Interview: RedLynx On Life After Trials HD
With 10 years of experience designing games on a range of diverse genres and platforms, Finnish developer RedLynx is no stranger to risk-taking.
The studio's back catalog ranges from strategy titles such as Warhammer 40,000 Squad Command for PSP and Pathway to Glory, arguably the original Nokia N-Gage's strongest game, and inventive multiplayer games such as Reset Generation for the second generation N-Gage and DrawRace for iPhone.
Nevertheless, while most of these titles were critically acclaimed, few found much more than moderate commercial success. But in last year's Trials HD, the Xbox Live Arcade update of RedLynx's PC motocross game Trials, the company struck the perfect balance of risk vs. reward.
With the announcement that the company is now developing another side-scrolling racing game, titled MotoHeroz, this time for WiiWare, Gamasutra caught up with creative director, Antti Ilvessuo to find out whether the success of Trials HD has made the developer more conservative.
"Definitely not." Ilvessuo is adamant. "The original prototype for MotoHeroz is five years old; it was a concept for a mobile and handheld game, which we revived as the start point for this new project, so it wasn't conceived as a Trials HD copycat."
He adds, "In fact, MotoHeroz is really not a motocross game at all; it probably has as much in common with Super Mario Brothers as it does Trials HD. One thing that is similar between the two games though, is the realistic physics engine, which means when you interact with the environment, the objects, it feels right and can be very unpredictable, making for lots of fun and crazy moments."
"We call it a platform racer, internally," says Ilvessuo. "You race a small buggy from a side-scrolling perspective, exploring a colorful world of power-ups, villains, and real-physics objects, competing against NPCs, the clock, ghost racers, or other players. The characters, the art style, the storyline, a four-player party mode -- it's a very different experience from Trials HD, which doesn't really have a story or characters, other than a man in red pants who gets hurt a lot."
MotoHeroz is RedLynx's first development for Nintendo's digital platform. "We always explore new platforms and look for new opportunities to showcase our creativity," he says. "With WiiWare, we saw a great opportunity as it suited this type of game very well, so MotoHeroz was designed for the Wii platform right from the start."
"We analyzed the WiiWare market overall and quickly saw that other games have performed with varying levels of success, with some that seem to have done exceptionally well. We discerned some key trends that seemed to explain these results. With this understanding, and knowing that MotoHeroz will be an exceptionally fun, sizable game made specifically for WiiWare, it was a natural step for us to take. Of course, we are also all very Nintendo fans, so creating a game on the same platform as Mario and Zelda is a big thrill."
One of the most enticing features announced is the promise of daily competitions. With Trials HD displaying the studio's unrivaled flair for inspiring competition between communities of friends, it seems like a potentially compelling addition. "It's going to be different to what people are imagining but it's definitely a fresh way to deliver more adventures," says Ilvessuo.
He adds, "You know, whenever your game has an online component -- player names, friends, servers -- there are always some complications, but we think the extra work is worth it, since they can add a huge amount to a game. We've had a lot of experience adding competitive and community elements for our other games, so we think Nintendo fans are going to be surprised and pleased by these new kinds of game modes."
In terms of how developing for WiiWare has compared to developing for Microsoft's XBLA, Ilvessuo is predictably diplomatic: "Every platform has its own unique strengths and a different kind of audience, and so we design and tune our games to match those characteristics. Obviously, the technology is different, and it's our first Wii title, so there are some things for us to learn, too."
"But whenever you get a chance to work on a new platform it's always exciting," he says. "During our ten-year history we have developed over 100 games for most of the gaming platforms. That has built certain multiplatform competences, our own multiplatform technology base, and attitude-wise, it has built lot of adaptability and flexibility into our ways of working."
"We like to do new type of games, expand on to new platforms, and that requires the willingness and eagerness from the people to take challenges. However, we always still try to keep the most important goal in mind: the game has to be an excellent game for the platform, and stand out."
The Finnish company currently employs 35 staff internally, with an extra 15 development partners on call to aid with projects. These employees are split into four teams, working on four game projects simultaneously. As one of the largest development studios in the country, I ask Ilvessuo whether finding suitable staff can be a difficulty.
"Most of our staff is Finnish, [so] I'd say yes, the talent pool is good," says the creative director. "Finland has a highly educated, tech-savvy population, a strong education system, and gaming is extremely popular, especially among the young. And while there aren't any huge game development studios, there are over 1,000 people employed by more than 60 smaller companies in the game development sector. The sector is growing very fast, which means there are more and more people seeking to get into this industry, so there's a considerable amount of new talent coming up too."
As well as MotoHeroz, the studio is currently working on its iPhone portfolio as well as another downloadable content pack for Trials HD. Entitled Big Thrills, the second DLC pack will be available in late October or early November, offering a host of new tracks, including 10 user-created tracks that will appear fully credited. "That's been a popular move," Ilvessuo explains, "and Microsoft has been fully supporting us with this contest and the prizes they are providing. It's our way of thanking our large and loyal base of fans."