Monday, October 15, 2012

SuperPhillip Interviews: Ken Patterson (Big John Games)

Last Thursday I kicked off reviews for the month of October with a look at Kart Krashers, a DSiWare title by Big John Games. Speaking of which, I recently had the chance to speak with Ken Patterson, the founder of the studio. We talked about their latest game in Kart Krashers, Nintendo's game acceptance policy (how easy or hard it is to get a game accepted on their marketplace), how a developer receives a Wii U developer kit, and so much more.

SuperPhillip (SP): How did Big John Games come into fruition? When was it founded?

Ken Patterson (KP): I founded Big John Games after winding down my first studio "Window Painters" in 2001. While I was at the helm of Window Painters we did a lot of work for Disney Interactive. We developed the "Print Studio" creativity game series for Disney. We we were the developers of the critically acclaimed PC video game "Nightmare Ned", check out the funny video of it on You Tube.. At Window Painters we also developed two popular fishing game series, "Zebco 3D Fishing" and the "FLW Tournament" fishing series.

My focus for Big John Games was to get into console development, and move away from PC "work for hire" development. Our first console game was a reboot of "Trophy Bass" for the XBOX, that game turned out very well. We then had the opportunity to start developing for the DS and created "Spitfire Heroes" and "Plushees" for DS retail.

We noted some struggles at retail and our next two DS projects (Thorium Wars and Working Dawgs) had trouble finding retail partners so we kind of dipped our toe into DSiWare publishing with Thorium Wars. Thorium Wars did well as digital download for us so we made a commitment to DSiWare and WiiWare as our way to release games.
The BJG Team

SP: How does your studio distinguish itself from other downloadable game developers, especially those making games on the marketplaces (e.g. WiiWare, DSiWare, 3DS eShop) you folks do?

KP: That's a really good question. Having come from a history of retail game development, we try hard to put out a game that has retail value applied to it. We have a nice blend of people like myself with over 20 years experience in this industry, and young talented, passionate developers that bring in new ideas and excitement to our game development process. The team's are very tight and committed to building a game experience that will resonate with the player.

We build games that appeal to us as gamers. Hopefully the players of our games feel that when they play our games.

SP: Your latest game, Kart Krashers, recently released for DSiWare. Where did the inspiration to make the game a collecting-based game rather than a standard kart racer come from?

Kart Krashers (DSiWare)
KP: It came from an internal game that we had been working on. Basically it was a delivery style game like "Crazy Taxi" but the game never hit the excitement and fun threshold we wanted. So that project was put aside for awhile. I came back to it last summer, and I drove around and smashed into everything, and had a blast. I then realized that I did the opposite of the rules for the "Crazy Taxi" style game where you needed to avoid these objects. Thus the idea light came on.

We made a quick prototype of the hit objects for points game play, and we enjoyed it very much, it had the fun level we were looking for. So we went forward with full production of the game.

SP: How long did it take to develop Kart Krashers?

KP: It took nine months to develop.

SP: What are you hoping players experience with the game? Is there anything you wish to tell them?

KP: We hope the players experience a great sense of speed, and also develop strategies for collecting the stars to boost the multiplier and reach the highest point level possible. There are many ways to score points and approach high scores. We had fun with competitions on reaching high scores here at the studio.

SP: One of the criticisms in my review of Kart Krashers was the lack of an online leaderboard for friends to compare scores across the web. Was such a feature not included because it was simply not feasible for a studio of your size?

KP: Yep, online scoreboards would have been a great addition. There were some issues with that we just did not have time to deal with. You will see in future versions of Kart Krashers a much stronger online and multi player approach.

SP: What can you tell my readers about the game certification process for putting new games on Nintendo's various marketplaces? Does it take too long, or is it satisfactory in how long it takes? Has the experience improved since you started?

KP: We cut our teeth on the Lot Check process with the earlier retail games. So we already had a process and mindset to make sure our games will follow the Lot Check guidelines.

Thorium Wars (DSiWare)
Making the sure the game play is correct and the game does not crash is something our QA process is responsible for. Properly dealing with DSi specific issues is what Lot Check looks for. These are important to the user experience with the DSi so we take it seriously and follow the guidelines provided. Lot Check typically takes about 4 weeks for us, which we think is completely reasonable.

Over time our we have developed a code base that conforms to Lot Check guidelines so this helps. Lot Check is continually adding guidelines as users find issues that may effect there game play experience with the DSi system. This is great, we all want happy players.

SP: Do you think you get enough promotion from Nintendo on the company's various marketplaces currently?

KP: Of course not. I wish Nintendo would drop everything and just focus on only BJG's games. OK, so that is not going to happen.


Nintendo is working to promote all of the games it offers for downloads. There are certain games that get a little more promotion, that is because they offer something the the player that Nintendo values. Typically games that get a little extra promotion, offer what Nintendo thinks is a quality experience for its players. This is a good way to inspire developers to bring valuable experiences to its players.

This is a good thing. It raises the bar, so that we as developers work to make a quality experience and we may get a little extra promotion out of Nintendo.

Ultimately promotion of the game is the responsibility of the developer / digital publisher. You just can not stop at developing the game, you have to make an effort to let the players out there know your game is available. Blog sites like yours are very important in getting the word out. Yes we developers have to nurture and work with our marketing sides at times.

SP: You have on your homepage that you are a certified Nintendo 3DS game developer. Is your studio thinking of creating a game that is exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS's eShop?

KP: We are currently finishing our first 3DS game, Coaster Creator 3D. It is a really cool way to design, edit and ride roller coasters and ride them using the 3DS 3D. We use a spline based system for forming the coaster tracks. You use the stylus to pull and twist your track. We also have wizards for loops and twists. It's a very new way to create coaster and works extremely well on the 3DS.

SP: You are not currently listed as a developer for the Wii U, but are you currently in the process of attempting to be one? How does that process work (i.e. how does one become a developer for a new platform)?

KP: We will be developing Wii U products starting next year.

Studios can submit project concepts to Nintendo, and if Nintendo likes these concepts you can get access to Wii U dev kits. Nintendo will also seek out studio's that they have identified as having content that they would like to get onto there systems. It's about getting the most relevant content to the players that Nintendo will use as it's guide for seeding new console development.

We have some cool concepts for Wii U and will submit them early next year. In the mean time we have a few more DSiWare games we will be releasing and we will also be bringing more 3DS native games to the eShop.

SP: Is there anything else you would like to tell my readers?

KP: Thank you, for supporting Nintendo digital products. Nintendo digital stores are getting much better, and attracting more consumers. This makes for a vibrant marketplace which is exciting to us developer / publishers and the players.

I hope your readers will give Kart Krashers a try. We really worked hard to build a unique, fun, and entertaining game.

I firmly believe, that the most innovating products are coming out as Nintendo digital offerings.

===

It was once again a pleasure to interview someone within the gaming industry, seeing the viewpoint of someone that I normally would not get to look at, and learning new things about a developer's design process among other neat tidbits. If you are interested in Kart Krashers and you own a Nintendo 3DS or DSi system, you can go onto the online store and pick up the game for $4.99. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed this interview, and I cannot thank Ken Patterson of Big John Games enough for his time.

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