Interview: Arkedo Studio

Interview: Arkedo Studio

Interview: Arkedo Studio

Having made a name for itself with a duo of smart DS puzzlers, Nervous Brickdown and Big Bang Mini, Paris-based Arkedo Studio has recently turned its attention to Microsoft’s Indie Games platform. With JUMP!, SWAP! and PIXEL! making up the first titles to be released as part of the Arkedo Series, we caught up with the company’s founder Camille Guermonprez to discuss working with XNA and the changing face of the Indie Games market.

Arkedo’s always been a fairly small outfit: was that part of the plan from the start?
Arkedo was founded by Aurélien Régard and I in the beginning of 2006. We knew each other from my previous studio, a mobile games company I started in 1999.  The mobile studio grew quite a bit, until it was up to over 50 people. That was nice, but when we started Arkedo afterwards, we knew two things: We wanted to make DS games because we wanted ‘real’ games – in boxes, with a manual – and we wanted to be as small as possible to do this.

Arkedo Studio’s Camille Guermonprez

The idea was to focus on game making and almost nothing else. When you have 50 people, you spend a lot of time doing things unrelated to game making – meetings, reports, meetings, trips, finance, meetings. When there are three of you, and you have the budget for the full game already secured (I sold my stake in my previous studio), it’s almost 100 percent game making for 18 months, with very little friction. So it was a real joy to do Nervous Brickdown in 2007. We then followed the same path to do Big Bang Mini a year and a half after that. The idea was simple: self financed projects, so we could then sell only the distribution rights, while keeping the IP. We still have all our IPs!

2007’s Nervous Brickdown, a take on Breakout which imaginatively changed the rules and art style for each level

How did the idea for the Arkedo Series on Indie Games come about? Was DS piracy a factor?
I may surprise you, but we do not see piracy as the big evil for us today. We acknowledge that a large number of copies have been pirated for both games, but we don’t think of them as lost sales. Rationally, we try to give people a reason to buy our games, like pricing them below the usual price, taking extra care for the game manual with silly jokes or making lenticular sleeves like we did for Big Bang Mini. Sorry, incidentally, as that was for the US and France only. But we did send the lenticular sleeves to gamers asking for them around the world – I bought a few extra from the factory when I learned some countries wouldn’t have them.

One last point on piracy and sales: Nervous Brickdown sold a bit more than 100,000 copies, and Big Bang Mini has already sold more, which is very satisfying for us. It strengthens our relationship with publishers when they learn that we made these numbers on the DS with no famous IP, no external producers and in an environment marked by a rampant piracy and growing retails pains.

As for the Series? Ironically, the first time we agreed to be financed by a publisher for our next project – it was the Wii version for Big Bang Mini – we never got paid for our first milestone, after nine months of development. This was a lesson: going safe is silly. We were left in the middle of the road, not knowing whether we should carry on or go pastures new. We decided to stop waiting, and started having fun with a Natal concept we wanted to make.

It didn’t go very far, but at least it gave us the opportunity to look at the 360 as a development platform. We knew about XNA, but the changes which have been made this summer made us take the leap of faith.

2009’s Big Bang Mini, in which players shoot fireworks from the bottom to destroy enemies on the top screen

How many games are planned as part of the series? What’s the development process like?
We don’t know how many we will do – we’ll probably work at them for as long as we are here, as the production footprint is quite light, even for us. It means that we can almost always have an Arkedo Series game going on, while doing other bigger projects. To be honest, our hope would be to make them full-time, but we haven’t reached that point yet. We are just seeding, here.

As for development, Jump! and Swap! were done in a month by a team of two: Aurélien and Dimitri Péan for the first, and then Aurélien and Maïwenn Rapine for the second. Then, for Pixel!, the concept came from Hervé Barbaresi, art director for Pastagames, our officemates and friends – lots of us were working together in my previous studio. It took us two months to do this one, and I believe that’s the right turnaround time.

Do you iterate a lot or do you start out with a really strong idea of what you want to do with each game?
For the moment, we start with a concept, then look for an art style which could be interesting, and go from there, with no looking back. The ambition for the series as a whole is to start simple, and if it takes off, go a little more experimental from time to time.