Last week, we reported that Ambient Studios — the team behind Kickstarter title Death Inc. — were considering bringing the game to the Wii U eShop. Soon after the story went live, Ambient director and co-founder Jonny Hopper got in touch with us to explain a bit more about his company and the long-term aspirations for its plague-spreading game.
Nintendo Life: Can you give us a little background on Ambient Studios? You're made up of staff from quite a few famous British studios, right?
Jonny Hopper: We’re made up of 11 guys from Media Molecule, Lionhead and EA. Four of us started the company — three Media Molecules (myself, Daniel Leaver and Mike Pang) and Tim Holleyman. We’ve got this really broad range of experience – PC games, console games, traditional animation and painting and the movie FX industry.
NL: How did you come up with the idea for Death Inc.?
JH: It started out as a question: “Wouldn’t it be great to play a zombie game where you control the entire horde of zombies?” The answer was obviously “Yes. Yes it would.” But as a genre it’s very overcrowded and we wanted to do something a bit different. So we kept the horde mechanic and went wild (not literally) – we threw around a lot of ideas but eventually settled on the plague, which affected Europe in various forms over hundreds of years, and we chose the 17th century as a setting. Obviously the big outbreak was the twelfth century but back then everything was basically made from mud and we loved the colour and the culture of the 17th. Plus it fits nicely in with the Great Plague Of London in 1665.
NL: What games provided inspiration for Death Inc.?
JH: Largely it was the old Bullfrog games. Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper and Syndicate. I think there’s elements of all of those in there. Some are obvious (Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate) but the Theme games are integral too with their madcap approach, off-the-wall humour and of course the business sim side.
NL: What are your thoughts on the Wii U? Do you think Death Inc. would be well-suited for the machine?
JH: Actually I think Death Inc. would be a great fit. To be honest we hadn’t thought about it much before the Kickstarter campaign – but there’s been this support for the idea that we thought…hang on. This could work. The control mechanic is very tactile and satisfying – it would be perfect for any touch screen device. And even better for the Wii U because we wouldn’t have to compromise on the visuals like we might have to do if we did a tablet version (which would also be cool). I love, love, love the “living room” experience of playing games — it’s my favourite setting, so it would be amazing to see it there.
NL: The Wii U eShop is gathering support from a lot of developers - do you see it as a platform which can compete with the likes of the App Store, PSN and XBLA?
JH: Sure thing. For developers it all comes down to two things: How many people are there to buy my games and what are the royalty terms? And there’s also the “I want to make a game for Nintendo” factor, definitely. Now the first one is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy – you need developers in there early so people buy the systems. But then with Wii U we as consumers also want to see innovation because it’s got some cool hardware – so it’s never going to be enough, creatively for us as developers at least, to simply port a game and simply “make it run” on the Wii U. It would have to use the hardware in compelling, practical ways.
Short answer: Yes!
NL: Have you spoken with Nintendo about working on the system at all?
JH: We’ve sent off the application to be a registered developer. That takes a bit of time but once that gets approved we can go from there.
NL: If you could collaborate with Nintendo on one of its properties, what would it be?
JH: I think most of the team would kill me if I didn’t say Zelda!
NL: Seriously speaking, how likely is it that we'll see Death Inc. on the Wii U? Do you intend to add it as a stretch goal, or is it something which would be considered after the Kickstarter campaign has finished?
JH: I think if we decided to push ahead with it, it would be as a stretch goal – and the extra cash in the pot from achieving that goal would purely be to cover the porting and the cost of the dev kits. And this is the cool thing about Kickstarter – we know our own minds and what we want to achieve (so we’re definitely not scrabbling around for direction) but it’s an opportunity for the fans and the consumers to say “how about this?” and make their voices heard early on in development, when it can make all the difference. Vote with your wallets (in a good way)!
NL: What other projects are you working on at Ambient Studios?
JH: We’ve just finished an iPad game which is in Apple review right now. Watch this space on that one! Right now everyone is focussed purely on Death Inc.
Thanks to Jonny for taking the time to speak to us! Remember to support the Death Inc. Kickstarter to ensure the game has a chance of coming to the Wii U eShop!