Interview: Saturnine Games
Following our reviews of Nintendo DSiWare releases Antipole and Cosmos X2, we chatted to Saturnine Games owner, designer and programmer Edward Di Geronimo regarding his experiences in developing for the service.
Nintendo Insider: Afternoon Ed, many thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Could we possibly begin with you providing some background to the origins of Saturnine Games? I understand you have previously worked for Powerhead Games, who were quite prolific in regards to Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS development?
Saturnine Games began when Zack Parrish and I created a prototype of Cosmos X2 for the GBA. We were able to land a publishing deal with Alten8 to make a DS version of the game. We developed the prototype into a full game back in 2007, but the retail release never ended up happening. My experience with DS development enabled me to land contract work with Powerhead Games while I put Saturnine Games on hold for a few years. After the launch of DSiWare, I saw an opening and felt the time was right to get back to making our own games.
NI: Antipole marks your second release through Nintendo DSiWare. How have you found the digital distribution service compared to other platforms that you have also utilised, such as the Xbox Live Indie Games channel?
Xbox Live Indie Games is an interesting platform with some nice games to be found, but it never developed a strong following. DSiWare has worked out much better for us and we plan on focusing on the DSi and 3DS going forward.
NI: What choices impact you as an independent developer in regards to choosing which platforms best suit your projects?
Gamers on different platforms tend to prefer different types of games. I prefer making 2D games and feel that people are more open to playing them on handheld platforms. The games we’ve made so far need buttons, so smartphones aren’t a good match for us.
We started Antipole while we were waiting to be approved to develop for DSiWare, so we felt it was important to keep our options open and try other platforms. We decided to develop the game using Microsoft’s XNA game development tools. XNA made development easier and enabled us to create versions for PC and Xbox 360 from the same code. We also felt that it wouldn’t be that difficult to make a DSiWare version using the XNA version as a starting point. I believe that the approach we took allowed us to try more platforms in less time than any other option.
Finally, some of the choice is simply personal preference. I’ve been a huge Nintendo fan since I was given an NES when I was 7 years old, so there’s always been a part of me that saw getting a game onto a Nintendo system as the ultimate goal. I believe it’s important to make that a factor in your decision making. Nintendo’s games have played a huge role in developing my feel for game design, so I think I’m more likely to find an audience with similar tastes on Nintendo platforms.
NI: Digital distribution seems to be an increasingly significant part of the games industry. Do you feel that there is enough room for exposure amongst competitors though?
Digital distribution creates far more room for exposure than there used to be. Retail stores have limited shelf space. They prefer to use the space for games that they know will be popular and rarely take chances on games from developers that are just starting out. A digital store has infinite shelf space which makes it far easier for an independent developer to get an opportunity.
NI: Both Antipole and Cosmos X2, as well as your current project Turtle Tale, each have vastly different styles. Where do you find inspiration for such gameplay concepts?
I usually start with the core gameplay idea and then build up around it. Cosmos X2 was based around giving the player two weapons and that complement each other while Antipole was based around exploring changes in gravity. From those basic ideas I experiment and gradually add more elements as they fit. Turtle Tale took a different approach. I had the opportunity to work with an artist that I really liked, but his style didn’t fit the game ideas that I had. We ended up creating the game around the art style.
NI: The ability to revert gravity within Antipole is truly fantastic design. Was it troublesome to implement?
Designing levels was much harder than for other games I’ve worked on. On other projects, it would be clear quickly if an idea was going to work or not. When it did work, the final version of a level would usually closely resemble my initial vision. While designing levels for Antipole, I’d experiment with an idea for a while, then scrap it and start over half a dozen times before I figured out how to make a concept work. Many of the levels in the final game turned out completely different than I thought they would when I started making them.
Finding the right difficultly level was another challenge. There was often a very fine line between a challenge being very easy and being almost impossible. It took a lot of trial and error and some very patient playtesters to find the sweet spot in between.
NI: How did you find the Nintendo DSi to develop for, were there any particular challenges that you needed to overcome?
I’ve really enjoyed the years I’ve spent working with the different DS models. It’s a great system for the games I like to make. Probably the hardest part is making games fit within the size restrictions.
NI: Have you ever considered developing a WiiWare game, or was Nintendo DSiWare a more natural fit for your projects?
Nintendo DSiWare felt like the natural fit. We’ve worked with the DS extensively and I think it’s a better fit for the games we’ve made so far.
NI: What does the future hold for Saturnine Games? Do you have any plans to release downloadable games on Nintendo 3DS and, potentially, Wii U?
I’m looking forward to working with the 3DS. We’re already approved to develop for it, but I’m not sure yet when we’ll start working on it. The Wii U is still too far away for us to be thinking about it.
NI: Whilst I’m sure much of your time is spent developing, what have been your gaming highlights, if any, over the past year?
I really enjoyed Super Mario 3D Land, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Portal 2. On the iPhone I was addicted to the latest game from my friends at Powerhead Games, ASYNC Corp. I also spent a lot of time with Jetpack Joyride and Hypership Out of Control.
NI: Finally, what are you most looking forward to within 2012?
I want to see what developers can do with the 3DS. I think the system has a lot of potential and we’re only starting to see what it’s capable of. I’m also anxious to see what Retro Studios is up to, as I’ve loved everything they’ve done so far.
NI: We’re really interested about Retro Studios’ current project too, and many thanks for your time Ed!