TA Interview: Ronimo Games

By DavieMarshall, 5 years ago
This Sunday Ronimo Games provide some weekend reading material before we dive headlong back in to Monday morning. Ronimo Games have their roots in WiiWare and are a relatively new name in the world of XBLA but are hoping for a smash hit in their forthcoming Awesomenauts. Their as yet unreleased title has enjoyed awards and nominations after a showing at E3 earlier this year. Join us as we discover more about the people behind the name.

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DavieMarshall: Hi and thank you for this interview!

Robin Meijer: Hi Davie, no problem!

D: Let’s start off with a little bit of history. Ronimo Games originally started life under the banner ‘Banana Games’. How did your team come to be together, and who decided on the name?

R: The founders of Ronimo met each other during the course of Game Design & Development at the Utrecht school of the Arts. During our second year, we already felt we could form a successful game studio. In the third year of our course, we got the chance to prove it when we received a school assignment. 5 of the 7 founders of what was to become Ronimo were part of the 9-man team that worked on the assignment, which resulted in de Blob. That game became a great international success and was later picked up by THQ. Stimulated by this success, the original team of 7 came together and formed Ronimo in our 4th and final year. The name was a team effort, so there's no real decider to point out.

D: It's amazing to think it all sounds so simple. You had literally every University Game Design & Development student's dream come true! So how did it feel when you were contacted by THQ who were looking to buy the rights to the game? I think I would have seen it as a 'wind up' by a friend.

R: Very exciting. There we were, fresh students still in school, being contacted by this big international company. de Blob was a fun little game, but we had no idea it was already so widespread that publishers were picking it up. Of course, we immediately started speculating on the worth of this IP.

D: So from de Blob and Banana Games, you shifted and morphed into the outfit known as Ronimo. Where did this unique name originate from?

R: As we were brainstorming for a name, we had written down all kinds of cool things in gaming. We tried to mix and mash those to come up with a cool name. Eventually, Ronimo came up as a mashup from Robots, Ninjas and Monkeys. It also felt nice and exotic and fun, mainly because of the connection with geronimo.

D: And as you were moving forward and looking for the next project beyond de Blob, was it always your intention to attack multiple platforms? Swords and Soldiers, for example, initally launched as WiiWare, then arrived on the PSN before ultimately making its way on to Steam.

R: We actually spent a long time working on another project for the Nintendo Wii, which never got finished. We eventually realized that this project was too ambitious for us to tackle, and we started to work on something new. This evolved in Swords & Soldiers, and our original intention was to only release it for WiiWare.

Bringing the game to PSN and Steam was a decision we made when the WiiWare version had already been finished.

D: What challenges does a team face in porting a title to be PSN compatible when the initial coding was developed for the Nintendo Wii. I would assume the process is somewhat laborious and consists of endless testing cycles?

R: It was quite a daunting task, seeing as none of us actually had experience with development for the Playstation. Fortunately, it didn’t take very long to get the game to run on the Playstation. The biggest challenge for us was implementing all the new features we wished to include in this PSN version. Creating the multiplayer component was definitely the most complex part of the development.

D: When you’re working on developing a title, do you feel empowered by having a small and dedicated team, or does it sometimes become an overwhelming experience knowing that you may be the only person on the team with the time and knowledge to squash a bug, or solve a problem?

R: The amount of bugs and other issues that need to be resolved can indeed seem overwhelming at times, especially when it comes down to one or two developers who spend days searching for some elusive bug. But having such a small team also means that everyone here works on multiple aspects of the game - and seeing all the parts you’ve worked on come together in the end feels really satisfying.

Perhaps the most important thing about having a team between of 10 to 15 developers is that we can actually sit down with the entire team and take the time to listen to everyone’s opinions. We think that’s really important, but it is something you just can’t do when you have a large development team.

D: Moving back to platforms now, what prompted Ronimo to develop Awesomenauts as your first title for Xbox LIVE Arcade?

R: As soon as we had established that we wanted to make Awesomenauts an online multiplayer-focused title, the decision to bring it to both XBLA and PSN felt like a natural step forward.

D: And how different is the experience of becoming published on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace compared to other platforms?

R: Being published on the Xbox Live Marketplace means you have to team up with a publisher in order to acquire a ‘release slot.’ Microsoft runs a pretty tight ship, and that means that there will only be a few titles releasing every week. That’s a good thing for us as a developer, as we can be sure that the game won’t be snowed under in a heap of other titles – but finding a publisher to team up with can be quite a time-consuming challenge.

With regards to the experience itself, I don’t think it’s all that different from being published by a publisher on any other platform. For developers who are used to do their own publishing, the platform is probably a bit less accommodating.

D: Let’s talk more about Awesomenauts! We’ve loved covering the title since its unveiling at E3 earlier this year, and we've even had a bit of hands on time amongst the staff. How did the idea for the title start?

R: Back when we were finishing up Swords & Soldiers, a few developers on our team were quite avid Defence of the Ancients players. We were brainstorming about our next project, and one of the ideas we discussed was about bringing this DotA experience to the 2D plane.

We did a few tests and made a prototype to try out how this might work, and found that the core mechanics of DotA are actually a lot of fun in 2D. That was the very first incarnation of the game that would eventually become Awesomenauts.

D: Was fleshing out the idea a quick process, or were there any reservations about a 2D side-scrolling multiplayer title, even though the initial tests were promising?

R: We knew quite early on that the mechanics themselves would be suited to 2D, but spent a very long time determining the graphical style and the actual ‘feel’ of the gameplay. There are many different side-scrollers, and the all differ in terms of pacing, scale, and the amount of on-screen mayhem and we weren’t quite sure what we wanted the game to be like. Early on, we all had different ideas on what the final product should look and feel like, and it took us a while to try some things out and reach consensus.

D: Were there any points during development where you felt constricted by the 2D nature of the game? Were there any things you felt you’d have liked to been able to achieve in game that don’t work within a side-scroller?

R: I don’t think we’ve ever felt really constricted, but we did realize that the problem of having a two-dimensional multiplayer game is that when all the players get together and begin duking it out in a very small area, it becomes impossible to keep track of what’s going on. Because of the amount of effects that can occur at the same time, we decided to limit the game to 3 on 3 combat, where many other games in the genre often feature larger teams going head-to-head. That just didn’t feel right with Awesomenauts, so we decided to scale down from there and go with 3 players per team.

D: I know Ronimo have been conducting some playthrough tests with a few gamers. After you’ve spent time sinking hours into development, catching bugs, creating hype, putting out trailers and screenshots etc, how does it feel when you see your game being played for the very first time by others? Is it a nervous affair?

R: It definitely is! We regularly have internal playtests with our own staff, but it’s always a little bit special when you hand the controller to someone who is about to start playing it for the first time. Still, the opportunity to see how someone else is picking up the game is incredibly valuable – you get to see how people instinctively interact with the controls and the mechanics and whether they pick up on the basic tactics with each character. Perhaps most important of all: you get to see when people are having fun with the game.

D: Awesomenauts has been drawing some very high acclaim. “Best E3 Indie Game of 2011”, “Best downloadable game of E3 2011 nomination” are perhaps the highest accolades so far. It must feel great to have your efforts recognized and rewarded like this. How did the team react to this feedback?

R: We announced the game shortly before E3, and put in a lot of hours to really get the demo as polished as we could. When the first reports from journalists who had been playing the game came in, it was great to read that many of them seemed to have enjoyed their time playing it.

When we started to receive some nominations, that felt really motivating for us – there were a lot of top-notch downloadable titles being shown at E3 that year, so being considered as one of the best amongst those game felt great for everyone on the team.

D: A recent comment on the official Awesomenauts Facebook page reads: “We're doing everything we can to get the game out this year but we can't promise it. If we'll need to postpone release to properly finish development, we'll do it.” Following this the title has been pushed back again to February 2012. Where Ronimo are taking the time get the product 110% polished, do you feel there is a culture of ‘release now, patch later’ with some retail titles?

R: This does seem to be the case sometimes, and if you look at the number of titles that have a Day-One patch to remedy some issues, it seems to have almost become industry standard. It’s understandable though, because of the time the physical production of discs takes and the ease at which a developer can bring patches and updates to consumers through PSN, XBLA, or Steam.

It’s a risk though, as having bugs present in your game at launch could ruin the first impression players get – especially when they’re playing a demo. We believe that getting this first impression right is key, so we’re just not willing to take the risk of bringing a product to market when we know it has issues that can disrupt gameplay.

D: It's true, and I think quite often gamers forget that huge disc pressing facilities must be set to work to run off the quantities needed to ship worldwide in time.

So, do you guys have a fondness for the 2D retro games then? Which classic games inspire your team the most?

R: We grew up playing games in 2D, so it still holds something special for us. We love how playing games in 2D somehow seems to make even the most challenging mechanics easier to pick up. This allows us to create a game with quite ‘hardcore’ mechanics, and still make them accessible to players who have never played a similar game before.

For Awesomenauts, we’ve taken quite a lot of inspiration from games like Earthworm Jim, Bucky O’Hare, and Jazz Jackrabbit.

D: How about current gen titles? If you could have contributed to any title this year, what would you have loved to have worked on?

R: I think quite a few people here would have loved to work on Diablo III, if only that would mean it would come out any sooner. Skyrim has been a favorite that many of us have been looking forward to for most of the year, and we have been enjoying that game thoroughly for the last couple of weeks.

D: And I have to ask if there’s a major influence from late eighties/early nineties cartoons? The music that accompanies the trailer we covered felt incredibly nostalgic to me though I’d never heard it before!

R: That’s exactly what we wanted to achieve! There has been quite some influence from these cartoons on the character design and we really wanted to get that vibe of wacky yet very cool characters. Graphically, this an incredibly flexible and fun style to work with, and seeing as all these classic cartoons had their own theme songs we felt like this Awesomenauts wouldn’t be complete without theme song of its own.

D: Thanks to the nature of our site, we have to speak about achievements. When we spoke to Twisted Pixel, we quizzed them on how they allocated achievements. Their approach is to figure out how much they want to reward the player for story progression, playing uniquely etc, and allocate points from there on. Seeing as this is your first foray into the world of Xbox achievements, what’s your approach?

R: Our most important consideration in designing the Achievements was that players should be able to get them all by simply playing the game, rather than doing something that lies outside the normal gameplay. While we want to encourage players to explore all the features and mechanics, Awesomenauts remains a multiplayer-focused title at its core, and that introduces a few additional challenges for designing ‘good’ Achievements.

We don’t want players to try and earn difficult achievements that take them out of the action during an online game as that would disrupt the gameplay for their teammates, but rather encourage them to earn some feats that are part of the regular mechanics.

D: That's fantastic to hear because I happen to agree with you completely on that point. Why do so many team games try to divide the teams with irrelevant in game challenges, or achievements? Will there be any truly time consuming achievements? Something to get people’s blood boiling a little bit?

R: Some achievements will indeed take a while to unlock, as they are tied to your account progression. Still, Awesomenauts doesn’t include any achievements that would force a player to play for weeks to just grinding some silly statistics – play enough matches, get the mechanics down, be a good player, and you will earn them all! This also means that for most of them, unlocking them isn’t as easy as looking up a guide and going through the motions.

A new player won’t be able to unlock them right off, as they’d need some practice. Expert players, on the other hand, might achieve some of these feats multiple times in a match.

D: I have to say, you guys seem to have given a great level of thought to your achievement design which we love to hear. What do you consider to be a ‘well designed’ achievement? Is it something that rewards a near impossible task, a lucky one off, exploring hidden depths of the game?

R: For Awesomenauts, we hope that with every achievement, a player will feel like being recognized for becoming a better, more experienced player. There is a limited number of Achievements we can implement in our game, so for us most are simply tied to the growth of the player and encouraging them to try out some of the mechanics the game has to offer.

D: When the game launches, will any of the team be around online, perhaps incognito, joining in the general multiplayer mayhem?

R: Definitely! It’s something we’re really looking forward to!

D: And what about the future for Awesomenauts, can we get a scoop on any plans for future DLC? More characters added perhaps?

R: Adding more Awesomenauts to the game is definitely on our agenda, as we believe that adding new playable characters to the game is a lot of fun for everybody: players who have the content have a new character to play with, and even players who don’t have the content get a new opponent to play against who uses new mechanics and mixes up the gameplay.

The most important thing for designing the new Awesomenauts is that we don’t want to reuse any skills or abilities that we’ve already included in the game. Every Awesomenauts needs to feel unique, and it would feel a bit like ‘cheating’ our fans we’d simply reskin a character and slap some abilities on it that we’ve already included with other characters.

D: You heard it here first folks, there will be added character DLC! That's brilliant; after all these games thrive on the uniqueness of the characters. To have completely new designs that, as you say, aren't reskinned will certainly appeal to many gamers. One suggestion on your official forum requests a bear in a space suit with a ‘space shotgun’, however that may work! That has to be tempting to add!

R: We read that suggestion and were really surprised that even though this player has either never played the game at all, or only got a short hands-on during Gamescom, he was able to design a character that would fit into the game quite well. It’s great to see people are so excited for our game, and I hope that once the game comes out, many more players will turn to our forums to share their ideas.

D: How about the future for Ronimo; do you see yourself publishing more titles on XBLA?

R: The future isn’t set in stone yet, and there are a couple of different paths we can take for after we’ve finished development on Awesomenauts. For now though, we’ll continue to focus on supporting this game with some more content. Whatever we’ll be doing in the future, we’d love to release our next projects on Xbox Live Arcade.

D: Will there be a PC release for Awesomenauts at any point, or are you guys entirely focused on console right now?

R: Like I said earlier, there are a couple of options open to us, and developing a PC version of Awesomenauts would be one of those. Whether we really go that route is something we still have to decide upon. Of course, it would be great to bring the game to the PC audience, but seeing as the game is so heavily inspired by classic platforming games, we’re not quite sure if we’d be able to give the game the same ‘feel’ when controlling it with a mouse and keyboard rather than a gamepad.

If we ever do that, we’ll make sure that it isn’t a simple port of the game, but something that plays at least as smoothly as the console version – and if we can’t get the feel right, we won’t do it.

D: And what are your opinions on mobile gaming? Are you fans of gaming on WP7/iPhone/Android? Could you every envisage Ronimo taking a step in that direction?

R: For now, we’re solely focused on downloadable games for consoles, but there’s no denying that the mobile gaming scene has evolved quite strongly in recent years. We worked with Two Tribes on bringing Swords & Soldiers to iOS, and that has been a great experience for us. Still, we don’t have any plans on going into the mobile market ourselves, and will continue to work on downloadables for consoles or PC for the foreseeable future.

D: We’ll be keeping our eyes on Ronimo and Awesomenauts very closely, and we wish you guys all the sucess for the future. You certainly deserve it! In closing, can we press you for any behind the scenes tips we can use when Awesomenauts releases?

R: Perhaps the most important piece of advice I could give you would be to be a bit careful when you start playing – if you get jumped while far away from your turrets, you’re pretty much toast. And when your Awesomenaut dies, you lose a bit of cash while the entire enemy team receives a bounty. Dying a few times in a row can give the opponents a tremendous advantage, so just take care and don’t forget you can teleport back to base to heal by holding the right bumper!

We thank Ronimo for their time taken to complete this interview with us. We hope release date info is gracing our homepage very, very soon. In the meantime, don't forget you can check out our detailed coverage of everything related to Awesomenauts here. Character reveals, gameplay, trailers, we've got it all covered, so click on through and take a look around!