Random Encounters: Licensing Legends

title_display

By Allen

Nintendo’s handling of their most popular licenses has always fascinated me. In the early to mid-90s, Mario was infamously licensed to Phillips for the poorly-received Hotel Mario among other games. Since then, they’ve kept their charming Italian’s likeness out of non-Nintendo titles for the most part since then. However, in 2004, they partnered with Japanese developer Camelot for yet another sports title. Mario Golf: Advance Tour is well-regarded as one of the more well-designed Mario sports games, but what interested me the most playing it now is how, within the universe of the game, Mario and friends are treated as mythical golfers, only playable in multiplayer.

Essentially, Mario Golf: Advance Tour was a tie-in title to the much more popular GameCube game, Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour. Characters from the former could be transferred to the latter via the GBA link cable, which allowed players to essentially level up a golf pro on the go before bringing them home to play against the pros in the GameCube game. The linking feature was interesting, but Advance Tour stands on its own partly because of how deeply its characters accept that the Mushroom Kingdom and its residents are simply a few tournaments and a lot of dedication awa. The intro of the game deliberately starts with action shots of the main cast of the game, followed by even more dramatically framed poses of Peach, Donkey Kong, and Yoshi before finally cutting to the titular plumber about to swing a golf club. That’s the last time that he or any of his friends are mentioned or seen by name until the very tail end of the main single-player campaign.

From there, the game essentially becomes Golf: The JRPG. You and your oppositely-gendered partner compete in various tournaments and challenges dotted around a camp devoted to golfing, and finishing these challenges awards experience points to be placed into stats like “drive distance” and “ball control”. There’s an entire glossary of incredibly specific golf terms ranging from “pin shots” all the way to intricate definitions of topspin and backspin. These elements all make a lot more sense when one realizes that Camelot was also the team that the acclaimed Shining Force series, Mario Tennis, and just a few years before, the Golden Sun series came from. With this JRPG and sports game cred under their belts, it’s no surprise that Nintendo hired them to create a unique experience to go along with their flagship GameCube golf game.

I have yet to find another game that utilizes its license as bizarrely as Mario Golf: Advance Tour. It’s not bad in any way; in fact, it makes getting to the final tournament where you do play against Mario and co. that much more exciting, because you know that they’re these legendary pros within the context of this game. Some of the references aren’t as clever, such as naming the first cup of the game the “Marion Cup” and featuring a recognizable mustached man’s face on the rug in the Marion lobby. But this game got me thinking about the good and bad aspects of game licensing. Lean too hard on your license, and you get a Star Wars Kinect scenario where the game and license don’t mesh. Focusing on the game first and the license second gives you more successful titles like the recently released South Park: The Stick of Truth. But making your license an unattainable, nonplayable cast of heroes in an otherwise solid game is much more interesting, and Mario Golf: Advance Tour shines even in 2014 because of it.

Pop Modern Interviews: Tanya Short from Kitfox Games

shattered planet

(Editor’s note: Excuse the bulk of just interviews on the site lately! The three of us are kind of shifting into summer break these next few weeks, so content has been kind of hard to get out consistently. Bear with us, and enjoy.)

 By Allen

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tanya Short, lead designer at the Montreal-based independent game development studio Kitfox Games. We met briefly at the Boston Festival of Indie Games last year, and I’ve been following the progress of their latest project, Shattered Planet, pretty closely since then because it looks incredibly impressive. We talked about the game, being an indie dev in 2014, porting from mobile to PC, and more!

 

Pop Modern: How did Kitfox Games start?

Tanya Short: We actually started with the creation of Shattered Planet! We joined Execution Labs, which is an incubator/accelerator for indie mobile games, in order to create Shattered Planet full-time. We’re four folks who met in Montreal, at local indie meetups.

PM:  How would you describe Shattered Planet to someone who’s never heard of it?

TS: To most people, I say it’s a survival strategy RPG, where you’re a space captain, exploring a dangerous alien planet. As a clone, you die (often!), but it’s all right, you can keep going with the knowledge of different species and technologies discovered. It’s free to download on iOS and Android right nowwww! And it’s coming to PC soon, as a premium game.

In reply, a certain gamer will say, “Err is it a roguelike?” to which I say, “YES!”

PM: When did development start, and what was the original impetus for making a rogue-like tactical game on tablets and PC?

TS: About a year ago! We actually didn’t set out to make a roguelike at all. We started prototyping a game all about exploration. We made a prototype that was more like Minesweeper, and one that was more like a board game… but the isometric RPG was our favorite, so we kept working on it… and a month later we realized we had accidentally made a roguelike!

Working in Unity made it easy to simultaneously develop for iOS, Android, and PC — so we did! We focused on mobile first so we could try out the base idea and see if people liked it, and after 250,000 downloads, we’re glad we did. Now we can focus on making the PC version super-extra-awesome with more confidence.

PM: Now, a common question that I’ve found gets developers thinking and entices people to try their games is this; If you had to recommend three other games, any platform or time period, that fans should try or know about to get a grasp on what SP is like, what would they be and why?

TS: Interesting! I’ve never had that question before. Hmmm. I guess I’d say the first would be Rogue Legacy, for the central idea of progression (loss, but steady empowerment). Then Brogue, because it’s my favorite roguelike ever and definitely had a strong influence on the core systems. And maybe Don’t Starve? It’s also an “uncompromising survival strategy”, with a hapless so-called scientist following where you click.

PM: The art is by far the most striking thing about the game, mainly because it feels like it’s pulling from so many inspirations. What were a few of them, and what were you going for with the art style and creature design?

TS: Well, Xin Ran Liu (our artist) is a classically trained painter, so we almost went at it from scratch! He tried out more painterly, more cartoony, and we ended up somewhere in-between, with bright colors to match the light-hearted tone of writing. I think his closest inspirations are probably traditional painters! He teaches classes at a local art school, and you can follow him on Facebook to see his awesome watercolors and other experiments.

Interestingly, for our next game (Moon Hunters), it has such a different style, with chunky pixels, muted colors, and frame-by-frame animation, people have asked if we’ve changed artists… but it’s always Xin! Well, we have brought in the talented Graham Lackey to help Xin out and give advice based on his experience working on Fez, Spaceteam, and various Adult Swim games.

MoonHunters_SEC_Gameplay_B

An early screenshot of Moon Hunters, the next game from Kitfox Games.

PM: Game development has been making huge strides towards accessibility in the last few years. What tools did you guys and gals make Shattered Planet with, and how do you feel about the current state of the independent games industry today?

TS: I AM SO EXCITED! We work in Unity 3d, and it’s empowered us so much, we’re thrilled with the direction game development is going. Jonathan Blow got some flak for saying game development was much harder 10 years ago, but he is so incredibly right — there’s genuinely no way 4 people could have made the equivalent of Shattered Planet in a year for PC 10 years ago, never mind across various platforms. It means that making games is almost as competitive as writing (making a game is still marginally harder than writing a poem), which is stressful, but definitely good news for consumers and art aficionados.

There will be more and more different kinds of games, made by different kinds of people, and that’s 100% pure awesome.

PM: Now, Shattered Planet has actually been complete and playable on tablets for a while now, but you recently announced that it will be coming to PC as a sort of enhanced version without the microtransaction options if I’m not mistaken? What was it like porting from mobile to PC, and what specifically are you planning to do besides change the controls and UI for PC players?

TS: Well, actually, we’ve been building with PC in mind all along — we announced it was tablet-and-PC back in the first month of development! But obviously PC as a platform has a longer history of hardcore gamer and expectations are different when you sit down at a desk.

In addition to UI and controls tweaks, we’ll be adding in whole spankin’ new features that unhappily got cut for the mobile launch: character classes, a daily challenge system, and a more robust datalog system…we’re still debating whether the datalog system will change the way pets work. But the core idea is to increase the depth of possible strategies and the appeal of experimentation in the game… and it’s really exciting to not have to worry about mobile memory constraints!

PM: Any advice for the aspiring indie devs out there? I know we have a couple who read this site, so I know they would appreciate any tips.

TS: Three major things:

1 – Make to-do lists with tasks you actually can achieve in a very short time-frame (i.e. things that will take you 1 hour or less). Trello is free and very good for this.

2 – Make a delivery commitment you can’t cancel. Agree to show the game publically, either to testers or to a festival or to whoever, and work backwards from that date to figure out what you can and cannot get done. Cut things that don’t get done in time.

3 – For the love of all that’s fun, don’t tell anyone about what you’re doing until after you’ve already done it. Pre-bragging removes motivation to actually follow through.

 

The best way to keep up with development at Kitfox Games is to subscribe to their newsletter. They’ll be announcing things like release of the PC version (due out sometime this summer!) and other updates about the studio there. You can sign up here: http://eepurl.com/EbbjT

And if you’d like to download Shattered Planet, search for it on iTunes or the Google Play Store, or click either of these links:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/shattered-planet-rpg/id698929655?mt=8

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kitfox.shatteredplanet