Indies on Wii U: why working with Nintendo is easier than you think

Wii U eShop

Wii U eShop

We’ve already published Nyamyam, Dakko Dakko, Red Thread and Knapnok’s thoughts on how working with Nintendo compares to Sony and Microsoft’s approach; but why bring your game to a struggling format in the first place?

If there’s one thing that unites these four studios it’s a love of Nintendo’s philosophy. The platform holder has always been keen to portray itself as the game maker offering something a little different, and releasing games on Wii U might not appeal commercially for an indie studio, but it seems to satisfy a very particular creative urge. For some studios, playing around with the form and function of the medium through Nintendo’s unique tech scratches that itch, and the fact Nintendo’s games have shaped so many childhoods surely helps, too. There’s a little dream fulfilment at play in being able to say your studio has released a videogame on a Nintendo console, even if it is a struggling one.

One studio already familiar with Nintendo’s idiosyncratic working practices is Nyamyam. Formed by ex-Rare developers Jennifer Schneidereit, Phil Tossell and Ryo Agarie in late 2010, its debut game Tengami will be released on iOS before arriving on Wii U. Nintendo approached Nyamyam at IndieCade last year about bringing the game to its home console.

“In the back of our minds we had been thinking that the Wii U could work well with the game, but with such a small team we didn’t have time to pursue it further and we didn’t really know how to go about getting in touch with Nintendo,” says Nyamyam co-founder Phil Tossell.

After IndieCade, discussions began. For years, Nintendo had required studios to have a dedicated office in order to become a certified developer, but once that stumbling block was removed, Nyamyam was quickly confirmed as an official Wii U developer and received devkits in the same week. “From the time I’d worked at Rare I had a good understanding of how things were typically done at Nintendo,” continues Tossell. “They were always incredibly secretive, which is in part where Rare developed its secretive culture as well. Given those past experiences, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how much more approachable and open Nintendo have been.

“We made it clear that it was important to us that we would be able to self-publish and they were fine with this. Publicly Nintendo are not as good at demonstrating the support that they give to indies as Sony are, for example. However behind the scenes the support they are giving us is great.”

The team at Knapnok has experience making offbeat games for Wii, Wii U, Kinect, mobile and PC, it particular exploring “new and non-traditional interfaces and input devices,“ CEO and producer Dajana Dimovska tells us. After releasing party game B.U.T.T.O.N. and a Kinect demo called Slowmo Showdown on Xbox 360, Wii U’s Gamepad felt like next natural home for Knapnok’s ideas. Spin the Bottle: Bumpie’s Party is designed for up to eight players and only uses the Wii U GamePad and Wii Remotes. Your TV isn’t required.

“Our relationship with Nintendo started in early 2010,” explains Dimovska. “Some of Knapnok Games are also members of the Copenhagen Game Collective and known for the development of the Dark Room Sex Game, an award-winning multiplayer, erotic rhythm game without any visuals, played with Nintendo Wii Remotes. The game is more of an installation piece and never became a commercial product.

“DRSG was a weird experiment but we immediately saw a huge potential in making games where the players looked at each other not the TV, we wanted to explore that in a commercial setting.”

The first project it prototyped was a “multiplayer spell duelling game” called Tryl. Knapnok contacted Nintendo Of Europe about the idea and pitched it to NoE at GDC 2010. Tryl never made it to market “because of its ambitious scope,” says Dimovska, but Nintendo’s growing desire to support indies was becoming clearer.

“A few years back the only support we could get was actually being able to self publish on the platform, and very little PR and marketing help. That has changed and improved since then.”

Red Thread Games’ Dreamfall Chapters.

Oslo indie Red Thread Games was formed by a gang of ex-Funcom staffers to make a sequel to Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. It has since raised $1.5 million through Kickstarter for the project, and it aims to release Dreamfall Chapters in November.

“Nintendo approached us last autumn, immediately after Dreamfall Chapters was announced – they were, in fact, the first console manufacturer to do so,” says Red Thread founder and creative director Ragnar Tørnquist. “At that point, however, we weren’t ready to make any commitments regarding engine and platforms, so we decided to wait. We got back in touch with Nintendo in late May of this year, and they were very interested in working with us.”

The studio has just received its first Wii U dev kit, and is still in the process of getting the game up and running on Wii U. It is aiming to release Dreamfall Chapters on Nintendo’s home console complete with Gamepad functionality. “So far, they’ve been very helpful and supportive, and it’s been a painless and surprisingly rapid process,” adds Tørnquist.

Dakko Dakko will be following The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character and Floating Cloud God Saves The Pilgrims with Wii exclusive Scram Kitty And His Buddy on Rails. “it’s been a whirlwind of developments,” since studio director Rhodri Broadbent sent a speculative enquiry to Nintendo about making games for its hardware, he tells us.

“Perhaps the most interesting thing working with Nintendo though is how interested they are in the gameplay details and how it feels, with regular questions, ideas, and suggestions which really help push the game forward. Aside from that and in more practical terms, we have had some remarkable support from them, ranging from free devkits to help us get the project started, to being given a stand on the Nintendo E3 booth to help us get noticed. It’s been a really comfortable – and fun – relationship so far.”