Capy Games slipped into the consciousness of hardcore gamers with the PlayStation Network release of its puzzle game Critter Crunch. Originally a mobile title, the game burst with color, personality, and humor.
The Toronto, Canada based studio, co-founded by president Nathan Vella and creative director Kris Piotrowski then released its first packaged game, Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, for the Nintendo DS. Both games were critical successes, with Critter Crunch currently resting at 87 on Metacritic, and Clash of Heroes at 86.
Here, Vella and Piotrowski discuss the evolution of the studio from an unknown mobile game developer to an indie with fans, how they pick, choose, and pursue projects, what the support of the Toronto indie scene means to them -- while touching on issues such as pricing, the benefits of polish, and why working on multiple game projects at once is essential for inspiration.
You guys recently announced you're doing your Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes or Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.
Nathan Vella: We had finally got the game finished on DS. We were waiting for it to come out. We were always thinking about -- after we figured out the core battle concept in the game itself, once we started liking it, we were like, "Okay, well, we're already doing Critter Crunch on PlayStation Network."
We really like the fan base in general. The people who play digital download games, I think in general, are a very cool subsection of the video game-buying public. So it made a lot of sense to us.
Ubisoft was really receptive of it. We'd been talking back and forth about it, and they were just as gung-ho about it as we were, which was really nice. We didn't have to fight to make it happen; it was actually a really cool process. So we actually got to start on it before Clash even came out [on DS].
It's something that we had to do, you know? The idea of having someone else make Clash of Heroes on XBLA and PSN -- take our idea, and go somewhere else with it, and run the risk of it being a shitty XBLA and PSN port... Because I think there are a bunch of shitty XBLA and PSN ports.
Kris Piotrowski: Yeah. The trend tends to be that people kind of quickly upscale and get the game out there. We wanted to give it the Critter Crunch treatment, which is it's not an upscale; it's completely, from top-to-bottom, brand new art, brand new music, and all that kind of stuff. That's something that I don't think we could ever trust anybody else to do. (Laughs)
NV: Fuck no. We had that experience on Critter Crunch: taking cute pixel art with personality and then bringing it up from like teeny-tiny screen to huge HD...
KP: It's not just blurry pixel art.
You did such a good job. The art in the PSN version is beautiful.
NV: Thank you. We're a very visual-focused studio. A lot of the guys just started to come from that background, and just, as a company, that's what excites us. So to do the same 2D, HD, hand-animated, fun-time Clash of Heroes version is exactly what was right to do.
KP: Yeah, and it's also something that we're focusing on, too. Right now, it's one of the defining features of the studio -- this expertise in 2D HD stuff. So this gives us kind of another opportunity to work out that muscle, and hopefully we can actually do some more awesome stuff after with even more of the sort of experience that we're going to get from this project. So it makes a lot of sense for us to do it that way, as well.
Before we started the formal interview, you said that Clash of Heroes for DS might be the only boxed product that you guys ever do. Do you really believe that?
NV: As a studio, we've done the "make games for other people" thing. The first three and a half years of Capy was making games for other people, aside from one or two projects, the entire time. But the space that is the easiest to do the ideas we actually want to do, the ideas that we care about, are the digital spaces.
Small teams; smaller budgets; don't need to necessarily go to a publisher -- that's where it's going to happen. That's why I think there's a good chance that we won't have another retail game, because that space is so much more conducive to the types of projects that we love to make as a studio.
I'd love to do another DS title; we've got great tech just sitting there, you know what I mean? But at the same time, the process of getting those retail games made is just so much different, and there's so much extra work involved.
KP: And the benefits aren't always there. You're setting yourself up for something that's significantly more difficult and stressful, and the rewards on almost all levels -- financial, creative, and everything else in between -- are usually not worth it, basically, especially when we've had a taste of developing games for downloadable stuff, and you're missing like 70 percent of the bullshit. It's just not there! (Laughs) Game development is stressful enough, anyway. (Laughs)
NV: For sure. The whole selling things in an actual box... It was such a big professional moment for us, because we all started the studio because we actually just really wanted to make games, and a big part of that is remembering our childhoods, and getting a Super Nintendo and plugging the cartridge in, and keeping the box, and putting it on our wall and that kind of stuff; so having our first and maybe only retail game being on a Nintendo handheld...
KP: Yeah. That's magical.
NV: It is. It is. We were probably more excited about that than people who played the game were excited about playing it. The actual process of developing something like that, for us, was... Only two years ago, it was unfathomable. It didn't make sense. And now, to see a game wrapped in cellophane that has a manual that someone printed and see our little logo -- our teeny-tiny, itty-bitty little logo on the back of the box...