Hidden amongst the big games announced during Nintendo’s E3 2013 Nintendo Direct video presentation were some gorgeous looking indie titles. One that really shone bright during its brief showing was Scram Kitty and His Buddy On Rails, a top-down, on-rails (but not in that way) shooter/platformer hybrid. It is currently being developed by Welsh studio Dakko Dakko, best known for their previous PSN Mini hit Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims. Scram Kitty’s Producer, Dan Croucher, was kind enough to answer some questions about tax breaks, octopus hats, and favourite gaming titles.
Andrew Rainnie, Warp Zoned UK Correspondent: You are developing Scram Kitty and His Buddy On Rails exclusively for Nintendo’s Wii U platform. What was it that inspired you to develop for the new console?
Dan Croucher: Developing for a Nintendo console in and of itself was a big attraction, and we naturally saw opportunities in digital distribution on the eShop. But really it was the second screen on the GamePad that drew us in – the idea of creating what we call Broadcast View – a live channel supporting the main gameplay – is really appealing too, as is the idea of entertaining the room and not just one player. We think only the Wii U can do that in the way we want.
WZ – Andrew: How far along is the game, and do you have an estimated release date?
Croucher: The game is coming along! We’re aiming for a release at the end of this year – a lot of really cool stuff is in place and it’s playing really nicely – solid, fast, pretty. We showed a playable version at E3 this year. We’ll be demoing the game and showing off features, along with screenshots and videos, right up to launch.
WZ – Andrew: Martin Robinson of Eurogamer described the game as “a little like Smash TV getting together for a playful tea party with Jet Set Radio.” Could you offer any further comparisons with past games?
Croucher: That’s not a bad place to start, but it’s more of a mixture of pieces and ideas from all over the place. Our team has a long and varied gaming history and we find we’re pulling in a lot of reference – there’s a bit of Super Mario Bros. series in some of the player movement, a pinch of Gunstar Heroes in the shooting, and the art mixes up a 16-bit and Amiga/ST pixel aesthetic with big, modern illustrated vector artwork. It’s its own thing really.
WZ – Andrew: It has been reported that the main TV screen will show the action in a broadcast style similar to a (quoting Robinson) “a Japanese Game show.” Would that be accurate? Was this inspired by the time spent by Rhodri Broadbent (Dakko Dakko’s founder) in Kyoto working with Nintendo?
Croucher: Broadcast View (as we call it unofficially) is less a Japanese TV show and much more a broadcast by Scram Kitty out to the world and you (as his buddy) that mixes up information, entertainment and reaction. It’s designed to give the main player extra information as they play, but also help them play in new ways. It is also intended to give other people in the room a way to get involved in the game in a more passive, but still interesting, way. That makes the game a little like a spectator sport. Remember when you used to crowd round the TV with all your friends and take alternate lives, supporting each other’s go, with help/insults? It’s that, for today’s players.
WZ – Andrew: I have read the game will feature Miiverse integration where you gain items for certain tasks that can then be sent as gifts to friends. Are there any other ways you are using the social network?
Croucher: Sending “assists” to your friends over Miiverse if you complete particular skill challenges is just one idea we have had for Miiverse, and we’re really keen to integrate it into the game – Broadcast View is perfect for this. Time will tell though ultimately how much we can do for launch, but as a console feature, Miiverse is really strong, and we’d love to include some new uses for it in Scram Kitty if we can.
WZ – Andrew: The Wii U marks a decisive shift for Nintendo in terms of online integration. What are your thoughts of the Miiverse and Nintendo’s eShop in general? Have you spent much time there? Is there anything you would like to see as these evolve?
Croucher: As players and Wii U owners ourselves, it’s been really encouraging. We were recently at the iDEAME2013 conference in Madrid and there were so many eShop developers there – impressive how many there were for starters, and also impressive how positive they all were about the eShop, and the opportunities it gives smaller independent developers in particular. Obviously all digital shops evolve over time, as they get more and more content, but Nintendo seems to be doing all the right things, and we’re very happy to be able to put our game there.
WZ – Andrew: Have you been disappointed by the cloud of negativity that seems to be surrounding Nintendo’s new console in gaming journalism, given that, in terms of sales numbers, it was on par with the initial launch of both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360?
Croucher: We said a similar thing in another interview, but I think it’s still the case – it’s easy for something to become a story, which creates more stories – and who knows what the financial side of it really is. I get the impression Nintendo chose to delay several big first-party games to make them better, which they must have chosen to do knowing the impact on Wii U sales, and that has left a bit of a gap in the release schedule.
As a player, that’s fine by me, I have loads to play already and want games like Pikmin 3 to be as amazing as possible. As a developer I’m not really concerned either – a gap just leaves room for other developers to fill with great games. The incredible quality of games on the eShop right now is the result. Who really knows with any accuracy how it’ll go, but I think it’ll be fine. Just look at 3DS for a slow-starting console that now has an amazing line-up and growing sales of both hardware and software.
WZ – Andrew: Dan, you had previously been a producer at Relentless, who won a BAFTA for Buzz!What attracted you to join Dakko Dakko?
Croucher: What attracted me most was the chance to work in a tiny team on smaller games that we completely control. I loved every minute of Relentless, but the Buzz! series and, more recently, the Kinect Nat Geo TV were big, multimillion pound games and at that level you get quite far away from being involved in the actual game design and mechanics. I hope I can take what I’ve learned getting those bigger games made and shipped, and use it at Dakko Dakko to make the sort of games that Rhodri already makes, but even better. We’ve heard a lot of hyperbole about a new Golden Age for independent developers, but it is true that there is a lot of opportunities for small creative teams these days, and I wanted to be part of that.
WZ – Andrew: Artist Gary Lucken is returning after working on Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims, but he is also known for his awesome isometric pixel art. Was there a temptation to use that point of view, or was it always conceived as a top-down game?
Croucher: Gary is a very talented man, and luckily is equally good at pixels of any orientation! Not to mention his skills with vector artwork and illustration. We decided early on that Scram Kitty was top-down, which pretty much ruled out isometric pixel art, but we’re giving Gary plenty of free rein in all those other areas, and the game will be gorgeous as a result.
WZ – Andrew: A slightly more serious three-part question:
1. As a Welsh firm, what are your thoughts on the tax breaks the current government is hoping to introduce as part of their finance bill?
2. More specifically, do you think it is fair that tax breaks be judged on a points based system similar to the film industry i.e. you get more points if the game is set in the UK and if the characters are from the UK, given that games often take place in fantastic, other-worldly settings?
3. Were you annoyed that the tax breaks have been delayed because the EU Commission has yet to clear them for State Aid?
Croucher: As a small business, we’re constantly looking for ways to bring in funds, so any government-level tax breaks are very welcome indeed. Sure, the points system may be a little wonky when applied to games but the intent is right, and practically, most points will come from keeping staff in the country and employing people in general, which is great for building the UK video game industry. I don’t know enough to get into a debate about Europe and the EU Commission – all I know is what I hear from other developers – that the UK video game and animation industries are really struggling to compete on an even footing with countries like Canada and Singapore, and the story is the same in places like France and Spain – there’s huge talent in these countries out of all proportion to the population, and it’d be crazy if the EU can’t recognise that and support us.
WZ – Andrew: I saw a picture of Dakko Dakko founder Rhodri Broadbent wearing an octopus on his head, presumably when developing The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character. Is he currently wearing a cat now?
Croucher: Anyone with cats knows that wearing them as a hat is a recipe for pain and misery!
WZ – Andrew: You have garnered a reputation for your long, descriptive, and yet catchy game titles. Do you keep a list somewhere or potential new ones? Can you share any?
Croucher: And give away our competitive advantage? It’s less arcane than you might imagine – we really just try to describe the game in the title, and keep it informative!
WZ – Andrew: In contrast, what are your most and least favourite game titles (not necessarily the games themselves, just their titles)?
Croucher: I always liked Garou: Mark of the Wolves and DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou – maybe because they were these legendary games that I’d never seen, so the names seemed so magical. On the other side, I get annoyed when someone does a reboot and goes back to the original name. It’s meant to be classy, but you just end up saying, “Oh the old one?” “No, the new one, the reboot” all the time. I overheard some kids talking about playing CoD the other day and it took ages before I realised they meant the new Call of Duty, not some fish simulator!
WZ – Andrew: Although you are focused on Scram Kitty and His Buddy On Rails at the moment, which we will hopefully get to play this year, if you were to glimpse into 2014, what do you think it will hold for Dakko Dakko?
Croucher: I think really we just want to build the company, and keep making new games, it’s that simple. We love developing on consoles, and there should be a big console market boom next year, so it’ll be a great year!
WZ – Andrew: Our thanks to Dan Croucher and all the team at Dakko Dakko for taking the time out of their hectic schedule finishing Scram Kitty and His Buddy On Rails. We look forward to playing it when it is released in the near future.