Australian studio Tantalus Media has been around since 1994 and found early fame by porting Sega titles like Manx TT and House of the Dead to the Saturn, but more recently the company has gained recognition for its Wii U work, specifically the ports of Mass Effect 3, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD. It's also the firm responsible for converting RiME to the Switch.
Tantalus CEO Tom Crago has been speaking the latest latest episode of Fragments of Silicon about working on Twilight Princess HD, the challenge of convincing Nintendo it was up to the task and many other aspects of development.
Crago revealed that the company's long-standing relationship with Nintendo helped it get its foot in the door:
I mean we had a game that was published by Nintendo in the past. That game was called Top Gear Rally on the Game Boy Advance which we developed originally for a very small Japanese publisher called Kemco. And Nintendo liked it, so they decided to publish it as a second-party title, and in the course of building that relationship, I was able to go to Kyoto a couple of times – and obviously when you get the opportunity to go to Nintendo headquarters and meet people there, these are relationships that you want to nurture when you're making video games, so that's what I did. I kind of kept those lines of communications open.
But I think the big thing actually for Nintendo was when we did Mass Effect 3 on Wii U… the two big ones that we did on Wii U were Mass Effect 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Nintendo were pretty impressed by those games technically, I think. They liked how we'd taken the original games from PC and console and brought them onto Wii U. So when they were thinking about a Zelda title and looking around for external developers, then it's kind of a pretty short list of studios who had kicked some goals on the Wii U at this point. So they approached us, which is a pretty nice fun call to receive when you're asked if you'd have any interest in working with The Legend of Zelda. We jumped up and down in excitement, and then commenced the fairly long process of convincing them that we could do that job.
Even so, it wasn't simply a matter of asking and getting permission - Tantalus spent "several months" convincing Nintendo it could handle a project of this size and stature:
[It took] several months. I mean they are obviously an incredibly meticulous company, and we're talking about a beloved property – one of the most beloved properties in the whole house of Nintendo, so we approached it very diligently and carefully, and we went to Kyoto a couple of times to meet with Aonuma-san and his team, and to talk to them about the work that we'd done and what we proposed to do on Twilight Princess, and then there are a series of experiments and tests and trials and so on before you have the opportunity to actually go into full development, and we are fortunate that we got that opportunity.
Crago explains that Nintendo was intimately involved with every element of production:
Aonuma-san himself, obviously, he signs off on everything – it's his game. At all levels he was omnipresent. And then a team of people there in Kyoto dedicated to the game, so daily conversations, very regular calls, a bit of back and forth between us here in Melbourne and Nintendo in Kyoto, and regular builds and reporting, and all those things. So yeah, absolutely, they were extremely hands on.
It must have been 18 months plus, and the team… up to maybe like 40 people at various points. I mean, a big game even in its adaptation in terms of time frame and team size.
Despite being a port, Crago explains that he and his team wanted to do so much more with Twilight Princess, aside from the amiibo content that was introduced:
As a developer you always want to do more, more, more, make it bigger, bigger, bigger, add more features and so on, so there is a list of extra features sitting on a server here somewhere with probably 20 or 30 ideas of things that we could have done. Ultimately the decision not to add those features was the right one from Nintendo, but as creators and as people who are inspired by doing cool s***, you always want the opportunity to be able to implement those ideas, so absolutely no regrets and we're proud of what we achieved. I'm very proud of everybody here that worked on that game. There are always things you look back on and think it would have been nice to add that feature or have the chance to play around with that.
Do you feel that Tantalus repaid Nintendo's confidence with Twilight Princess HD? Let us know with a comment.