News Article

Developer Interview: Goodbye Galaxy Games on Developing for Nintendo's Portable Systems

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Hugo Smits gives insight into a developer's life

While we'd suggest that he doesn't necessarily get the attention he deserves, Hugo Smit — through his studio Goodbye Galaxy Games — delivered four notable DSiWare experiences. These have all been published by third-parties, but have each had merits and plenty of areas worthy of praise. Of particular note, Ace Mathician was the winner of the staff vote for our Nintendo Life "DSiWare Download of 2012" award, and the studio's final DSiWare title earned an impressive 8/10 in our Color Commando review. These titles are often typified by a playful sense of innovation, with the most recent efforts emphasizing puzzle aspects for good measure.

While DSiWare and WiiWare have served as important first steps for Nintendo's download strategy, the eShop platforms on 3DS and now Wii U represent major strides forward. The good news is that Smits is now moving onto the 3DS eShop along with his publishing partner, CIRCLE Entertainment, and is keen to continue producing games for Nintendo systems.

We spoke to Smits about his history as a developer, his time on DSiWare, his opinions on the eShop platforms and Nintendo's download business, and his plans for the future.


Nintendo Life: Thanks for joining us, Hugo. First of all, can you tell us about your personal history in the game industry, and how Goodbye Galaxy Games started?

Hugo Smits: I started programming around the age of nine. One of the first systems I made games for is the original Game Boy. The reason was mainly that the big consoles and PC all had fancy 3D graphics (N64 just came out, PSone was getting hyped), and I had no way of competing with that!

Of course when you’re just starting with programming and making games, you can only make small little things, like Pong or Breakout. My friends weren’t impressed by seeing Pong on a PC. They would rather play Quake. However, they were impressed when I showed them Pong on my Game Boy! Since the graphics capabilities weren’t so advanced on the Game Boy (woah! What an understatement!) I could easily make something that looked as good as a commercial product. I really liked that!

When I was around 15 years old I started to do little things for EA and THQ. Mainly doing some 3D programming for the Game Boy Advance. By that time I lost all interest in school and other social activities. It was programming all through the night and sleeping in class.

Around 2008 I got this great idea for a new Voxel Engine for the Nintendo DS. To show off the capabilities of this engine, I wrote a demo game; this was the basis for Flipper!

It was so much fun that I decided to work it out into a fully fledged game.

NL: As you’ve mentioned your first game, published by Xform, was Flipper. How would you describe that first experience of developing for DSiWare?

HS: It was extremely fun and I learned a lot. I called up Nintendo to ask if I could be an official developer. They said “NO!”. So I didn’t have an official devkit. Instead I had to use my little sister’s pink Hello Kitty Nintendo DS and make some custom hardware and tools to get stuff running.

Eventually I got a chance to show the game to some people at Nintendo Europe. They loved it, and told me it would be a good fit for DSiWare, a service they were developing but wasn’t out yet.

Up until this time Flipper was meant to be a retail game, with over 60 levels and more than 10 power ups!

After the Nintendo people got behind me, it was easy to get an official license; for the last two months of development I actually had a devkit!

One thing I didn’t realize was how much work it would be to create something that would pass lot-check. There are so many little things. For example; if you close the lid of the unit, it doesn’t automatically put the game to sleep, you have to program that.

This is why I teamed up with the chaps of Xform. They took a lot of work out of my hands so I could totally focus on finishing the game. They made the e-manual and handled translations.

I also hired Paul Veer to redo the artwork. Up until that time all the pixel art was made by me. But I started to realize that with all the extra work for lot-check I wouldn’t be capable of giving the art all the love it deserves.

Luckily Paul was willing to help me out, and he did an amazing job.

NL: Was the isometric 3D perspective a challenge to deliver on the platform?

HS: It was actually not isometric but real 3D! You can check out some engine demos on YouTube for that. It wasn’t such a huge problem during the actual development of Flipper because it all started with the engine.

Of course when I was writing the engine it was difficult, since I had to optimize a lot. Getting it fast was difficult, but also the sheer size of data was a problem. The levels can contain 256x256x256 voxels, way too much for the Nintendo DS 4 MB of RAM. So I had to come up with a lot of smart compression methods.

I think Flipper is one of the few games that actually benefits from the 16 MB of RAM the DSi offered!

So it only got easier for me when I moved to DSiWare.

In the end I did something on a $150 piece of hardware that normally only a powerful Hospital computer could do! I’m still very proud of that technical achievement.

NL: Flipper 2 took on an entirely different style, opting instead for single-button fast-paced play. How did the idea for the title come about?

HS: I honestly don’t remember exactly. Only that a full platforming game would be too hard to develop, both in time and money. Looking back, the complete project was an uphill struggle and almost destroyed Goodbye Galaxy Games.

If you look at how much animation there is in that game, we could have easily done a normal 2D platform game and I think it would have turned out better. In fact, I still like my original design ideas for it.

We wanted to make a normal platform game, with one difference; Flush was able to jump out of his suit. Making it easy for him to crawl though small openings or have the suit stand on buttons and stuff. That could have been really fun! Maybe for a 3DSWare game?

Because it was hard to keep the game fun, it took a long time for me to develop it (almost a year). That’s something I learned; if it doesn’t work don’t try to make it work, just kill the project and move on.

NL: Despite having a relatively short main adventure, the random level generation and level editor fleshed it out; were you conscious of providing "value for money" with a game that, perhaps like WarioWare and similar ideas, is reliant on short bursts of action?

HS: Yes, I wanted to let players play in small bursts. But I also wanted the game to last long. The main adventure is actually a tutorial for the random mode. It was always all about the random mode. And with over 300 levels, I think we provided “value for money”.

NL: Ace Mathician's concept — a puzzle platformer with maths as a vital mechanic — perhaps seemed strange, yet we liked it a great deal here at Nintendo Life. Can you tell us about the origins of the idea?

HS: Ace was really a great project to work on. I was into Scribblenauts at the time, and while programming I started to wonder why I suddenly loved to do math so much. I always was bad at it in school. Mainly because it was really boring.

You took a number, some symbol, another number, and down the line the equals (=) sign would spit out yet another number. You couldn’t really tell what you did good or wrong. And the answer was always as boring as the sum itself.

Now if you look at programming, suddenly math becomes awesome. For example you are calculating the position of an enemy soldier. If you do it wrong he will end up on top of a house or something. If you do it correctly you will have a fun game and something cool to look at.

I always wanted my games/programs/math to work and see the game that I had pictured in my head.
This turned out to be a great motivator; keeping me up all night trying to find out why my code didn’t run perfectly, until I finally got it and I got to see and play my game!

With Ace Mathician I tried to make math more visual and rewarding, so that people hopefully got motivated and kept trying to beat the levels without getting bored by the math.

NL: Was the intention to provide an educational experience with this game?

HS: I wanted to make math more awesome. That was the goal. So I mainly focused on making an awesome fun game. But if players could learn anything, that is a great bonus. One thing I think players can learn is to visualize math better. Some players never used sin, cos, x, y and stuff like that, and they probably have a better understanding of them after playing the game.

I also wanted to give math a purpose. Something that was clear like; why do I need math? To do this, to save the world!

Other educational games mostly act like digital moms. They let you play a room and then when you want to open a new door, they will ask you to solve a math problem. It feels a bit like my mom telling me I need to finish my homework before I can watch TV or play games.

I didn’t want that, math really needed to be part of the gameplay.

NL: Your most recent title, which you've said is your last on DSiWare, is Color Commando. You once told us that the idea came to you over a quiet weekend, can you recap that story for us?

HS: The original idea is actually much bigger and doesn’t include colors. I cannot share that idea, because I’m hoping to turn that into an awesome 3DSWare game in the future!

About the weekend; I was home alone with some bags of M&Ms; normally I always choose a nice ‘hacking’ project for the weekend. Maybe write an emulator, new 3D engine or something else goofy that will teach me some new tricks about programming.

I still had this idea for the game stuck in my head, when I realized I could probably make a prototype really quickly. The original idea had some tricky math stuff in there that would make an excellent hacking project to work on, so that was perfect for the weekend. The prototype was really fun and Circle wanted to do another game with me. So I figured I could scale the project down a bit and add colours to make an awesome last DSiWare title!

NL: Rather like Ace Mathician, can this be considered as a puzzle action game? Do you agree with that categorisation, and can you tell us whether puzzle mechanics are an important part of your game design philosophy?

HS: Yeah, I agree. I actually like to play more traditional games as gamer. I really liked Dark Void for example on DSiWare, but when it comes to designing it just isn’t as fun. Even when you do it really well, you’re still doing something that is done before.

So I like to come up with new mechanics and innovative gameplay. Mostly this turns into a puzzle game because the player needs to think and experiment with the new mechanics.

One thing I’m really keen on through my games, and which is a key decision (more so than to make puzzle games), is to keep the levels in one screen. It gives power to the player, they have an absolute overview of the game. So they can focus better on the new mechanics rather than exploring.

NL: You've released four titles on DSiWare, yet none have been self-published. Have you ever considered that option, or do you prefer working with third-parties?

HS: Publishers are awesome to work with. They take a lot of things out of my hands (like translations, e-manual) and it’s always great to have people that can give feedback on your game.

Since I was around 12 years old, I’ve been hanging around the Engine Software office (Flipper 2 publisher) so it was awesome to work with them. I also helped them out on a few retail titles!

And now I’m mainly working with Circle which is amazing. Chris really trusts me and lets me make whatever I want, naturally when you try to be innovative freedom is really important.

NL: You've been loyal to DSiWare so far, did you ever consider taking your games to other platforms?

HS: I recently started a new studio which will focus more on triple-A stuff, which is currently working on some really big franchises for some of the biggest third party publishers.

But my own games will probably not work on anything but a Nintendo platform. Since I really like to create innovative things and the Nintendo crowd (more than any other console crowd) appreciates that.

It’s also about my love for Nintendo handhelds. There is just something really magical for me to work on these platforms. Also the development scene for Nintendo is really awesome. So many cool programmers who feel exactly the same as me.

I still remember getting an invite from a studio to check out a prototype of the 3DS almost a year before release. That was so awesome!

Next month a retail title that I worked on (Maya the Bee) is hitting stores. I cannot wait to pick it up in the same toy store where I bought my original Game Boy more than 20 years ago.

That kind of stuff is just really magical!

NL: How would you summarise your experiences with DSiWare, and how much have you worked directly with Nintendo in recent years?

HS: It was really awesome working on DSi and making all these cool games. I learned so much from programming Flipper. I haven’t really worked directly with Nintendo, which is a shame.

There are many smart and motivated people working over at Nintendo Europe, some I personally know. They all love innovative games and they love what is happening in the indie scene.

But the problem is, according to my personal opinion, that nobody has ‘full control’. Everybody has a specific job over there and they always need other people to paint the full picture. This works great for big console games (and I can totally see why Nintendo works this way). But with small indie games, it just doesn’t work so great.

Right now you need to submit a game proposal to person X, if he likes it; you need to submit a budget proposal to person Y. Marketing person Z will go over it and so on; this process can take up many months for a small eShop game that might take me three months to create. It’s just really a hassle.

You need somebody who can make decisions on multiple levels. Who can just say ‘hey I like this game, let me help you bring it to the eShop!’, and who can decide to give you a budget, as well as help planning marketing and give feedback on the actual game design.

Basically, we need somebody like Dan Adelman in Europe.

The moment we get somebody like Dan in Europe, it will change the future of the Nintendo 3DS, because it will allow Nintendo to tap this huge pool of developers that would love to make new 3DS software. There are so many cool people over here in the indie scene (a lot of them even have Nintendo experience working on retail DS and GBA games).

NL: What have been the best and worst parts of the DSiWare service, from your perspective?

HS: Seeing my game in the DSiWare shop was awesome. The lack of info on sales date would probably be the worst; what is the best price for a game? What date is best to release a game on? That always seemed like a guess. Luckily Nintendo has amazing fan communities like the one on Nintendo Life.

I really always enjoyed talking to people in the comments and forums. This feedback has proven to be very useful. The crew has always been very supportive as well!

I remember being extremely nervous when the Flipper review came online. I still get nervous every time you guys post a review, although not as much as the first one. All the mistakes or things that I could have done better will race through my head!

Most of the time I’m totally tired and empty after finishing a game, because of the hard work. I always feel like I will never make a game again… and then I read online that somebody enjoyed it and it completely rekindles my love for video game development.

It’s a pretty amazing feeling when people like something you made.

Most of the time I’m totally tired and empty after finishing a game, because of the hard work. I always feel like I will never make a game again… and then I read online that somebody enjoyed it and it completely rekindles my love for video game development.

NL: We understand that you're planning 3DS eShop projects, can you tell us more about them?

HS: Circle is the publisher. The game is called Tappingo. It’s a real puzzle game (in the veins of Picross) and that’s all I can share at this point in time!

NL: What do you think of the 3DS eShop as a platform and games library, especially compared to the DSi Shop?

HS: I actually just bought a 3DS XL! Before this I only had devkits. And I’m really happy with how the eShop turned out. This is one of the changes that was needed and Nintendo did a really good job on this!

Searching is made a lot easier. The layout and the extra graphics make the products/games seem more appealing. And I love the special things they do, like the ‘made in Holland’ group they had a few weeks ago.

The quality of the games seems about the same, some are really great, others not so much. Interestingly those quality games are coming from the same developers that brought quality DSiWare titles. It’s good to see those companies still rocking Nintendo handhelds!

NL: Do you envisage an ongoing place in the market for dedicated gaming handhelds such as the 3DS, and do you consider systems such as that to be your natural home, rather than iOS and Android?

HS: Sure. The market will never be as big as with the DS or Wii. But hardcore gamers or gamers that like more the classic type of games will always prefer buttons over touch input. I cannot imagine playing a fighting game with touch controls.

I bought an iPad and I really loved it the first few weeks. But I got bored pretty quickly with the games (only adventure games really seemed to work great).

So I’m playing on my 3DS and PS Vita all the time now.

Before the Wii and DS, Nintendo was doing fine without all the casual players. In fact, the Game Boy Advance might just be my favourite platform of all time!

NL: Much has been said recently about Nintendo's increasingly open and supportive attitude towards small developers, has that been your experience?

HS: Personally I haven’t really been able to benefit from recent changes because most of them were for the Nintendo Wii U. However, I expect it is only a matter of time before changes will be made for 3DS developers. Nintendo seems really committed to change and make a better environment for indie developers.

NL: Can you tell us what you think of the Wii U, and do you have any plans to work on the system?

HS: From an indie perspective it looks really good. Unity support will really make it easier. I think Nintendo made some really smart moves there.

From a gamer perspective; I’m not really sold yet on the system. I’m still waiting for that one special game that will keep me hooked for weeks.

For now, I cannot wait to enjoy Donkey Kong on my 3DS XL!

As for development; I don’t think it will happen, I just love the handhelds and I’m probably going to stick with 3DS development. And honestly I think this is a good thing. With Wii U really opening up for indies with Unity, I expect a lot of indie projects going there.

So I think it’s good that a few studios will keep putting out quality and exclusive 3DS content for gamers to enjoy.


We'd like to thank Hugo Smits for his time. Let us know what you think about his comments, game development philosophies, or anything else he covered with us, in the comments below.

Sponsored links by Taboola

More Stories

User Comments (19)

Squashie

#1

Squashie said:

Awesome games from Hugo! I have spoke to him many times, a very nice guy aswell! :)

Sjoerd

#2

Sjoerd said:

Great interview! The smallest developers should get more attention, they can look at things from a completely different perspective

Zennyboiz

#3

Zennyboiz said:

I love reading these interviews! Always some quality stuff. The eShop is sizing up to be an awesome platform and I'm excited to see what will come from indie devs on it.

Dpishere

#4

Dpishere said:

Looking forward to seeing what he can do with the development tools of the 3ds!

TG1

#7

TG1 said:

Nice Interview. Color Commando was the first of Hugo's games I've played. It's great, and I enjoyed it so much I also downloaded Flipper which is also great! Very excited to see what's in store for the 3DS.

DarkCoolEdge

#8

DarkCoolEdge said:

Another great interview!

It is great to have some of this developers like Hugo himself in NL. The other he directly helped us with Color Commando. That's really cool. I plan to download Ace Mathician this week.

EaZy_T

#12

EaZy_T said:

I really like Flipper and Ace Mathician, thanks for making fun games Hugo! :)
I'm hoping to see (an enhanced) Flipper2 come to 3DSware, I think it would do well there.

IAmSpike

#13

IAmSpike said:

Oh poop I haven't played any of these games but I should have! Ah I wish I had money.

zipmonStaff

#14

zipmon said:

Awesome interview! Ace Mathician is always my go-to game for showing people how awesome DSiWare can be! :)

NImH

#15

NImH said:

Great interview. I just may have to check out Color Commando... Or Ace Mathematician... What do those who have played recommend?

WiiLovePeace

#16

WiiLovePeace said:

Wow, amazingly awesome interview! I'll definitely look into getting flipper & the other Goodbye Galaxy games now. I have been wanting to buy more of the best games from DSiWare since its a lot easier for me to do on the eShop (simply by being able to add how much the game costs instead of having to pay $15 for 1000 points each time). Awesome!

Morph

#17

Morph said:

I think his point about a dan adelman type in europe is important, why arent we making it more appealing for these indie devs to get on nintendo consoles, with nintendo it always seems to be a case of evolution rather than revolution, which can be a slow process

LittleIrves

#18

LittleIrves said:

Love that you brought voxels to DSiWare. Ha. Might have to finally give Ace Mathician a shot... good luck!

Windy

#19

Windy said:

AMAZING! Untitled

Hugo I hope we see more of your work on 3ds thanks for the great interview. Also thank you nintendolife for taking time to do it. Again Untitled

Leave A Comment

Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...