Late last year, independent developer 5TH Cell released the unusual Nintendo DS adventure/platformer Drawn to Life
, which allows players to draw their own hero and weapons directly on the system's touch screen. Just a year later, on September 8, it will release Lock's Quest
, a hybrid that fuses tower defense-style strategy with exploration-driven adventure gameplay.
Company co-founder and creative director Jeremiah Slaczka, speaking to Gamasutra at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, hopes the considerably different gameplay of the two titles will paint 5TH Cell as a wide-reaching studio.
"We didn't want to be pigeonholed as a kiddie developer," he says, referring to the youth-slanted Drawn to Life
. "We want to be pigeonholed as being an innovative developer. Our next game, when we announce that, you'll again see that it's completely different, a completely new hook you can't get anywhere else."
Branching Out From Handheld
Despite its history to date of purely handheld and mobile development, Slaczka was clear that "the aim has always been big console games." While the company's immediate next project will be a third DS game, it has another "super-secret project" in preproduction. Pressed for more platform details, Slaczka says, "I'm not necessarily saying it's not a PC game," implying that the title may be multiplatform.
"We're not abandoning DS, we're just simultaneously going to do console stuff," he explains. "We started up 5TH Cell to get into console."
Larger-scale development is not foreign to Slaczka, who co-founded Epix Interactive with 5TH Cell co-founder Joseph Tringali in 1999 to develop Fate
. The game, an MMO intended for Xbox, never saw release. "It tanked. You've probably never heard of it," says Slaczka.
Epix went belly-up in 2001, and with 5TH Cell, the two developers decided to take a more cautious approach, gearing up for console development by working on cell phone games and then handheld games. The strategy allowed the studio to develop its pipeline in tools, while keeping risk and costs low.
It seems to have worked. 5TH Cell and its 25 in-house developers have seen considerable success, residing in new, larger offices in Bellevue, Washington, and feeling confident about the company's stability.
"We're completely independently owned. We will always remain independently owned. You will never see some news blurb where we get bought out. That's not going to happen," Slaczka claims.
Mobile Games: "Totally Ridiculous"
Though 5TH Cell got its start with mobile games, Slaczka is bearish on the segment these days. "We're never going back," he says, citing cumbersome development issues and a scattered market.
For example, he points out that a potential buyer of 5TH Cell's Mini Poccha
does not necessarily have any quick way of learning about the game. "Why would you buy that instead of Iron Man: The Movie
?" he asks, adding that the lack of a "standardized phone system" leads to "totally ridiculous" development and porting demands.
By contrast, he finds Apple's centralized platform approach much more refreshing. "The way the iPhone is doing things is doing it right. There's hype, there's reviews, there's details on the games." As to whether 5TH Cell could try iPhone development: "It's an interesting platform," Slaczka answers. "We might."