March 26, 2012 3:00 PM | John Polson
Nicalis' Tyrone Rodriguez has a keen eye for publishing indie titles and the creative talent to make his own. His company developed and self-published NightSky in addition to localizing and enhancing Cave Story for PC and almost every console in 2011. Nicalis ended the year strong, releasing Terry Cavanagh's highly-acclaimed VVVVVV on the 3DS eShop.
While 2012 has not yet seen many major reveals for Nicalis aside from bringing Ikachan to DSiWare, there has been no lack of indie craze with other developers. In particular, after an Indie Game: The Movie screening at GDC, Western-focused developers such as Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish expressed their distaste with most modern Japanese games. I decided to speak with Rodriguez recently to see if Japanese games have been giving him the same bad taste, what he thought about the current indie scene, and what's in store for Nicalis in 2012.
I begun our talk asking about any Japanese indie titles he finds interesting, to which Rodriguez didn't have any particular enlightening points. He suggested popular doujin series such as Touhou, which he personally wishes "would just go away." With the task of pointing out great indie titles from Japan (aside from Pixel's) a little difficult, I expanded the question to modern, mainstream Japanese games that were not crap. "What's modern?" he asked.
I couldn't recall a certain period to which the Fish/Blow controversy was tied, so I nodded as Rodriguez listed Omega Boost, Vib Ribbon, and Parappa the Rapper as good games. For even newer games, he listed Demon's/Dark Souls, SSFIV, The World Ends with You, Final Fantasy XII, and Armored Core. I further nodded when he suggested Nintendo and other major companies that are still making good games.
And then I mentioned Konami. "Konami doesn't make good stuff," he argued. He says in particular that Metal Gear Solid developer Hideo Kojima should stop making games and start making bad movies (ironically, Kojima just might). "He's terrible at making games. Metal Gear is good in spite of him. I haven't enjoyed a game of his since maybe the original Metal Gear Solid, maybe." He feels the recent ones are tedious, riddled with bad writing, bad story-telling, and bad control.
Rodriguez feels Japan doesn't do certain genres well and that it "comes down to a big cultural difference. If you like FPSes, anything from Japan is going to suck." Most of the games Rodriguez likes to play are much smaller in scale nowadays. That's how he said he found and fell for Cave Story. While some games could take hours of his time each day, he just doesn't want to be that kind of gamer anymore.
He encourages AAA and indie studios to make shorter blockbuster experiences to accommodate that on-the-go lifestyle and short attention span that modern technology has fostered. "I would totally pay $60 for a three-hour game that was balls off the wall incredible for three hours. Instead we get these games that promise 30-60 hours of content. They don't have to justify the price; they have to justify the quality."
Having a sense of where he'd like the industry to head in general, I asked what he'd like to see happen in the indie scene. "I'd like to see them sort of realize their potential. They think really small and it seems like there's still a lot of angst. For instance, I saw Indies get mad that they weren't going to be at E3 (IndieCade). It seems to me like, 'oh we'll be part of the mainstream game industry when we want to be.'"
"The main thing I want to see from indie developers is to stop calling themselves indie developers. You're either a game developer or you're not. Indie has nothing to do with it. It's like this cool buzzword now. Do you make games? Okay, then you're a game developer."
Rodriguez goes so far to say that he thinks developers are devaluing and belittling themselves by self-labeling as indie. "And there's so many great ideas coming from all these designers. Once we eliminate the whole indie, non-indie thing, it can go a long way."
I wondered what would happen then, in a world where "indie" no longer existed. What happens to things like the Indie Games Channel on Xbox and Steam's indie category? "I think it's kind of irrelevant now. You get companies like EA who start indie sectors and Activision starting indie competitions; how indie is indie anymore at that point? Is the indie fund indie?" To Rodriguez, he uses a simple test not for being indie, per se, but for being independent, seeing if the developer is owned by a giant corporation.
If not owned by a corporation, I asked Rodriguez if he thought PC was the only place for new developers to start. AAA dev Cliffy B. seemed to think so. Rodriguez echoed some of the Epic developer's sentiment, saying that XBLA has created a barrier of entry with requiring publishers, and that MS asking for exclusivity can lead to a loss of sales on Steam and PSN. For the average indie person, the barrier entry certainly is lower with PC, but he thinks it really depends on the type of game being made.
Nicalis seems to be doing fine in both the PC and console market. Cave Story has made it to Steam, WiiWare, DsiWare, and a retail 3DS release. Nicalis's own developed game, Night Sky, is also set to release soon on 3DS's eShop, after selling on Steam.
"It's not always about the money," Rodriguez told me, especially with recent developments for Cave Story+. The new content they are making for the game is not paid-DLC: it adds new challenges and online leaderboards update to Steam. It's a decision he's making because he's a fan of the game, and he thinks that's an awesome thing to do. At this time, he wasn't sure if he could comment on any eShop-facilitated updates for Cave Story.
He's doing more publishing now, too, even on the iOS. To that extent, I asked about Pixel's underwater Cave Story-like, Rock Fish. Rodriguez doesn't think it will be ready in 2012.
There are two other titles we can look forward to this year. Nicalis will publish Pixel's Ika-chan (the game made during Cave Story's development) on DSiWare. Along with Night Sky, a smaller eShop game is due. And finally, Nicalis is working on an internal project for WiiU, Windows, Mac, 3DS, and possibly PS3/Vita. "Indie" labeled or not, independent developer and publisher Nicalis' future seems pretty bright.
[ photo source ]