Let's be fair - you don't see too many Wii U exclusives turning up at the moment, which makes the ones we've got all the more dear to our hearts. Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails is as dear as they come.
The fantastic-looking half-platformer, half-shooter, made by Cardiff studio Dakko Dakko, has been in development for over a year now and its creator, Rhodri Broadbent has been outspoken in support of his chosen console throughout. So we got him to speak out again. We grabbed Broadbent for a quick chat about the state of Nintendo, working on a Wii U game, the allure of handhelds and the problem with multi-platform releases.
ONM: Nintendo's getting something of a rough ride from developers and press at the moment. As a developer making a game exclusively for a Nintendo system, what's been your experience of working with them?
Rhodri Broadbent: We've found Nintendo to be tremendous to work with, and very supportive of Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails right from the start.
In recent weeks there has been a bunch of concerned chatter online about out-of-date information and needless negativity around Wii U development. I think it comes down to approach and expectation as to how much fun (or otherwise) a developer will have making games on any platform. To me, bringing your game to a Nintendo system should be about taking advantage of the toybox of possibilities they provide you with in terms of the controllers, the two screen setup, Miis, and so on. There's so much to use, learn from, and build on.
Some developers quite understandably simply want an easy way to bring their established game over to a new platform. In that case, the more similar the system and the development tools, the happier they'll obviously be. Those developers make up an important and sizeable chunk of the industry, but it shouldn't be the dominant one and it shouldn't be the only voice we hear. As both consumer and developer I want unique systems, and games tailored to those systems, playing to strengths and mastering the quirks and charms of the target hardware. If that has to necessarily mean that certain elements won't be the same as they are on another games machine, then so be it. In fact, that's better. Choice is always good.
What is disappointing to me about the recent online chatter hasn't been the not-at-all surprising revelation that some developers get unhappy that games development isn't always easy on pre-launch hardware. We've all been there at some point. What's disappointing to me is that there appear to be so few of the larger publishers interested in making things specific to a platform any more. We'll be much poorer off as gamers if cross-platform homogeny sets the agenda for platform holders. A platform's individuality and its exclusives are what you'll remember in 20 years time. And Nintendo has already ensured that Wii U will be fine with regard to those.
ONM: You're advocates of single-platform games - what do you make of the growth in cross- and multi-platform releases? Is there a situation in which you could see yourselves moving into multi-platform?
RB: It's so much fun making a game for unique hardware with its own personality that I'd be very reluctant to give that up. But of course I have no problem with multi-platform games in principle! Some game designs work beautifully across multiple systems and sometimes a port can be better than the original - it's just that I personally value very highly the link between a game and its original target platform, and I'm interested in that continuing and growing. So many of my favourite games experiences were crafted around the hardware they were originally designed for, and often a port will suffer as a result of design decisions that were made for a different system. I can't, (for example) play Mario 64 without an N64 controller, and I regret greatly how the unrivalled magnificence of the Gamecube classic Donkey Kong Jungle Beat was tragically lost in its 'Play on Wii' port.
So I'd be fine with multi-platform development of a game where it was obvious that the design isn't negatively affected by having to fit multiple, different shaped slots. What I really don't want to see is a future where all platforms are the same and so games stop developing around unique hardware. I'd be needing to find another hobby and another business quickly, were that to happen!
ONM: The eShop now seems to be the busiest place for third party games on Wii U and 3DS. Do you think that's a role it can grow into and serve a wider function for the consoles?
RB: I think the eShop and similar digital stores are going to be the lifeblood of games systems from here out. As big budget development of the 'hollywood experience' blockbuster titles drains more resources from the big publishers, they can release even fewer experimental or original titles, so it'll be essential for smaller developers to continue to step up and fill in the void. It's of vital importance for gaming that the huge (often quite incredible) productions which fill up high street retailers and use up so much development resource don't deprive new generations of gamers of the sort of vibrant, varied and unusual games that have made gaming so exciting for so long. The digital stores are making sure that more people have more ways to bring their game ideas to market, so their importance and continued prominence is assured.
ONM: You've worked on handhelds previously, and even here you're prioritising the GamePad screen over the TV. What is it about handhelds that works for you?
RB: There's an intimacy in playing on a screen right there in your hands that I really enjoy. Like you've got this little world in your hands, and you can take it around with you, you're not tied to one place to interact with it. I've been carrying a handheld games machine with me for as long as I can remember, and I can never be found without a GB Micro with Wario Ware, Inc. in the slot. Just in case!
ONM: Does working on the 3DS interest you? Given your history of targeting specific hardware, what features would most interest you about developing for it?
RB: 3DS is a very attractive platform for Dakko Dakko, naturally. Having worked on the DS back at its launch, and now on Wii U, I've got a lot of love for the two screen set-up and the touch panel, but also I *really* love that 3D screen. Playing Fire Emblem: Awakening was made all the more distinctive and memorable because it was like a living, breathing tabletop game, somewhere in this magical space in front of my eyes. And there were seagulls flying over it! So, if we were to make a 3DS game I'd really want to take advantage of that volume and depth. And I'd love to make a Streetpass-only game, too.