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When the Australian game development industry collapsed, Tantalus CEO Tom Crago had to try to make the best of a bad situation -- and he has. While major independent developers like Krome shuttered, and while publishers like EA and THQ shut down the studios they owned, Crago's Tantalus has splashed out into new areas.
Founded in 1994, the company had reliable work-for-hire contracts... until it didn't. But that hasn't stopped Crago. In fact, the developer is responsible for the upcoming Wii U port of Mass Effect 3, and has also signed an original title, Funky Barn, for the console. Need for Speed Shift 2 for iOS was also a Tanatalus project.
In this interview, Crago explains how he has been able to shift with the times -- starting with splitting his business into two studios with different names to better connect with gamers, exploring the mobile market, why he's got three Wii U projects in the works, and how he's treating his developers differently as the realities of the business rock the studios around him.
Tell me a little bit about Straight Right. I'm familiar with Tantalus but what's the deal with this newer label?
Tom Crago: We started the Straight Right label last year to sit alongside Tantalus, which is one of the longest-established game developers in Australia. Tantalus has been a real survivor, founded in 1994 and working on pretty much every major platform since our first game on SNES.
Like most developers, we went through some difficult times a few years back, and that forced me as the owner of the business to take a fairly critical look at what we were doing. One of the things I realized was that we had no real interface with the people who were playing our games. The Tantalus name was known and valued by publishers, but we were almost exclusively work-for-hire, and once we'd delivered the gold master, that was the end of the process.
So I wanted to build a label for our core and digital releases that stood a better chance at connecting with gamers. Straight Right is our attempt at that, and we're just getting started. We still use the Tantalus brand for our kids' and casual titles, and the two entities share a common pool of technology and resources at our studio in Melbourne.
Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed
You also have a background with iOS development. How has your experience with touch screen mobile devices influenced Wii U development and design? How was that transition?
TC: Our first title as Straight Right was Need for Speed Shift 2 with EA Mobile last year. That was our first iOS game too, although as Tantalus we'd done a lot in the racing space, including MX vs ATV, a couple of Cars games, and Top Gear Rally, which Nintendo published on [Game Boy Advance].
In terms of what we're doing on Wii U, that technology and acumen has also come from the Tantalus side of the family. Of course, with Mass Effect 3 on Wii U, we're heavily leveraging the work done by BioWare. We're very proud of the Wii U-specific features that will ship with the game, but a large part of our assignment is to replicate the ME3 experience on Nintendo's new console.
Tantalus actually began its life as a conversion house, porting arcade titles to Saturn and PlayStation. We worked with Sega Japan and Midway on games like House of the Dead, Area 51, and Manx TT Superbike. More recently we did Unreal II for Xbox. So there's some history there, and I guess it was that track record as a technology company that persuaded our friends at BioWare that we would be a good fit to bring their game to Wii U.