As the studio head of Griptonite Games, Foundation 9 Entertainment's go-to studio for handheld projects, JC Connors has been working with the Nintendo 3DS for some time now.
The studio, which has almost 200 developers, has produced over 30 games for the original DS, including titles like Age Of Empires: Mythologies, Bionicle Heroes and Neopets Puzzle Adventure, and and has had its hands on several different revisions of Nintendo's newest hardware.
His studio has more than a few projects for the handheld in active development for multiple publishers, and has spent time researching the best ways to take advantage of Nintendo's new handheld both from a design perspective and technologically.
Here, Connors shares some of the insights that his studio has uncovered as it has explored the hardware, including his thoughts on how to best handle the 3D technology from design, art, and technological perspectives, and also in terms of appealing to the likely audience for the handheld.
How did you come into 3DS development, and when did you find out about the hardware?
JC Connors: Griptonite and Foundation 9 as a whole has always been one of the biggest, baddest DS developers. Just in this studio, I think we've done over 30-something games now. Our sister studios like Backbone and Sumo have always done a lot of games.
So, when it came to working on this new hardware, we were kind of like a no-brainer choice for folks to contact us and kind of start to talk to us about it and leverage our handheld expertise on it.
So, about six months ago, we got contacted with the opportunity to start thinking about the next hardware even as the hardware itself was still kind of getting defined and formed into what everybody would see at E3.
Can you give me a little behind-the-scenes of how Nintendo revealed this to you? I've heard that the 3D wasn't a sure thing at first, and that some developers learned of the 3D capability later than they learned of the new hardware itself.
JCC: Yeah. We were contacted through a third-party publisher about the hardware, and so we would kind of hear things second-hand for quite a while. And like anything, we've done so many launch titles for other platforms, and it was very similar, where the hardware does keep changing.
You know, you keep finding out new information on it every couple weeks, and we did find out about the 3D after we had started looking at the specs of the hardware, so yeah, that's definitely true.
The 3D was a big surprise -- a very pleasant surprise, too. We always kind of felt like, when we were looking at the original specs without the 3D, that, you know, we've worked with Nintendo for so long, we knew something was coming. Nintendo's always that company that tries to surprise you with some feature.
We had an inkling that Nintendo wasn't quite done yet, and so when we found out about the 3D, of course we were really excited. And that was the impetus for kind of rebooting our entire approach to the platform and to the tech, because we knew once that 3D was revealed, that changed the way we had to treat the development of games.
Can you explain what you mean by that?
JCC: Yeah, absolutely. Every discipline has to really sit down and figure that out. So, for the tech guys, it was, "Okay, how are we going to support this new feature engine-wise," because it was something that not any other hardware has really done. So, we had to think about, you know, what it meant for the engine. I mean, you're rendering a lot more now. You have to figure out how to get that to work in a way that makes it really suit the game.
Art-wise, you know, suddenly art direction was absolutely critical. I think this is stuff that the movies have discovered where when you're dealing with 3D, you can make a lot of art direction choices, some which will look really great; some of them won't look as good. And so all of our artists had to start experimenting and figuring out how to make this really pop off the screen and look great.
And of course, you know, the hardware is powerful enough now, unlike the original DS, which was sort of like the Nintendo 64, where you were always limited. The gloves are off with this piece of hardware. You can actually really push it and do things that some of the next-gen consoles are doing. So, for art, it was absolutely a big reset.
And then design-wise, too, it's like, the 3D is cool and all, but the real trick is how do you use the 3D in combination with the hardware's other features to make something really unique? Because the 3D gives opportunities for gameplay, with things kind of coming both in and out of the screen, which you can never do before.
We kind of went into this big mode of experimentation, which we were really happy to do because for handheld games, we haven't had to do that a lot in the last few years. And everybody was comparing notes and trying out new things. Everybody was just super excited about it.