In recent years, video game collecting has become big business. Spurred on by an increase in YouTube channels dedicated to the hobby and retro gaming as a whole, we’ve seen hundreds of thousands more gamers buying games and systems from the olden days, with the legions of new stores and sellers popping up to fill the growing market.
This has caused… various effects on the market. Like say, a huge increase in the prices for rare yet popular games like Earthbound. Or a somewhat worrying trend towards repro carts and bootlegs being sold by morally questionable stores and eBay sellers.
But it’s also caused another affect too. Namely, an increase in new games for classic systems!
Yep, thanks to the collectors’ scene, we’re now seeing new games released on the NES, SNES and Mega Drive (among others) long after the systems were originally discontinued. These include everything from games revived from cancellation (like Nightmare Busters) to all new originals by upcoming companies like Coffee Crisis.
So today on Gaming Reinvented, we’re gonna talk to one of those companies. Namely, Mega Cat Studios, a company known for creating new titles for the NES and Sega Mega Drive among various others.
Here’s our interview with the company!
Starting with a quick personal question. Who are you guys? Who are the folks behind Mega Cat Studios?
We’re a team of people with life-long pixel romance. Some of us have been working together on contract work for over a decade, and others are enthusiastic travelers we met along the way that have a shared vision for making the games we want to play.
And how did you get started with video games in general? Was the NES a large part of your childhood?
Most of us grew up with a steady diet of pixels, whether it was the Commodore, Genesis or NES. We’re lucky to have an opportunity to do something we love. I’m sure there’s a ten-year-old version of us cheering that we’ve had the opportunities we have.
Are there any classics you remember from your youth?
NES: Castlevania, Shatterhand, SMB 3
Genesis: Sonic & Knuckles, Shadowrun, Comix Zone
SNES: Mega Man X, Parodius Da, Zombies Ate My Neighbors
C64: Impossible Mission, Last Ninja Series, Turrican Series
How about… less well received ones? What games do you remember being terrible?
This was the most interesting to talk about. I think all of us had a different experience with a Clearance Rack video game. Anticipation for the NES is one of my most vivid let downs. I’m sure many of us had a similar diet of 1-2 games per year across all holidays, and having one of them be Anticipation was the gift equivalent of a gut-punch.
What about current gen games? Do you still play them?
Indie gaming is absolutely where I spend most of my current gen game time. I think it’s common for lots of retro game fans. When Breath of the Wild came out, we had at least two weeks of broken sleep schedules and missed weekly sprints. I know Andy is heavily invested into buying any wrestling game that has customization options, and then heavily investing himself into making a ton of luchadores. “There are some great pro wrestlers out in Mexico, someone has to do the right thing and get them out there. No one else was going through the effort to make a painstakingly accurate La Parka. I’m just happy that I can help”.
Either way, onto the company now. What caused you to start Mega Cat Studios?
Contract work is the backbone for what we do right now, like many Indie studios. We’re all grateful for it. Now that we’re bringing some of our own concepts to life, it rounds out the rest. Any creative maker wants to have more autonomy over the projects they’re investing themselves into.
7./8. What about the name? Why a giant cat? And what about the logo? It’s kind of amusing to see the cat with a controller where its eyes should be/cartridge hanging from the collar…
Aside from having the actual Mega Cat at our office, there’s just lots to love about cats. Aside from being incredible companions, their expressive facial expressions and unpredictability is definitely endearing.
However, the thing that’s most different here is the choice of platform, since you seem to be designing games for retro consoles like the NES and Mega Drive. Why? Why those rather than PC?
PC games are actually our focus, they’re just much larger projects that take more resources and effort to achieve the quality standard we want, but the retro games are always going to be part of our identity.
And why the NES and Mega Drive in particular? Do you have any plans to make SNES games? How about games for early 3D systems?
We have some SNES & Dreamcast projects in que, but there’s no timeline in mind at this point. Pixel art and good games are timeless.
Either way, let’s start with Log Jammers. Why a zombie themed sports game?
Zombies are just one facet to this arcade thriller’s roster of colorful characters. We’ve also got a rad surfer, a champion lumberjack, and a hometown sports hero. Fantasy arcade sports games are made with couch co-op in mind.
Was this the one that inspired your site’s ‘zombie’ gimmick on the staff page?
Actually, that gag comes from Zack’s eternal hunger and his foreknowledge that he will one day have to eat our brains.
But we’re not done yet. Oh no, now we’ve got another team doing an interview here! Yep, today we’re talking to PixelStrike Games, a studio known for working on an interesting virtual reality games for devices like the Oculus Rift and Gear VR! They’ve been working on an Asteroids type game called SuperVektoroids, which can be seen in the trailer below:
So, if you’re interested in finding out more about them and their work… keep reading!
Well, you know the drill now. Who are you? What’s the background for the people working at PixelStrike Games?
PixelStrike Games is Damien Labonte (me), the game designer and art/audio guy, and Sina Masoud-Ansari, also the game designer and coder. We are from Vancouver BC, Canada and Auckland, New Zealand (in that order). It’s just the two of us so we have many hats to wear.
And for that matter, how did you get started with video games?
Neither of us have done anything really like true video games. I have some experience with a virtual world for children app, and Sina is a research programmer at the University of Auckland. This is our first serious foray into a true video game.
Any favourites you have from your childhood?
Damien: I remember watching my brothers play Space Duel. Compared to Asteroids, the colours were mesmerizing. I guess I’m a big fan of Color, because when I first saw the NES my brothers brought home, the first NES game I saw was Castlevania, and I remember saying, “Look at the colours!”
Sina: I was about 4 years old when my dad got an IBM 386, so I’ve been a PC gamer my whole life and grew up on Doom, XCOM, Civilization and Ultima games. XCOM is probably my favourite and every few years I get nostalgic about it and start up a new campaign.
Onto game dev next. What inspired you to start up a video game development company?
Damien: I was a big 3D gaming aficionado, as buggy as it was to get working. When the Rift Kickstarter happened, I knew that I wanted to make a VR game. It was destiny! We met on Reddit when I asked if anyone wanted to team up and make a VR game. And Sina answered the call. And we have been working on this game ever since.
Sina: For me it was definitely the magic of VR. I was at an NVIDIA conference some years ago when they had demos of the Oculus Rift. This was before the DK2 was available for purchase and I remember feeling like I was in a dream. I raved about it to everyone and started spending time on the Oculus subreddit where I met Damien.
How about the name? Where did Pixel Strike Games come from?
Sina and I futzed around with names for a while. Our original name was going to be Z-Bucket. As in, pass me “ze’ bucket” because of VR motion sickness. Well that was clearly not a great name. Then I saw a video on YouTube showing how Lichtenberg Sculptures are made in glass with electricity, and PixelStrike Games was born.
Did you have any previous game development experience before starting up the company?
Damien: Yes, I was the creative director of a company called Cackleberries, an online game world for young children, basically simple apps for education. I work in Animation now, as a background supervisor.
Sina: None! I remember watching the Indie Game movie and coming away from that with a desire to make something. But never followed through with the idea until I started getting into VR.
Super Vektoroids is an arcade shooter played in VR. So why did you choose that genre? Did you have a lot of memories of the original Asteroids game?
Damien: Space Duel more so, which is really just a clone of the original asteroids with different art. It had an impact on me when I first saw it. I certainly loved visiting the arcade, I suppose one had to use their imagination more back then, maybe that’s what made the games special.
Sina: I did for sure, I have fuzzy memories but I remember playing a lot of Asteroids (or some imitation of it) on PC as a kid. Making Super Vektoroids is kind of my way of showing appreciation for those simple games.
What about the VR aspect? It’s not often developers seemingly start their careers with a VR focused game…
VR just adds a lot to the experience, it’s like 3D on steroids. Seemed like a no-brainer to us.
And how did the name come about for this game? Vektor is pretty obvious, but Vektoroids? What’s the story behind that?
Well it’s a vector art styled game. Where you shoot asteroids. And enemies. And your super of course! Plus, VektorRoids 🙂 I know, we are super clever.
We don’t like to have expectations. If you don’t have expectations, you won’t be disappointed, only pleasantly surprised. So, it was a nice surprise 🙂
The trailer showcases some of the different ships, including one with dual lasers, a few that seem to go at super speed and an extremely small ship among others. Can you give a bit more detail about their specific differences and abilities?
Each ship has a slightly different control feel, plus a different weapon. We wanted the players to try and feel out which ship they liked best. The ships differ in turning rate, speed, weapon reload speed, and how fast they come to a stop. The VFO is very instant stop and start, and can maneuver very well, (if a bit unwieldy) where the Looney Lander is very low drag, so it keeps on floating, which is great for backwards shooting. We are going to be adding another layer of difference in the amount of shields each ship has, so each will have more obvious pros and cons. The ships aren’t balanced yet, thus early access so we can tune the game more to its core audience.
How about some of the enemies? The trailer shows a few, but can you describe a few more of the enemies, their designs and AI patterns in a bit more detail?
There are quite a few enemies, starting with small and quite dumb seeking enemies, enemies that can avoid your shots, spirally and zigzagging enemies, some that split into smaller enemies, some that shoot lasers, bullets, heat seeking missiles, enemies that dart at you when you get too close, to the more difficult shielded enemies that take a lot of shots to break their defenses. If early access does well, we would like to add in mini-bosses as well as a final boss. Fingers crossed on that!
Is there a story or ending to this game, or is it entirely points based? Because I know it has a points structure and its very arcade like, but it also seems to have worlds and other more complex additions not found in games like Asteroids…
Again, if early access does well, we would like to add a simple narrative (we have it all planned) that would take the player through a storyline and various areas to defeat bosses and new enemies per zone. I’m really hoping we can get that chance. But for now, it’s a score chaser, but a fun one at that. There are lots of enemies to keep you challenged.
There’s also a few references to a ‘Vektorverse’ on your site. Is this something you plan to build on going forward, like a fleshed-out universe where games based on this one is set? Or is it just a quick joke?
We want the Vektorverse to be its own world, within a world. It’s no joke that you are the Only One who can Save the Vektorverse from the Glytch Armada.
Graphically, it’s a very unique title, with a bright and trippy looking vector art style. Obviously, that’s partly inspired by the original Asteroids game, but what other influences were there here?
I had a Vextrex and it was a magical device to me. It was extremely unique at the time, and vector style still carries a lot of appeal I think. You don’t see that many games using it. All the old vector games are definitely an inspiration for Super Vektoroids. It was quite a challenging process to figure out how to create the look, but we feel its successful.
And how about for the music and sound effects? They certainly fit the game well, but was the thought process behind them? What games or media were influences here?
The music in the trailer is a temp track that Sina found at the last minute. It was a perfect fit, but the music in the game will be a blend of more contemporary techno with chiptune elements scattered about. Currently I’m creating the music for the game (plus there are tracks from DarkArps as well), using Spectrasonics Omnisphere, Plogue Chipsounds and Chipspeech, and a Maschine Studio. It’s nice to actually put this equipment to use! The sounds in the game are mostly generated using BXFR, a free sound maker that is quite authentic to the old sounds from the arcades. We really wanted the whole package to feel right, updated to now, but paying homage to the Golden Age of Arcades. Nostalgia is important to us.
A few questions about the release process now. Despite being on multiple VR platforms, it’s seemingly not planned for PS VR at the moment. Could that change in future?
We definitely want this title on PSVR. But we need to get funding from early access to carry on. So, we are starting on GearVR, for which the game was designed. We would like to get Super Vektoroids on as many systems as possible. Ataribox has certainly piqued our interest.
What about a non-VR version for other consoles? Seems like some people might want to play it there for the gameplay mechanics, even if the VR aspect isn’t available…
Yes, that is planned. You will just miss out on all the 3D particles and explosions. It’s really a treat for the senses in VR. But it would also be great in 2D, though I can imagine how much fun you would have using touchscreen to play. It’s very much a gamepad game, though we would support on-screen touch controls.
Okay, marketing wise you seem to have all the social media boxes checked. But which sites seem to be bringing you the most interest in your game?
I suppose we’ll find out when we drop our Early Access trailer. We have a subreddit on Reddit (r/supervektoroids), but it’s pretty quiet there at the moment. It’s hard to manage all this with just two people who have day jobs. I do all the social stuff, and find Twitter to be the most enjoyable.
And have you approached the mainstream media or influencers about the game? How has that gone for you?
Not really yet. Once we are in Early Access, I’ll be knocking on a lot of doors. We are hoping word of mouth really helps too. Marketing is probably our Achilles heel.
Either way, assuming the game does well, do you plan to create any sequels for the title? What would they be like?
Oh, most definitely, if Sina’s wrists can take it. He has to be coding like a madman, and it takes its toll. I don’t want to give too much away, but think Multiverse., and a whole lot of friends on the other-side. The war doesn’t end here.
Do you have any ideas for other games you want to create after Super Vektoroids is released?
Yes, we want to make a title that works with the touch/wands. And is multiplayer. Super Vektoroids is a single player experience, but more players equals more fun.
Finally, what advice would you give someone wanting to get into game development? Any words of wisdom here?
Damien: Make a game from your heart. Don’t make a game you think will be popular because it’s the current trend in games. You will just end up among countless others who also thought the same thing, plus, the current hot theme will change by the time you are done anyhow. Look into your own self and find the joy you have for games, and base a game off that. Don’t make games for money, make them for the joy inside you that you have toward gaming. You will probably be far more inspired that way, and less likely to give up halfway through. Because there are lots of moments of doubt, frustration, worry. There are a lot of hurdles in game design to jump over. But you can do it. Be original, because you ARE original.
Sina: Adding to that, from a development point of view, if you’re just starting out try to make very small projects that you don’t expect to release because you learn so much about how to architect a game from the first attempt that will make your next project more efficient to work on. The most surprising thing for me is the amount of time I spend on ‘non-game’ code such as menus and supporting different VR platforms and controllers. I’m reeeaally looking forward to writing some gameplay code and fun mechanics!
And that concludes our interview. But wait, what was that?
Yep, it’s a new recommendation for once! Unlike every other developer we’ve interviewed on this site, the folks at PixelStrike games AREN’T merely recommending you start small and work your way up.
Instead, they’re recommending something else a lot of prospective game devs need to listen to. Namely, make the game you want to make, not the game you think will make a quick buck.
It’s good advice really. Remember, people have seen the endless attempts at copying popular games. They’ve seen all the Minecraft clones and open world survival horror games and asset flips littering the Steam storefront. They’ve seen the Mario copies plastered all over the Google Play Store.
But they don’t buy them. They know they’re soulless garbage put forward by a lazy and uninspired developer looking for a bit of quick beer money. People can tell when a project has passion put into it, and these ones don’t.
So, heed Pixel Strike Games’ advice there. Make the title you want to make, not the one you feel pressured to create for sales. That way, you’ll make a truly inspired game rather than a lazy knockoff that’ll likely do nowhere near as well as you think it’ll do.
Here on Gaming Reinvented, we’ve interviewed a lot of game developers over the years. We’ve talked to fan game creators, like Judge Spear and DJ Coco. We’ve talked to indie devs, like Otyugra Games and Power Level Studios.
Heck, we’ve even talked to people who’ve worked on large games like Disney Infinity! We’ve definitely interviewed some interesting folks here!
Yet we’ve only ever interviewed developers. People who’ve programmed the games in question or have acted like a one-man band rather than a full scale company.
And we think that gives a distorted picture of the industry. After all, most people don’t work solo. They work as part of a team. In a variety roles including (but not limited to) programming.
So for this interview, we’re doing something different. Namely, interviewing Teslagrad Art director Ole Ivar Rudi!
Still, what is Teslagrad anyway? How does the game actually work?
Well, it’s a unique 2D platformer where you use electricity and magnetism to explore an abandoned tower and solve problems. You do this so your main character (a young boy) can figure out the history behind the building. Why the king declared war on its inhabitants.
It’s a very interesting game overall, especially for the genre. Here’s a trailer if you haven’t seen it yourself:
But hey, now you know how it all works, let’s get on with the interview! Starting with the same familiar question we ask in all of these articles…
Okay, you know the drill by this point. Who are you? Who is this Ollie guy anyway?
I’m the art director/ all round art guy for Rain Games. Likes cats. I grew up on a farm on a small island on the coast of norway, surrounded by cows and viking burial mounds.
And how did you get started with video games? What was your first games console?
My first experience with games was playing the arcade version of Donkey Kong jr. at a swedish camping grounds some time in the mid 80s. Played PC games at friends’ houses until I got a NES for xmas in 1989 or 1990, and kept expanding from there.
My first attempt at making games myself was around 2000, making some crude games using Klik N Play. They’ve all been lost to the sands of time, but the standout was a 2-player single screen top down death match game named “Chainsaw Mofos”. It played like a mashup of pac-man and Smash TV and had a soundtrack consisting of stolen midi renditions of 80s synthpop. It was probably not very good in retrospect.
Any favourite games over the years? How have they affected your work at Rain Games?
Off the top of my head Prince of Persia, Another World, Super Metroid, SOTN, Star Control II, Resident Evil 4, Harvest Moon, Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda: Link’s Awakening+Wind Waker, Chrono Trigger and Earthbound are all time classics in my book (hm, that’s a very nintendo console heavy list)
The Metroid games and SOTN definitely inspired a lot of things in Teslagrad and WttW borrows a lot of Zelda framework- but we’ve taken inspiration from so many different sources that our games boil into their own, quirky thing, really.
I try to play as many games as possible- Brave Fencer Musashi, Gunple: Gunman’s Proof, Sylvan Tale, Secret of Mana and Beyond Oasis are just a sample of the other games that lent some inspiration to WttW, for instance.
Either way, onto game development now. How did you get started in the field?
Basically, just circumstance- I was working as a freelance illustrator at the time and a friend from school asked me if i wanted to join him and brainstorm a bit with the folks who eventually wound up making up Rain Games. I hadn’t planned on spending more than a week with them before joining, but we hit it off and before i knew it I was a part of the company.
What about the art side of things? Why did you decide you wanted to draw art for games rather than say, become a programmer or composer or whatever else?
I’ve always drawn! my education was always geared towards art/design, I’ve got a Masters degree in visual communication so I didn’t have much choice:)
I’ve always enjoyed making music on the side but I’m absolutely terrible at it.
Any previous projects you created the graphics for?
Never worked on any commercially released games before joining Rain, no.
Let’s talk a bit about Rain Games now. How did you first get involved with the company?
See the anecdote two questions ago:)
Were you involved in their previous (unreleased) game, Minute Mayhem?
Yeah, I worked on character designs and world building for that- Some of the characters from World To The West actually originated in Minute Mayhem, including Teri and Clonington! The behind the scenes worldbuilding for that game became the blueprint for the world all of our games take place in.
Onto Teslagrad now. Who came up with the game’s concept? Why a ‘magnetic puzzle platformer’?
Teslagrad originated in Minute Mayhem as well, the original pitch was that we’d make a platformer set in Elektropia, that world’s northernmost nation, dark and dreary and defined by their mastery of electricity.
Initially we were discussing making a cinematic platformer in the vein of another world or limbo, but once we hit upon the notion of building mechanics around electromagnetism (tesla is the measurement unit for magnetic flux) it quickly turned into more of a metroidvania-esque action puzzle hybrid.
Art style wise, it certainly looks unique. Why did you decide to go with that style anyway?
The vision for the art style was basically making a snes game, but in HD- at this point most indie games had a pixel art aesthetic, and we felt that we needed to do something different to stand out.
Both I and my fellow artist Aslak had a 2d animation background so we thought it’d would be a good idea to apply that skill set to the game.
A lot of the visual quirks of the game comes from needing to find ways to draw effectively- frame by frame animation is very time consuming and we are a small team so we needed to be able to draw each frame quickly. This is one of the reasons the characters have Tintin-style slit eyes, it makes their expression more ambivalent so that the same expression might read slightly differently in two scenes based on context.
Were there any other ideas you had for art styles? Like, ones extremely different from how the game actually looks now?
Early on we were considering going with pixel art, but we felt it might not stand out much if we did. We tried a few variations on that formula. One approach was doing “sloppy pixel art” by painting environments at higher resolutions and then downscaling, another was doing the basic designs in pixel art and then repainting them in an impressionistic fashion, using the shape language of pixel art but with a hand painted feel. That was an interesting look, but felt restrictive, so in the end we wound up sketching the character motions as simplified low-res sprites for prototyping and then using that as a base for the hand drawn final assets.
How did you create the graphics anyway? What tools did you use for drawing them or inserting them into the game?
I used Toonboom for animation-it’s vector based, so it can do lossless scaling, which was useful when it came to being flexible in what the size of the final sprites would be. It still handles like pretty much any drawing software. Effects work, backgrounds and environment tiles were done in photoshop.
Obviously, there’s a very Russian/Soviet aesthetic to the world and cast. Why did you decide to go with that here?
That flowed pretty naturally from our early choice of setting the game in the Northern part of our world- Our fictionalized riff on Europe is split into four separate nations, and Elektropia, where Teslagrad takes place, is a mix between Scandinavian and Eastern European countries. I’m a big fan of vintage Eastern European art and animation, so taking some inspiration from that felt like a natural fit.
And how did the character designs come about?
I did the design sketches for the characters, trying to see what their defining characteristics would be and how to convey them without using any dialogue. Early sketches were often a tad more intricate, but when working with frame by frame animation every detail adds a lot of time to the process, so it became important to distill them into cleaner designs without losing the essence of the characters.
I still regret making the main character asymmetric with only one magnetic glove, as that meant i had to draw left-and right facing versions of every frame, doubling the animation frame count!
I have a trick i use when designing characters, i draw a few variants until i come up with a design i like, then i try to commit that to memory and put those drawings away in a drawer for a few days while i concentrate on other stuff. Then, after a few days, I try to redraw those characters from memory- any detail I’ve forgotten in the meantime probably wasn’t essential to the character, or I would have remembered it.
A while ago, Nintendo released a remake of The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess for Wii U. This remake had slightly improved graphics, some Amiibo functionality and a new ‘dungeon’ called the Cave of Shadows among other minor features, and generally got okay reviews on release.
At the same time though, it was also… seen as rather unambitious. Yeah it was functional sure. Yes, it certainly looked a tad cleaner than the GameCube and Wii version sure.
But compared to other Nintendo remakes, it felt a tad rushed. Like the team behind it didn’t really have the time or budget to go all out with the project.
Yet despite that being the case, there was also another Twilight Princess remake project in development. This one was fan run, and tried to redo the game in a far more significant way than Nintendo’s version ever could. It planned for new dungeons, new character models and geometry, new items and content… basically, it was Twilight Princess completely rebooted from the ground up.
And that’s what today’s interview is about! Yep now we’ve gotten ARTAKE Games to talk about their own Twilight Princess inspired Zelda game, as well as how their plans progressed from a simple remake to a massive overhaul the likes of which haven’t been before.
So, if you’re interested in the project (or what a reimagined Twilight Princess would be like in general), keep reading!
Well, you know the drill here. Who are you guys? What’s the background for the people listed on the ARTAKE Games staff page?
We’re a group of likeminded individuals trying to step into the gaming industry. I (Tomoya, the project’s main founder) started this project way back on April 1st, 2015 with the “Tomoya’s Twilight Princess HD Project.” It unexpectedly went viral, especially when Tino (developer of Ishiiruka, a custom build of the Dolphin emulator) implemented material maps alongside advanced lighting techniques that modern games use into an old emulated game(The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.)
However, an unfortunate thing happened where Nintendo manually took down our trailer video that gained A LOT of momentum and popularity since Nintendo released their official TPHD remaster. This was good timing for the team that I gathered from the fame to halt development so we can focus on a project that we perhaps make revenue with. We made a video describing what happened and took our halt of the project in action and start pre-production of an original title.
About 3-4 months in pre-production, we came to realization that life is taking a toll on us with bills and time limitations for certain members, and the project we started (the pre-production one called Kaiyo,) was too ambitious for our first original game. What happened? The project stopped so we can think of a quicker way to make money, which was working on a mobile app called Jumpy Jelly.
The app took about 3-4 months(again) to develop, and was a great way to test the team’s trust, endurance, organization, etc. Of course, all things were bad since it was our first game, but the product was finished and organization, endurance, trust etc. improved as we progressed. At the end of the day, the project was complete and finished a game as a team. Forgot to mention that during pre-production of Kaiyo, we decided to make a business name called “Hamasaki Games” since “Tomoya Hamasaki” was used as my public name, and I pretty much founded the whole shebang ranging from making a name for myself, making a name for Ishiiruka, making a name for the texture project, and most of all making a name for the team I once had.
^ All this happened from April 1st, 2015 – February 2017
Wait, the team you once had?
That’s right… a team that I ONCE had and bonded with. I’m not going to point any names, but they were great friends (more than just a working team.) It was unfortunate how things went the way it did. They claim to have left because I apparently treat them with disrespect as leaked from one of my VERY trusted team members… like almost brother/father trust. This person leaked private messaged I had with him to the team and purposely to steal them away to work on their own game.
However, maybe they weren’t stolen, but then again, they kicked me from my own project I started from my own Discord server. I can’t seem to win this fight and is something that will ALWAYS haunt and bother me, no matter what anybody says. At the end of the day, I don’t know what they were thinking… I have no idea what I did wrong. It still bothers me… and it’s sad that they didn’t even talk with me, but instead censor me and show leaked conversations to back their point.
Things are complicated when it comes to explaining this stuff, but damn was it a day where I snapped and couldn’t believe what happened. I am a very transparent person, and I’m extremely trusting – a weakness that clearly showed from what happened. I couldn’t get my server back since I was blocked from it – all communication from everybody was blocked or something.
Nor could I contact anybody but Skillar Babcock (a long-term supporter since the beginning and became a team member as a 3D modeler.) Since Skillar was in the server, he asked the person that stole the team and kicked me to have me join and explain myself, but he refused to have a talk – damn this makes my blood boil thinking about the past – so I had no choice but to stream. I started a live stream to catch them on the act and to tell the fans not to trust them.
Then there came the PM leaks… especially PMs that were about things that were already resolved. What happened is that the thief took OLD conversations and memories and exaggerated them via stream and team, polluting them with propaganda. Though everything he shares is what happened, it’s stuff that shouldn’t be leaked and was resolved and WAS USUALLY casual shit talk. EVYERYBODY shit talks about each other at some point, but when you have a history of 2 years of friendship and talk, and compile that into a leak folder… it looks BAD. I was LITERALLY demonized from my old team. This hurt me A LOT and if there was only a way to confront them to have them choke on their guilt, if they have any or any sense of morality, respect and honour.
I got my server back and everything else, because of the stream, but left without a team. Even team members I had 1-1 conversations with, bonded, deep talk, etc. – they left without even… I… I just… whatever.
It was a rough weekend, and had a few supporters that stood by my side. A few supporters were talented people, and wanted to join my team. I then scouted on the internet and found A LOT of talent that joined recently. If you go on the website, it shows their role and shows their experience. They’re all members recruited from the internet. Not sure what background info you want, but I made this story so you can better understand why the old Hamasaki Games crew no longer exists.
And this all happened recently – 2 – 3 weeks ago.
I want to leave with 1 note – be careful with who you trust, even if they’re like family. Like a good ol’ team member said – “Keep your hopes high, but keep your head low.”
What about the name of the company/group? What the hell is an ARTAKE anyway?
After all the drama that happened, especially to the public, I had to rebrand Hamasaki Games into the business model I want our company to have. We basically create alternatives to games that we all love, and specially the older ones back in the 90’s since those were the ones that revolutionized gaming today. Good thing we had a supporter named “Matt” which gave some business name ideas, and since he knew the model, he came up with ARTAKE Games. If you read into the name, you can hear “Our Take” – Our Take Games – “Our Take on games” – ARTAKE Games.
How did you first get into video games? Given you’re remaking a Zelda title, I assume you started with the NES game or something?
I started with the NES but hated all the games (including Zelda 1 and 2) besides Mario and Castlevania and Metroid. I got into serious gaming when the SNES was introduced to my life.
And what games are you playing now anyway? Have you tried the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild yet?
Back when I was younger, in my teens, I was straying away from consoles a lot and moving towards computers more often. This was especially true during the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 era. With this, I got into computer gaming, but found most of my time playing StarCraft 2 Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm and stopped playing when Legacy of the Void was released. I’m mentioning this because THAT was my bread and butter COMPETIVELY. So now that I stopped StarCraft like… 4 years ago, what do I play now? Isn’t it obvious that it’s League of Legends? Everybody that quit StarCraft pretty much migrated to LoL. I can’t play it religiously anymore since I have this project and maintaining promises and a team and development strips away A LOT of your time to enjoy things like my precious League of Legends.
I would also find myself playing Zelda games here and there, but if I were to get back into console games, it would only be for a Zelda game, and that’s when Breath of the Wild kicked in, BUT… but… it… it was like that girl that you dated because you expected more from what she promised.
You see… you love the looks of her and love how she plays in bed, but her overall… personality and content is terrible. Breath of the Wild had GREAT gameplay, was a great Sims/RPG simulator, great cooking simulator, but… that’s not what Zelda is. It lacked story and overall… CONTENT. I mean… yeah there were shrines, but those were all the same atmosphere and overall EASY puzzles besides a couple and majority were Trial of Strength or Test of Strength or whatever they’re called. It just… it’s a good foundation for a Zelda game, and want to see what they do with the next one. I’m not going to judge Breath of the Wild till we get that last DLC.
Played it on Cemu, by the way. I can’t afford a Wii U or a Switch.
How about game development? What’s your history there?
Well I’ve always wanted to make video games since I was a kid. My first take on making a video game was using Macromedia Flash 8 back in the good ol’ Flash days via Newgrounds. I was making platformers and thinking of innovative ways to improve a simple mobile game. I came up with some great ideas, but I was a stupid little kid that was just toying with video games, get far in it, finish it and delete the work since I never had a computer of my own. It was either my dad’s computer or my mom’s laptop. I didn’t get my own computer till I was 15-16 years old.
When I got my own computer, I was making websites and apps. I made mobile apps that took off making a lot of money that were called “Draw2GO Apps.” They teach you how to draw and you can still find them on Amazon App store today 😊
Why didn’t you stick with the apps? Well… my family controlled the money, and got nothing. SI basically said screw it, I’m going to make a video game again like I once tried as a kid. However, I was a one-man army, and needed to think of a way to gather a team to success. Since I had art skills and art runs in the family, I decided to start small with the “Twilight Princess HD Texture Project.” EVERYBODY, however, can make a texture pack, so I scouted on the Dophin Forums and found Tino, the Ishiiruka dev. I feel I already explained, and you know where this goes from that long story above.
Either way, onto the subject of your main project. Why did you decide to remake Twilight Princess anyway?
Because back when it was just a texture project, I promised the fans gameplay changes and lighting effects and new dungeons and more content. You see… I was a stupid kid that got into game development that had no idea what true game development is, so I made stupid promises like that (way too ambitious, thinking like a gamer.)
I want to give the fans what I promised to not only prove them, but to prove myself that I can achieve something like re-imagining Twilight Princess with all the new features etc.
Besides, Zelda is my ONLY go-to-game. I’ve always been a huge fan of Zelda. I have a Zelda key chain, a Zelda wallet, Zelda wallpaper and many Zelda T-shirts. I even have a Link amiibo even though I don’t have a Wii U; Really, I just wanted the figurine.
Also, this is something that people may not know if they’re new to the project, Twilight Princess is my MOST HATED Zelda game. I HATE the art style, I HATE the story and I HATE the wolf mechanic. So I chose Twilight Princess to challenge myself to make it into my MOST FAVORITE Zelda game. I want this to take the spot from Majora’s Mask (My favorite Zelda game of all time.)
Did you ever consider reworking any other Zelda games at that time?
Yes, Majora’s Mask
What did you think when Nintendo announced Twilight Princess HD? Was it a bit of a shock to you?
No – it wasn’t a shock, but it was disappointing because I contacted them asking if we could remake the game for them. I was just making a texture pack with Tino adding advanced lighting, and yet they hire a cheap company to make a really bad texture pack port for the Wii U. The Twilight Princess HD official is literally what you can get on the internet from say “Victor Rosa’s Texture Pack.” Same style, but free and better.
How about the game’s content/quality? How does it stack up in your eyes?
If you mean how I look at Twilight Princess’ content/quality by default? Well… it’s good, and it’s TRUE Zelda – like Twilight Princess IS what a 3D Zelda game SHOULD be, but the content and overall quality was WAY TOO ahead of its time. The wolf Link mechanic was terrible and the game felt like a HUGE empty shell. We want to fix that, of course – TRY to fix all of it.
Regardless of that though, it seems like the project has drifted a bit. When did you decide you wanted to go beyond what a mere remaster or remake?
February 2017 after the Jumpy Jelly app was finished.
How do you decide what to add to the game? Because based on your streams, it seems like you’re mostly focusing on new connecting areas between major parts of Twilight Princess’ game world…
Well, we’re focusing on making 1 dungeon at a time to release something to the public. That’s right – we want to focus on making 1 dungeon READY to be completed by the player full of puzzles, dungeon item, main dungeon mechanic, completely redesigned and original, a story and a boss – ALL for free, but Patrons get 2-week early access
After we’re done finishing ALL the dungeons in Twilight Princess, and ALL being completely original with its own story and… everything else I mentioned earlier, we’re going to pitch ALL the dungeons to Nintendo to possibly have it where we can get permission to finish the full game. If they don’t approve it and depending on the amount of support we get from Patreon, we’ll either work on our own original title (not much Patreon support) OR we connect the dungeons that were finished to the overworld and add the full game/original story. More info about this will be given regarding new overworld/story content when the time comes.
What about the graphical elements? The new designs are certainly a tad more complex than the existing game ones. Who creates those? What influences them?
I am the 3D modeler that modelled the main characters model (Link.) Pravesh, a modeler from India, is the one that modelled the houses/structures. The influence is basically – character models have an Overwatch sense of detail and style, but the environment has the style of Breath of the Wild.
And how exactly did you build such a good team for the project? It’s always hard to get people to help out with fan games and mods, especially free ones…
Well – I spent restless hours recruiting. It’s a lot of work and a lot of convincing. It drains you, but the result is worth it. Just go to 3D modelling forums and big sites like Polycount. I also try to be as transparent as possible – HIDING NOTHING and if I do hide something, I end up confessing on my own will.
Do ever worry that you may be a bit too ambitious here? Cause some people may be getting URA Zelda Restoration Project vibes from this remake…
It’s not too ambitious since we’re doing dungeon by dungeon. Our original goal was to start from Ordon Village, and start making the WHOLE game with the story, but our team was crippled, and the team has shrunk to a degree where we HAD to go by a tactic of: finish one dungeon (Forest Temple is the first) and then release it to the public, after that work on the next one.
So, we only have to worry about dungeons instead of the world.
And hey, given all the new content, did you ever think to just make a new Zelda game from scratch without the Twilight Princess stuff?
Well it would be awesome to do that, especially if we become partners with Nintendo. I have many ideas for a Zelda game, and if Nintendo doesn’t want to become partners, we have an original game in stock ready for development after this Twilight Princess one that’s basically Zelda inspired, but completely original at the same time with an interesting mechanic.
Still, there are a few things that fans don’t quite remember so fondly about Twilight Princess, like the intro, some of the bosses and certain aspects of the dungeon design. Will any of this be tweaked in your redone version?
Yes – as I stated; ALL dungeons WILL be completely original and redesigned. Like… the diagram is COMPLETELY different for the Forest Temple. The theme of it is COMPLETELY different. What kind of design are we going for the Forest Temple? Like… it’s still inside of a Deku tree, but it’ll be… well… listen to this song and maybe you can take a guess.
What about the items? Will you add a few more places to use the Dominion Rod for example?
We’ll probably add an upgrade system and have the dominion rod have more of a use. Even the Ordon Sword will have a… SPECIAL touch that I do not want to spoil.
Any more plans for the Twilight Realm? Always thought that was a bit of a wasted opportunity in Twilight Princess. All this interesting world, and the only thing you ever see is a single dungeon…
The Twilight Realm will become the “Twilight World.” Our idea for the Twilight World is to basically become the Dark World from A Link to the Past. This world will have a total of 4 dungeons including the Palace of Twilight. So you go into the Twilight World for the first time, you can’t go into the Palace of Twilight because of a barrier. I have a Google doc that I can share with you describing more about the game.
Either way, may as well ask about a few other projects on your site too. What’s Project Eventide about?
It’s the Twilight Princess re-imaged project that the entire interview was about.
Does it tie into Breath of the Wild? The name says yes, but the realistic part of me says there’s no way in hell anyone can mod the game yet…
Eventide means “Twilight” and… no we’re not modding Breath of the Wild.
Another project you list is Jumpy Jelly, the only indie game mentioned on the site. Is this another thing you want to make more of in future? Will ARTAKE Games eventually focus on indie titles rather than fan projects?
Unfortunately, quite a few fan projects have been shut down by companies like Nintendo recently, and I remember them trying the same thing with your Twilight Princess remake. What’s the situation on that?
This project is completely original, no assets are from Nintendo, all dungeons and worlds are completely redesigned, EVERYTHING made from scratch. You’ll see when the first dungeon is released.
It also led to you moving to a more… private mode of development, complete with YouTube and Twitch streams rather than smaller videos and less promotion. Have you ever considered just moving your channel to a site like VidMe or something?
No – I don’t even know what VidMe is. We’re being completely open with this project. We want to show Nintendo we mean serious business and we can finish a product and impress them.
And given Nintendo has tried to take down the project once, do you ever worry they’ll try it again when it’s finally released? What plans do you have in place for that?
They didn’t try to take it down – they took down one of our videos because we had more coverage for Twilight Princess HD in Google and YouTube search. Hell – if you went on YouTube back in the day and searched “Twilight Princess,” our project shows #1.
Could your Zelda fan projects be potentially retooled into a more original setup? I’ve seen that happen for a few fan games in the past (like Breath of the NES and Zelda Maker) …
Yes – it is one of the goals of this project. In the end, we’ll have a finished engine, developed team, mechanics and skills for our next original product.
Still, it seems the internet liked your Twilight Princess remake when it was first announced. But it’s been a while since then, and it’ll be even longer before it’s out. So… how do you plan to promote it the second time?
When we release the first dungeon to the public, we’ll make a trailer that will blow your minds
Are you going to focus more on the marketing side of things as it nears release?
Market the team, but not the project. We don’t want this project to look like we’re trying to compete with Nintendo. We want to market the team as a group that’s trying to make ARTAKE Games a company to provide alternative games for fans of a dead series or successful series.
What plans do you have for games and remakes after that and Project Eventide?
Finally, what advice would you give people wanting to get into game development?
Start small like with a simple platformer, learn a lot (become a generalist,) be careful with who you trust and be realistic. Anybody can achieve anything – even a person that made a simple game like Flappy Bird or Undertale.
And you know what?
We agree entirely. Too many fan game and indie dev teams start out with a big ambitious plan and end up getting nowhere with it. Or if they do get somewhere, the lack of expertise and usually poor level of organisation completely sinks the project somewhere further down the line.
As you know, we’ve interviewed quite a few different people here on Gaming Reinvented. We’ve interviewed Judge Spear and the Fusion Gameworks team about Mushroom Kingdom Fusion. We’ve talked to Shesez about Boundary Break.
And well, with BlueJackG and Loeder among others, we’ve also interviewed quite a few music remixers too. It’s quite the motley bunch as far as interviewees are concerned!
But this time, we’ve something a bit different. Why?
Because it’s not a fan game developer or YouTube personality! Nope, this time it’s with the developers of an interesting game known as Soul Reaper. So, what is Soul Reaper anyway?
Well, to put it simply…
It’s a top down RPG which mixes elements from Final Fantasy, Diablo, Pokémon and the Legend of Zelda series.
So here’s how it works. You’re a grim reaper called Soul Reaper, and you have to explore a mysterious cave called the Vault in order to collect souls. These souls in turn are held by various enemies (like knife wielding squirrels and psycho fish), and can be used for abilities in battle once you collect them.
Either way, it’s an interesting little game, and one we definitely recommend checking out. But hey, enough of that! Onto the actual interview!
So, let’s off with some personal history now. Who are you? Who are the people working for Power Level Studios?
My name’s Danny Forest, I’m a software engineer/game developer from Canada. I’m currently a nomad, travelling the world while working on our game: Soul Reaper. Power Level Studios is composed of people from USA, Hong Honk and South Africa, now living in Toronto, Canada (with one exception). We are one producer/designer/developer, three 2D artists and one 2D animator.
And how did you get into video games to begin with? What era of gaming was your first?
I was born in 1986, during the NES era. I have a brother who is about 5 years older than me and loves playing RPGs, so I grew up playing The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in Canada back then) in my early years. And I have no idea how I did it, but I remember finishing Zelda and Final Fantasy 1 when I was only 4 years old, without speaking a word of English. I’m sure I got some help from my brother, but I like to think I did that by myself!
Any games you really enjoyed, perhaps those which can be considered an influence for your later work?
There are so many! I have always been a big RPG player and have been a great Square Enix follower. When two of my favourite companies merged, Squaresoft and Enix, I was so happy. To me, it meant more better games. I was mostly right I think. I’m very much inspired by all Final Fantasy games before XI. I love Tri-Ace games, especially Star Ocean 2 and Valkyrie Profile. The ancient cave in Lufia II was the original inspiration for Soul Reaper. The Zelda and of Mana series have always inspired me as a developer. I’m also a really big fan of the 2D Castlevania games. And I can’t count how many hours I’ve sunk into Diablo 2. There’s definitely more than that, but you get the idea; I love RPGs!
What about your history of video game development. How did you first get involved in that?
We got our first family computer pretty late; At that time, I was 13 years old. I already knew that I wanted to make games growing up. I searched the best ways to make RPGs at the time and found RPG Maker 1998. That tool was amazing for the time! I was able to make games so fast and learn about game design early on. I was able to make a game inspired by the Suikoden series.
Looking back, it was probably pretty bad, especially with my limited English skills. I then followed with RM2K, Game Maker and BYOND. Game Maker introduced me to conditions and loops and BYOND introduced me to coding. I was about 16 years old at the time I think. I released my first MMORPG on BYOND a few months later. Many people tried it, but it was taken down very quickly. I called it Final Fantasy Arena, and used spritesheets I found of FFIV-FFVI. For some reason, I didn’t understand why it was taken down haha!
It also seems like you’ve worked at a fair few development companies before starting Power Level Studios. How did you get involved at those?
My first paid job in the industry was with XMG Studios in Toronto. It was a 4-month coop term with the university. Before that, I had worked for the Government of Canada and started two companies: one in software development and one in organizing local video game tournaments. XMG hired me because of my entrepreneurship and my previous experience in developing games. I had pretty good grades in software engineering classes too, but I think it didn’t matter as much. I worked on Drag Racer World, which did great until CSR crushed it.
For Massive Damage after, I was pitching a self-improvement gamification company to a Montreal incubator called Year One Labs. Things were going smoothly, but they only had funding for 5 companies. I think mine was 6th in line. Their top company, Massive Damage, were looking for a backend developer and so we joined forces. I built Please Stay Calm’s backend from the ground up and became producer two years later.
For Sauropod Studio, well, one of the founders is a good friend of mine. We met when working at the movie theatre in Gatineau a few years before. He needed a backend engineer and I was looking for change. I also helped with some frontend stuff and artificial intelligence.
Was there any particular reason you chose these companies to work with? Did their game projects grab your interest more than others that other development companies may be working on?
XMG Studio was one of the only video game companies that applied for the program at my university back then. They had created innovative AR games and I thought that was unique and cool. Massive Damage was building the world’s first location-based MMORPG for mobile and I was looking to improve my backend skills so it made sense to me. And I had met the founders before and we got along really well. We were a great team together.
When moving to Sauropod Studio, I had to choose between them, GameHive and Uken. All three projects could not have been more different. I had friends or connections at each of these companies, so that was made easier. I first declined Uken because I don’t think I was a good cultural fit. The company was a little big for me, so my entrepreneurial spirit probably would not have worked there. I then declined GameHive because the commute was too painfully long. So I chose Sauropod Studio. Castle Story was a really cool project, and the backend was built in python, which I had no experience with (major plus for me).
And what inspired you to start your own company?
I had started three companies before Power Level Studios, but it was the first in video game development. For me starting a new company was a no brainer. Being entrepreneur is in my blood; I can’t help it, I need to start stuff!
I started Power Level Studios because I love making RPGs, and the companies I worked for in the past didn’t really have interest for them. Please Stay Calm was a very light RPG. I wanted to build another great old-school-style RPG like Lufia II and Final Fantasy on SNES, but for newer generations of consoles.
How about the name of it? Did Power Level Studios just come from RPGs in general? What was the thought process here?
Yeah, it pretty much comes from my love of RPGs. It’s a well-known term for RPG players, so I thought it would be easy for potential fans to remember the name. Not necessarily the best for SEO though haha!
I basically searched keywords/keyphrases from RPGs and picked the one I thought would sound the best and be the most unique and recognizable.
Rogue Sharks Arcade seemed to be your first game, and it was pretty damn successful. Did you imagine it’d have 3 million+ players?
Haha, this one’s a good story I think. Rogue Sharks Arcade was some kind of “accident”, both the game itself and its “success”.
I started working on Soul Reaper back in September 2013 and came to the realization that the game was way too ambitious for a first game. I would need money to hire artists and more, but didn’t have the money. So I thought making a simple mobile game, similar to the classic gravity-based helicopter web game, would be my way out. For some reason, Sharks was the first theme that came to mind. I thought Rogue Sharks would take one month to build. I had limited Unity experience back then, but that’s not why it took much longer. It took about a year to build.
The game just wasn’t fun enough by my standards, so I re-did it a few times with different mechanics. I released Rogue Sharks Arcade two months in, since the game had enough content to be a full-game loop.
I released it on the web on Kongregate and was hoping to get feedback so I could improve it for mobile after. Money was not the target here. About 200 people played it on Kongregate and had a score of 3/5, confirming my assumptions: it’s not a very good game.
But here’s the interesting part: how did I get from 200 players to 3M+? The short answer: it was stolen and put on MANY other websites around the world. You see, I was too dumb to protect it, and I didn’t even put my company logo or the game title in the game, so people just rebranded it and claimed it as their own. It got featured on lots of Chinese and Russian websites. There was no English text in the whole game. Everything was icon-based, so it was accessible in any language.
BUT, because of that incident, I got exactly what I wanted: feedback. With 200 players, I got close to 0 feedback, with 3M+, there were plenty of players to give feedback. I had to track websites down and translate feedback back to English, but still, there was lots of feedback. But that’s not all, I was tracking everything in the game using Game Analytics. I knew exactly how people were playing, so I knew how to improve the game for mobile.
But then at that point I was travelling around the world with my wife for about a year, so I didn’t have much time to make the mobile version. But I did it anyway. I stopped Chiang Mai, Thailand, to work on it for one full month and finished it. So Rogue Sharks for mobile exists, and is a much better game than Rogue Sharks Arcade on the web. I never released it though, because it’s still bad in my opinion. We were in 2016 then and there’s millions of games in the App Stores. A lot of them are great and have a much bigger budget than we had at the time. Unless I found a good partner to release the game, I figured there was no point releasing a game no one would discover and play.
Plus, we’re Power Level Studios, we want to make great RPGs, not game genres we know nothing about.
So yeah, the game was “successful” for what we tried to achieve, but definitely no commercial success. And yeah 3M+ was definitely not expected!