The Ward and Moon are pretty much of equal value, with some people favoring one over the other as a matter of taste, which is a pretty amazing result, and a testament to the publisher’s / developer’s tolerance of each other.

Dementium II was also born from a business opportunity. SouthPeak purchased Gamecock, who published Dementium: The Ward, and as part of their new acquisition decided to act upon one of Gamecock's successful titles. Dementium II was a lot closer to my heart than Moon because it was a sequel to the pure-born Dementium: The Ward. And, with a HUGE thank you to SouthPeak’s David Dienstbeir, John Kaiser, and Aubrey Norris, the developer/publisher relationship on Dementium II was a smooth as warm butter. They let us make our game, and supported it in any way they could. It couldn’t have been any better. I really enjoyed working with those fine folks on D2.

ATV Wild Ride was a semi-pure-born concept. We’d wanted to develop an arcade racing game for the DS for a long time, and found ourselves with no development deals on the table after Dementium II was completed (even though I'd been in talks with dozens of publishers for over 6 months), so we decided to start making an ATV racing game – called ATV Spirit at the time. The ATV direction was directly influenced by the awesome title, Pure. We also decided to go with ATV because that theme of racing has sold fairly well on the DS, and we wanted to develop a racing game that players and publishers would be interested in. I know ATV racing is not really on the top of the list of hardcore gamers, but it is a genre that appeals to a lot of casual players, and perhaps with a little Renegade Kid magic we can turn a few hardcore players into believers. We’ll see…

So, anyway, my point is that we don’t always get to make our heart’s desire. Personally, I have wanted to make a 2D platform game for many years. I’d also like to develop a 3D platform game, hence the Maximilian demo we made. It can be argued that if a developer simply goes ahead and creates a game that they’re passionate about, it will find a home with players. But, what stands in-between the developer and the players are publishers. If publishers don’t think they can make money from your game, they won’t be interested in it. It can be a risky market out there, and publishers are even more careful with their investments than ever before.

Now, one of the main reasons that publishers must be so careful with their money is because the retail industry controls what games are put on the shelves. This includes Gamestop, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, etc. Publishers must convince each retail outlet to place an order for their game(s). Each retailer obviously wants to make as much money as possible, so they want titles that they think will sell. Are they experts on what will sell? Um, no, they really aren’t. But, they are in control of what product goes on their shelves, because they own those shelves. So, if a publisher goes to each of the big retailers with a single DS game and tries to place it with them, they’re going to have a hard time with an original title with an unknown brand that is only on the DS. If this title also has a Wii version, suddenly the deal looks better to retail. It feels like a more established brand and perhaps the publisher is going to put more marketing into a two SKU title. Now, if it has 360 and PS3 versions too, well, now we’re talking! How can we make this deal even more appetizing to retail? Huh, OK, how about we dump the artsy fartsy original content and replace it with a known brand, such as a movie or TV show? Yeah, now that’s money! Now, we have a game that has a built-in audience from the license, and it has multi-platforms. How can we lose? Oh? The game is shit? Never mind, it’ll sell anyway. :) Sure, I know that was a little sassy, but it is unfortunately very true.

This brings me neatly to one of the many things that is changing the video-game industry: digital content. The ability to cut-out retail is a beautiful thing. If we – and when I say we; I mean developers and publishers working together in a balanced partnership – if we can focus on making games that do not need to be engineered to impress retail for shelf space, but instead are able to focus on a game for game’s sake and invent creative ways for marketing our games to players, the number of high quality titles will surely increase. On top of that, not having to spend / risk money on manufacturing cartridges or DVDs is also a huge benefit that helps steer the focus of game making back onto the game and not all of the abstract and unnecessary obstacles that stand in our way today.

I see the road to a brighter day being paved today. We'll be there before you know it!

I hope you're having a great day. TTYL.


Monday, January 24, 2011

ATV Wild Ride: Nintendo Power Review

Nintendo Power have reviewed ATV Wild Ride, and they scored it 7/10. This is a decent score. I would have preferred a higher score, but I am pleased with a 7. Not only does Patrick have the splendid things listed below to say about the game, but NP scored MX vs. ATV 6/10, which puts ATV Wild Ride as the best ATV racing game on the DS according to their scoring system. I'll take that. :)

"Keep you engaged race after race."

"Clever interplay between nailing tricks and winning races."

"An undeniably solid feature set."

The full review can be found in the February 2011 issue of Nintendo Power, on page 87 (issue 264).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pre-Order ATV Wild Ride on

ATV Wild Ride is finally available for Pre-Order on

Go here and reserve your copy today!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reaction Time: Nintendo 3DS

The Nintendo 3DS will be priced at $249 in the US, and released on March 27, 2011. Am I excited? Hell yeah! Am I concerned? Yes.

I know I'm not alone on this. $249 for the 3DS is simply too expensive. The DS released at $149. If Nintendo couldn't afford to release a new handheld for less than $200, they should have designed a different new handheld. They could have released a "real 3D" version of the DS to save costs and release it at $189.99. People would still have been impressed with the real 3D tech, and let's face it, most people think the 3DS is just a glorified DS anyway (which it isn't).


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A pivotal time in gaming!

I just spent the past four years focused on the development of DS games. There were a few occasions when I worked on some game designs for the Wii, 360, and even PS3, but it always came back to the DS in the end for one reason or another. Renegade Kid’s fourth game, ATV Wild Ride, is coming out very soon, and our fifth DS game, codenamed Smoke, will be released in the summer of 2011. Also, as you may already know, our first 3DS title, Face Kart: Photo Finish, is coming in the fall of this year.

Now, the question is: what should we develop for next? The DS market is coming to the end of its life. Not much point in devoting many future plans there. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to continue developing games for the DS. But, publisher’s interest in the platform is decreasing fast. The 3DS is about to start its life, and everyone seems very excited about it. There’s also the iPhone and Android. Those devices are providing a rather large outlet for gaming. And then, there’s still the 360 and PS3 of course. But, to be honest, developing a multi-million dollar “next-gen” game seems a little too far to stretch right now. I realize I didn’t list the PSP, because that market has been in trouble since it started. It will be interesting to hear about what the PSP2 is all about. If it too is a gaming device and phone, it may do well, or it may fail next to the 3DS, iPhone, and Android. But hey, I guess it’s possible the PSP2 could trump them all! We’ll find out soon.

This is a pivotal time in gaming. There are many options to choose from for developers; too many perhaps? There are many platforms to develop for, many business models to consider, and many different audiences wanting to play different types of games. In the last round, the Wii and DS both provided affordable markets for smaller publishers to make a profit. Due to those platforms being family-friendly and casual, parents and kids purchased a ton of value priced garbage for those platforms, which fueled the creation of even more value priced garbage. And now, you look at the Wii and DS shelves in Target and Walmart and you see tons of games that you’ve never heard of. The number of games that are released and never reviewed in magazines or gaming sites is tremendously high. I have never witnessed this on a console before. Publishers knew that game reviews of their games had little impact on sales – a crazy concept – but, it makes sense when your audience is primarily people who don’t visit video-game websites or buy video-game magazines. It’s shocking stuff, really.

Now, with the Wii (nearly) seemingly gone, are publishers going to continue trying to milk the Wii market? After all, the primary audience of the Wii is not interested in forking out $250 for a new console when they already have one that works just fine. The Wii might be classified in the same way a casual player views their DVD player, and as such, they might expect to hold onto their Wii for another five years. The Wii does have a remote, just like their DVD, after all. Is it possible that Wii sales can continue that long? Or, will it quickly die with its’ customers going to iPhone, Kinect, and 3DS? 2011 will tell us.

The DS is definitely going away, of course. Its older brother, the Nintendo 3DS, is on its way and will overshadow any DS efforts publishers may have for 2012. 2011, on the other hand, still has a shot at making some profit from DS sales – especially this Christmas. So, what is a small publisher to do for 2012? If the Wii and DS options are gone, the natural choice may look like the 3DS. But, is the 3DS a Wii or is it a DS in terms of retail and budgetary concerns? The problem is that it is neither a Wii nor a DS, and yet it is both at the same time. Really, if you had to choose one that the 3DS resembles the most, it would be the DS. It is a handheld with two screens. I’m sure it will be very confusing for the execs whose job it is to mitigate risk, and such. The 3DS presents the development cost of (nearly) the Wii for a handheld console, which have always been considered “lite” gaming devices. From that perspective, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to invest Wii budgets into a DS market. In fact, it is starting to sound more like the PSP financial dilemma that turned many publishers away from it. I find all of this quite fascinating. The good news is that all publishers are clamoring to get 3DS titles out, so let’s hope this pushes through the barrier of executive concern and lands us nicely on easy street in 2012. :)

Alright, that’s enough waffling for today. I hope you’re having a great day. TTYL.


Monday, January 10, 2011

No Rise For Maximilian

It looks like Maximilian will not be rising up to thwart the Mutant Mudds on DSiWare. This makes me sad. I really wanted to see it happen. One month after I put the call out, we have 452 comments from fine folks who want to see Maximilian and the Rise of the Mutant Mudds on DSiWare. Unfortunately, that is 548 votes short of where we need to be in order to start development of the title.

I realize that Max may not seem special to some people. But, I believe Max could have been a very special addition to the DSiWare library.

Very special thanks to Kevin Cassidy (RMC), head honcho at GoNintendo, who agreed to display the Max banner on his awesome site, and kept it up there much longer than I expected. I really appreciate it, man. You’re a gentleman and a true gamer.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ninja Senki

A good friend of mine, Michael Veroni (who is the lead artist on DreamRift's debut title, Monster Tale), sent me a link today. It was this:

I downloaded the game and played it. It is great. You should play it too, and tell Jonathan Lavigne that his game is cool.

Here's a trailer for the game.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 Goodness

I am really looking forward to 2011. We have at least three games releasing this year! How crazy is that? Well, if they’re not delayed for some reason outside of our control, that is. First up, we have ATV Wild Ride releasing this month. I don’t have a release date yet, but I will share it with you once I know. After that, “Smoke” will be released for the DS sometime in the summer, I expect. And then, “Face” will come out late summer-ish, which is not for the DS! ;)

On December 9, I asked those interested in seeing Maximilian on DSiWare to comment on the blog post, saying that if we receive at least 1000 comments then we’ll bring it to DSiWare. So far, we have just over 400 comments. I will give it until January 9, to see what the final number is, but at this rate it looks very unlikely that we’ll receive 1000 legitimate votes for the game. This is sad, but also exactly why we asked for votes; to help us gauge whether development of the game would be financially wise or not. Honestly, if we can’t scrounge up at least 1000 votes in one month, it’s a fair sign that there aren’t enough people out there interested in the game, DSiWare, or both. I know I don’t have thousands of people visiting my blog, but Go Nintendo were kind enough to place a banner at the top of their site for many weeks, and even that did not drive enough people to vote.

Right now, we’re in heavy get-new-projects mode. There is one 3DS title that we’re in talks about with a publisher. It is a really cool game. It would be a conversion of an existing title, which we would bring to the 3DS. Let’s call it code-named “Planet”. In theory, we’re very close to signing this deal with the publisher. But, anything can happen in the world of business, so all we can do is hope everything stays its course and we sign it soon.

We’re also in talks with a couple of publishers regarding some value DS titles. Now, before you assume “value title” is synonymous with shovelware or crap, it doesn’t have to be that way. It depends on how you approach it. In my mind, the concept of a value title is a simple and fun game that costs less than a regular game. When you buy a DSiWare game for $8, for example, you are not expecting the same scope of game that you would buy at $29.99. They may be smaller in scope than games that cost $34.99 or $29.99, but that doesn’t mean they have to be any less fun or contain less quality work. Shantae, Dark Void Zero, and Cave Story are good examples of smaller scoped titles that are high quality in terms of craftsmanship and fun. Perhaps there are 10 levels instead of 15, or 4 characters instead of 8. Or perhaps it is a conversion of something that was developed for a different platform.

Now, why would anyone want to release value titles for the DS, right? Well, the market can create the need for publishers to consider these options. Value titles cost less to produce in terms of development costs, and the size of the cartridge that the game uses is smaller. So, instead of the development cost being 300,000 potatoes, it may cost just 100,000 potatoes due to the smaller scope of the game and/or leveraging of existing technology. Remember, this does not need to affect the quality of the title; just the size of it or perhaps the effort needed to complete the title (by leveraging existing assets). Also, instead of using a large cartridge that may cost the publisher 8 potatoes per cart to manufacture, a smaller cart may cost just 6 potatoes. Nice! So, we’ve managed to save a bunch of potatoes in development cost AND 2 potatoes PER CART by going with a smaller cartridge. If the first run of cartridges is 30,000 units, for example, that’s 30,000 multiplied by 2 potatoes, which is 60,000 potatoes in savings - based on the cart size alone! Plus, the 200,000 potatoes saved in development costs is a total savings of 260,000 potatoes. Very nice! However, due to the fact the game may sell for $19.99 or $14.99, there is less profit made on the sale of each game, but the hope is that more copies are sold due to the lower price. I know, I know; you don’t buy those lower priced titles anyway because you assume they’re all cheap crap. Fair enough. I am hesitant too. They usually are cheap crap. But, the majority of people who buy video games, on the DS and Wii anyway, are not hardcore gamers. They are casual gamers or parents, who do not perceive lower price as lower quality. The unfortunate reality is that many publishers take advantage of this and DO produce cheap crap. Sigh. I hope this evil practice ends eventually, but I know it won’t. Anywho, rest assured that if we sign on to develop a value title for the DS, our focus will be on producing a good game that is fun to play.

Here’s a quick question for you…

Which genre would you like to see Renegade Kid create for the DS?
  • First-Person Shooter
  • Third-Person Shooter
  • Vehicular Combat
  • 2D Platformer
  • 3D Platformer
  • Racing
  • Virtual Pet
Thanks. I hope you’re having a great day!