Developer Interview: Dark Tonic Games On The "Awesome Potential" Of The Wii U

"Nintendo has been making it easier and easier for smaller studios"

Dark Tonic Games may be a young studio, but it's made up of seasoned developers with plenty of experience under their belts. We can exclusively reveal that Dark Tonic has been approved as a Wii U eShop developer, and we've secured an interview with Creative Director Eric Boosman.

Nintendo Life: What plans do you have for the Wii U eShop?

Eric Boosman: We have a couple of games planned that really take advantage of the Wii U's unique asymmetrical control possibilities and offer up some fresh gameplay.

One combines the craziness of games like Godzilla Destroy All Monsters and Power Stone for a fresh take on a Rampage-style game of multiplayer city destruction, with a bit of Earth Defense Force providing a completely different way to play the game.

The first we have planned, though, is a zombie defense game taking some classic arcade gameplay from games like Rampart, Missile Command and twin stick shooters, throwing in some tower defense/RTS style base building and a huge horde of zombies at you and your friends, a small band of heroic survivors. It will be up to you to decide how best to defend your base, whether building up auto defensive fortifications, using skill based defensive weapons, or wading out into the thick of things. Team up with friends and do it all!

Much of the tech we developed with our game Attack of the Wall Street Titan will be reusable in both of these games, making them quicker to implement and iterate on, helping us focus on making the game great instead of reinventing the wheel. We actually offer our enemy spawner system, Killer Waves, and our Master Audio plugin on the Unity Asset Store, so other devs can benefit from the time we put in developing these tools. If any of your readers are aspiring developers on a shoestring budget, we also have Killer Waves Lite, a free version to help them get set up quickly and as a way to give back to the fantastic Unity 3D community.

NL: What kind of contact have you had with Nintendo so far? What have they been like to work with?

EB: Dark Tonic has only just been officially approved as developers, so we've only had a couple legal questions, which they were super responsive on. However, I pitched a game to them with Steel Penny Games, and worked with them when developing Tiki Towers for the Wii with Mock Science. The Nintendo staff I talked to were always friendly, open and very encouraging.

NL: How does the process of developing for the Wii U compare to iOS or Android?

EB: We haven't gotten our hands dirty with the Wii U yet, but I can talk about mobile development verses my experience on the Wii and other consoles.

With mobile development you have to be able to support a variety of devices with different resolutions and performance capabilities, keep the memory minimal, and consider the way the user will interact with the device. Mobile games have to be able to be closed for a phone call at any moment, and should be more bite-sized game sessions. Also, mobile touchscreens are very good for a few specific actions, but they make terrible D-pads.

Console development gives you a consistent platform to develop to, an audience that's looking for a deeper experience and a bit more variety on control scheme. On the downside, development hardware kits can be quite finicky to use, expensive and there are a huge number of specific software requirements needed to be hit to pass certification.

Android can also be finicky to work with, mainly due to their software development kit needing to be compatible with bajillions of devices. I find Unity and iOS incredibly developer friendly. It's not surprising that there are 700,000+ apps out there.

Regardless of all of this, though, the real key is just in the development of the game itself, making sure it's fun, surprising, and rewarding. A good game experience transcends its interface or platform.

NL: What excites you most about the Wii U from a technical perspective?

EB: The Wii U GamePad is the most awesome part. I loved the Dreamcast's VMU, and loved hooking up GBAs to a GameCube for Zelda: Four Swords, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and Zelda: Wind Waker. Having your own display along with a separate group display is just really fun to me, and opens up loads of possibilities.

NL: Are you looking to stay digital-only, or are you also considering physical releases too?

EB: We'd love to create a boxed product eventually. I'm a huge fan of loot filled-limited editions of games and specialized peripherals. We've got a rough design for a Skylanders-style product with a toy component, and would love to build it with the right publishing partner.

NL: The Wii U is in quite a tricky spot commercially at present - do you feel that the system can turn the corner in the next 12 months?

EB: I think the coming holiday season will answer this question. Nintendo needs to go big with its marketing and needs some really strong products this fall. If they don't gain solid market share by end of year, it's going to be a tough road ahead. That said, the Nintendo brand still totally owns that family-friendly game space. It's a very "safe" choice for parents which will continue to serve them well.

The question really is less if the Wii U can succeed, and more whether consoles in general can survive the onslaught of "third screen" devices.

NL: What attracted you to the Wii U over rival systems, like the PS3 or 360?

EB: Well, the 360 is not particularly friendly to indie developers, although it wants to be. As an indie dev you can either release something on the XBLIG section which gets very little traffic, or you can put yourself at the mercy of Microsoft's greenlight process for a spot in XBLA proper, but the certification requirements and costs make it very difficult for a small team even if you do manage to pass their greenlight process. Development itself might not be too hard, but building a business from it, that's the challenge. PS3 dev hardware costs and similar certification requirements likewise make it challenging, although Sony seems to be making a real effort to bring more indie studios over.

All of this said, one of the beauties of developing in Unity is easy cross platform production, and we will definitely be looking to put our games on as many platforms as makes sense. For example, Attack of the Wall Street Titan was designed from the ground up for a fantastic touchscreen experience, but for this reason, it just wouldn't work well with a traditional controller.

Nintendo has been making it easier and easier for smaller studios to develop for their products, which is great, but getting to create new game experiences with the Wii U GamePad is the biggest attraction for me as a game designer. Such awesome potential!

Thanks to Eric for taking the time to speak with us!