Indie development has never been more popular than it is now, with each of the major console makers bending over backwards to accommodate bedroom coders in the hope of finding the next Minecraft. However, while most small-scale devs favour the likes of iOS, Android, Steam and the digital stores of the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U, UK-based Namespace Games are creating a title for the SNES, a system which is no longer manufactured by Nintendo.
The game doesn't have a name yet, but it does have a theme — Robin Hood. Keen to know more about this intriguing title, we caught up with Alex Roberts of Namespace to chat about the challenges of indie development and the future of the project.
Can you give us a little background on Namespace games?
Namespace Games comprises of Luke Shires and Alex Roberts, two graduates from Nottingham Trent University. We've worked together — primarily at game jams — for three years, and are now advertising our combined skill set as developers for hire while we work on game projects.
What inspired you to start this SNES project?
For the last three years we've attended the Global Game Jam, an annual 48-hour game development competition, accompanied by the talented Chris Varns in previous years. Each year we choose a different retro platform. In 2012 we wrote Infinite Space, a 3D game for Sega Mega Drive. Last year was an endless driving game for Game Boy. This year we opted for SNES, but after 48 hours we had a lot of tools (to create tile maps and convert graphics to SNES format) but not a lot of game play!
SNES has been by far the most challenging console, but after a few days scouring the internet for long forgotten forum posts, delving into ancient text files and deciphering source code, we had enough knowledge to start writing the Robin Hood game at Play Expo in Blackpool in May, where we were invited to develop a game over the weekend as a 'live coding' event.
Can you give us a little information on the game itself — what genre does it fall into, is there multiplayer and are you looking to include any single-player content?
It's currently a two-player medieval brawler. Next on the development agenda is finding a SNES multi-tap, so we can up that to four players and add some new characters — perhaps Friar Tuck or Maid Marian. We did experiment a little with single player game mechanics at the start of development, so it's not out of the question, but there's no current plans for it.
The game as it stands now reminds us a lot of TowerFall. Is this intentional?
Yes, the game is definitely influenced by TowerFall. It's a fantastic archery game, and you can't really have Robin Hood without archery! The swordplay has also been likened to Samurai Gunn.
We're living in a period where developers can produce titles for smartphones and tablets for very little cost, so why have you picked the SNES — a defunct system — as your platform of choice?
Both of us are very definitely programmers first and foremost. Writing for the SNES is a completely different experience to modern platforms. It presents a huge technical challenge, and that is what we thrive on.
What's it like working with hardware which is over 20 years old? What challenges have you faced?
The biggest challenge has probably been the lack of resources and community to turn to when things go wrong. That said, the sense of accomplishment when we solve a problem or implement a new feature is immensely satisfying. Other problems we have faced have been more trivial, such as settling on an art direction and producing assets we're both happy with, as neither of us are artists as such... but we are both perfectionists!
You've demoed the game at various local gaming events — what's the response been like so far?
For such an early development build the response has been overwhelmingly positive — it's been very exciting. We've had lots of feedback and suggestions, which have really fuelled the desire to work on and improve the mechanics of the game.
How do you intend to distribute the game? Do you have any plans to launch on either the Wii U or 3DS eShops?
Originally, we had no intention to distribute the game, believing there would be no market for a SNES game. The feedback from events has most definitely put that notion to rest! It's still something we haven't looked into too deeply, as we feel it's more important at this early stage to concentrate on creating something that's worth distributing! We'd absolutely love to be able to do a cartridge release, that's something we've spoken to Shaun at Gameboy Mods UK about. The Wii U Virtual Console does run SNES games, so perhaps that's something we'll look into; I'm pretty sure Nintendo doesn't get too many requests for new SNES games on their emulator!
You've said that you don't currently have a name for the title, but "Robin Hood" has been mentioned a few times. Given that you're currently based in Nottingham, will the final title be tied in with the famous outlaw?
Definitely! Naming the game still remains our biggest challenge, I suppose! We've had lots of very Robin Hood-esque suggestions though. Super Sherwood Showdown and Merry Melee are among the favourites, so it'll almost certainly be something along those lines!
Photo credit: Robin Baumgarten.