In this series of features we invite 'Nindies' to share thoughts on their experiences in 2016. In this entry Jools Watsham outlines a year in which Renegade Kid closed and he went in a new direction with Atooi.
Wow, 2016 has been a very busy year – full of many ups and many downs. Let's dig into this year's journey!
On the heels of releasing Dementium Remastered in North America for 3DS in December 2015, we immediately moved onto preparing the game for February 2016's European release. Never being ones allowed to focus on just one project at a time, we also signed a contract with our good friends at Nighthawk in January 2016 to develop a console adaptation of ATV Wild Ride for PS4 and Xbox One, utilizing the Unity engine. The game is called ATV Renegades, and taking on this project afforded us some much-needed short-term cash to pay the bills.
Sales of Dementium Remastered ended up being only OK. Not great. Not terrible. Well, maybe a little terrible. We had hoped to sell a lot more units, but I think the fact that it was largely considered a port of an old game didn't capture people's attention like a new game would have. It is a game that I am very proud of, though. We poured a lot of work into the game to enhance the experience for new and returning players and took advantage of the increased power the 3DS offers over the DS to good effect.
While we were finishing Dementium Remastered and gearing up for ATV Renegades we were also finishing up Mutant Mudds Super Challenge. We had experienced a lot of issues with press coverage and overall exposure in the past with staggered release dates of our games on multiple platforms and in different territories, and we believed this contributed to low sales numbers. We wanted to do it differently with Super Challenge.
On a side note: we partnered up with Nighthawk in mid-2015 to (finally) finish development of our delayed and much beloved Treasurenauts. However, development of Mutant Mudds Super Challenge had taken longer than expected and unfortunately pushed Treasurenauts to the side temporarily (yet again).
We managed to pull off a simultaneous March 2016 release of Mutant Mudds Super Challenge on 3DS and Wii U in North America and Europe, which was a very tricky thing to accomplish. Matthew pulled off an impressive feat with this and deserves much credit for making it possible. The overall exposure the game received due to the simultaneous release was great, and the game scored very well with reviewers. But, we made new mistakes that ultimately contributed to the games' less-than-stellar sales.
Many people were unsure exactly what the game was. Was it an expansion of the first game, like a mission pack? Was it a sequel? It wasn't clear. In addition to this confusion, we doubled down on the "super challenging" motif, which may have pushed many potential customers away. Maybe folks didn't really want a super challenge after all.
As with all of the games I worked on at Renegade Kid, I am very proud of the craftsmanship and effort we put into Mutant Mudds Super Challenge. We always put the game first and kept our focus on what was best for the experience. As such, I thought Mutant Mudds Super Challenge was an improvement over the original Mutant Mudds in almost every way – except it boasted an extremely high level of difficulty and perhaps not enough new features.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing. With sales of Mutant Mudds Super Challenge being disappointingly low on all platforms in all territories, I believe a normal level of difficulty would have been received more favourably by the majority of players that had interest in the Mutant Mudds universe. Our efforts would have been better placed in implementing new ideas to foster the concept of a sequel instead of a "Lost Levels" approach. The combination of an unclear message and increased level of difficultly ultimately presented an unappealing title, despite the game having received many glowing reviews.
Sadly, the low sales of Mutant Mudds Super Challenge were the catalyst for Renegade Kid's closure. Soon after the games' release, when the sales numbers were in, Gregg and I discussed the future of Renegade Kid. We had both been spread extremely thin in terms of our work load for the past few years, and the extra effort we were putting in wasn't paying off in terms of sales. We were hoping that either Dementium Remastered or Mutant Mudds Super Challenge would bring in some much-needed money to propel us to doing new titles in the future. ATV Renegades was a nice opportunity to bring one of our titles to consoles, but financially it relied heavily on receiving monies from sales on the back-end.
We were beginning to get into a pattern of always putting out fires in the form of bashing out short projects and/or developing ports of existing games with the hope they would bring in cash to help us develop new "proper" games – like finally finishing off Treasurenauts! But, it wasn't working. The writing was on the wall that one day this approach would soon start affecting the games negatively. Something had to change.
Gregg and I chatted for a few hours, considering many different options, and in the end decided that each of us going solo was what we both thought was best for the future. This was not an easy decision for either of us. We are great friends who have known each other for over 20 years. Renegade Kid is something that we created together. To say goodbye to it was not something either of us wanted to do. But, in the end we must work smart as well as work hard. It felt like we had only been working hard for the past couple of years.
From one company's ashes, two new companies were born! Gregg started Infitizmo, while I shifted my attention to Atooi, which was a company I formed in 2015 to pursue experimental mobile development – such as Totes the Goat (December 2015). We amicably divided up the various games we had development together over the past 10 years as Renegade Kid, with the "3D polygonal" games going to Infitizmo and the "2D pixel" games going to Atooi. This was a natural division of games, and something both Gregg and I could get excited about for the future. We released a press release revealing this information in August 2016.
We were still on the hook for ATV Renegades and Treasurenauts – each tied to Renegade Kid and our new companies respectively. The transition from Renegade Kid to our new companies was going to be interesting. We managed to get ATV Renegades feature-complete really well. All that remains now is finalizing the technical side on PS4 and Xbox One. It is a good game that I am proud to have been a part of, with some great improvements over the DS/3DS versions. I expect it will release in mid-2017.
Treasurenauts was a bit more complicated… I had started the development of Chicken Wiggle for Atooi. The intention was to develop a very small and quick title to release and hopefully bring in a little cash while I finish up Treasurenauts with Nighthawk. But, as usual, the scope of Chicken Wiggle blew up and inadvertently required more time to complete the game. The good news is that Chicken Wiggle is nearly completed and it is pretty darn great. I'll be dedicating 100% of my efforts towards Treasurenauts after the Christmas break, when we submit Chicken Wiggle to Nintendo for their approval. Nighthawk have been very patient and gracious partners, which I am extremely appreciative and thankful for.
I can't talk about 2016 without mentioning the Nintendo Switch, can I? No way! The reveal trailer that Nintendo released on October 20th was awesome! I was very impressed with the 3-minute trailer that showed off a cool-looking home console / handheld hybrid platform, as well as a handful of great-looking new games. Even though my current focus with Atooi is the 3DS, rest assured that we will embark on Switch development in the near future and will have something exciting to reveal in 2017.
Looking to the future, Atooi's 2017 releases will include Chicken Wiggle and Treasurenauts. Our gaming stable includes the likes of Mutant Mudds, Bomb Monkey, and Xeodrifter so you can expect to see more from these properties in the future too! I am excited and energized for my new path with Atooi, and look forward to bringing more retro-inspired goodness to the Nintendo audience.