Developer Interview: Shin'en Multimedia on the First Days of the Wii U eShop
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Shin'en Multimedia is a developer likely to be well-known to Nintendo download enthusiasts, with the company having made multiple appearances on Wii and 3DS, in particular. Some of its releases, such as Jett Rocket and Art of Balance TOUCH!, have been among the best titles on WiiWare and the 3DS eShop, respectively, while the small team arguably hit a peak in combining graphical prowess with enjoyable gameplay with North American 3DS retail release Nano Assault.
While that title went for the conventional boxed distribution, it's notable that the majority of the studio's releases have opted for Nintendo's download services, which provide an easier entry point for companies to self-publish without large marketing and distribution budgets. Nano Assault EX is on the way to 3DS eShop, an expanded and improved version of the retail release, while the all-new Nano Assault Neo was one of a select group of day one downloads on Nintendo's latest eShop on Wii U. The appearance of Shin'en on the service was little surprise considering the enthusiasm it shows for Nintendo's download stores, telling us in our last interview that the team believes "the best is yet to come on digital."
With that in mind we spoke, once again, with Manfred Linzner, a key part of the small team that produces the studio's titles. This time the focus was purely on the Wii U eShop.
Nano Assault Neo picks up with the series style established on 3DS, with shmup battles taking place against a variety of enemies on cells, which affords a distinct visual style as well as full 360-degree environments. These contained environments offer a twist on genre conventions of flat arenas or, more commonly, scrolling vertical or horizontal screens, and in the case of the 3DS offered a pleasing auto-stereoscopic effect. With Wii U that's off the table, but in its place is a beautiful level of visual fidelity that utilises power that would have been beyond the means of Nintendo's last generation Wii. When asked whether producing such a striking graphics engine was a major challenge for the team, Linzner said that, actually, it made their job easier.
It's much easier to do an impressive looking game on the Wii U then on the previous consoles we worked for. For us it was often more of a problem on previous consoles to scale down the quality to a working level. Now on Wii U we can finally deliver the quality we always were looking for.
An appearance on launch day was made all the more likely by the fact that the title was completed, aside from optimisation and checks for the platform, by September. Two months may not seem like a lot of time to be ready before launch, but as we've seen in our interviews with developers such as Frozenbye, development crunches are common. For Shin'en, the situation seemed to be well under control and allowed for greater exposure ahead of release. "It was important to have the game ready soon enough because it was also showcased at several events, and we had to concentrate after finishing the game to be up to date with all SDK requirements."
While early sales, judging from the Wii U eShop's own charts, have represented a mixed bag for download-only games, with some being usurped by retail offerings, Shin'en's release has been on a strong run. Coming in at the lower price bracket has served the arcade-style score chasing title well; it's been consistently in the top five in Europe and North America, including some spells at number one. Linzner described the fan response as "overwhelming", telling us that Nano Assault Neo was one of the company's "fastest selling games ever". Notably, we were told that Shin'en isn't planning any price promotions along the lines of what we've seen on the EU store in recent weeks — though none have appeared on the NA equivalent — as Linzner stated that gamer response justifies the original cost.
The positive feedback we got for the game from the players was unbelievable. It seems everyone is very happy about the great quality and the low initial pricing of Nano Assault Neo. We don't plan any temporary price reductions.
That feedback, primarily, is from Nintendo's own Miiverse platform. Though the developer is yet to setup its own profile in order to interact directly with fans, we were told how the game's community provides valuable information for the team, as well as some morale-boosting validation. "Thanks to Miiverse we know exactly what people think about Nano Assault Neo", Linzner explained. "We got so much praise there that we knew we are on right track, and that people on there are waiting for more games from us on Wii U eShop." Greater integration with Miiverse is also on the cards for future Shin'en releases on the store.
And more games are absolutely coming to the platform. We were initially teased with a comment that two more projects are in the works, and that Nano Assault Neo only "scratched the surface". After pushing for more details we were told that one of the games "is in the racing genre", which is all we were told. If we were to place a bet, then we'd put our money on a Wii U version of FAST - Racing League being revealed in 2013.
Shin'en's evident enthusiasm for the Wii U eShop is undoubtedly pleasing for those interested in the platform's fate, and is possibly also a reflection of the improvements Nintendo's made to encourage developers of all sizes. One important progression is a greater willingness to support updates and patches for releases, and so far Linzner hasn't encountered any road blocks as the developer seeks to fix well-known but comparatively minor issues.
We've already submitted a first patch to Nintendo that will fix a display problem in the online rankings, and a minor issue when the GamePad does disconnect. To our knowledge there are no restrictions in such updates by Nintendo.
Of the team's initial reaction to the store itself, it seems to be similar to the views expressed by a fair number of Nintendo gamers. The biggest positive cited was the fact that "it simply works and was there on day one", an important landmark considering the delayed arrival of the 3DS equivalent in 2011. On the downside, Linzner feels that the rating system for bought games is "too hidden for users", while the current layout and and visual profile for games "works fine, but when more games come online we will have to see how everything scales." Naturally, the eShop will evolve in the coming months and years, as the handheld namesake already has done, but we certainly hope that developer concerns about some aspects of visibility and layout are addressed in the future.
Overall, the Shin'en Multimedia team seems enthusiastic and on board with the Wii U eShop, with Linzner emphasizing that the group is "very excited about bringing more games to the eShop", with Nano Assault EX still being finalised for the 3DS platform. Considering the level of care and quality that the studio demonstrates with its releases, we think that's rather good news.
We'd like to thank Manfred Linzner for his time. We have more Wii U eShop developer interviews and a round table of staff opinions on the way in the coming days.