Image: Atooi

Over 15 years since its initial release on the Nintendo DS, horror FPS Dementium: The Ward is getting a re-release on the Nintendo Switch eShop, utilising the 2015 3DS remaster as its foundation.

While its creepy low-fi visuals and disturbing creature design have attracted a cult following over the years, Dementium remains a fairly niche title that, until now at least, has been fairly difficult to get hold of since the closure of the 3DS eShop earlier this year.

To go over the motivation behind its return and share some anecdotes of its origins — including Konami's reaction to its initial pitch as a Silent Hill spin-off — we spoke with Atooi's Jools Watsham, the game's director and lead designer. We also delve into what's been going on with the long-delayed Hatch Tales and how Watsham has managed to juggle game development with crowdfunding duties.

Nintendo Life: Dementium: The Ward was originally released back in 2007 for the DS, with a remastered version following in 2015 for the 3DS. Now that the game is coming to the Switch, what is it about this world that keeps drawing you back in?

Jools Watsham: Dementium: The Ward was the first independent game we created when we formed Renegade Kid. Our goal was to create an unsettling environment and a truly creepy experience for players. Many years went by when I didn’t have a chance to play Dementium: The Ward because I was tied up with other games.

Plus, it can be hard to look back at your old work; all you see are the mistakes you made. We were lucky enough to remaster the original DS game for the 3DS, which offered us the opportunity to fix many of the issues with the original release. This made me fall in love with the Dementium universe all over again, which makes it extremely exciting to bring those updated features and more to the Nintendo Switch.

Can you talk about your experience pitching The Ward to Konami as a potential Silent Hill project? Would this game have been significantly different from the eventual final product?

I attended GDC in March 2007 and scheduled a bunch of meetings with different publishers in San Francisco. Konami was one of the publishers I met with. It was a fairly brief meeting in a hotel lobby near the convention center. The person I met with from Konami was rather dismissive and said something to the effect of, “We wouldn’t give the Silent Hill IP to a team like yours”. It was quite surprising and very disheartening.

The person I met with from Konami was rather dismissive...It was quite surprising and very disheartening.

I imagine the game could have been quite different with the Silent Hill IP influencing it, but that would have depended on the budget given to development. Fortunately, soon after GDC we met up with Gamecock in Austin, Texas, and signed the game with them. I must admit, being able to continue to develop our own creations was much more satisfying than creating someone else’s brand.

Compared to the 3DS remaster, what gameplay tweaks and enhancements can Switch players expect from the new version?

We spent most of our time making sure the gameplay felt smooth and responsive on a controller as this was the first time the game was not tethered to dual-screen touch controls. All of the interactive screens that were on the lower screen of the 3DS had to be adapted to work as a single-screen experience for the Switch. Sitting back for the first time in a comfortable chair with a pro controller in my hands and a large TV in front of me felt amazing. Dementium: The Ward translated very well to a console experience.

We put a lot of polish into how the various screens are presented to the player and added some quality-of-life updates, such as highlighting the save locations on the player’s maps. Our goal was to make sure the game experience was as comfortable as possible while placing players in the most uncomfortable of situations.

Dementium 02
Image: Atooi

How have you approached the visuals on Switch? How do you strike the balance between retaining the essence of the original and updating it for 2023?

From the game’s inception, we approached Dementium: The Ward as an atmospheric retro fps revival. We wanted to retain as much of the original game’s charm as we could while making sure it took advantage of the 16:9 aspect ratio and maintaining 60fps. The result is an extremely smooth experience that feels both familiar and fresh.

Can you walk us through the transference of the rights to Dementium and how you managed to regain them this year through Atooi?

This was a very difficult and delicate situation. As you may already know, my friend and co-founder of Renegade Kid, Gregg Hargrove, sadly passed away in 2018. While all of Renegade Kid’s 2D games were transferred over to Atooi, Gregg’s company, Infitizmo, gained the rights to all of the 3D titles. We felt this was the easiest and smoothest way to divvy up our work.

Last year, I approached Gregg’s widow to see if she had any plans for Dementium, as she became responsible for Infitizmo’s assets after Gregg’s passing. If she wanted to hang onto Dementium in memory of Gregg, I would have understood and let it be. She was happy to discuss options and we were able to come to an agreement in which everybody benefits from continuing the Dementium brand.

Recently, when people think of horror remakes, Resident Evil and its big-budget spectacle is at the forefront of the conversation. What do you think of these games and the approach taken by Capcom, and do you there's a risk of losing something when horror moves away from the genre's traditionally modest budgets and ‘makeshift’ roots?

I think there’s a place for big-budget horror, just as much as low-budget. I love a high-production horror movie. There’s a unique and special feeling with them. The important thing about any creation, regardless of budget, is the material and what you do with it.

"The long and short of it is that I made many mistakes in how I handled the communication with the Kickstarter community while we were having our own internal crisis with the identity of the game."

In other Atooi news, you've announced a release date for Hatch Tales, a game that (from the outside, at least) seems to have had a rocky road to release. There's been much criticism from Kickstarter backers over communication — could you go into some of the specific issues you've had on Hatch Tales?

Yes, it has been an adventurous development journey. The long and short of it is that I made many mistakes in how I handled the communication with the Kickstarter community while we were having our own internal crisis with the identity of the game. These types of development issues are common, but how to handle them when you have over 1,500 backers wanting to know what’s going on was a new and challenging experience for me.

We hit two major snags along the way. One was the emphasis of the level editor and the other was the kiddy nature of the personality of the game and the main characters. This, in turn, created a third issue with the schedule and budget, which snowballed into the need to make more games to bring in money to fund the continued development of Hatch Tales. It was a very difficult situation, and I am very happy to say we’re passed it now (phew!). We managed to solve the game’s identity crisis and get back on track to complete a game we’re very proud of.

How confident are you with the March '24 release date?


Speaking with other devs over the years, it seems that despite the benefits, crowdfunding can have serious drawbacks, especially around design or timeline alterations that players typically wouldn’t be privy to. Is there anything you'd change with your approach were you to crowdfund future projects?

Honestly, I don’t know if my approach to game development is compatible with crowdfunding.

Hatch Tales
Image: Atooi

Petadachi is another announced project that looked intriguing — what's the status there?

Yes, I love, love, love Petadachi and I'm very much looking forward to resuming the development of that title soon. It is on hold for now, but we plan to dive back into that delightful universe again in the near future.

You’ve previously mentioned the possibility of revisiting Dementium II and also creating a brand new third entry. Are these still possibilities or, perhaps, in the pipeline?

Nothing planned at this time, but yes.

Are there any recent horror games that you’ve enjoyed and could inform your approach to a potential new title?

The most recent horror title I played that stood out to me was The Mortuary Assistant. A very clever game. I have a few ideas for a new Dementium game that I have been kicking around for a while that I think will present a pretty fresh experience. Hopefully, we’ll have an opportunity to experiment with that in the future.

What do you make of the recent resurgence of DS games on Switch with titles like The World Ends With You and Ghost Trick? Have you found it challenging moving Dementium over to a single-screen format?

I think it’s fantastic. Great games should live on for new players to enjoy. It did take a lot of work to adapt the two-screen nature of Dementium: The Ward over to a single-screen experience, but it was well worth it.

We noticed your horror movie watch list on Twitter for 2023 and there are some true gems in there - are there any particular horror films that have influenced your work?

Our main inspirations for Dementium were Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and Doom. In regards to movies, modern classics like Scream really drove home the formula in a very creative and enjoyable way. The opening scene of Scream, where the “credible threat” is established definitely influenced my design for Dementium and the initial sighting of the Cleaver in the first corridor.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Thanks to Jools for taking the time to answer our questions. Dementium: The Ward launches on the Switch eShop on October 12th, 2023, while Hatch Tales will launch on March 28th, 2024.