The Switch's meteoric rise has resulted in a flood of support from small-scale indie developers, some of which have swiftly ported over smartphone games which benefit from enhanced features on Nintendo's console. While a great many of these games are well worth your time, a few have been quite lazy - leading some players to dismiss such efforts with scorn.
Those same individuals may be tempted to disregard RedBreast Studio's upcoming Rogue Star ACE; previously available on the iOS App Store - where it was blessed with the Editor's Choice accolade - it's now bound for Switch, but creator James Duncan wants to make it perfectly clear that this is no simple mobile port; it's a sequel built exclusively for Nintendo's hybrid system.
Keen to know more about the game and its forthcoming Kickstarter campaign, we sat down with Duncan for a quick chat.
Nintendo Life: Can you give us a little background on your career and what other games you've worked on in the past?
James Duncan: I've been involved in the art side of the games industry for quite a while. My first finished title was Die Hard Trilogy, way back on the PlayStation. I created a lot of its 3D world and models. After some years at Sony, via a film degree, I ended up at Lionhead creating art assets on Fable 2 and 3.
What led you to establish you own indie studio and what challenges does it bring when compared to working for a larger company?
I started because around 2010 the environment suddenly existed for truly independent development. This became possible really through a combination of mass digital distribution and the availability of genuinely viable 3D engines. Challenges, where to start! I think it mostly boils down to though a general lack of resources. However that can be an asset occasionally as these type of restrictions regularly force you to be very creative! This can be fulfilling and frustrating in equal measure!
We're getting a Wing Commander / X-Wing vibe from Rogue Star - is it fair to say that those games inspired you? The trading aspect also brings up comparisons with Elite - was that an influence as well?
Absolutely, I hold Tie Fighter in the highest esteem possible, a hair’s breadth beneath Elite in fact - which is my all-time favourite game. I’ve found inspiration in other great titles like Red Baron, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe and Independence War. When I was a kid I loved collecting and reading old second-hand '60s and '70s science fiction novels and storytelling in general. I also had a passion for flight in all its forms; planes, helicopters, rockets - so when Elite came along and combined my two loves, I was well and truly hooked. It was this specific combination of imaginative sci-fi and old fashioned dog fighting which I found irresistible.
What makes Rogue Star unique when compared to other games of this type?
I think more than anything its the approach, which was born of a passion for a time when games were very much designed to provoke a player’s imagination and provide a fun challenge. Games from that era relied on skill-based mechanics to offer a real sense of progression, achievement and wonder. I also feel that the title has a distinct personality and character, with a healthy dose of humour along the way.
What aspect of the game are you most proud of?
That I didn’t dumb it down. There was a lot of advice during development to tone down the control mechanic with auto lock-ons, "auto this, auto that" to make it more approachable for mobile gamers. However, I was clear that I wanted to stick to my original intention of creating a game that I wanted to play and that meant a mechanical depth which provided nuance and challenge. In the end, this approach led to the sequel - Rogue Star ACE - being relatively pain free so far to bring to the console space, where players expect a certain amount of depth and features.
What improvements will you be including in the Switch version of the game?
Well, the Switch version is a sequel, so there will be substantial differences! Enhanced graphics, 3D cockpits, different cameras, orbital platforms, more ships, enhanced trading and multiplayer dogfighting, to name a few. The highlight however, will be a totally unique story driven mechanic which I'm dubbing 'Space Master'. I will be announcing more about this in time for the Kickstarter, but essentially, certain player exploits will be continually monitored and the story will change based on those exploits. Imagine a game with a narrative influenced by real-time events but controlled by a Space (Dungeon) Master. It’s going to be very cool.
How easy has it been to work with the Switch? Was it easy to port the game over?
The actual process is relatively straight forward currently because of the use of robust 3D engines, in ACE’s case, Unity. The actual ‘port’ itself will start if the Kickstarter succeeds. Everything up to this point has been designed within the engine using the Switch as the target. These engines reward thoughtful planning and economical solutions, which I find very much a throwback to an older style of development. In those days you had to work within constraints and be creative to wring every last ounce out of hardware.
How much contact have you had with Nintendo so far? Have they been supportive of your work, when compared to Apple or Google?
Speaking as an indie, building a relationship with publisher and platform holders is always one of the most challenging aspects of development. Not having the clout of a big company behind you means you have to fight for every inch. Contact with Nintendo has been good. It was tough initially to get their attention but it was understandable, given the launch of a new console.
What do you make of Switch as a gaming platform in general? Could you see yourself making a game exclusively for it?
Well, at the present time of speaking ACE will be an exclusive Switch title. I’ve always been extremely enthusiastic about Nintendo’s consoles. A little known fact is that Rogue Star was originally designed for the DS! What I’ve always loved about Nintendo is the passion and knowledge of its user base. That’s what really draws me to their consoles as a developer. The Switch’s feature set is extremely flexible and offers much for developers to explore their creativity. I do miss StreetPass though!
What's next for you, project-wise?
At the moment getting the opportunity to finish ACE is the only thing that I’m thinking about! Moving forward though, ideally I’d like to support the title further and build on the franchise and Space Master feature. The game takes place in Rogue System, which is effectively a penal colony, just a very big one. There’s a whole galaxy out there I’d like to tell the story of though. Imagine all the cool stuff that goes on outside in free space!
We'd like to thank James for his time. You can keep up to date on Rogue Star ACE by visiting the game's official website.