This interview was originally published on N-Europe on 29th October 2008.
One giant fright for mankind…
Renegade Kid shot to fame in the eyes of Nintendo fans back in 2007 with the launch of Dementium: The Ward for the DS, a technical marvel which proved that survival horror could be just as scary, if not scarier, on a portable system as on home consoles. The developers have just wrapped up work on Moon, a sci-fi horror FPS for the DS which is set to push the boundaries of the system even more than Dementium. We recently caught up with Jools Watsham, the co-founder and Creative Director of Renegade Kid, to talk about their DS marvels, a mysterious Wii project, and much more…
N-Europe: We’d imagine the DS isn’t the easiest platform to build a first person shooter for, what made you choose to develop FPS games specifically for that platform?
Jools Watsham: It was an easy decision for us. We love the DS, and we’re fans of all FPS games. Having previously developed titles for the Nintendo 64, and knowing the Nintendo DS has a similar amount of power thanks to the excellent conversion of Mario 64 and original title Metroid Prime: Hunters on the Nintendo DS, we were confident that it could handle the job of faithfully presenting a decent FPS title. Both Dementium: The Ward and Moon were opportunities for us to combine some of our most respected things in gaming: Nintendo DS, FPS, survival horror, and sci-fi.
“A large hole in the DS market was survival horror, with Resident Evil being the only one at the time. We knew doing survival horror was going to be difficult, and coupled with the fact that it was an FPS on the DS we really had our work cut out for us. We liked the challenge and the chance to stand out a little from the crowded DS shelves.”
N-E: You could have just as easily churned out a few pet simulators to cash in on the casual market, why did you decide to instead develop a brilliant 3D engine and a horror FPS experience aimed at a much smaller part of the market?
JW: We make games because we love playing games. Already being fans of the Nintendo DS when we decided to start Renegade Kid in late 2006; developing games for the Nintendo DS was a natural choice. A large hole in the DS market was survival horror, with Resident Evil being the only one at the time, and one of the few mature titles. We knew doing survival horror was going to be difficult, and coupled with the fact that it was an FPS on the DS we really had our work cut out for us. We liked the challenge and the chance to stand out a little from the crowded DS shelves.
Despite the smaller screen scares, Dementium: The Ward is brimming with nightmare fuel.
N-E: How long did it take to develop your earlier DS game Dementium: The Ward, and how long has Moon been in development for?
JW: Both games took approximately 10 months to develop.
N-E: With horror games on home consoles, the size of the screen, surround sound, force feedback and more realistic graphics are usually helpful in scaring the bejesus out of players. What measures did you take to ensure that a handheld game with smaller screens and lower resolution graphics could be as scary as titles such as Resident Evil 4?
JW: It never occurred to us that we needed a large screen, surround sound, and all of that other fancy stuff to make something scary. Watching a scary movie on a basic TV without all of the bells and whistles is still a scary experience if the movie is good. We focused on the atmosphere in Dementium: The Ward. Being alone in the dark (no pun intended) is naturally scary for most people. Once we were happy with the atmosphere we wanted to try and make the player uneasy about every step they took. We approached this by establishing a credible threat early on. In the first corridor you enter, you see a large fleshy beast with a cleaver knife surgically attached to its hand dragging a poor helpless woman along the floor and into a room, slamming the doors closed behind them – that’s a little unnerving. We also thought it would be important to make practically everything a potential threat: enemies smash through unassuming closed doors and squirm out of ventilation shafts on the walls and ceiling, and they jump over railings from the darkness below. Our hope is that you are always looking around not sure if something is going to jump out at you. Once this scene has been set, it is most effective when nothing jumps out at all…
“It never occurred to us that we needed a large screen, surround sound, and all of that other fancy stuff to make something scary. Being alone in the dark is naturally scary for most people. Our hope is that you are always looking around not sure if something is going to jump out at you. Once this scene has been set, it is most effective when nothing jumps out at all…”
N-E: Dementium has been out for almost a year in America, and for just over two months in Japan. Europe, however, remains without a release date. When will Dementium finally surface in our hallowed continent?
JW: It will eventually. I am not sure when though. Nintendo has approved the European version of the game, so it is just a matter of time now.
N-E: How did Dementium fare commercially, and how many copies are you expecting Moon to sell?
JW: We consider Dementium: The Ward a success. We are hoping Moon does just as well, or better than Dementium, but you can never tell how the market will react to a game. We’ve poured a tremendous amount of work into Moon so I am hoping players really enjoy it.
N-E: Now on to Moon, what’s the story behind your new sci-fi shooter?
JW: It is the year 2058, and a mysterious hatch has been discovered on the moon surface. You and your team have been sent up to investigate.
Ground control to Major Kane…
N-E: Could you briefly explain the changes you made to the Renegade Kid engine for Moon?
JW: We focused on increasing the size and variety of the levels in Moon, and we also paid a lot more attention to particle effects for weapons and explosions. One other large addition is the vehicle handling. We spent a lot of time getting the LOLA recon vehicle working, and we’re really happy with the result.
N-E: Rather than a straight storyline, Moon has been split up into episodes. How many episodes can we expect to see, and how long will each episode last?
JW: There are 18 story episodes and six hidden episodes. The episodes vary in length as some are “levels” and some are boss encounters, so some episodes may take someone anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour, whereas the boss encounters may take 5 to 15 minutes.
N-E: How long do you expect the game to last in total? Are there any incentives for replaying it?
JW: The total play time for someone to complete the adventure is around 9-12 hours. One of the reasons we broke the game into episodes is to allow the player to easily replay each episode. Upon completing each episode the player’s stats for time, shot accuracy, and extra merits are saved. The player can replay any completed episode on any of the three difficulty settings (Rookie, Normal, and Veteran) to improve upon their stats. Each of the main “levels” has special information terminals and hidden alien artifacts that contribute towards extra merits and unlocking hidden content.
“Being fans of FPS titles, and of course the Metroid series in both 2D and 3D form, we can’t help but be influenced by such great games. Even though Moon is a sci-fi title, we have drawn on other sources of inspiration such as Goldeneye 64, Bioshock…“
N-E: The Metroid series has been critically acclaimed for its feeling of isolation, which we’d say adds a feeling of horror of the series. Would you say you’ve drawn influences from Metroid in the development of Moon?
JW: Being fans of FPS titles, and of course the Metroid series in both 2D and 3D form, we can’t help but be influenced by such great games. Even though Moon is a sci-fi title, we have drawn on other sources of inspiration such as Goldeneye 64, Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, and other great titles.
N-E: What types of weapons and vehicles will be available to us in Moon?
JW: There are a number of unique weapons for the player to use, such as a Muon Pistol: a versatile, lightweight weapon that uses micro-rail technology to provide the range, precision, and power of a larger weapon in a compact size. The Lepton Spread emits an explosive burst of sub-atomic particles that penetrate most matter, allowing one shot to blast through several targets. A small recon robot in the form of a Remote Access Droid links directly to the user’s sensory input and neural output, allowing the player to explore otherwise inaccessible areas. And the LOLA “buggy” vehicle is engineered for exploring rugged terrain, such as the moon’s surface – also equipped with a powerful laser orb capable of penetrating most known armor systems.
N-E: What can you tell us about Moon that nobody else knows about?
JW: The creation of the LOLA buggy was way more complicated and time consuming than we first estimated, taking much more time and producing much more hair-pulling than we thought. If we had known this we may not have added it, but I’m very happy we did because it adds a lot to the overall experience of Moon.
Visually, Moon looks to be in the same league as Metroid Prime Hunters, the Nintendo DS sci-fi sidequel to the beloved GameCube/Wii trilogy.
N-E: Is Moon strictly a one-off game, or is the door open for Kane and his buddies to return in the future?
JW: We can continue with the adventures of Major Kane and Co. if this version sells enough copies. [Smiles]
N-E: We know you’re currently developing a mysterious title based on a famous horror icon. The bats and the silhouette in the teaser image seem to suggest that said icon will be the infamous vampire, Count Dracula. GameSetWatch also ran a rumour that your project is entitled “Son of the Dragon”, which translates into Romanian as Dracula. Our question to you is this: is the game based on Dracula?
N-E: How long has the project been in development for?
JW: We haven’t stated what platform the game is for yet, but we have been working on the game for a few months now.
N-E: It has also been rumoured that your project will abandon the first-person aspect of your previous two titles for the DS. What is the genre of your new project?
JW: We’re still experimenting with a few things that may alter the “genre”, so it is a little too early to say right now.
N-E: Will your project be primarily focused on a single player mode, or can we expect some multiplayer action?
JW: The primary focus is single player.
N-E: With Moon almost complete and a new Wii game on the horizon, are you shifting your focus to the Wii or do you have future plans for both the Wii and DS?
JW: We still have much love and plans for development on the DS.
“What the video game industry needs are people who are passionate about making great games. If you have that passion you shouldn’t have any problem with going to school/college during the day to get your education while developing your craft in the evening on your own time with software and improving your skills.”
N-E: We know quite a few of our readers enjoy reading the Renegade Kid developer blog, will you continue updating it after the release of Moon?
JW: My video blog at www.joolswatsham.com is not strictly tied to Moon, or even Renegade Kid. It is just my personal outlet for ramblings, so I plan to continue uploading video blogs.
N-E: Have you considered developing games for downloadable services such as WiiWare?
JW: It is something we may get into in the future.
N-E: Renegade Kid is a relatively small company. Do you prefer working in a smaller, more close-knit team or would you prefer to be working for a larger company?
JW: I think there is room for both approaches with Renegade Kid. Small DS teams are wonderful, and fun. The enjoyment of working on a large team is also great, so it is certainly something we also plan on doing in the future.
The buggy is called LOLA, and tastes just like cherry cola.
N-E: Several developers have recently criticised gaming degrees, citing that they do not provide students with enough expertise in certain areas needed for game development such as AI and physics. What’s your opinion on these degrees, and what advice can you offer to those hoping to enter the gaming industry in the near future?
JW: I can’t really comment on the “gaming” degrees without seeing more information on what they offer, but can I imagine it is very difficult for colleges to keep up with the ever-changing and evolving status of the video game industry and the different gaming platforms. If someone is seeking a career in programming, art, production, or audio I think there are many degrees available that people can pursue to aid them in their goal. They don’t need to specifically be “gaming” degrees; they can be related to your craft and help round out your knowledge.
An art degree is going to help you as an artist, but you’ll also need to get some experience with programs such as 3DS Max and/or Maya, and Photoshop to name a few. I don’t think there are many degrees out there that can provide you with everything you need to step directly into an art position in the video game industry.
What the video game industry needs are people who are passionate about making great games. If you have that passion you shouldn’t have any problem with going to school/college during the day to get your education while developing your craft in the evening on your own time with software and improving your skills. It may be a tough path, but the reward is worth it. It is a little trickier for designers. Learning level editors and 3DS Max / Maya is certainly a helpful aspect. Playing games from an analytical perspective is important, figuring out the decisions made by the team to implement things the way they did. One good exercise is to create a design document from scratch that details an entire game. It is a difficult task, and must be written so other people can understand it without extra explanation from you. This will force you to think of every design detail required to make an entire game.
Everything in the game should be justified. Don’t add a jump to your game just because Mario has a jump. Add a jump because your game concept needs it for a specific purpose.
N-E: The Legend of Zelda’s Tingle – an innocent and misunderstood balloonist, or a lycra-wearing freak you’d throw stones at if you saw him near a playground?
JW: It’s Nintendo; of course he’s an innocent and misunderstood balloonist. [Smiles]