With the game's upcoming eShop release, we talk with Grant Davies of Endgame Studios about the past, present, and future of Fractured Soul.
When we last spoke with Grant Davies, Managing Director at Endgame Studios, the future of Fractured Soul looked decidedly different. The screen-switching platformer, originally conceived for the DS, was making the leap up to the 3DS. Inevitably, another round of publishing trouble delayed it from appearing at retail on that system as well.
In March, Endgame announced it had regained the rights to Fractured Soul after the publishing deal with Ignition Entertainment fell through, and hinted at plans to bring the completed project to the eShop (confirmation of which came last month).
With a final release date for the beleaguered project in sight, we had another opportunity to discuss the legacy of Fractured Soul with Mr. Davies.
Nintendo World Report (NWR): For those who don't know, what is Fractured Soul?
Grant Davies (GD): Fractured Soul is a platforming game in the same spirit as classic platforming games like Mega Man, but with a twist—it is played across both screens of the 3DS at once. The player can switch screens at any time by tapping either of the shoulder buttons. Switching is necessary to avoid hazards and enemy fire, as well as navigating the level. The game is made up of 5 worlds and in each of the worlds there is something notably different in the upper screen—for example, different gravity or movement properties—which keeps changing the nature of the switching gameplay. There are also some shmup levels which also use screen switching—for this part, think Ikaruga but way easier.
NWR: You've compared Fractured Soul to titles like Super Meat Boy, Cave Story, Mega Man—games remembered for and defined by the quality of their platforming. Do you think of Fractured Soul as that sort of evergreen experience?
GD: When you work on something so closely for so long, you tend to lose objectivity, so I'll leave it for others to judge how Fractured Soul stacks up against these awesome platformers. I reference these games because they are all very much in the spirit of the classic, retro platform game, and that is what we set out to achieve with Fractured Soul. Telling people "it's like Mega Man, except on two screens" immediately conveys what otherwise could be very tricky to describe! I would be extremely happy if we could compare favourably to any of those games—it would be a job well done.
NWR: Will we ever see the DS version, or is it 3DS from here on out?
GD: The rights to the DS [version of Fractured Soul] were sold a long time ago to a distributor (N3V Games) and the fate of that game lies in their hands. I know that the DS market is fading away these days so it's probably getting increasingly difficult for them to place it at retail. All we can control is the 3DS version, so that's what we're doing for now.
NWR: Do you feel anything has been lost or tarnished in the lengthy process of jumping to the 3DS and getting the game published?
GD: In general—no. In fact, in many ways quite the opposite. We were able to take the opportunity to rebuild the art from the ground up with a totally new style and entirely in 3D. We were also able to rebuild the audio too. Finally, and most importantly for gamers, the addition of online rankings was something we always wanted to do on DS but simply couldn't. This is the most exciting addition to the 3DS game in our view. The 3DS version is really the version we wanted to develop originally but were constrained by DS hardware.
As far as negatives go, when I look back on the total development cycle, I do think we've lost something in it taking so long to get to market. I notice the occasional comment on the game as accusing it of being derivative of other duality platform games—and I suppose it's reasonable to jump to this conclusion, particularly if you don't fully understand the nuances of Fractured Soul's gameplay or if you're not aware of the full history of the game. We invented Fractured Soul long before we knew anything about any other duality platform games—but it took us so long to get the game to market that other games were invented, developed, and released along the way. Once you play a little bit of Fractured Soul, you realise how different it is from the other games, but it's still disappointing when people get a negative first impression of the game because they think it's a copy of some other game.
NWR: How did you ultimately decide to release Fractured Soul on the eShop?
GD: In a nutshell, we were sick of being given the runaround by publishers. You can only absorb so many walkouts and deals going south before you start to investigate other options. I think Tim Schafer [founder of Double Fine Productions] really gave us all hope by proving that publishers don't always know what gamers want. We've always been reasonably confident that there's a market for Fractured Soul because we're platform gamers ourselves and we built the game because we wanted to play such a game, and we do enjoy playing the game. Game development should be as simple as that—and in the indie world, it is. Publishers were feeling pretty apathetic towards any retail 3DS product last year, and this certainly drove us toward eShop too.
NWR: How about the price point? Last time we spoke, you were considering something higher.
GD: Yes. Initially the game was intended as a full retail product, at a price point of probably $25 or $30. The amount of content was built around that plan. Had we been targeting eShop from the start, we probably would have built a smaller product and priced it accordingly, since most products on the eShop are more "bite-sized" and less than $10. One idea was to split the game into 2 episodes and set them at $7 or $8 each. Ultimately, we realised this would not be true to the game, and would hurt the experience for gamers, so we decided to keep it as one game. This was the right decision to make for the game, but it made pricing a real headache. Nobody expects to pay more than $10 on eShop at the moment, because that's how other games are priced (with according amount of content), and already we've seen one or two comments alluding to Fractured Soul being one of the more expensive eShop titles, which is true (if you don't count [New]SMB2!). I think the game should be priced at $15 to be honest with you, but we've made it $11.99 simply because we felt there would be too much of a backlash to make it $15. I'm sure some people will still feel it's too high—but if you consider that you're getting a full retail game for less than half of what you'd pay in store, it's really quite a good deal. We're the ones that will lose out of this price point—it has cost us so much to develop Fractured Soul!
NWR: You've previously mentioned having to cut ideas/puzzles from the game due to lack of development time. Has any of this content made into the eShop release?
GD: Following on from the previous answer, I already think we've jammed a huge amount of content in to the game for the price. When you think about it being two different game modes (platforming and shmup) and the total game weighing in at around 380MB, there's not much more we could have squeezed in the game! If we put all our ideas in this game, we'd be still making it in another eight years. The screen switching mechanic is fascinating—it adds so many possibilities that haven't been done before. I remember listening to the developer commentary of Portal, and Gabe Newell said they were only just scratching the surface of this new game mechanic after the release of the first game. I feel like we're in that position right now—and hopefully we'll get a chance to do more Fractured Soul, if gamers embrace the concept.
NWR: Last time, you mentioned the possibility of a sequel on consoles. Are you considering Wii U now? What is your impression of the system?
GD: I think there's two ideas here. One is that we'd love to have a presence on consoles and PC. I've seen how well Mutant Mudds has transitioned onto PC (day-one purchase for me) and I'd love to see Fractured Soul on the big screen too. The other idea is that of a sequel, which is also something the whole team would love to do—we're already running an internal document on ideas should we get a chance to do it. It just depends on how the first game performs in the marketplace. As for Wii U, we don't have any specific ideas that would take advantage of that console at the moment, so in a sense we view all those consoles as very similar to each other. XBLA [Xbox Live Arcade] is notoriously difficult to get a release on, so a lot will depend on how Nintendo evolve the digital store and whether they're looking for indie content to put on it.
NWR: Now that the game's bumpy publishing story is finally coming to an end, how do you feel about the whole process?
GD: It's really difficult to sum up eight years in a word. Some months have been nothing short of nightmarish—a combination of extreme stress and frustration. Then, on the flip side, actually working on Fractured Soul—the design in particular—has been a joy. I have certainly learned a lot about the business side of running an indie studio. We've probably run up against every issue we'll ever run up against in the future. And we've certainly seen the worst of the publisher beast in that time. I can't help feeling like we should be working on Fractured Soul 5 by now if things had gone slightly differently along the way. However, this is the whole indie experience, and we got there in the end!
NWR: What projects/systems will you be working on in the future? Will you stick to Nintendo systems? Will you stick to download platforms?
GD: I think download is great—a way to connect directly with gamers and a way to provide a really good value offering to gamers too. Download is definitely where we want to be. I'd like to think we'll be across more platforms than only Nintendo in the future. I do hope that Fractured Soul sells well enough to justify 3DS as a viable platform in its own right, because I do think it's a cool platform, and it would be good to be able to continue to support it. As for future projects—well, somewhere along this crazy journey we realised that the reason Fractured Soul is a platforming game is because we naturally enjoy these games, and naturally want to design this type of game. So whatever we do in the future, it will likely be in the platforming genre. We're all hoping, though, that Fractured Soul can do well enough to justify us doing more with it. There is lot left to explore in Fractured Soul yet!