Developer Interview: Renegade Kid and a History of Nintendo Development
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
From DS FPS games to pixel-perfect platforming
Renegade Kid is a development studio founded in 2007, but is comprised of staff with far greater experience in the game industry. After early days of pushing boundaries with three FPS titles on DS, the team has gradually moved into self-publishing download games, rising to greater prominence with the critical smash hit Mutant Mudds.
There's more to Renegade Kid than one rather delicious retro-themed platformer, however, so we've spoken in detail to the studio's Jools Watsham about the company's history developing on Nintendo platforms, as well as looking ahead at what's to come.
NL: Can you tell us about the origins of Renegade Kid and how it all started?
Jools Watsham: Gregg Hargrove and I worked together at various game studios for about 13 years prior to starting Renegade Kid. We had both talked about wanting to start our own studio for many years. There really is no “good” time to start a new company, so one day we decided to just go for it. I was a big fan of the Nintendo DS at the time. Diving into that market instead of the home console market seemed like a good way for us to take advantage of our experience with the Nintendo 64, Xbox, PS2, and GameCube.
When we first started Renegade Kid, both Gregg and I worked as contractors during the day on various animation projects for a toy manufacturer to make enough money to pay our bills and hire our technical director, Bob Ives. Together, we created our début title: a first-person horror game for the Nintendo DS.
NL: That first release, Dementium: The Ward, would seem unrecognisable to those just becoming aware of your studio. How did you come to produce a survival-horror FPS for DS?
Jools: We were fans of the survival horror genre with titles such as Silent Hill and Resident Evil, and saw there was a large hole in the DS market for a mature game. We weren’t sure if there was a large audience for this type of game, but we knew we wanted to play such a game on our beloved handhelds.
NL: Did you have any concerns that the genre didn't fit the image of the handheld, or was that perhaps the whole point?
Jools: Yes, our hope was that releasing a mature game in a market that most considered just a "kiddy" market would make us stand out. We hoped that gamers who wanted something they could get their teeth into would appreciate something a little different… or very different.
NL: Moon continued your FPS-exploration work, and was praised for its technical accomplishments in particular; what inspired the concept behind that game?
Jools: Metroid was a big inspiration for Moon as well as the many awesome sci-fi movies that have been released over the years such as Alien, and even movies such as Solaris and Contact. Our main goal was to focus more on story than we had with Dementium.
NL: An early goal of the studio seemed to be to push the boundaries and limitations of DS. Is that the case, or did it just happen naturally?
Jools: We knew a first-person shooter could be done and done well on the DS due to our experience with the Nintendo 64 and the similar capabilities of the two platforms. We also knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The combination of Bob’s technical abilities, Gregg’s artistic abilities, and my design and audio abilities are what made the result work so well. We each contributed a vital part to what made our FPS titles possible. We each had to communicate very well with each other and be willing to rethink and compromise on practically everything to make it work. This was very important as we were dealing with relatively little hardware power. By the time we got to develop Dementium II we were really having fun as we were a lot more comfortable with our engine and tended to try and push the system even further than both Dementium and Moon, in terms of detailed environments and more detailed enemies on screen.
NL: After Dementium II you had one additional DS release, ATV Wild Ride; was it a challenge switching genres after three first-person games?
Jools: Well, before Dementium we hadn’t developed a first-person shooter. I created some multiplayer maps for Turok 2, but that’s a far cry from designing one from scratch. So, moving onto the development of a racing game was just as challenging as deciding to develop an FPS from scratch. So, yes, it was a challenge – a welcome challenge for me. I am very proud of how ATV Wild Ride turned out on the DS. And, I am thrilled that we’ve had a chance to enhance it for the 3DS eShop.
NL: You're best known among 3DS gamers for eShop games, but you did develop Face Racers: Photo Finish. This is the last game to date that you've released both at retail and had published by another company. Was that a project that you conceived, or were you contracted to the work?
Jools: We worked with Majesco to develop the concept of the game. It was technically work-for-hire, but it was a partnership in terms of developing the concept of the game. It was a particularly challenging title because development started before we had 3DS devkits, and even when we did get our hands on the hardware it was the early circuit-board kits that I was scared to breathe on. It worked out well in the end though. It was very fortunate for us to have that project to propel us into development on the 3DS platform. It was a very exciting time for us.
NL: Your 3DS eShop début, Mutant Mudds, seems like your biggest success so far. Is that the case in terms of sales and profit?
Jools: Mutant Mudds is our first self-published title, so it has certainly been our biggest profit to date. The first Dementium may have sold more copies than Mutant Mudds, but we didn’t see a penny in royalties for it.
NL: After a number of games using 3D game engines, what initially prompted you to make the switch to 2D pixel-based graphics?
Jools: I had wanted to develop a 2D platformer for about 20 years. With the chance to self-publish on the 3DS eShop, the time just felt right. I couldn’t have been happier during the development of Mutant Mudds – every pixel was a joy. I am very proud of the result.
NL: As your first project on the 3DS eShop, how did you find the experience of developing on the hardware and then getting the final product onto the store?
Jools: In terms of development, there is little difference between a retail and eShop title. The experience of getting the game onto the eShop was very unique for us. We had never dealt with sending our game to the ESRB or been in contact with Nintendo so closely. It was a big learning experience for us, and Nintendo made it a very pleasurable one. They were very nice to work with. Everyone who works at Nintendo is happy. That makes it a lot nicer.
NL: It's a title that seems to have boosted Renegade Kid's profile, with a PC release and an iOS version; although we appreciate you can't give precise details, how have those markets performed in comparison to sales on the 3DS eShop?
Jools: The sales of Mutant Mudds on the 3DS eShop is king compared to the PC and iOS versions.
NL: As a franchise — if we can say that after one game! — it seems to be gaining a lot of steam, how excited are you to be bringing a version of the title to Wii U?
Jools: I am ridiculously excited about the Wii U version of Mutant Mudds – on many levels. I preordered my Wii U – Deluxe Set, of course – and I think it is a wonderful console. Releasing Mutant Mudds Deluxe on the Wii U, and imagining people playing it in their living room, is really exciting. The game looks incredible on HDTVs and on the GamePad. The 20 new ghost levels are icing on what is already a delicious pixel cake.
NL: How has the experience of developing on Wii U varied from 3DS, in terms of the level of challenge that comes with it?
Jools: From a technical perspective, it is always challenging when moving from one platform to another, but the technical wizard behind the programming of Mutant Mudds, Matthew Gambrell, has handled it with grace and speed. For me, I have had to revisit each of the 60 levels and extend the art around the edge to cater for the larger game area visible on the HDTV. All-in-all though, it has been a pretty smooth experience.
NL: Although Mutant Mudds Deluxe is now set for Q2, are you able to tell us any more yet about Mutant Mudds 2?
Jools: No, not yet unfortunately. We have a lot of projects going on right now, and Mutant Mudds 2 is one of them. But, it’s going to be a while before we can share any more information on it. Due to our busy schedule, it is looking like Mudds 2 will be a 2014 release.
Turn over to page two to read about Renegade Kid’s other 3DS eShop releases and the upcoming ATV Wild Ride 3D, as well as some details on the first appearance and controls of the studio’s new 3DS FPS that’s currently in development.