Neko Entertainment doesn’t have an overly large presence in the video game industry, nor do many of its past games linger in the minds of gamers.
Though with the launch of Nintendo’s first HD console, Wii U, Neko Entertainment has been catapulted to new heights. Nestled on the Wii U’s Nintendo eShop, the studio’s latest title, Puddle, sits right alongside heavyweight games such as New Super Mario Bros. U and Assassin’s Creed III.
Puddle is a 2D puzzle/platforming title where players guide a pool of liquid through a variety of stages by using the laws of physics. In our recent review of the game I called it “a surprisingly engaging video game”.
Having been released on various other platforms before being brought to Wii U, I reached out to Sébastien Chipot-Delys from Neko Entertainment to discuss the port, the studio’s relationship with Nintendo and a little about Neko Entertainment itself.
“Since 1999, the creation of the little cat, Neko Entertainment has been developing video games exclusively for consoles and PC” Sébastien tells me through email last week. In an industry rife with numerous studio closures it’s amazing to see an indie developer go from strength to strength over the course of a decade and become a certified developer for all three major players, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.
The key to lasting as long as they have, Sébastien feels its Neko’s involvement with major publishers in developing licensed titles. An experience as he tells has resulted with the studio becoming accustomed to the high standards of large publishers, and in turn has allowed the studio to create “innovative gameplay designs and technologies”.
Quality is something Sébastien is not unfamiliar with. His role at Neko Entertainments is quality assurance manager (QA manager) – a division that was not formed until his arrival. Prior to this he worked at companies such as Codemasters and Nintendo in their quality assurance and testing teams.
Unlike a majority of studios out there, Neko Entertainment has created, and maintains, its own game engine which serves as the foundation of all their games. “We work on our in-house technology, the NGDK, to develop all the games” Sébastien explains, “it is a cross platform engine, so is really easy to create a game on different platforms”. Despite being a relatively small studio the team works hard to keep the engine at high standards, so during development the team can simulate the final results to ensure everything goes smoothly.
The cross-platform abilities of the engine made developing for Wii U easy when the team decided to bring Puddle across. “We always wanted to release Puddle on Wii U as we did not had the opportunity to release it on a Nintendo platform”. According to Sébastien the team decided to port Puddle early in the development cycle, which benefited the final product as had plenty of time with little stress.
The game itself came from an idea thought up by six students of the video game school ENJMIN in France. Having won the Student Showcase prize at GDC in 2010 Neko Entertainment picked up the idea and worked with the students to help them realize their dream. As Sébastien tells it, “They were inspired at first by Rube Goldberg machines, these incredibly complex constructions that nearly do nothing useful are quite fascinating to watch”
“They tried to combine (this) with our primary goal of playing with fluids, they struggled between a pure puzzle game and a racing game. In the end, they tried to keep some key elements from both these gameplay without imposing too much of the hassle that could go with the dynamic nature of fluids”.
Without a doubt Puddle has been Neko Entertainment’s most successful game to date, already having been released on every major gaming platform bar the Nintendo 3DS – which according to Sébastien came about by fans overwhelming desire to play it across multiple platforms. ” Players from all over the world wanted to play the game, and that’s why we ported the game on every possible platform (Xbox360, PS3, PS Vita, Wii U, PC, Mac, and some others incoming)…”(since) the game was really original, and entertaining we had mostly really nice feedback”
Sébastien also very much enjoys Wii U’s integrated social network service, Miiverse. Spend any time browsing the posts for any of the eShop titles and you’ll notice members of the development team interact with the players, getting feedback and providing updates regarding patches and the like. “The Miiverse is really interesting as you can get direct feedback from the players, after all we make games for them so every remark is interesting”
Of course Nintendo’s position on the newly launched eShop has helped increase Puddle‘s public profile even further. Sébastien talks about the eShop with warmth as he expresses his joy of having the studio’s game presented on the main page alongside the likes of Mario and others. Behind the scenes, Nintendo of Europe did more than simply spotlight games like Puddle on the store front. In the lead up to launch Nintendo personally got involved with helping indie studio’s like Neko Entertainment promote their games.
“Nintendo made a lot of effort to help us promote Puddle and (get it) be ready for the launch…even asked us to come to the Spanish event some days before the Wii U Launch, to promote Puddle” Sébastien recalls in our conversation. This highlights how much value and importance Nintendo is putting into every aspect of the Wii U experience, be it from a major AAA publisher or a smaller French studio.
Before ending our email correspondence, Sébastien offered a little message directly to not only the Aussie-Gamer community but to Australian gamers;
“Most of the time during a project, we have the choice of which countries we will release our games (just by deciding to get the OFLC rating or not). A lot of studios don’t release their game in Australia, because they don’t think it is a place where they will sell a lot of games.
What we know is Australian players are always happy, and let us know their feelings when they know a game will be released in their country. So we really wanted to let Australian players enjoy our game and give us their feedback on the game, because the more you get, from different countries, the better your future games will be! That’s one of Neko’s politics and I don’t think it will ever change!”
Looking ahead, Neko Entertainment are working on new projects for current generation and next-generation consoles, including Wii U, with hopes of releasing a new game in 2013.
I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Sébastien Chipot-Delys of Neko Entertainment for taking the time to chat with me, and if you would like to share your feedback for Puddle with him be sure to hit up the game’s community on Miiverse!