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Talking Point: The Nintendo Web Framework and the Return of 'Old-School' Indies

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

The Wii U eShop could have quite a mix of games

Considering the fact that Nintendo Life began in part — through the pre-merger WiiWare World — as a resource dedicated almost exclusively to covering download games, we've seen hundreds come and go in the continually evolving online stores. WiiWare was a big deal when it launched, as for the first time it was a route onto Nintendo hardware for smaller companies without the resources to contemplate the distribution costs of physical retail. It's easy to forget that in those early days the power was still with platform holders, with diminutive studios getting used to the idea that they'd be able to share a platform with major publishers.

WiiWare, perhaps as a consequence of the Wii hardware and Nintendo arguably being slow to react to rapidly shifting sands, would eventually struggle to match up to home console rival platforms; Microsoft and Sony arguably offered more accessible terms for developers signing up, while WiiWare also had a pesky file-size limit. What Nintendo does well, however, is recover and remedy some mistakes, and it's rapidly evolved its practices. The 3DS eShop represented a step up in accessibility and interface quality over the DSi Shop, while the Wii U eShop seems to be taking further steps. It's not just about the requirements for developers to publish being eased off, but the supporting tools and features that Nintendo's implemented to encourage inexpensive, quick porting of download games.

Much attention naturally falls upon the Unity offering, which allows developers to use the popular development engine for free on the Wii U — it's even possible, for companies short on funds, to obtain loaned development kits. UK publisher Ripstone just recently said to us, as part of an interview including Zoink!, that "from a pure commercial angle it makes a lot of sense for a small outlay to put the game (Stick It To The Man) onto Wii U". Not all developers bringing content to the Wii U eShop use Unity, of course, with custom engines also coming into play.

Then we have the Nintendo Web Framework, which Nintendo increasingly publicised throughout 2013; it enables those most familiar with web development — such as HTML5 and JavaScript — to utilise tools for a simple porting process. Seeing end results has taken time, as interested developers have been required to gain approval, complete relevant paperwork, get hold of development units and get into the actual development process; the games are close, however. We've spoken to RCMADIAX, the studio bringing Blok Drop U to the system soon, while just this week we've chatted to Phoboslab regarding XType Plus and its own 'Impact' engine. The latter example is particularly intriguing, as the Impact engine aims to make development in codes such as HTML5 even easier and offers a Wii U plugin. The man behind the company, Dominic Szablewski, told us the following:

Impact provides a lot of functionality that is typically needed in 2D "action" games: drawing backgrounds maps, handling in game objects, providing physics and collision detection and response, loading of assets (graphics, sounds, music) - stuff like that. Getting a Jump'n'Run or a Top Down RPG started with Impact is a matter of one or two hours.

You also get a level editor, called Weltmeister, that is tightly integrated with the engine. This helps you lay out the game levels and set up the logic for the game (e.g. "find key, open door" mechanics).

Impact is just one example, of course, and there are multiple options for keen developers. The key is that the Nintendo Web Framework, in its way, further lowers the barrier for those interested in releasing a game on the Wii U. We're not talking iOS and Android levels of accessibility — the process will take longer and may require a devkit purchase if loan units aren't available — but it still opens the door wider. What it may bring, as the Framework-based projects revealed to date show, is a return to simpler times of download-only games.

One reason that the 'Indie' scene is so revered at present is that its standards have continued to exponentially increase. There are multiple factors, such as the tools available to small companies, various skilled staff that have left major companies to pursue their own agendas, and the download-only business has grown. There are times when download games have as much content and visual fidelity as titles that could have sold at retail in years gone by, and the ambition of these projects has increased. We're generalising, yes, but it's clear when you look at games such as Tengami (three years in the making) and Teslagrad (well over two years now) that there's now an emphasis on polish and overall quality with these games. The download-only scene, even when the games are from companies with less than ten staff members, is becoming big business and standards continue to increase.

That's all terrific, and the creativity that smaller studios are promoting will hopefully continue, even in a small way, to pressurise the main players in the retail scene. Yet this continual improvement in technology and the expanding scope of download games has made this Indie sector rather slick; that's not a complaint, obviously, but an acknowledgement we've arguably never had it better. But if so many download games are increasing in complexity and challenging their high-street brethren, that leaves a gap for more raw, rough and ready experiences. The Nintendo Web Framework may bring us that.

A common thread in the Framework games shown off to date is that, compared to some of their upcoming Wii U eShop contemporaries, they're relatively basic experiences. They typically focus on one style and theme, and iterate in what will likely be fairly bite-sized experiences. Visuals and mechanics look and feel — in the case of one we've played — simple, and there's a roughness that detracts from their role as upcoming releases, but reminds us that they're coming from a different place, too. We don't anticipate many of these games taking a year to develop, even, and some may be produced in a matter of months or even weeks; that's what we mean by "old-school Indies".

Quickfire development focused on a core concept may take wistful older gamers back to simpler times in console generations long past. The era of Atari, Commodore, ZX Spectrum (if you were in the UK) and even the NES brought games put together by just a few people — or even an individual — in a matter of weeks. Simple games with little complexity. In the modern era, of course, these rapidly developed games have gone to another level on smart devices; not necessarily a positive in all cases, as games developed in hours with little original work can make a lot of money, but that's a can of worms for another day.

Unlike with smart devices, the Wii U and Web Framework allow for these small, guerilla-style developments — we use the term as a positive — to find a home on a console with a multi-faceted controller to allow physical inputs and touch screen controls; those with major ambition can consider motion control, but then we're perhaps moving closer to the ambitious, polished products becoming the norm on the eShop. Some could point to the Ouya as a platform that tried this, but it suffered from the excessively low bar of entry that crams iOS and Android full as well as very limited impact on the market; with Nintendo there are still enough hoops that a degree of commitment is required, albeit it's no guarantee that some disappointing and poor games won't come through.

This emerging trend on the Wii U seems natural, however, as download-only developers continue to improve their abilities, grow small teams and work on projects for a year or more. What the web development arena offers, with the Wii U Framework, is a route in for those at the stage below that in their budding game creation careers — those on their own or working with one or two others, producing projects at home in spare time or generally keeping to as small a scale as possible. This community isn't new, with PC being such a rich area for these kind of projects, but the Wii U adds an extra dynamic and option. These games, in turn, could give the Wii U an extra dynamic as a hardware platform, diversifying the eShop.

We suspect this applies for many reading this, but we don't just like retail games, or even just download-only projects, as increasingly slick and impressive as they're becoming, but we simply like games. It's no surprise to us that an article highlighting a website to play free HTML5 games on the Wii U browser — regardless of choppy performance — attracted a fair bit of attention. Sometimes the simplest, least expensive, most primitive games can occupy us for hours at a time. Falling block puzzlers, endless arcade shoot-em-ups and basic Peggle-style games and more on the Wii U? Bring it on.

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User Comments (37)

RCMADIAX

#1

RCMADIAX said:

Good read! From what I have seen, the indie scene on Wii U is set to explode this year. A lot of original content on the way.

unrandomsam

#2

unrandomsam said:

Has the quality kept increasing ? In certain genres it is still not up to the level it was when there was e.g Apogee / Id software / Epic Megagames.

Stuff like Raptor : Call of the Shadows was amazing quality. As was Doom / Duke Nukem 3D / Unreal.

rjejr

#3

rjejr said:

Good thing the Wii U eShop has some games coming, retail is sparse. Im not posting that list again, 3x seems excessive, but Feb 21 DKCTF, Apr 8 Lego Hobbit and May 30 MK8 is all there is for the next 3+ months. I doubt any other consoles look much better, so thats something I guess, but I dont own them.

SuperCharlie78

#6

SuperCharlie78 said:

"A common thread in the Framework games shown off to date is that, compared to some of their upcoming Wii U eShop contemporaries, they're relatively basic experiences."
And that's exactly why I'm not interested at all.
I respect your point of view, but I wouldn't consider this kind of experiences even on my (wife's) smartphone, I'm just too busy with more complex videogames, and I love indies today.
I'm keen to spend money on the eShop, even if they put all the games in the next Humble Bundle, like they actually did with all my eShop games, but I'm not interested in basic experiences.

WaveWarlock

#8

WaveWarlock said:

Shovel Knight & Mighty N.9 are the only two that i'm looking forward to. It's hard finding good quality in the midst of all of this hipster indie fake retro shovel wear :P Still, you're bound to see more experimental and creative ideas rather than what's been churned out from big studious these frappy 'n funkylicious downer dooder days.

unrandomsam

#9

unrandomsam said:

@WaveBoy Treasure is an indie dev (Or similar to Wayforward anyway). Thing is regardless of that the stuff they have made is as good as stuff anybody has made indie or not. (Or very close). Very little that is poor either. (The GBA Guardian Heroes is all I can think of).

GalacticMario28

#11

GalacticMario28 said:

I agree that a game doesn't necessarily have to be fancy and polished to be enjoyable; I do tend to enjoy such games more, but I'm fine with simpler projects, too.

MAN1AC

#12

MAN1AC said:

I just want more rpgs. I dont care if they look like SNES games as long as they're good games.

arrmixer

#13

arrmixer said:

Good read Thomas.. Thanks!

well I think the more diversity the better... but I don't see these games selling more units.....

Kaze_Memaryu

#15

Kaze_Memaryu said:

@arrmixer Most HTML5-based games really won't change much, but big projects like Mighy No.9, Shantae, Shovel Knight, and Hyper Light Drifter, will affect many people because they're somewhat popular among gaming communities, and PS4/XBone aren't too busy with attracting indie dev's (though they don't really need to, either).

If Nintendo were to advertise indie games on TV and produce download cards for stores, these indie games would also generate a lot of diversity to the WiiU's current (and foreseeable) game library, since people who don't own the console tend to be unaware of them.

WaveWarlock

#16

WaveWarlock said:

@unrandomsam

I always felt WayForward and Treasure(They're the B-bomb. B-) ) especially were a little too big to be considered indie. :P They are both releasing better stuff than Konami or capcom these days, or at least in the past 3-4 years. Although WayForward tends to be hit and miss, they did a great jon on Contra 4 even if it did feel like just a re-imagining of the first game. A Boy & his Blob is another!

Also, why doesn't Nintendo snatch up Keiji Inafune from Comkept? It would be a match made in heaven.

Yellowgerbil

#17

Yellowgerbil said:

@efaulk84 I don't understand how that would help, he has very little influence on the games themselves. Although the president of Nintendo of America; he is little more than a well loved spokesman who many people love.

Memeboy3

#18

Memeboy3 said:

Nintendo LOVES indies now... :3
Glad to be a Future Indie Game designer for Nintendo!

efaulk84

#19

efaulk84 said:

@Yellowgerbil It seems though that He is clueless to what The People want just like EA and Activision. I feel that the eShop should go back to 3 Virtual Console games a week. This will probably not happen though. To put GBA games on the Wii U but not the 3DS is a huge mistake on Nintendo's part.

rjejr

#20

rjejr said:

@faint - Looks like you may be right. I found a Youtube video that says 4/29 (Apr 29), which is just days before the movie on 5/2 (May 2).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kf4CcUS7g94

That is still over 2 months away but I'm surprised no stores have it dated and Google cant find me another source. At least it's Activision so I'm not too worried about it being delayed or canceled. Thanks for the tip. That one game helps w/ the big gap between Hobbit and MK8.

unrandomsam

#21

unrandomsam said:

@WaveBoy I don't think they will be any more good stuff from Wayforward - Double Dragon Neon was pretty good. DuckTales is definitely miles worse than the original. Even stuff like Adventure Time where they did the last one ok they haven't done the same thing. Treasure is not hit or miss even stuff like that McDonalds game is pretty good.

Don't think Streetfghter IV could be much better without changing it completely. PES 2014 I don't mind playing it. (By comparison I hate playing Fifa and basically all modern Soccer games). Monster Hunter - People seem to like it. Bionic Commando : Rearmed (Only the first one was really good).

Chronicles of Mystara is garbage though. Not at all acceptable even though the game is good.

Also what is the definition of indie (For me the most important property was making stuff not answering to anybody and refusing to change it for any reason - Once you have a kickstarter that says you will make a clone of something popular that doesn't have the same independence).

Action51

#22

Action51 said:

I was a skeptic at first, but I really love having games like Mighty Switch Force, Gianna Sisters, and Mutant Mudds on my 3DS and Wii U screens.

More games likes that? More developers like WayForward, Renegade Kid, Yacht Club Games, and Level 5? - Count me in!

Let the independent games revolution begin! I'm sure the big name blockbuster games aren't going anywhere...and they may even be inspired to make some interesting new choices in their stale franchises.


SparkOfSpirit

#23

SparkOfSpirit said:

I do wish Capcom would put Strider on the eshop. Shame they won't since DuckTales did so well for them.

OGGamer

#27

OGGamer said:

@unrandomsam I'll GLADLY help with that . Radiant silvergun , Ikaruga , gunstar superheroes , Sin and punishment 1 and 2 , Gradius V many many more . God I love treasure , their games are always top notch . Now thats an indie dev I can fully support .

Emblem

#28

Emblem said:

@rjejr Both Pac-Man and The Ghostly Adventures HD & Phineas and Ferb : Quest for Cool Stuff are confirmed for March 7th as well (UK).

I'd guess there are several more low key retail titles that will be released over the next few months.

ThumperUK

#29

ThumperUK said:

A good article, it also used the word Ouya which I've not heard for a couple of months. Wasn't this supposed to be the thing that killed all other consoles ?? I bet even the WiiU has outsold it!

Action51

#30

Action51 said:

This is the best thing for gaming and Nintendo.
Real competition....that's right....real competition. Hear me out...

The Triple A blockbuster development and publishing game has gotten so bloated and complacent. While they produce slick and technically impressive games, I think we can agree it's down to a handful of publishers who dictate what direction the industry goes.

Now, think about this. What do most of these indie developers lack?

  • Capital, resources, experience.

While they may be releasing "retro" style games and games with less technical "wow" factor now, with successful releases they will be building up capital, networking with industry people, and gaining experience and expertise.

In not too long, they could be putting together the next Retro, Platinum, or RockStar games. They could breathe life and real competition back into a stagnant, bloated, unscrupulous publisher run industry.

If that's the case, then kudos to Nintendo for building loyalty to some of the more promising upstarts and small time developers now.

rjejr

#31

rjejr said:

@Emblem - Phineas and Ferb : Quest for Cool Stuff came out in Aug 2013, Pac-Man and The Ghostly Adventures came out in Oct 2013. Both of those are Wii U dates listed on Amazon US. Sorry I didn't mention the US part earlier.

Emblem

#33

Emblem said:

@rjejr I noticed that after i had first posted unfortunately. The UK are still awaiting Scribblenauts Unmasked so we may have less drought then you US guys.

I hope we get a few 1st Party eshop games out of the blue like we did with Dr Luigi and the 1st NES remix to help tide us over the next few months.

rjejr

#34

rjejr said:

@Emblem - April seems like a really good month for Wii U eShop - I've gotten a lot of feedback since I basically made the same post on 3 different articles - but March still seems a bit sparse. Courtesy of @Darknyht

"There are quite a few eShop releases scheduled for April such as Child of Light (4/30), Piers Solar HD (4/17), NES Remix 2 (4/25), The Fall (March), SQUIDS Odyssey (March), Ballpoint Universe (3/18), Nihilumbra (March). That is not even including titles with a Q1 2014 release announcement like Shovel Knight, A World of Keflings, Forced, and Monkey Pirates."

Good time to put out those eShop games for the devs. The Wii U is a basically an Android tv box at this point. ;-)

JaredJ

#35

JaredJ said:

I seriously need to get a hard drive for my Wii U. I have all but ran out of space.

mamp

#36

mamp said:

Those small HTML5 games are alright, they add a little extra but it's just not that extra thing that will get consoles moving.

MrV4ltor

#37

MrV4ltor said:

@mamp Do you really think that Nintendo is still thinking "what games could move systems" ? They know that the Wii U is dead in the water, but they still wanna do the best they can. An indie game has never been a system seller for any console, the only games that will sell Wii Us are Nintendos first party offerings.

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