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GDC08: DS Fanboy interviews Jeremiah Slaczka (5th Cell)


5th Cell's Creative Director, Jeremiah Slaczka, likes the DS. He has good reason to, since his company's debut game Drawn to Life is a success (to an unspecified degree) in the U.S., Australia, and Korea (it "did decent, not as well as Australia" in Europe). For the Korean release, a contest was even held to name the game. "They had, like, 20,000 submissions or something."

After a successful stint making mobile games -- in both original IPs and licenses -- for THQ Wireless, the company got a chance to move to the DS. "We're done with mobile," Slaczka told me. For that matter, they're done with licenses. "We only do original IPs, no licenses. Except for Star Wars -- I'd do Star Wars."

There's the upcoming Wii version of Drawn to Life...

Can't talk about that.

Are there more projects coming up?

Yes, we are working on the DS. We are working on an unannounced title -- I'm not sure when it's supposed to be announced. We're basically doing two unannounced projects right now ...

Gallery: Drawn to Life | 10 Photos

Both DS?

We want to stick with the DS because of, just, like, we've got the technology; we've done a lot on the DS with Drawn to Life and with our other projects, so basically it's stupid to jump off ship of the DS.

We did three original properties when we first started out with mobile, that were specific to mobile -- THQ Wireless picked them up -- it's kind of weird that we've been working with THQ this entire time, it's entirely by accident. It just kind of happened. We worked with them, did a few projects, did Full Spectrum Warrior, and we just always had a working relationship with THQ, and then they published Drawn to Life.

Was the work with THQ Wireless what led to your deal with THQ on the DS?

I think that was a factor. And THQ's done really well, promoting Drawn to LIfe. For a developer to go from mobile to DS, that's a big step. A lot of publishers, they don't take that chance. And I've got to give THQ a lot of credit for that, they were like "We'll give you a shot at this, we believe you can do it." And, they did.

Was it a big challenge to work on the DS after mobile?

It wasn't a big challenge, but it was a bigger challenge just to get on the DS, just to get, like, official sponsorship. We actually did a homebrew version of Drawn to Life on the DS.

Like running it on an R4-type thing?

Yeah, exactly. When it was in its infancy, we did a homebrew demo and showed it to Nintendo, and Nintendo approved us. We're like, "Look, we can do this. We're really hungry, we really want to do original stuff, we want to do our own stuff, and we don't want to do mobile." We didn't start a company to do mobile.

Do you still have that homebrew version?

I do! I still have it, I'll never let it go. I still have it on my card. It's really horrible (laughs).

When I first came up with the idea for Drawn to Life, it was like a Saturday afternoon, and I was just, like -- I had a bunch of ideas for DS games, and I didn't like any of them, but then I was like "Wait, what if you could just draw everything! And then it could come to life!" And then I pitched it to the other people in my company and they were like "that's the stupidest idea I've ever heard." It took me like a week or two to get them on board.

Were you looking for a DS project at the time?

We wanted to get out of mobile, we were at that point. We looked into PSP as well, but we decided that DS is doing better, it looks like a better console, it's much cheaper as well -- it was much easier to fail on DS than it was on PSP.

In Drawn to Life, there are things that you can draw, and other things that you just sort of color in ...

We really wanted to make things easy for the user on some aspects, like the whale, you know -- if you did per-pixel detection, you could make the whale really tiny and totally screw up your platforming. We erred on the side of "people were not good artists." But sometimes they want to make something really cool, like "Oh, it's a box, but it's a whale!" and use their imagination! It's a compromise.

The final boss -- I don't remember his name ...

Wilfre and the scorpion.

Really hard.

THQ wanted, to their credit, wanted to make a game that -- drawing is a universal concept, so they wanted to make a game that was more universally played so that anyone could get into it. I get a ton of fan mail that, you know, my sister plays this, my daughter, my son, even moms are like "I bought this game for my kid for Christmas, and now I'm playing it." That was really good for the game, but, as a gamer, I want a challenge, so the last level, I was like, "This is my level." I did it myself.

And the boss too, me and my technical director, Marius, we just sat there and coded the boss to make it really awesome, to make it pretty hard and stuff without giving any clues. And all the bosses -- we tried not to do any handholding, to balance the easy platforming.

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