Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Q & A Interview with Nnooo creative director, Nic Watt

UK-born, Nic Watt's pet project, Nnooo, has found remarkable success from a digital download platform that many dismiss - thanks in large part to Nintendo's DSiWare platform, Watt has expanded his small team to four, and is now on the hunt for a senior programmer to expand further.

He sat down with us to have a chat around being a start up, the challenges of developing on other platforms (Nnooo also has WiiWare and iPhone games available, and is looking at the PlayStation Network), and makes some predictions for the future.

So you're looking for a senior programmer to add to your growing team. Why do you need the additional resources?

NW: Because we’re a small company that has been self funded from the beginning, I’ve had to take quite a cautious approach to staffing – we need to make sure we keep close control of our budgets, and one of the things that I’ve found hard was finding really experienced staff members for reasonable wages.

Also because we’re a new company, it’s difficult to attract experienced programmers, because they perhaps want to work on more retail games, or they’ve perhaps never heard of us before, so it can be a bit of a risk for them.

So one of the things we’ve tried to do is work with graduates, so we’re all kind of learning together, and that’s had its pros and cons – it’s kept the cost of development down, but it also means that we’re starting from first principles a lot of the time, which is why some of our software has been focused on one particular feature.

We started with simple things like myNotebook and then as we progressed we’ve got more complex, so now we feel we’re at the stage where having experienced programmer would really help grow the team, and with projects like Spirit Hunters Inc, there’s a lot of new technology in that, and moving on to the 3DS we’re able to do a lot of depth perception stuff – and having a really experienced programmer would help move these things along.

We'd also like to expand to other platforms – we’re like to look at moving to the PlayStation Move in the future, and create more stuff on the iPhone and iPad, and it’s difficult to do when we have a small team.

Is Sydney a difficult area for games development? Melbourne and Brisbane have quite vibrant game developer communities, but Sydney seemed to miss out, why is that?

NW: I think that’s true – I’m not sure historically what that’s happened, but Brisbane and Melbourne seem to be bigger development areas. In terms of trying to find talent in Sydney it is quite hard.

One of the problems with Australia is because Melbourne is quite far away, and so is Brisbane – I think people are unwilling to apply for things outside of the city or interstate, which I find interesting, because Krome have just laid off a whole heap of people, and I was expecting some of those people who would be out of work applying to come and work for us, and we haven’t had any responses so far. That said our ad has only be up for a week, and it takes time to decide what it is they want to do.

You’re looking at creating more complex software and games now?

The idea is we’d like to have a wide range of software. DSiWare as an example has 200, 500 and 800 point price ranges, and we’d like to bring titles that slot into each of those categories – so the notebooks and diaries we’d like to keep doing, but we’d like to get to the point where we can turn them around a bit quicker, because 200 point games need to be relatively cheap to make. Then we’d like to do more games and slot into the 500 points, and then one every year or so to slot into the 800 point range, but to do that we really need to strengthen our code base, and to get experience on board to help us solve the basic problems quite easily.

When you’re making a game from scratch the technology takes a long time to develop, and then actually spending time making game is the other big challenge, and if we can get the technology side shorter and spend more time making the gameplay a lot more enjoyable, which for us is really important.

Where it all happens
With all the console vendors adding in more features, from simple things like achievements through to 3D or motion controlling, does that make it hard for the smaller teams to get into these consoles when the pressure is on to have these extra features built into the games?

NW:It is hard, for example we’d really like to do connectivity with the DSi, but technologically it’s really challenging on top of everything else you’ve got to learn just to get the game working and running in the first place.

We want to get to the point where we’re comfortable with the basics of getting games running, and how we address the technology, and that’s why each of the titles we’ve done on the DS so far have added a new string to our bow each time – so we started off with playing with the touch screen of myNotebook, and then we moved to the camera and making use of that and the camera library with myPostcards, and now we’re into putting a lot of that into Spirit Hunters – that’s where the augmented reality comes from because we have that experience with the camera, and then we’re using a lot of the touch screen we learned from MyNotebook, and then we’re expanding that by now learning how to do more 3D graphics and particles and AI.

If we look at the PlayStation, to get a game on it we would need to work out how the PlayStaion Move works, and then also things like trophies, because all of those would be mandatory things – for us that’s quite a big step up at the moment.

You put a title onto the iPhone with Pop – how did that turn out for you?

NW:Not as well as we’d hoped, actually. To date the WiiWare version has done the best for us – we were obviously quite lucky with that being a launch title for WiiWare, but the iPhone is not anything stellar. I think the hard part with the iPhone is you have to be finding new ways of marketing and promoting it and finding ways to keep people interested, and I think for us, we’re finding that very difficult, because we want to move on and do other things, and not just focus on promoting the same thing all the time.

Plus also I think the type of game it is, it’s not best suited to the type of people that are looking for games on the iPhone, I think they’re looking for something that’s a little bit more boyish, if you like. If you look at some of the top titles like Fruit Ninja – they’ve got a little more boyish edge to them.

Are you ready for the Nintendo 3DS when it launches?

NW:In terms of development kits and hardware at the moment, we haven’t had anything from Nintendo yet. I think they’re focusing on the big publishers at the moment, and they’ll be focusing on the Japanese launch, which I’m presuming be before Christmas.

We haven’t heard anything about what’s going to happen with the US, Europe and Australian launches at the moment with the 3DS, but my speculation is it will be early next year. We’re hoping to get started in the beginning of October.

Technologies such as the touch screen changed how we experience games. Do you see 3D as having a similar impact?

NW:It’s interesting. I purchased a 3D TV recently and I have a PS3, and I’ve been playing Wipeout on it. When you first play it the effect is quite pronounced, and then over time you become used to it. But I think it’s quite subtle, the way your depth perception makes the game a little bit easier for a racing game.

I think games that will benefit most from it will be racing games, and perhaps platformers – where you jumping into the screen it can be difficult sometimes to judge the distance, so I think subtle things like that will that will definitely be improved, so I think there’s an awful lot you can do with 3D. For us the interest is because the 3DS has two cameras on the outside face, it allows us to use the camera information to differentiate with depth – and we will be able to interact with an image of a 3D environment on the screen.

The thinking board
 When you were speaking to Nintendo at E3, what did you think about its online strategy?

NW:They were playing their cards close to their chests on that, they haven’t really announced anything with regards to their online strategy, so in terms of what they’re going to do differently, they haven’t said anything, and genuinely we have no idea what their plans are.

Reading between the lines of what they’ve said publicly, Nintendo has said that it really likes the way the Kindle has an always on 3G connection that the user doesn’t pay for, and they can download their books for free.

I’m wondering if they’re going to put 3G into the 3DS. The thing that holds a lot of these devices back, and what helps the iPhone, is a lot of these devices aren’t connected, if I have a DSi I have to be at home or a hotspot to buy some software, plus I have to know about it.

Nintendo seems to be trying to do something a little more socially influenced - they’re talking about being able to push information to the user rather than have the user pull it, and that’s definitely a good sign, because the problem we face, and all online strategies face is you’ve got to find a way to get the user come to you.

What is your position in regards to classifications, given that it seems like now Apple App developers will need to get their games classified?

NW: Ultimately I think if there's a rule it needs to be applied to everyone fairly. At the moment Apple are kind of bending the rules worldwide – you’ve got ESRB in America, which technically is voluntary, but Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony and the games publishers make use of it. Apple are ignoring that. The same with PEGI and Europe.

Every other games platform in the world if you make a game you have to get it rated – that’s the way Government has determined that’s how you decide who can play what. My personal feeling is if we’re going to have it than everyone should be treated the same, so iPhone developers have had it nice so far, but the hard reality is you can’t make something for free.

My personal feeling is that ultimately that will be a good thing. If you can make something for free, and release it for free to make money, do you have as much care about it as if you’ve had to spend $500 or $1000 or however much money, would that make you sit back and go “should I be doing this?” And I think the answer for a lot of iPhone developers is “no.”

That said I think the price to get a game rated is unfair – if I wanted to sell something for $0.99 and then Rockstar wanted to sell Grand Theft Auto for $120, there’s quite a big disparity there – they don’t need to sell nearly as many copies to pay off the Australian licensing board.

No comments:

Post a Comment