The ‘Fractured Soul’ developer talks the development process, frustrations with protecting ideas, and why you should buy their game.
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I hope you guys like interviews (I sure do!), because you’ll be seeing a lot more of them over the coming months. Lined up we have 5th Cell, Junction Point, Broken Rules, and WayForward (tentative), and over the past few months we’ve dealt with n-Space, Renegade Kid’s Jools Watsham, and some writers from Cracked.com (horrible, horrible interview).
Recently I’ve conducted interviews via lists, weird fan-fiction write ups, and as straightforward Q&As. This time I think it’s certifiably appropriate to hit it from the IGN angle: Straightforward Q&A with some splashy fluff and awkward text-ifyings of emotional responses.
Ha ha ha.
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So what’s in store for today? It’s time to get to know the guys behind 3DS’s potential next great platformer, Endgame Studios! A relatively new name to the development scene, they’ve been doing licensed games and dev-for-hire stuff since 2003, but they didn’t foray into independent game design in a serious way until 2005/2006, when the early early concept for ‘Fractured Soul’ came to be. It’s been a long development cycle, but we’re finally nearing its September 13th release date and many people are looking for a reason to pick it up.
So I started with that.
“First of all, I should give you a chance to sell ‘Fractured Soul’ to our readers. Why should our dollars become your dollars?”
“The elevator pitch for Fractured Soul is ‘Mega Man on both screens of the 3DS’”, Grant Davies at Endgame said, “which really means it’s a classic style platform game (in the style of those platform games we grew up playing – Mega Man, Castlevania, Metroid) but played across both screens.”
“But Austin!” I hear you all say, “Doesn’t that mean the game will be really hard and have a lot of complex dual-screen areas to overcome!?”
Yes, readers. Oh yes.
“The player can tap either shoulder button to switch screens at any time – necessary to avoid enemy bullets, hazards and to navigate the level. There are 5 different worlds, and in each on there is a unique take on the screen switching on one of the screens – for example, slower movement or inverted gravity. Speed running is also an important part of Fractured Soul, and we’ve built in online leaderboards so gamers can compete with their friends or the world. If you’re a fan of platform games, you’ll probably get a kick out of Fractured Soul.”
‘Fractured Soul’, however, wasn’t always about space and gravity and shooting lasers- its beginnings were quite humble as the DS platformer ‘Slidatron’, which looked like this:
This was way back in 2006, and since then there have been two games on the DSi Shop/eShop– Divergent Shift and Chronos Twins– that utilize similar ideas. Both games were apparently conceived and released after the concept of ‘Slidatron’ was made public, so there’s a pretty decent chance that we know where they got the idea.
“You’ve been developing Slidatron/Fractured Soul for nearly six years, and it’s safe to say that you were the first developer to come up with the dual-screen platformer idea. Since then, however, two other platformers of similar style have come out on DS”
I set the scene,
“Does this frustrate or upset you as a developer? I recall you saying in an interview a long time ago that you were keeping development fairly close to your chest in order to avoid people stealing the concept.”
“It is frustrating to see other games getting published and Fractured Soul struggling to find a way to market – it does make you wonder what you’re doing wrong.” Davies said, “And although it’s understandable, it can be difficult to hear comments that paint Fractured Soul as being derivative of some other game – many of the other duality games came along years after ours did. I guess in the past we were more worried about the game idea being copied than we are now. Our approach now is to say that we need to be confident that, aside from the duality concept, the game is original and holds up as a fun game in its own right. We cannot rely on one single element to make the game interesting. I think we’re more comfortable now that Fractured Soul has its own style that is different enough from any other game to be a unique and fun experience.”
“After the harrowing experience trying to get Fractured Soul published externally, have you considered self-publishing like Renegade Kid are doing in the future?”
“Definitely. It would be great to be able to do that. The dream for us is to be beholden and accountable only to fans rather than publishers. I really hope that going on eShop is a step in that direction – and that the game does well enough in the marketplace to allow us to self-publish. It is the right result for the game and it’s the right result for gamers. We will just have to wait and see if we can do that or not.”
So, fellow gamers, if you want Endgame to be able to self publish and make more games like ‘Fractured Soul’, make sure you buy it on September 13th!
Enough about this dribble drabble though- I wanted to dig in more deeply and try and find a cool scoop to get NintendoEverything on the map, so I looked back over old interviews and found something very peculiar to ask about.
“You said a while back that you have a concept that uses the Wii remote in an interesting, innovative way. Will we ever see that game? If not, can you tell us what the concept was? If so, can you tell us what the concept was?”
“I doubt it will happen but I am happy to share the idea. Again it was a 2D platform game (surprised?) on Wii where the Wii mote could be rotated to rotate the world on the screen, changing gravity. The idea was that you could either change just the player’s gravity or the entire world’s gravity, and that would have many implications for level navigation and combat. I believe since then another game has been released which does a similar thing, so again, it’s not so original any more.”
That game they’re referencing is ‘And Yet It Moves’, which- funnily enough- has an interview with us lined up for later this month! Maybe I’ll ask them if they stole the idea from Endgame and start a big developer war…
Wait, there was something else I had to ask about too.
“Same goes for DS. You have said that Slidatron’s main “gimmick” was just one of 4-5 possible options. Did you use any of the other options in Fractured Soul? Will you ever use any of these other options?”
“They were all very different ideas – and I believe all of them have been done by other developers long ago now. They would almost seem like old ideas if we started talking about them these days!”
Hmmm… More developers stealing ideas from Endgame? I smell a conspiracy. Maybe I should ask about the moon landing or the illuminati or something big and conspiracy-ish.
“In Fractured Soul, who made the scream that the main character belts out upon falling into an endless pit?”
You may be thinking to yourself, “Austin, that is the most ridiculous question! Why would you waste a question on that!?”
First of all, I don’t have a question limit. Second of all, if you had played the game you would understand.
“I believe that is a modified version of the very famous Wilhelm Scream.” he said, “You have to get it in every game…”
If this interview was live and I was actually talking to Davies, I would have asked if they had included the Wilhelm Scream in their iOS game “Ringtone DJ”, but due to restrictions of the email format, I was stuck in the past alongside questions without context- a place without hope.
What was I talking about again? Oh right, an interview. Better get back on subject with something topical!
“Do you wish that people would be more willing to pay upwards of five dollars for downloadable titles, given that they’re equally as good as retail?”
“I actually think gamers are willing to pay more for interesting content.” he began, “It is no secret that Fractured Soul is one of the larger and more expensive eShop exclusives, but the reaction has been pretty good so far – it seems like gamers understand why it is priced the way it is. There is a very small percentage of people who say something like “anything more than $10 needs a review of 9/10+” but I wonder how genuine they are about that, because if that’s their philosophy they won’t have many games!”
We can all assume that this means they certainly aren’t rich, and like many indies they don’t live like kings!
“Like many indies, we don’t live like kings.” he continued, “We are not nickel-and-diming gamers. We are trying to bring in enough money from sales of the game to be able to make our next game and bring it directly to gamers again on digital platforms. If we can’t do that, we either stop making games or we have to go via a publisher which probably means retail, which means much higher prices. From what I’ve seen gamers understand this, and they understand that the question really is “do I want to support these guys to keep making these kind of games or not?”
Well… that’s a wonderfully pleasant and docile way to put it! It’s hard to stir up controversy when you interview someone who’s level headed and agreeable. I would have to dig a little deeper and use a fact that I pulled out of the depths of the internet. A fact that- of all the facts I know- is one that is definitely 100% accurate and in no way un-factual.
“The company that Endgame stems from- Tantalus Media- is actually working on porting Mass Effect 3 to the Wii U right now. Do you ever wish you would have stuck with Tantalus instead of doing your own thing?”
See? I did lots of research and hours of digging to come up with that bit of news that told me Endgame stems from Tantalus, and I’m supremely proud of–
“Actually,” he interrupted my thought, “Endgame stems from Torus Games.”
The joy leaked from my face. I was defeated. My interviewing days were over!
It was right then that Mr. Davies saw my despair and tried to remedy the situation by connecting Endgame with Tantalus somehow.
“But!” he said, “Tantalus has outsourced titles and parts of titles to Endgame over the years – usually DS versions of their games.”
Good enough. I was back in the game!
“As for Mass Effect 3, I think it’s great that Tantalus has secured this project and I’m sure they will do a great job with it. The Australian industry has certainly struggled in recent years, particularly in the hardcore sector, so hopefully this is a sign that things are improving.”
“You say you’re “platform agnostic”, but come on, there have to be some systems more fun to develop for than others.”
“One of the things we mean by being platform agnostic is that we don’t have much interest in writing the low-level tech for a platform. We see ourselves as content creators – that is really where our interest lies. Systems that have middleware available tend to be more accessible because we don’t have to worry about the creation of low-level tech. Systems that have faster CPUs or better GPUs are easier to develop for, and that means more of a focus on gameplay rather than worrying about technical details. That said, I do enjoy the challenge of platforms that are a little different, and trying to think of what we could do with that platform to create a new experience that hasn’t been done before.”
That drive to be innovative and to challenge themselves definitely shows in Fractured Soul, but I do wonder what they’d do if the game concept wasn’t in their hands. What if they had to work on some franchise that was already in existence…?
“If Nintendo came to you tomorrow and said “Hey Endgame, we want you to independently develop the next Mario game!”, what would you do with it?”
“It’s an interesting question! One of the aspects of Mario we like best is the abstract puzzle levels in the 3D versions of Mario. The level design is so awesome. We certainly tried to take inspiration from these levels for certain parts of the Fractured Soul level design. So my first thought is that we’d pitch a spin-off game comprised of a whole bunch of these type of abstract puzzle platforming levels, all timed for speed-running of course! Mmm, to dream…”
A neat concept, but I sort of wish I was in the room so I could ask which puzzles in particular they were interested in… Releasing chain chomp in Mario 64? Locating the 8 red coins? Shooting into the wild blue? Ah well. It’s time to wrap this deal up! I have a review (of Fractured Soul, actually) I have to get done and a bunch of other work, but you know what’s funny? I can’t actually put the review out until tomorrow because they embargo’d it.
I wonder why they did that…
“Last question: Why do developers and publishers embargo reviews until the day prior to launch? I can understand– if you think your game will garner less-than-great reviews– why you’d embargo until launch itself, but why the day before?”
“The embargo isn’t so much about worrying about review scores, it’s more about ensuring equality for reviewers. Particularly in the case of Fractured Soul, where we suddenly had an opportunity to move our release forward so we did in order to get it to gamers faster. But that gave us less time to get people to review the game. Under such time pressures, if we just let people post reviews whenever they could, it would be a little unfair to reviewers who had other games on their plate and couldn’t get around to playing Fractured Soul for a few days. Giving everyone a week or so to review the game ensures no one gets a “first to market” advantage. As for why it’s the day before, that’s because in this case Nintendo is holding a big press event on September 13 – whilst the focus of the event is surely to herald the release of Fractured Soul on eShop, some people seem to be speculating that it will center around Wii U instead! We figure most Nintendo sites will want to cover that announcement so it’s probably best to post reviews the day before and get that out of the way.”
Once again, a significantly more straightforward and agreeable answer than I had expected! Good on you, Endgame Studios. You guys are pretty darn cool, and your game– well, I shan’t talk about your game just yet.
That will come tomorrow. : ]
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Admittedly this interview is slightly rushed (just got the questions back a few hours ago!), but I wanted to get it out, have the review tomorrow, and then see the game released on Thursday. I’ll re-post this stuff over the weekend to make sure it gets the exposure it deserves.
Thank you very much to Robert for setting up this interview, Grant Davies for answering my silly questions, and everyone who worked on ‘Fractured Soul’ for making such a [words omitted because review tomorrow] game!