NDS Interview Backbone Entertainment: Nintendo DS Development

In a joint-venture with our mother-site Cube-Europe, we had an interview with Backbone Entertainment's producer Lorie Clay.

Backbone Entertainment is the holding company of Digital Eclipse (one of the leading developers for the Game Boy Advance, and currently involved with nintendo DS projects), Imaginengine (the leading independent developer for young children's educational and entertainment games on the PC) and Gamer2Learn (publisher of the Phonics Game). Producer Lorie Clay took time to answer our questions...

Q: As a developer, what DS games have you been most impressed with? A: We are pretty excited about Metroid even though the demo is all that is currently available.

Q: Nintendo have talked about how much they got involved with developers over the DS, how much they tried to encourage development on the console. Were they like this with you? A: We typically work with publishers and not necessarily with Nintendo directly. We did get a visit from Nintendo pre-launch wherein they seemed pretty eager to answer our questions and make sure we had what we needed to get to work on the platform.

Q: With dual screens, voice recognition, wireless multiplayer and a touch screen do you think the DS allows you to do things with games you wanted to do but couldn't? A: We are very excited about the possibilities the features offer that are quite unique.

Q: Do you think these kind of features would scare developers or encourage them? A: There is the potential for any developer to be scared but we are certainly up to the challenge. The features are certainly going to be enticing for developers, but one could also ask whether a publisher would see them as too risky and unproven to embrace. The good news is it looks like we don't need to be concerned about that, either.

Q: Was it a difficult decision to develop a game for such an 'odd' console? A: Evolve or be left behind. The *decision* is not difficult.

Q: How will your DS games be taking advantage of the console's features? A: Unfortunately we can't talk discuss the particulars.

Q: Over the years your output seems to be split between licensed games (handhelds) and retro collections (home consoles) - which can we expect to see on the DS? A: We would of course like to see both!

Q: If any retro collections do appear on the DS, do you think it would be best to try and use the DS' features to, well, 'update' the games? Touch screen Pong, wireless Gauntlet multiplayer or something like that? A: Emulations or ports of classic games are typically under strict control by the original developer to retain as much of the original game play control as possible. We would have to say it is highly unlikely that they would want to "update" them. Nonetheless, wireless connectivity would be a great way to get the full multiplayer experience out of these games on a handheld, and the touch screen may be useful in games where the original arcade controls do not map well to the buttons the DS offers.

Q: Do you think the DS marks a watershed with Nintendo's relationship to third-parties? They seem to be trying really hard with it. A: Well, they certainly sprung a surprise on the industry in the beginning of the year. Being caught off guard like that mightn't be called "helpful", :-) but they've made up for it since that.

Q: Is it true that DS development is relatively cheap, compared to home consoles, or even the GBA? A: We are not sure if you are referring to the development kits themselves or actual production costs. For dev kits we really can't discuss the costs. As for development costs, they are always dependent on the game requirements. A more sophisticated game requiring more assets such as art and audio or technical requirements requiring more development time, will incur higher costs. So, typically, being between a console and a GBA in complexity, a DS game will likewise cost somewhere more than a GBA game and somewhere less than a console game to develop.

Q: The DS was only announced in February, but games will be available to buy for it in days now. Does it demand less development time? A: No. The development time is dependent on the game itself not the platform.

We'd like to thank Lorie Clay for answering our questions, Nicole Tanner for arranging the interview and Conor (Cube-Europe) for thinking of the questions.

Posted on 15-12-2004 by Dennis


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