Interviews: Dancing Dots - QuickPick Farmer
Posted by Zach Kaplan
The independent French studio talks about its upcoming release, downloadable gaming, humour and more
On July 5th, North American DSi owners will be able to download QuickPick Farmer, the first DSiWare release from independent developer Dancing Dots (not to be confused with Dippin' Dots, the ice cream of the future). We spoke to managing director Martial Hesse-Dréville and QuickPick Farmer game designer Quentin Briand about their company, philosophy, upcoming DSiWare release and more.
Nintendo Life: Can you tell us a bit of history about Dancing Dots?
Martial Hesse-Dréville: Sure. Dancing Dots is a privately owned independent developer studio, founded in 2005. We have always looked to make different kinds of games, to renew our own interest in game development. This might sound crazy for some people, but we enjoyed making horse-riding or baby nurturing games (such as My Baby Girl / Boy), given that we wanted to bring enjoyable experiences to different kinds of players and explore new fields of gameplay. We worked on PC, DS, Wii, iPhone, and are developing also on XBLA/PSN right now.
NL: What about the company's name, where did that originate?
MHD: I wanted to find a name that sums up what we love to do, making games. You know it all boils down to one thing in the end: making fun, animated pixels. In other words, dancing dots!
NL: Can you describe your inspiration and thought process in coming up with QuickPick Farmer?
Quentin Briand: Last summer we had brainstorming sessions with all the members of the studio. A lot of ideas came up and among them we felt that two concepts completed each other quite well. The first concept had interesting game mechanics and a compelling use of Nintendo DS features. It was a multiplayer game where players collected balloons on their screen according to their colours and sent trapped balloons in the opponent's field (upper screen) to have its balloons explode before he could collect them. But this concept really lacked a good setting. Something funny and/or original that would drag the players into the game. Something that would make them want to give it a try. The second concept was about finding specific sheep in flocks of sheep with different constraints such as limited amount of time, different looking sheep and so on. So we decided to merge the two concepts and after several prototyping attempts, QuickPick Farmer was born.
NL: QuickPick Farmer doesn't seem very comparable to any of the other games that you list on your website. At the same time, few of the others seem all that similar to one another. Do you see this new game as more of a departure for your company or to fit snugly within the existing Dancing Dots catalogue?
QB: Last year, the team needed some fresh air inasmuch as after developing several DS titles for publishers we wanted to develop games of our own using our knowledge of DS technology. So a DSiWare title seems a logical evolution of our catalogue. And since the company is looking forward to developing more projects independently, we can consider this game as a departure too.
MHD: It's always good and refreshing to try making different genres. I never wanted Dancing Dots to be a specialised game studio, like some studios are specialised in, say, racing games. Also the website needs a refresh - that will hopefully come soon, since the current version doesn't reflect our really exciting current activity. We're working on an original title for XBLA/PSN/PC for instance and it's not even mentioned on our dusty website.
NL: You describe as part of your mission statement that you "are convinced that creation comes from constraints." How did this come to be your ethos and how would you say that it applies to QuickPick? What constraints of creating this new game game led to new discoveries that ultimately improved the experience?
QB: When you start a project and you have a lot of ideas to choose from, you need to know which ideas are going to make it into the game and which ones won't. Not that there are fundamentally good or bad ideas but rather good and bad combinations of ideas. So to be able to choose the ideas that will come along nicely, we need to define clear constraints we can stick to. We believe constraints are great tools to channel creativity and to end up with a consistent result. For instance QuickPick Farmer could never have existed without the touch screen and we made sure to make good use of the dual screen too. And since we wanted a quick to enjoy and easy to pick [up] game, we chose simple mechanics and simple controls as well. Keeping the 'simple' constraint in mind we thought it would be a good idea to keep visuals as simple as possible yet pleasant to watch. We also believed the pixel style characters would support the tone of the game and give it the warmth and flavor of good ol' games.
NL: This is your first DSiWare title. Can you comment on how a downloadable platform fits within the industry - what it means for game developers, publishers and players, as well as the industry as a whole?
QB: With gaming audience getting broader, we believe that the way to consume video games has diversified. Portable consoles and more specifically DSiWare titles is a way to respond to a certain way of playing games. Not every player can afford to spend a lot of time for videogames in their everyday life. Not every player has time or takes time to go out for videogame shopping. So we can see downloadable platforms as a way to ease the access to games. And as a developer, downloadable platform is a good way to be directly in contact with gamers and to get them to know us. And it’s a great opportunity for developers to publish their own games too. Therefore players can experience creative games they maybe wouldn't find in stores.
MHD: I agree with Quentin. For ten years it's been hard to make small, concise games on consoles. With downloadable games, you don't have to make games worth $30 like you have to for retail games because of the cost of goods. The digital space on console has sparked a wave of small indie studios. This allows the digital offer to be wider than the retail offer, with titles costing less than a burger that are still very enjoyable. It's a boon for us!
NL: Obviously this will largely be determined by the success of QuickPick Farmer, but do you plan to focus more strongly on DSiWare as a platform for future releases or to keep your options open?
QB: If QuickPick Farmer is a success and George and his friends are welcomed by the players, we may consider giving birth to the QuickPick series: a series of fun games involving George, sheep and humour.
MHD: We are still bound by the console manufacturer policies. If Nintendo doesn't want one of our titles to be released, they have to the right to do so. As I said we also have an XBLA/PSN/PC game, so we will strive to make good games, but on the right platforms too. And we are also very excited by the 3DS!
NL: Is there anything specific that you have in mind for a 3DS title? Anything in the works, perhaps?
QB: Nintendo 3DS has been announced recently and right now we are putting all our efforts to finish two titles (one on DS and the other one on XBLA/PSN). So we don't really know what platform we will work on after that. Any option is open. Considering our past, it seems like a good option but we have yet to see what we can do on this platform and, if we have the opportunity, when we can work on it.
MHD: Nintendo, if you hear me...gimme a 3DS kit!
NL: What sets QuickPickFarmer apart from other games available for the download service?
QB: Stupid sheep. Well, honestly we think humour is one great asset to the game. And another important point for us is accessibility. QuickPick Farmer has very simple mechanics to understand and intuitive controls so that everybody can enjoy this game.
MHD: QuickPick Farmer may look simple at first glance, but it features a lot of details that will hook you. The more you play the more subtleties you discover. You then start trying different strategies to achieve better scoring.
NL: How did humour come to be such a big focus of yours? Were there any particularly funny titles that inspired you, or is it perhaps a reaction to the lack of humour in other games being released today?
QB: It all started with Julien Chery (one of our artists) drawing a sheep. Everyone who saw this sheep had a good laugh, so at this moment we knew we had something. From there we tried to build a universe where our sheep would be able to graze peacefully… well, until George arrived that is! So as far as QuickPick Farmer is concerned, we can thank Julien for his inspiring work that conveys such light hearted emotions.
MHD: To me the sound design from Benjamin Frydman contributes a lot to the game mood. So, I think was just the mood of the team at that moment, making something funny!
NL: Have you always seen humour as an important part of game design and attempted to insert it into any of your prior titles, or is it something new that you're trying, perhaps now that you have more freedom to create games independent of a publisher's will?
QB: The first contact with a game is obviously the most important and humour helps a lot in that sense. It’s a good way to create a connection between the player and the game in a first place. And then, it’s a good way to create an enjoyable feeling that supports the game experience and makes the player want to come back for another play. It’s like for a candy, which QuickPick Farmer is! And as for titles we are currently working on, believe us, there’s quite a lot of humour in it.
NL: Though we realise you're at the mercy of Nintendo's release schedule, when do you expect QuickPick Famer to get a European and/or Australian release?
MHD: All we're allowed to say is that the European version is finished. The Australian release will depend on the success in the US, because the fees involved are not negligible. That said, generally speaking the release date is something you talk about with Nintendo, they don't impose a particular date.
NL: Is there anything else that you feel it would be important for us to know about this title?
QB: We hope players will enjoy QuickPick Farmer and we would be glad to see them come and share their thoughts and feedback on http://quickpick-farmer.com and the NintendoLife forums so that we can improve the quality of our games in the future.
Nintendo Life thanks Martial and Quentin for their time.