Usually when you see a game being announced for one of Nintendo's systems, you pretty much expect a franchise or big development company behind it.
In the case of DSiWare, however, indie developers like Intrinsic Games are able to release their own visions of gaming goodness for a major system.
"We looked at the DS's library and were surprised to see a lack of RTS (real-time strategy) games for the platform," said Intrinsic Games' President Hersh Choksi. "We realized that there was an opportunity to fill that gap and introduce the genre to players who may not have played an RTS before."
The result was Amoebattle
(pronounced "amoeba-battle"), a adorable take on squad-based real-time strategy games featuring single-celled creatures that will be available later this year (2011) as DSiWare.
"We chose to go with amoebas partly because nobody else had but mostly due to the creative flexibility it offered us," said Choksi. "We're able to define the visual shape and characteristics of each amoeba to visually portray that amoeba's characteristics, which is important in a real-time strategy game."
In the game, the top screen shows a minimap, amoeba configuration and objectives. The bottom touchscreen is where you control the action by circling your tiny troops, drawing where you want them to go and assigning them tasks. As the game progresses, you can use different types of amoebas (with varying traits, of course), build them up, split them into more amoebas and direct more complex combat.
"We started by developing a prototype version using the Warcraft III map editor to help us figure out and balance the units in the game," Choksi explained. "We conducted a number of internal playtests and continuously iterated until we felt comfortable with the direction of the game and the balance. In the meantime, our engineer was starting to build the infrastructure and tools we'd need to create a handheld RTS... The designers started by brainstorming mission ideas, then planning level layouts on paper, before creating the maps in our custom level editor. The art team began concepting the amoebas and what the world would look like at that level, then worked on creating the actual in game assets. And our engineer worked closely with the design team to implement the game's features and assets."
The game has an older, bitmappy look which is not entirely the fault of the system. If you look closely, you'll notice more subtitles than you might expect.
"We wanted to create a colorful and vibrant world for players to explore and have the game look appealing to as wide an audience as possible. For this reason, we decided to go with a pixel art style for the game," Choksi said. "The backgrounds are actually watercolor paintings, which are scanned and formatted to the DS's resolution."
Evolving into a Team
Intrinsic has become familiar with making DS games, having previously released a platformer-puzzle game called Divergent Shift where you control mirror-images of the same character on two screens.
"We formed Intrinsic Games at first for the distribution of Divergent Shift with Konami," explained Choksi. "It started as a group of students working on bringing our platformer to DSiWare. We were able to put together a strong team of fellow classmates and friends for the student project. Afterward, the opportunity arose to continue working with the core team of Divergent Shift. We decided to jump in and continue as Intrinsic Games."
Choski wasn't always interested in making video games, however.
"Although I've been playing games nearly my entire life, I didn't jump into game development until my senior year at the University of Southern California," he said. "My roommate at the time, Keith (Riley), was putting together a student team for a project he was developing and I joined on as producer. From that point forward I was in game development."
That game, then called Reflection, did pretty well for Choski and his team, winning the 2009 IGF Mobile award for Next Great Mobile Game
. That award got the game noticed by Konami which helped get the game published. It was released 2010 as a DSiWare game under the name Divergent Shift.
"As with almost any publisher or development partner, there were both ups and downs but, at the end, it was great to have the support of such a well-known company behind the game," Choski said of the experience of working with a major game company.
Naturally, all of that time together making games has helped strengthen team Intrinsic.
"We're utilizing what we learned from previous commercial projects that we worked on individually, class projects, and Divergent Shift to create projects that continually raise expectations and challenge us."
Even after working with Konami, Choski said he and his team maintain never lost their indie sensibilities and will continue to make indie games.
"As indie developers, we can, and are encouraged to, create games that are extremely unique," he said. "It's up to us to drive the direction of the company and the quality of the games we release. That's really exciting. And absolutely we're indie developers. We don't think that the definition of indie developers is limited by what platforms one develops for. It's all about the spirit of the company and the development of the projects."
Hersh Choksi's Advice for Indie Developers
"Scope well, be well.
SITE: Intrinsic Games
At the start of a project, it's fun to brainstorm a ton of ideas, but finishing a project is more important than starting one. Unfortunately, there isn't an unlimited amount of time and resources (yet! Hopefully someone, somewhere is inventing a way to freeze or slow down time), so once a project enters production, and as it undergoes development, it's important to figure out and focus on the elements that are most important to that title."
SITE: Divergent Shift