You may not recognize the name Renegade Kid, but chances are you're familiar with some of the more than twenty titles this tiny three-person development team in Austin has jointly had a hand in creating, including games such as XS Games' The Red Star, Aspyr's Stubbs the Zombie, and Namco's Sigma Star Saga. Now working as an independent developer under the Gamecock umbrella, Renegade Kid will soon launch its first title this Halloween with Dementium: The Ward, a first-person survival horror game for the Nintendo DS.
We recently had a chance to gab some time with two members of Renegade Kid, co-owner and creative director Jools Watsham and fellow co-owner and art director Gregg Hargrove, and we spoke to them about what it's like to work under their Gamecock overlords (did I say overlords? I meant protectors), as well as as just how crazy they must be to attempt a game as ambitious as Dementium on the DS as their freshman effort. Read on.
Hi, and thanks again for taking the time to talk to us about your studio and your flagship product, Dementium. So now, with your first game all but out the door, can you tell us one good thing and one bad thing you learned from the experience?
Jools: Hi Jason, thank you for your interest in Renegade Kid and Dementium: The Ward. One good thing that I have learned from this experience is that a publisher who truly empowers developers actually exists: Gamecock. Not only did they believe in our game, but also our involvement in the whole process from game content to marketing. Not once did they jump into the role of parent and look down on us like we were a small child, which is unfortunately the typical relationship between developers and publishers. The bad thing is that we're now spoilt by Gamecock's red-carpet treatment and will find it very difficult to adjust, should we ever work with a different publisher.
Gregg: I must take a second to echo Jools' statement... Gamecock spoiled us rotten! Anyway, one good thing I've learned is how much easier it is to work on a game you really believe in and put your own personal stamp on it. On the bad side, and I knew this before but never did hit home quite so powerfully... with timelines as tight as we were working with, never ever put anything off until tomorrow or tomorrow will be a long long day.
Was the game more or less challenging to create than you first expected?
Jools: It was as challenging as I expected really. We had a small team, a fairly large game, and a predefined time-frame in which to develop it due to our desire to release it in fall 2007 (it is pretty amazing that we were able to hit the Halloween release date).
Gregg: It was definitely as challenging as I expected it to be in overall scope but thanks to the technical wizardry of our Technical Director, Bob Ives, it was actually a little less challenging on the content side. I was able to do a lot more than we had initially thought we would be able to get away with which is definitely a relief.
So break it down for us, what is this game all about? What makes it, you know, special?
Jools: Apart from the fact that Dementium: The Ward is the only first-person survival-horror title on the Nintendo DS, I believe the unique combination of exploration, shooting, puzzle-solving, and cinematic cut-scenes makes it a very special gaming experience.
Gregg: I really think the dark, creepy atmosphere we were able to achieve is really special on the DS. I think a lot of developers are afraid of making anything too dark and moody but man, we just dove into it head first and I think Dementium will really stand out that way.
But how do you do horror on a tiny screen?
Jools: In this case, I don't think size matters. The fact that you hold the DS screen(s) less than 12" away from your face makes it pretty much on par with a 42" screen viewed from 8 feet away – I believe your attention is held equally in both cases, if not more so with the Nintendo DS. Aside from the screen, we paid special attention to the realism of the environment in terms of audio and visuals in an effort to maintain a creepy atmosphere and a place where anything is possible.
Gregg: Exactly Jools, it's how you use it that makes it effective... and headphones!
Are the DS controls central to the experience? Could Dementium be done on the PSP, for example?
Jools: Using the stylus on the DS touchscreen to look around certainly provides a very smooth gaming experience; something that is closer to mouse control. The PSP, for example, simply can not provide the same level of aiming control for a FPS game – nor can the Xbox 360 for that matter. However, that is not to say that a FPS game can not be enjoyed with analog sticks, Gears of War is obviously a great example of a very enjoyable game that does not have the luxury of stylus/mouse control.
Gregg: I've played a lot of FPSs on all sorts of systems and I've loved many of them even with analogue sticks but this configuration is the closest to that PC/mouse dynamic than anything else I've experienced. I find it much easier to move and acquire targets than with regular controllers.
You've said before that the handheld market is an attractive space for a company like yourself that's going indie, but Dementium in particular seems like a much more ambitious title than we're used to seeing for the Nintendo DS. Why this route for your freshman effort?
Jools: I wanted to make a splash, and get Renegade Kid noticed. A lot of my friends were very surprised to hear that I was creating a first-person survival-horror game. I am a big fan of 2D platform games and puzzles games. But, the Nintendo DS has more than its fair share of those titles. I thought it best to create a game that was difficult to make so it could stand out from the crowd and not get lost in the holiday shuffle.
Gregg: Exactly, first impressions and all that. We really wanted to do something that would stand out and show off what we could do. We've always had confidence that we could create something compelling and a Survival/Horror on the DS was just such a nice fit.
Given the sorts of impressive things you've managed to pull off on the DS, such as dynamic lighting, has Renegade Kid been approached by other devs interested in maybe licensing your tech for their projects?
Jools: Yes, we have been approached by numerous developers who are interested in licensing our engine. We would love to license the engine out, but that requires a lot of prep work and can easily turn into a business in and of itself. We're in the business of making games, so we're the only ones who will be taking advantage of our engine for now.
What has it been like working beneath the Gamecock umbrella?
Jools: Like I mentioned earlier, it has been a wonderful experience working with Gamecock. They're very smart, and very driven. We do our job, and they do theirs. It works very well. I wish more publishers worked how they do. There are no ego's getting in the way of important decisions.
Gregg: I couldn't agree more, the best Publisher/Developer relationship I've ever taken part in.
How does Gamecock change the playing field for indies such as yourself?
Jools: We own the IP. We have complete control over the game content and how it is portrayed through marketing. It makes game development fun again!
Gregg: We never have to second-guess our decisions or compromise our vision, keeping that vision from becoming diluted or confused.
Is Renegade Kid working on anything new at the moment, or is the team taking a break? If so, can you give us a hint? We like hints.
Jools: We took a short break, but I found myself at Gamecock's office the day after we submitted Dementium: The Ward to Nintendo talking about what's next. We want to take advantage of our DS engine, and we're also authorized Wii developers now.
Thanks again for the chat. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Jools: Thanks Jason. I hope you and everyone else enjoys the game. Feel free to stop by our forums on www.dementium.com (click on the news tab) and let us know what you think of the game.
Gregg: Thanks Jason! Thanks Joystiq! We really hope you enjoy playing Dementium as much as we enjoyed making it.