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Interview with Nnooos Nic Watt

We take a moment to chat with the makers of myNotebook about making games in Australia and their upcoming RPG, Spirit Hunters Inc. for DSiWare

Nnooo is a growing development studio based in Sydney who have produced some of the most successful software apps on the DSiWare store. The four-strong team have managed to pump out several versions of their myNotebook apps for DSiWare; the bubble-bursting game Pop for DSiWare and WiiWare; and are looking to build on their game-making chops with their ghost-catching RPG game, Spirit Hunters Inc.

I was lucky to see an early build of Spirit Hunters Inc. earlier this year- a game that utilises the DSi’s camera to enable players to hunt down, fight and collect hidden spirits in the world around them. The project will be Nnooo’s most ambitious game to date and highlights the creative talent we have here at home in Australia. Seeing the potential in Spirit Hunters Inc., as well as the growing library of myLifeCollected software on the DSi, I tracked down Nnooo’s creative director Nic Watt to talk about what it was like to develop games in Australia and asked him to shed some light on Spirit Hunters.

You must be happy with the success of the myNotebook and myPostcards apps for DSiWare. What other non-gaming software would you like to produce or see other people make for the handheld?

NW: We are keen to continue the myLifeCollected range of software for DSiWare and in future the 3DS too. We think there are a lot of great ideas you could bring to the DSi and 3DS. One of our next titles in the myLifeCollected range is myDiary which allows the users to write a note or memo each day and set alarms to act as reminders. As for other ideas we really think the sky is the limit. To us most users want to purchase as few devices as possible and as the myriad of devices on the market converge we feel that what better than to have a great games machine which also allows you to organise your life instead of a great personal organiser with average games.

Things we would like to be able to do in the future would be to make more use of the wireless and online functionality  built into each Nintendo handheld so that we can make it easier for our users to share data and communicate. myPostcards for example would really benefit from being able to send postcards to each other via wi-fi.

We have many ideas for apps which could continue the myLifeCollected range. Unfortunately none of them are yet in a stage where we can discuss them in more detail.

Nnooo can claim the lionʼs share of non-gaming apps on the DSiWare store. Why do you think other developers havenʼt taken advantage of the device to sell similar software?

NW: I think that making apps for the DSiWare is a very risky proposition and no one really knew how well they would succeed. For us we took the chance with myNotebook to see firstly how the market would respond and also to test the waters for 200 point software. Furthermore it takes a while to make a game or app for the DSi so for a lot of developers they may have started working in their traditional market, games, and not been able to transition quickly enough. We decided, during the development of Pop+ Solo, to diversify and have two tracks of development- games, which take longer to develop; and apps, which we can be produced quicker.

Nnooo have set up a nice home for themselves on the DSi. Do you consider yourselves a handheld-focussed developer or would you like to take on different projects in future and perhaps expand your presence on WiiWare?

NW: We feel that the key growth area in the future is going to be mobile and handheld gaming. More and more people want to take their content and entertainment with them so for us our main focus will be on handheld platforms. We are most at home with Nintendo platforms so they will be our core platform, however we are continually appraising each platform and have some ideas in the works for other handhelds.

We are also keen to stay in the home console space and are working on a brand new WiiWare title which is also anticipated to be released for DSiWare and maybe 3DS too. We are hoping to announce the title in the next month or so and are very excited with it and hope you all are too!

A lot of Australian-developed games are for portable devices, or are download-only titles. Do you see this as a good way for Aussie devs to be successful?

NW: Yes I think it is. Downloadable games allow independent developers to make what they want, when they want and release it under their terms. With the advent of DSiWare amongst other services Aussie developers have really got on board. We feel that if you truly care about your product and consumers then distributing your software via a downloadable store allows you pretty much direct contact with them. This way we can get more involved with our fans than in a traditional publisher-developer relationship.

Australian developers are limited by small development teams and modest budgets. What kind of games and software do you think local developers are best at producing?

NW: I think Australian Development covers a wide range of projects and budget sizes. However, it looks more and more likely that Australia is best when making self-funded unique and new content. Nnooo, Halfbrick and Firemint have all shown how small independent Australian firms can punch above their weight. For us we focus on what unique forms of entertainment we can bring to each device we work on and being able to self-fund and control the development is key to us making these sorts of creative decisions. I don’t think you see the same sort of results from work-for-hire developers which is also, perhaps, why many of them are finding it tough at the moment.

How could the general environment be improved for game developers in Australia?

NW: It would be great if we could have similar tax incentives which are seen in other creative disciplines, for example the Film Industry. Tax incentives really help us compete with countries like Canada who provide massive incentives for games companies and staff to move there. We could also do with making our ratings system better and cheaper. We have to realise that we are a nation of less than 25 million people and if it is more expensive per head of the population to get content rated then that means less content will be brought to our shores. This makes Australia feel like a backwater and is something Nnooo feel very passionate about trying to stop.

Nintendoʼs new 3DS has generated a lot of positive buzz. How exciting is it for a developer like Nnooo to see this new technology and have you had any imaginative game ideas for the handheld?

NW: We were blown away by the 3DS at E3 it really is better than we expected. We have a lot of great ideas for the device from hi-defintion 3D versions of our myLifeCollected range; new 3D versions of Spirit Hunters Inc.; to brand new game concepts which we hope to start work on early next year! There is a lot still to find out about the 3DS including how the online functionality will work and whether there will there be ‘3DSWare’ and if so what form it will take. It is going to be an exciting time in the run up to launch we imagine!

Spirit Hunters Inc. looks like it has aspects of an RPG game, as well as taking advantage of the DSiʼs built-in camera. What games or other media did Spirit Hunters take inspiration from?

NW: Pokémon has had the biggest influence in terms of direction. I am a massive fan of Pokémon and have played it since the original Red and Blue versions. However I feel that the series, like most Japanese RPGs, has stuck with the traditional turn based battling and simple graphics for too long. These forms of gameplay were created when consoles were no where near as powerful as todays ones. I feel that the gameplay needs to reflect the power and forms of interaction we have today.

To that end I thought that by using augmented reality and touch based input the user would really feel what it is like to be properly part of an RPG rather than playing through the eyes of another character in another world. We really want the user to be able to pop out their DSi or 3DS and battle and capture ghosts wherever they are. Furthermore by making players health and status persistent they will need to heal between fights (or let it recharge over time), this ties the user into the game and world much more and really makes them feel that the game world and real world are merging.

A large part of the inspiration for Spirit Hunters Inc for me was some of the holidays I have been on. Quite often when on holiday we will go for beautiful long walks to see the place we are visiting. During these walks I would often wonder why so few other people come on them and I think it is in part due to families with children who worry their kids will get bored. I started to wonder if we could create a piece of software which would be fun and encourage kids to go out and really explore the world around them. I hope that it will result in kids nagging their parents to go on nature walks and so forth rather than moaning that they want to stay at home!

Spirit Hunters looks to be an ambitious little title with a lot of potential. What do you think will be the main appeal of the game?

NW: We hope that the hunting, battle and collection aspects will be the most attractive. The fact that the game will change depending on where you are and that you can personalise your experience by choosing which element you are and what abilities you purchase will really make each players game experience unique. Finally being able to create custom challenges which you can trade with other players we hope will encourage players to meet and share the experience.

How far along is development on Spirit Hunters, and what aspects of the game do you see as a priority development-wise?

NW: Spirit Hunters Inc is now entering the final stages of development. We are working hard in the hope we can release it later this year… The main aspects we have been focusing on have been the battle and augmented reality system. We are really happy with how it is progressing and cannot wait to start making some videos and development diaries to show its progress

It is probably our largest project to date in terms of content. However as we have developed a lot of our systems when making the myLifeCollected range it has really allowed us to dive straight into development rather than spend ages tooling up. The actual development time is probably shorter than Pop for WiiWare was!

What kind of people will most enjoy a game like Spirit Hunters?

NW: Anyone who enjoys Pokémon, RPGs or action based games. We think there is something for everyone. You have an easy to learn but deep combat system, heaps of ghosts to hunt and capture, levels to gain and lots of differing abilities to customise your battle techniques with!

We here at Vooks.net look forward to seeing more of Spirit Hunters in coming months and are encouraged to see that local developers with positive creative attitudes can continue to make quality software on Nintendo systems.

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About The Author
Josh Moulds

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