If you're a seasoned Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance player then the name Crawfish Interactive will probably ring some bells. This UK-based studio created many licensed titles for Nintendo's portable line and was famous for its skill in getting the most out of what was, even by the standards of the time, pretty humble hardware.
The company's incredible GBA port of Street Fighter Alpha 3 remains a stunning technical achievement even to this day, and the fact that the Crawfish went under in 2002 is a crying shame; had it held on until the DS boom it could well have become one of the UK's biggest developers.
Since the demise of the firm the people involved have spread themselves far and wide, popping up at new companies or creating their own. Fast forward to the present and we can reveal that Crawfish is about to be resurrected - albeit on a much smaller scale than before.
Crawfish founder Cameron Sheppard dropped us a line to tell us that after his studio had collapsed in 2002 and he'd taken jobs at various other companies - including Climax Studios and Razorback Developments, the latter of which he co-founded - he returned to his native Australia to work in electronics. However, the programming bug clearly never left as Sheppard has very recently produced his first smartphone title and has formed Chrawfish Interactive, a new micro-studio with a name that doesn't even attempt to hide its heritage.
Here's Sheppard's take on events:
I started learning Android late last year and decided to write a version of my favourite arcade game Scramble. What started out to be just a demo, it quickly turned into a full-featured project, so I decided to change it as much as I could for copyright reasons and take it through Google's publishing process, to learn that process as well.
Scrambler's graphics are drawn by Paul Mitchell, who, in another full-circle, I worked with at Beam on projects together. With so many arcade clones up on the Play Store (some of which have made no effort to be original at all) mine is just another one being tried out by anyone searching for keywords like "Classic 80's arcade games free".
Sheppard is a veteran of the days of physical media, a time when plastic cartridges were the primary form of distribution and digital downloads were the stuff of a madman's dreams. Adapting to the way things are these days has been a real learning curve for the programmer, but one which has rekindled his interest in game-making:
I've learned that releasing a mobile game isn't like the old cartridge days where you sent it off to the publisher and then went on holiday for a week or two – I've been sending out updates to fix bugs and issues, also adding some features here and there, and a lot of work to do with difficulty, since it was released last month. And on difficulty, it's a hard game to begin with, so I've had to put mechanisms in place to make it easier for new players. From analytics, I could see some people weren't even getting past stage 1, even after playing 20+ games. So I have a 'novice mode' which stays on from install until the player completes a level, which makes the stages easier. But even that wasn't enough. So I made a super-noob mode where it delays the rockets taking off etc, until the player makes it to the later stages. This seems to have worked but of course there's the players who will find it very easy – but only to start with as they will come off the novice mode and it'll be challenging from then on (even level 1 as they're not on that mode anymore), and the upper levels get very hard. Plus I've added some more elements to make it interesting and challenging.
So much analysing is necessary to try and hold onto players and stop them uninstalling – it's so different these days as if they don't like it within 5 mins, they have thousands of other free games only seconds away – not like the old cartridge days where you were stuck with your purchase until next payday!
So why should Nintendo fans care about the rebirth of a company that died 15 years ago - especially one which is creating free-to-play clones of old arcade games on smartphones? Well, while Sheppard is currently focused on Android and iOS development, he's also keen to work on Nintendo's new console and Scrambler - while being totally derivative of the original coin-op - will be superseded by original projects:
It's great to be back programming games again. I have a lot of game ideas that I want to make happen, but right now it's all a bit new. This will all change soon though. I'm also looking at iOS development, and of course the Nintendo Switch too.
Put it down to pure nostalgia, but we think it's fantastic to have Sheppard - and Chrawfish - back in the world of games development, and we personally can't wait to see what this revived company comes up with.