Aussie-Gamer recently caught up with Sydney-based developer Nnooo for a chat about the past, present and future of their studio, the Nintendo 3DS eShop and lots more.
In the first part of our interview, Nnooo discussed what it was like working in the Australian video game industry and revealed their thoughts on working simultaneously with Sony and Nintendo to bring escapeVektor to the latest handheld consoles.
You can read part one of our interview with Creative Director Nic Watt and Business Director Bruce Thomson right here.
In part two, below, we grilled the guys on developing Spirit Hunters Inc. which is set for release on November 22, as well as discuss the viability of developing for consoles in a ‘smartphone era’.
Aussie-Gamer – Spirit Hunters is releasing on November 22nd on Nintendo DSi and Nintendo 3DS eShop – the thing that struck me immediately was that it feels and plays like a full retail game. The other thing that dawned on me was that there is no gyroscope in the Nintendo DSi – how did you make this game feel like you’re playing a motion game, when there’s no motion technology at all in the console?
Nic: We spent a lot of time doing that. Basically, the way your DVD’s are compressed is they take the whole stream of the film in this high quality and then the computer looks at each frame and works out the differences and the similarities, and works out where things are moving — it’s this whole thing called “Motion Vectors”; a compression technique.
So when we were working out the Augmented Reality, we knew we needed to do something like take the one frame of the image that was just there on the camera and the image that’s there now on the camera and do a comparison between the two to see what’s changed, and then by somehow working out that change, it would work out the direction of the change.
And so we looked at a lot of the compression techniques you use for MPEG video – these “Motion Vectors” – and that’s what we’re doing. We’re analysing the image and then you do this clever comparison between the two and it averages out and says ‘most the direction has been this way’ and then we apply that as a force.
And that’s why it’s taken so long to make – and now every console that comes out has a damn gyroscope! (everyone laughs)
Aussie-Gamer – So you were a year and half into development and then the Nintendo 3DS was announced, how did you react to that?
Nic: We tried for a while to get word from Nintendo before the 3DS because I knew Nintendo would be working on a new handheld before it was announced and obviously didn’t know what it was and what it would have in it. Interestingly enough, I did start speculating that they’d put a 3D screen in before they announced it. We spoke to them for a while – up until that point he had done Pop! and the notebooks so we’re not ‘super-sexy developers’ so I think from their point of view it was particularly hard to decide “yes, we want Spirit Hunters on the Nintendo 3DS”.
When we did get approved, which wasn’t that long after launch, we made the decision then that the game is nearly finished — this was last year (all laugh) — and although it would still probably take another six to nine months to finish, if we moved it onto the other platform now there was so much we’d have to re-do. You’d want Spirits to be of a higher resolution, we could do more with particle effects, we’d have to introduce the gyroscope and 3D and then, the way we do our User Interface (in Spirit Hunters Inc.) is by using this 2D library you get and programs to make all the assets in on the DSi; that doesn’t exist on the 3DS since they’ve moved to a much more ‘polygon-based’ system so we’d have to completely re-do the user interface.
So basically: no. (all laugh) It would take too long. But people can still play the game on Nintendo 3DS.
Jayden – Which is good, because I think pretty much everyone has a Nintendo 3DS by now…
Nic: What I think is also interesting is that a lot of people have basically written Nintendo off with all the doom and gloom of the 3DS, saying that it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s actually selling faster than the Nintendo DS did at the same point in its lifespan, so hopefully that’ll continue.
I think it’s great where we are at the moment with iPhones and other smartphones being able to play games, but you’ve got this wide spectrum of really great games to choose from. Personally, I’m more of a “gamer gamer”, so I would rather buy a games machine that was dedicated to playing games.
Aussie-Gamer – So, even though we’re getting saturated with all these mobile games every single week, would you say there’s still room for handheld gaming?
Bruce and Nic: Definitely!
Nic: What I like as a developer — I mean, we’re really lucky because we’ve been approved by Nintendo and that’s not the easiest thing in the world to get — but what I like about these platforms is that you know every single person who’s bought a Nintendo 3DS or a PlayStation Vita or an Xbox 360, or whatever, they’ve gone out and said “I want to play games on this. I’m buying this machine to play games.”
So half of our job in terms of trying to appeal to the user is basically done, because you can make a game and there are people who want to buy games so that’s much easier. The iPhone is great because the user base is dramatically bigger than a console but how many of those people have actually bought it to play games? How many are only slightly interested when their friends recommend the latest quirky, fun thing? And how many are actively going out there every week, trying to find good, new experiences?
The great thing with gamers is that they’re on Facebook and on websites looking for games all the time. Most consumers who are on iPhone I doubt are avidly checking out reviews and things all the time.
Plus my personal feeling is that everything kind of comes in waves. There is data out there that shows that game sales will start low, increase mid-lifespan and then wane off. So if you look at the Nintendo DS, when the iPhone came out its sales was basically nose-diving into the ground because it had been out for something like 6 years and was starting to get a little long in the tooth – the PSP was doing the same, it was the end of their amazing curve (in sales).
So the iPhone’s this new, hot, amazingly pretty thing so it’s going off in the opposite direction so at that point it’s like Nintendo’s dead and Apple is doing amazingly well because one’s sales is going down, the other is shooting up.
And while I don’t think iPhone is dying off by any stretch of the imagination, I do think people’s excitement for platforms tend to wane after a while. The iPhone will become just this platform that is just kind of there, hanging around and doesn’t necessarily feel as new as it used to. “Touch-screening” was so awesome and exciting when it first came out but it’s going to start to feel like just another thing after a while.
Aussie-Gamer – The iPhone 5 was recently announced and during that conference, Apple had developers on the stage, showing off the gaming capabilities. Do you think that at some point these phones will be able to deliver that same gaming experience as dedicated consoles?
Nic: It’s a great platform and there are people making really great games for it, but from my personal opinion on what I look for in a game… I haven’t bought many iPhone games at all really because I find it really difficult to find what’s good and what isn’t, and I also find that — to me — they seem to have run the gamut of experiences that you’re able to have on the iPhone already with gyroscope and touch and there doesn’t seem to be much more that they can get out of it. I mean, you can but all the bells and whistles you like on it but at the end of the say you’re simulating buttons and analogue sticks and having to rely on gestures and touch and gyros to do everything.
Game consoles, for me — okay, they’re a little more bulky because of the buttons and sticks on it, but it allows you to create a wider variety of game experiences.
Aussie-Gamer – Since the Nintendo 3DS was released, have you found the eShop has helped with the sales of your older DSi titles?
Nic: A lot! A lot of people sort of laugh at us and think it’s highly amusing, but our Notebook titles which are really boring and not sexy since they’re more applications than games, have been amazing sellers. They are by far the best business decision we have ever made.
The MyNotebook titles have sold way in advance of over 200,000 units. It’s been really good, but we’ve put some hard work into it as well. Nintendo did an awful lot of apps on DSi – they did their calculators and their alarm clocks and I saw them coming online and thought “okay, if Nintendo are okay with doing applications, maybe we should try too!”
And so the nice thing is, because Nintendo want to sell their own stuff, they created an Application section in the eShop and we were lucky enough because we were making applications we get featured alongside their applications as well. And because that’s a permanent feature of the store – or it has been so far – it means for a while we basically had fairly steady sales.
Bruce: We’re currently selling more of our DSiWare “MyLife Collected” apps on Nintendo 3DS than we are on Nintendo DSi. So that’s one of the reasons we felt we were able to continue with Spirit Hunters Inc. for DSiWare; we know that people are still buying DSiWare titles on their Nintendo 3DS.
Nic: Obviously if it were a 3D game I think the potential for sales would be a little bit higher – that’s my main worry – but then, I bought a DSiWare title the other day that I was absolutely addicted to for about 24 hours and then completed.
Bruce: And we’ve got really striking graphics for Spirit Hunters Inc. Light Version and Shadow Version so it should be noticeable on the eShop! And Nintendo are quite excited about it, too which is good because we really have to try and persuade them to put it on the front page of the eShop. Even though it’s a DSiWare title, it’s not a “weak” DSiWare title – as you said, it’s a retail experience in a downloadable form.
Nic: Personally I think the way Nintendo has handled the transition between Nintendo DSiWare and Nintendo 3DS downloadable games has been done amazingly well. You have the whole DS and the way the DS transitioned into having its own online store and that has now transitioned to the Nintendo 3DS with its own online store — the fact that you’ve just got this huge volume of content both in cartridge form and all the DSiWare that can just move over.
Obviously, when they launched the 3DS, they can’t pump out enough development kits for every developer in the world, particularly the likes of us — we’re way down in the food chain because of EA and Ubisoft; they need them for the launch titles and cartridge games that are going to sell a lot more. So having that buffer of transition of all this great DSiWare moving over while they can start to push out the dev kits to the second and third tier developers like ourselves so we can start making more indie eShop titles, at least you’ve got that buffer and I think it’s been great.
Although the Wii has maybe died a lot quicker, I’m really hopeful that for the Wii U they really push a lot of the WiiWare titles out onto Wii U.
And I imagine that we’ll face the same problem again where we’ve got the Wii U dev kits in the office, but there’s not going to be a lot of people pushing out Wii U eShop content right from day one. Although, they are saying that a lot of the retail titles you’ll be able to download straight away, which is really interesting
Bruce: Which is great — we just moved apartments early in the year and we’re trying to get rid of all our physical stuff now, so all my 3DS software I’m just buying as download now. I really like it.
Nic: I need to buy a new memory card for my Vita. I have so many games, PSP games and download games, and they keep giving me freebies on PlayStation Plus (laughs).
Check out the other parts of this interview series below!