IRONFALL Invasion was a notable arrival in Europe on 13th February, heavily promoted as the eShop accompaniment for the region's #Nintendo3DSDay social media campaign. Though pitched as a game to show off the New Nintendo 3DS, it supports all versions of Nintendo's portable hardware and breaks the typical eShop template - there aren't many third-person shooters on the store.
Now that the European release has settled on the storefront and the game is gearing up for a North American arrival, we caught up with developer VD-Dev's co-founder Fernando Velez. To learn more about how it came to be, the reactions from players so far and how it felt to appear so prominently in the most recent Nintendo Direct broadcast.
Can you tell us a little about your studio's history and past projects?
Our studio was born 25 years ago when we were still at school; at that time, the name of the studio was 'Digital Concept'. We were originally two but a friend of ours, who was technical lead on Watch Dogs, joined us 2 years ago. We love doing games for Nintendo's handheld consoles and are trying to get the maximum potential from these devices. Some of our past projects were V-Rally 3 on the Gameboy advance and COP the recruit on the Nintendo DS.
What was the European reception like to IRONFALL, were you pleased with reviews from press and gamers alike?
In general, gamers gave better reception than the press. A lot of players gave a really enthusiastic reception to IRONFALL so far. We are checking Miiverse and Twitter frequently to gather feedback for future updates, and the number of positive reactions is amazing. It feels great to see the confirmation that so many people were looking for this kind of experience on 3DS. We hope IRONFALL: Invasion will contribute to expanding the type of games you see on the console because much more can be done with the 3DS.
One of our goals with the free version was that nobody would feel cheated by our game.
At the same time, we know the game is far from perfect and we received some really good advice and requests from players. What took us by surprise regarding media reviews is to be so often directly compared to AAA productions. In a way, we are honored by the comparisons and they challenge us to improve some aspects of IRONFALL, but our game was done by three friends for three years with our limited budget and sold at a small price so we did not expect to fight on equal terms with such big games!
What have you learnt from feedback so far, and are you looking forward to the US launch?
One of our goals with the free version was that nobody would feel cheated by our game. Players can try the single player and multi-player by themselves, they can check the different controls depending on which hardware they own, and they can decide what they like before they buy.
Based on the positive reception from players, we think this open approach is why we get so many positive reactions from European users and we hope that American users also give the game a chance.
We already received a lot of feedback from players. Some other changes requested can be brought to users pretty fast, and we are already preparing a patch. To give you an example, some players would like the possibility to make camera controls, especially with the stylus, much faster so we are going to expand the range of speed for movements and camera controls. We also noticed a few bugs that we can fix quickly. This should be ready in a few weeks.
Was it difficult to develop one of the first games to make use of the New 3DS-exclusive C-Stick, or was it a fairly straightforward process?
Nintendo's developer support helped us add a feature to detect that the game is running on a New Nintendo 3DS, so were able to have special settings for the C-Stick. So it was fairly straightforward. We also have special settings activated when an older model of 3DS is connected to a Circle Pad Pro, to make sure everyone finds the controls comfortable.
How influential was the Circle Pad Pro and C-Stick when it came to the game's design? Was the decision to incorporate it made early during development (with the Circle Pad Pro in mind initially) or did it only come about later?
Some developers would probably tell you a game like IRONFALL is impossible on 3DS, which was one of our main motivations to develop the game.
Development started more than three years ago so we were working on IRONFALL a long time before the C-Stick was announced, obviously. On the other hand, the Circle Pad Pro was already supported; we had received a lot of requests to include Circle Pad Pro controls (and a multiplayer mode) when we revealed the game for the first time, so it was important for us to please players who were waiting for this kind of experience on 3DS.
As a result, the move to the C-Stick was very natural. We think C-Stick is perfect for a cover shooter game, and the additional buttons of the New Nintendo 3DS are also helpful for shooting, aiming, running, or reloading.
There aren't a lot of third person shooters on handhelds - what were some of the challenges you faced making one, in terms of adapting to the hardware?
Well you have to do a lot of things with less power than home consoles. You have to do A.I. that is the standard for these kinds of games. You also have to draw a lot of enemies on screen and manage a lot of bullets, all that with the power of a handheld console and at 60 fps. You also have to come up with a lot of tricks to keep the online experience enjoyable. Coding the game in Assembly was very helpful to circumvent some hurdles. Some developers would probably tell you a game like IRONFALL is impossible on 3DS, which was one of our main motivations to develop the game. That was a great challenge.
IRONFALL was given a prominent role at the end of a Nintendo Direct, a spot typically reserved for Nintendo's own big reveals. How did this come about?
We were also surprised to see IRONFALL at the end the Nintendo Direct, that was amazing. We received tons of emails about the game after the Nintendo Direct so that was very cool. It's probably because IRONFALL makes good use of the C-Stick and that Nintendo Direct was all about the New Nintendo 3DS.
Offering a free download and splitting the rest of the game up between single player and multiplayer was a bold decision, and is somewhat reminiscent of Nintendo's Steel Diver: Sub Wars. How did this idea come to fruition?
We thought that this new distribution model could be the best approach for IRONFALL and we have received very positive feedback about that offer so far.
As many users requested a multiplayer mode, we had to expand the development time and therefore development costs. At the same time, we did not feel right forcing consumers to buy the entire game if they were only interested in one of the modes. We wanted that people try and buy what they want.
As we are a small studio with a new IP, we also felt necessary to provide a demo of some sort to get noticed. Based on those different issues, we thought that this new distribution model could be the best approach for IRONFALL and we have received very positive feedback about that offer so far.
Aside from those purchasing both, which mode is proving most popular, the Campaign or Online Multiplayer?
The most popular purchase at the moment is actually to buy both modes at the same time to unlock the extra contents such as the new multiplayer weapon and the jukebox. Among people who only purchased one mode in the first week, the ratio was about 2:1 in favor of the campaign, but the online mode is popular as well. At the moment, in a few seconds, you can start playing against other players around the world.
Online multiplayer has a somewhat choppy history on Nintendo's portable - how did you tackle the Nintendo Network on 3DS to ensure stable online performance? Was it difficult to achieve?
The most important aspect of the multiplayer is not what can be done, but what should be done. We could actually have made much bigger maps, and we probably could have included 8 players or more. But we wanted the experience to remain focused and nervous.
Regarding performance, I am worried we would be very boring and speak too technical if we explained in details, but we worked a lot on the multiplayer and we spent a lot of time on the online library to improve the connection between all players and to keep the 60 fps of the game intact. The multiplayer alone took us almost an entire year.
We worked a lot on the multiplayer and we spent a lot of time on the online library to improve the connection between all players and to keep the 60 fps of the game intact.
Are there any additional plans to support the game in the future? General fixes, balance changes for multiplayer, DLC, etc.?
As I explained above, we are working on a patch containing several fixes and improvements. Some of them will be accessible for everyone, others will be reserved only for players who bought the game. We hope to release that patch in March.
This summer, if the game has found its audience, we are hoping to create a more ambitious update. But the contents of this update will depend a lot on what the players request, for instance on Miiverse. Maybe users request more contents for the campaign, or for multi-player? Maybe they want new missions or new weapons as DLC? We'll learn more in the coming weeks. We also expect to have a better view of eventual balance issues this spring, once some players have truly mastered the multiplayer. If we rush to fix everything too quickly, we might be caught up in useless changes.
What's next for VD-Dev?
We are taking some holidays after 3 years of very hard development. We'll see after that what we would like to do to continue to have fun with Nintendo's Handheld.
We'd like to thank Fernando Velez for his time. If you want to know what we thought of this release, check out our IRONFALL Invasion review.