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The Wild Ride of Development

From the explosive start of Renegade Kid with a Mature horror title for the Nintendo DS to a 3D enhanced arcade racer for the Nintendo 3DS!

Jools Watsham, Blogger

April 17, 2013

10 Min Read

[Original Post]

Renegade Kid’s start was somewhat of an explosive one with the release of Dementium: The Ward. It was the right game, in the right market, at the right time. It put our company on the map – at least within the Nintendo DS community.

The success of our debut title led to the development of Moon, which may not have met with the same success in terms of sales, but it connected with fans thanks to improved story-telling and sense of adventure – scoring higher with reviewers across the board.

With SouthPeak's purchase of Gamecock, Dementium II was born and enabled us to pour more resources than we ever had into the development of a game. The result was something very special with variety and gore to please those who appreciate such things.

In terms of development, we were building some great momentum as a team and felt very fortunate to have developed three first-person shooters in a row. However, the market was changing. It was 2010 and everyone seemed to be cranking their “mitigating risk” levers up to the max!

Publishers have always been tight with their cash, understandably, but it was getting to the point where we could not find any publishing partners willing to invest in the development of… well, anything really.

Forget original adventure games, we couldn’t even land license game gigs! It was a very difficult time for developers in the industry as a whole, and the DS market was no exception. We needed to get creative! We needed to find a way to land a deal and still try to have fun doing what we do.

I turned to the data. The sales data, that is. Looking at which games sold well in the past does not predict the future, but it shows you where audiences have existed, which at least suggests they may still exist.

After filtering out all of the Nintendo games and big license games (movie and TV tie-ins) you are left with virtual pet games, racing games, and… not very much else in terms of consistent genres that performed well in the DS market. Huh, well that’s a bit depressing.

Believe it or not, we did actually create a concept for a virtual pet game, but never found a home for it. That’s probably a good thing. And with regards to the racing genre, many of them utilized licensed vehicles and such to help promote them. That is, except one specific racing genre.

There was a number of ATV racing games released on the DS that sold quite well. At least enough to show there’s potential for investment there. I immediately tracked them all down and played them. Unfortunately, none of them were fun to play. Fortunately, none of them were fun to play! This gave us an opportunity to actually offer a good ATV racing game for the DS market.

The ATV racing genre is an interesting one. At the time, I was not sure if the term “ATV” was owned by someone. Was it something that needed to be licensed, y’know, kind of like NBA and stuff like that. Apparently, the answer to that is a wonderful “no”. It is just a general term, kind of like SUV.

It just so happened that I had been playing Pure on the Xbox 360 around that time, and found it to be tremendous fun. More on that later…

Now, the reason I wanted to find a genre that had sold well was primarily to sell the idea to a publisher. Even if you present a publisher with an outstanding game concept, if you can’t back it up with sales data you’re going to have a tough time convincing them to invest their money into the development of the game.

So, we had a genre that had generally performed quite well in the DS market. There are a handful of ATV titles that sold a respectable amount. From this we can present a decent justification for why a new (and better?) ATV game is a great choice for the DS market, right? In theory, yes, but…

In reality, it was a tough slog trying to find a home for the game. At that point we were just sending out pitch documents to publishers, which explained the features of the game and sales data on how previous ATV titles had performed in the market. It wasn’t working, so we needed to step up our game a bit.

If you have played Moon, on the DS, you’ll be familiar with the buggy sections (as in vehicle, not errors). My hope was to use this as the foundation for our new ATV racing game. In the span of just two weeks we cobbled together a playable demo of an ATV racing game. It did not feature everything the game needed, but it demonstrated the basic concept and, if I may be so bold to say, proved that a good ATV racing game could be achieved on the DS!

We started shopping the playable demo around to publishers, and got some good feedback. Things were starting to look a bit more promising. However, no contracts were being sent to us despite it being a somewhat “safe” proposal. It was time to get even more creative!

We looked at our development budget and cut it in half, offering publishers a co-development deal. This reduces the financial risk publishers need to take, off-loading a large amount of it onto us, while also offering us the opportunity to make more money on the back-end in royalties.

Yes, we got a bite! The fine folks at Destineer were on-board with the new proposal and we went full-steam towards completing development of the game. Working with Tony and Matt at Destineer was great. The executive producers/producers you work with at a publisher can make all of the difference. Thanks to the fact that both Tony and Matt are great people, the development process was fun and creative.

Our focus was to try and capture the excitement and energy of Pure. Even if were able to capture only an ounce of what Pure offered, we felt that we'd have a fun game on our hands. To me, that means exotic locations, big jumps, cool tricks, and nitro boosts!

Despite all of this goodness, the short version of how well the game performed in the DS market is: not good. We won’t know how well it could have performed in the DS market due to the unfortunate fact that Destineer was in a difficult situation at the time and unable to distribute the game as originally planned. Some copies went out to retail, but it was a very limited run. It was no fault of Destineer’s. It was just bad timing.

ATV Wild Ride on the DS was received well in the press with Destructoid scoring it 8/10 calling it, “One of the best racer offerings on Nintendo’s handheld to date.” Games Abyss scored it 9.5/10 saying, “ATV Wild Ride not only delivers on the fun factor, it makes me appreciate the genre a whole lot more than I ever would have imagined.”

So, the idea of bringing ATV Wild Ride to the 3DS was not a difficult one for us to decide. We have faith in the game. It delivers fun! Now, due to the fact that we have been busy working on a multitude of different games for the 3DS, and other platforms, it has taken a little longer than originally expected to complete. But, we’re nearly finished!

As with the DS version, we initially pitched the game to publishers for a retail release, but got no bites due to the newness of the 3DS platform and the early negative reports of the 3DS and how it was doomed due to the mobile market. I am thankful this happened. Not only has the 3DS market grown to be a very successful one, it has also given us the opportunity to publish it ourselves on the Nintendo eShop.

Our focus for ATV Wild Ride 3D has been to create an enhanced port of the DS game. The sad fact is that practically no one bought the original DS version of the game. However, even those 10 people who did purchase the DS version will hopefully agree that the 3DS version is closer to a console racing experience than ever before. Not only have we upgraded the art, with the fancy tricks the 3DS affords such as, specular highlights, mip-maps, higher resolution textures, real-time lighting, shadow maps, and the like – we have also been able to work on the physics; adding suspension to the ATVs. This is a relatively subtle addition that, in my opinion, improves how the game feels significantly.

We have fully funded the development of ATV Wild Ride 3D. This not only means the cost of creating the game itself, but also additional expenses such as the QA team to ensure the game is bug free and ready for Nintendo’s lotcheck. And, now we’re in the final stretch. This is the first week of what we’re expecting (hoping) to be a three week QA focus before we submit the game to Nintendo for their approval. The game is already very solid, so I think we’re in good shape.

Now starts the PR push. With little to no money to spend on advertising, we just have to put our thinking caps on and try to drum up some exposure and interest in the game. We have created a 3D trailer for the eShop, which will hopefully be included in the “Coming Soon!” section in the next few weeks. We will send the game out to the press a week or two before the launch for previews, reviews, and interviews.

And then, we wait for the game to launch, which as of today looks like March 2013. We would like to release the game in the US and Europe at the same time, but it depends on when we receive age rating from PEGI, USK and COB. We already have the ESRB rating. In fact, I got it within 10 minutes of applying for it. ESRB are great. The others need to follow suit. So, if the game does not release in Europe at the same time as the US, you’ll know why. That would make me sad, but we cannot risk missing this quarter with the US release of the game.

Will the game sell well or will it meet with a silent reception? I don’t think anyone can predict. The game has potential to meet both scenarios. The game is good. I firmly believe that. The team has worked well in producing a fun arcade racer for the 3DS. In fact, it will be the first eShop racer released, which is really cool! Let’s hope that helps with sales. If we sell a decent amount, we’ll be able to stay in business and make more games. Now that we’re relying more on our self-published titles for revenue, each sale could not be more important to us.

Due to the lackluster release on the DS, this, in many ways, is the moment we’ll find out if this game was worth it all. I hope to post an update on the game later this year that talks about how well it has been received by the players and the press. That would be a good result to what has been somewhat of a wild ride!

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