Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SuperPhillip Interviews: Dan O'Leary (n-Space)

As you may recall, last July I had a nice interview with the folks at n-Space regarding their then-latest release, Heroes of Ruin. It is several months later and I'm at it again, though now speaking with Dan O'Leary, the co-founder of the company. In this fourth SuperPhillip Central interview, Dan and I cover topics such as the 3DS version of Skylanders Giants and what makes it worth getting if you already own or are interested in a home console version, tidbits on RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D, if Heroes of Ruin met n-Space's expectations with regards to sales, talk of the Nintendo 3DS's attach rate (whether it is perceived as good or bad), the Wii U, and the current state of Nintendo's online marketplaces. It's a packed interview, so lay back, relax, and get ready for an interesting read.

SuperPhillip (SP): First off, how did n-Space get involved in developing the Nintendo 3DS version of Skylanders Giants?

Dan O'Leary (D): Given our long, successful history with Activision and our deep 3DS experience, I’d like to think that n-Space was a natural choice for this title. I cannot speculate why Vicarious Visions were unable to continue their work on the first release, but we were very happy to get the opportunity to build on this great universe.

SP: For those who have not been following the game, how will the Nintendo 3DS version of Skylanders Giants be different from the console versions? Why should someone who is getting one of the console versions of Skylanders Giants be interested in getting the Nintendo 3DS version?

D: The 3DS version of Skylanders Giants is an entirely separate but complementary experience to the console versions, with a unique storyline. And just like the last 3DS version, the focus of the game is on fun and challenging platforming mixed with a good dose of action. We took that formula and ran with it for Skylanders Giants 3DS, creating bigger levels with a stronger emphasis on exploration. It’s also a thrill to take your Skylanders out of the home and on the road with you.

SP: Will the Nintendo 3DS version of the game have any exclusive features or characters?

D: The most noticeable feature exclusive to the 3DS version is the ability to jump, which goes back to the previous point about this being an action-platformer at heart. Also every character has the ability to dash, something only certain characters can do on the console.

SP: The console versions of Skylanders Giants will allow players to use the monsters and figurines from the original game, Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure. Will the 3DS version of Giants allow players to use their monsters and figures from the 3DS original?

D: Yes, all the Skylanders from Spyro’s Adventure are supported, along with all the newly released characters and those yet to come. 99 in all!

SP: Will there be head-to-head play on the Nintendo 3DS version of the game?

D: Giants is a single player only experience.

SP: How do the unique features of the Nintendo 3DS like the stereoscopic 3D of the system, StreetPass, or even SpotPass come into play in Skylanders Giants, if at all?

D: Given the short development schedule, our team elected to focus on the core gameplay experience this time around instead of supporting all the Nintendo 3DS’ cool features. Stereoscopic 3D is supported, of course, and we took great care in designing the worlds to take advantage of it.

SP: Speaking of another one of your projects coming out soon, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D, what makes this entry in the popular PC series worth getting on the Nintendo 3DS to those unaware of the details of the game? What features make the game worthy of adding it to a Nintendo 3DS owner's library?

RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D
D: RollerCoaster Tycoon is a classic PC game, designed accordingly. It is all about tiny details and micromanagement of a park that you can build entirely as you see fit. For RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D, many things had to be adapted and reimagined for the handheld constraints and audience. Rather than focus on a pure sandbox experience, we agreed to lean more towards a scenario based progression, which Atari believed would better suit the younger audience that they were targeting. We feel the result captures the essence of the RCT experience for an “on the go” audience and a worthy addition to any Nintendo 3DS owner’s library.

SP: Why was RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D delayed multiple times when the development appeared to be complete? If I recall correctly, Nintendo Power had a full review several months ago.

D: n-Space has no control over the distribution, manufacturing or sales aspects of our Publisher funded titles. It’s not for me to guess what caused any delays in the release of RCT3D.

SP: What can you say about n-Space's relationship with Activision? You have developed many games and ports for them over the years.

D: We enjoy working with Activision. They have a great product development team in Santa Monica that is exceptionally hard working and passionate about their products. Activision has game development in its culture. They are not a marketing company that happens to make games, or the reincarnation of a brand trying to recreate past glory. Hell, I grew up playing Activision games on my Atari 2600. They’ve seen and done it all, and we’re proud to have been associated with several of their “crown jewel” properties, including Call of Duty and now Skylanders.

SP: Can you say anything about the sales of Heroes of Ruin (released over the summer)? Are you satisfied with how the game sold? Is there room for a possible sequel down the road somewhere?

D: No, we’re not satisfied with the sales. The 3DS attach rate is… challenging at best and it seems that, for all its promise, Heroes of Ruin did not appeal to enough of the installed base. I am super pleased with what we made and would love to return to the genre one day, but I fear that Heroes did not have enough commercial impact to justify a sequel.

SP: Shifting gears, the current buzz in the industry is all about next gen, and the Wii U kicks that off next month. I'd be amiss if I didn't ask you about the platform a little. What can you say (if anything) about the indie scene on the upcoming Wii U? Does it excite you as a developer?

D: Of course the hardware is exciting but the console market faces so many challenges right now. I’m concerned that Wii U tries to appeal to both the mainstream and the hardcore markets simultaneously. On one hand, Nintendo is trying to build on the massive success of the Wii, which uncovered a latent mainstream audience due to brilliantly simple, self-evident and un-intimidating motion controls. On the other, they are introducing the most complex controller in history. It has massive potential and I would NEVER bet against Nintendo, but I do think it will be a challenging launch.

SP: Does your studio currently have access to a Wii U development kit as of yet? If not, are you in the process of attempting to get one?

D: We’ve had Wii U kits for a long time.

SP: Additionally, are you seeing an improved marketplace atmosphere with the Nintendo eShop (i.e. enough promotion, and a more improved certification process for games and demos) compared to their past efforts such as the Wii Shop Channel and DSiWare marketplace?

D: Nintendo is making great progress in these areas, but they have to keep it up. This is an area of startlingly fast paced change and it will take massive effort and real leadership for them to catch up with the likes of the iOS app store, Droid Marketplace, Steam or XBLA. But I don’t think Nintendo is in the habit of measuring its own success relative to the performance of other companies. They have always struck me as a company that seeks, above all, to blaze their own trail in a way only Nintendo can.

SP: Lastly, is there anything you would wish to make clear or tell the readers of SuperPhillip Central and the gaming public as a whole? (Believe it or not, some of them read this site!) Feel free to be as shameless as you like.

D: If you’re a fan of n-Space and the games we’ve made over the 18 or so years, thanks for your support! We’re a small company that has managed to adapt and survive in the ever-changing landscape of game development but our focus has never changed – make great games and have fun doing it. We’ve had some great successes recently, working on huge brands like Skylanders Giants, and we hope to continue that trend for years to come on solid IP and original titles. Keep an eye out on our Facebook page and website for future announcements and run out and buy your copy of Skylanders Giants 3DS today!

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My huge thanks to Dan O'Leary and n-Space for the opportunity for this interview. I hope it was entertaining as well as informative to read. You can look forward to reviews of the 3DS version of Skylanders Giants and RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D in the future. Until then, we'll see you tomorrow!

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