After Fountainhead's Anna Kang spoke about the "younger audience" the DS commands this week, it's refreshing to see someone taking the opposite position. Jools Watsham, Creative Director at Renegade Kid, the team behind Dementium, has a lot to say about M-rated games on the DS, a system that commands an audience of, well, pretty much everyone. While some companies may be worried about sales numbers before plotting out a game, the good folks at Renegade Kid were more interested in finding ways around those barriers, and Watsham was happy to tell us all about it.
"When I think about it now, there I was trying to convince publishers to pick up our game while putting up every red flag there is. They must have all thought we were crazy! Our hope was that publishers would think our game was good. And thankfully they did. Gamecock didn't want changes or anything watered down. They just told us to go for it," Watsham said, and we're glad to hear about Gamecock's faith in the new developer. With no other titles behind them and without an established franchise to lean on, as with some of the system's other mature fare, Watsham knew they were going to face challenges with Dementium: The Ward.
Once they had the publisher settled, the challenges were not behind them. Despite the number of adult gamers who own a DS, M-rated games have not traditionally sold well on the system -- though that may be chalked up to more than just the rating. Still, it presented an obstacle for the team before they settled with Gamecock, and after, in terms of worries that retailers wouldn't stock enough copies to meet demand for the title, thus producing fickle gamers who might forget about it in the pre-holiday flood. They're finding ways around that, however; Gamecock is taking preorders directly for Dementium, and guaranteeing that they'll be able to fill the demand.
So is Renegade Kid just staffed with masochists who love a challenge? Perhaps, but we admire them for it. Watsham says they set out to create a survival horror game that was as scary as possible, and they didn't stop to worry about anything that might get in the way of that. "Early on, we realized that to tone down the game would be doing an injustice to the genre, and to the people buying the game. There had to be blood and gore to create the right atmosphere," Watsham said. From the beginning, they knew that if they were going to do it right, they were going to end up with a Mature rating. "Once we accepted this, we decided to not hold back and go full bore with the gore. That's not to say we put in gore simply for gore's sake, that's not scary, we just stopped worrying about such things as 'is this too gross?' while creating our creatures, environments, and cut-scenes."
That seems, to us, to be one of the strengths of new development teams. They bring a fresh approach, certainly, but also a purity of vision that isn't as caught up in the business side of things. DS owners need developers willing to take chances and break new ground for the handheld -- and that was part of it as well, according to Watsham. "To be honest, I think the DS needs this. Nothing against all the great games out there, but there is a real shortage in quality, mature games for the DS. Last time I checked, just under half of the DS owners in North America are 17 or older. That's a large market segment having almost no games targeted towards it."
But even with all the talk of ratings increasing in the mainstream media in the last few years, does that really matter when it comes to the game? Watsham says no. "To be honest, I think the potential success of Dementium has more to do with it being received as a fun and frightening game, and less to do with its ESRB rating. If it does well, I hope it proves to publishers that there's a demand for high quality, original games on the Nintendo DS – whether they're rated E, T or M." We certainly hope so, which is one of the reasons we're so excited about Wii Ware on Nintendo's other system, with its offer of chances for developers to experiment. Gamers only benefit from experimentation -- and Watsham agrees. "Creative freedom for developers will bring a wealth of great gaming experiences to players."
In this case, he believes the chances paid off. Renegade Kid is very happy with the final result of Dementium, and despite all the people who say the handheld isn't powerful enough for better gaming experiences, they're satisfied with their horror-centric title. "I believe Dementium: The Ward really showcases what the DS is capable of in terms of visuals. I'm also happy with how the audio turned out in the game. Make sure you wear headphones while playing!"
That works. It always seems like things are creepier when you're in headphones, anyway ... anyone could be sneaking up on you, and you wouldn't even know it. Sounds like a perfect formula for a little Halloween gaming!