This week, Super Little Acorns 3D will arrive on the 3DS eShop in North America and Europe. It's developed and published by Pixel Toys, a UK-based studio founded last year.
While a relatively small start-up, its founding members have extensive experience from major developers, with companies like Activision and Rare in their collective CVs. We spoke to Pixel Toy's co-founder Alex Zoro, who not only worked at Rare in his early days but also co-founded FreeStyleGames, a studio eventually bought by Activision and best known for the DJ Hero titles. We quizzed Alex about this week's release, future plans, why the team chose to work on the 3DS and why he's chosen to start again with a small independent studio.
NL: Can you tell us about the origins of Pixel Toys?
Alex Zoro: I formed Pixel Toys in order to build a company that could move quickly, keeping up with the current changes in the industry, and to create games for the ever-growing audience who enjoy a broader range of games, in more and more places and more often than ever before. As I was going through the process of setting the company up, Andy [Wafer] had decided to leave the safe harbour of Activision too. We found that our visions of the type of company we wanted to build and the quality of games we want to make were the same, and our complimentary skills made teaming up a logical choice.
NL: With both co-founders being so experienced in the game industry, what were the main motivations for starting up with a new studio?
AZ: The recent changes in the industry – particularly the flexibility that the current landscape of more open platforms, a plethora of new gaming devices and the explosion of easy game distribution through digital channels was such a great opportunity, it was something that couldn't be missed. Smaller companies can react more quickly to new ways of working, and can take more risks with game design, both of which are extremely exciting.
NL: Can you tell us a bit about Super Little Acorns 3D, and what you feel makes it a fun experience?
AZ: Super Little Acorns 3D Turbo is awesome! The style and content of the game is such a good fit with the Nintendo 3DS because it has so many qualities that are often associated with Nintendo's games; cartoon visual design and cute characters, super-tight controls and a breadth of levels with great design. The quirky audio design is the perfect complement to the visuals and there's depth of experience across the game – power-ups, additional awards to complete on each level, and of course the titular Turbo mode! Comedy costumes allow you to dress Mr. Nibbles up ridiculously as you run, jump, swing and smash your way around hunting nuts!
NL: Little Acorns on iOS preceded this and was published by Chillingo, so how did you come to develop this expanded version on 3DS?
AZ: We loved the original version of the game, the only thing that we felt was lacking was the tactile feedback that you get from having real physical button controls. I discovered Nintendo's push to open up the eShop to indie developers around the same time and with the opportunity available to us the rest was history.
NL: Did you have much freedom to experiment with the ideas of the original, or was your focus on a successful transition to Nintendo’s handheld?
AZ: As we took the original game to what feels like it's natural home, we didn't just want to do a straight port, so we looked at what would work well on the 3DS, and for the type of players who own 3DS, without compromising the core qualities of the game. We worked closely with the game's original artist and designer to ensure that the additions we made were in keeping with the original game. We feel the additions we made add nicely to the breadth and depth of the game while remaining true to the original's look and feel.
NL: For anyone familiar with the iOS title, can you tell us more about the extras in this new version?
AZ: Firstly, of course we added support for the physical controls(!), we also polished the visual effects to make use of the 3D screen. We wanted to expand the game for people who loved the original and wanted more, but we didn't just want to add more levels in the standard progression, so we built a set of 30 'challenge' levels which are accessible from the start of the game, and which, while simple in concept, are real challenges around themed mechanics built into the game. The new levels provide variety in the game and push how far we could take the challenge of a level with a particular mechanic – such as how challenging can you make a level when you are just jumping along, or up, or focusing mostly on the jump pads, or swinging mechanic. The new levels are great fun and really provide a unique challenge for gamers who really love platform games. We also added new Enemy Elimination awards across all the original levels, character costumes and finally, the titular Turbo mode – created for hardcore gamers who want to play everything up to and including the hardest challenges, at an extra lick of pace!
NL: How much do you feel the game benefits from having physical d-pad and button controls?
AZ: Enormously – bringing the game to 3DS was originally motivated by a desire to have physical controls for the game. Having created the new version, and then pushing the boundaries of the platforming mechanics with the challenge levels, we feel the quality of the game and the gameplay stands as a showcase as to the benefits of physical controls for platforming games.
NL: You’re doing a simultaneous European and American release, something which a lot of devs struggle to pull off. Was this a challenge to self-publish?
The 3DS is a great machine. We love the form-factor, and the quality of the final game on the device is fantastic...Overall the experience has been very positive.
AZ: This is the first game we created as Pixel Toys, and the first game we have ever self-published. While the games for the different locations are very similar there are some differences, we support region specific localisations - including 6 different languages in total, and had to attain different age ratings for different counties. Nintendo have been very helpful at each step along the way, there were just a few more steps than we initially expected!
NL: Having worked with the 3DS, what’s your overall impression of the hardware?
AZ: The 3DS is a great machine. We love the form-factor, and the quality of the final game on the device is fantastic. When we started the project we had some concerns about how good the game would look in 3D, but the end result speaks for itself – we were even able to add 3D to some of the game elements and effects, which we think looks great. It helps that our graphics programmer is a ninja! Overall the experience has been very positive, and we've had very few technical issues during development.
NL: In terms of Nintendo’s digital approach with the eShop, what would you say are its biggest strengths and weaknesses?
AZ: Nintendo are increasingly open with their policies for the eShop, which for indies is great! Technically we've found creating a game for eShop is easier than for a disc or cartridge, and because Nintendo allow self-publishing, developers are free to create whatever games they like. There remain some challenges with international publishing – creating a game for worldwide release is not currently possible; I look forward to the day when we can create one version and publish world-wide.
NL: We noticed that your second project is a 3D action title for smartphones and tablets. Is it still set for those platforms, or is it perhaps in the running for 3DS?
AZ: We originally began prototyping with those platforms in mind, but recently have been considering if it would suit other devices too... including perhaps other Nintendo devices...
NL: Taking that hint on, how about the Wii U? What do you think of the system and its concept, and are you interested in working on the platform in the future?
AZ: The Wii U is a great console. We're big fans of all of Nintendo consoles and we would definitely consider making games for the Wii U in the future … it's even possible you'll see our next game there!
NL: Do you have any more projects planned for 3DS at the moment?
AZ:We’re thinking about working on Super Little Acorns 3D Turbo for Asian release! We also have some ideas for other projects but nothing we can’t confirm or talk about yet...
NL: Are you big Nintendo fans?
AZ: You betcha! Playing games on Nintendo 64 was the thing that made me decide to become a games developer, and I was extremely lucky to be able to start my career working for Rare on some games for the Nintendo 64 and the GameCube! My favourite Nintendo game of all time is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - such an epic realisation of Death Mountain and the wonderful world of Hyrule, playing it brought me so many hours of joy!
NL: As a UK-based developer, do you feel the games industry is currently being given the recognition and support it needs, in terms of taxes, resources and so on?
AZ: UKIE is doing a fantastic job working with the Government on some proposed tax breaks for the industry, and while these have not been signed off yet, we’re hopeful they will be and are looking forwards to the additional boost they should give developers here in due course.
NL: Thanks for your time. To finish off, if you had to summarise the appeal of Super Little Acorns 3D Turbo in one sentence, what would you say?
AZ: Super Little Acorns 3D Turbo sees Mr. Nibbles squirrelling his Nuts to their natural home on 3DS in gorgeous 3D - jump, swing, smash and bash your way through 90 levels of cute looking, but mischievously challenging platform goodness!
We'd like to thank Alex Zoro for his time. Let us know what you think about his comments, and the upcoming Super Little Acorns 3D Turbo. in the comments below.