Belfast based indie developer Wee Man Studios has been showing off their most recent game Lifespeed at this year’s E3. The game – a futuristic racer with similar genetics to Wipeout – features 8 tracks on 4 worlds, 11 playable characters, 4 difficulty settings, online leaderboards and a deep mythology and storyline that is coming to the latest version of Nintendo’s 3DS via its eShop.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3 for the cool kids) is, undoubtedly, the biggest event on the video game industry’s calendar. Where the trade event was, at one time, dominated by Triple A games by huge studios and publishers, there has been a shift in more recent years towards including output from small studios and indie developers. Why the change? Simple; it’s the indie space where a lot of the excitement is. It is a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of hundreds (if not thousands) of indie developers that the larger video game industry took notice. Ambitious titles like ‘No Man’s Sky’ have almost overshadowed projects from big, established developers and pushed “indie” into the limelight.
We’re delighted that a developer from Northern Ireland – Orange Bison’s stomping ground (get it?) – is bringing their game to such a major event. We caught up with Wee Man after E3 to talk about the game and their experiences of the show as an indie developer.
Lifespeed seems to be something of a spiritual successor to sci-fi racers like F Zero and Wipeout – a sub-genre that we don’t see a lot of these days; was “picking up the torch” a motivation for making the game or was it something else entirely?
While we obviously visually drew inspiration from games like F Zero and Wipeout, the original influences were actually Pilot Wings on the SNES and the final scene in Return Of The Jedi where they are flying down the tunnels of the Death Star. The gameplay is more centred on racing and fighting than speed, kind of like a Mario Kart in space.
You have drawn attention to the lore and strong narrative within the game; was creating this a strategic move to differentiate your game from other racers, something that just grew organically or something that was integral to your vision from day one?
Pretty much all the features of the game were added organically! We started off just as a tunnel with obstacles and rings in it and over time it grew to what it is now. The story line did get added in fairly early on as something to set us apart a little.
You are releasing Lifespeed on Nintendo’s eShop for their 3DS platform – a move that might surprise some given the increasing tendency for indie developers and small studios to explore mobile as their preferred launch platform; were physical controls a preference for you or what made you go with the 3DS?
Physical controls and the 3D were definitely a big plus but more than that it was the discoverability aspect of consoles that attracted us to them. There are so many Indies on mobile it can be hard to make a name for yourself. Other than that it was also a case of fulfilling a personal dream to release on a Nintendo handheld.
You’ve previously stated that when Nintendo NX developer kits become more widely available, Wee Man studios will be applying for one; given this and your initial decision to bring Lifespeed to the eShop can we assume you have enjoyed working with Nintendo? Do you see yourself becoming an exclusively Nintendo developer?
Nintendo are fantastic to work with, they provide an unreal level of support. We are currently exclusively developing for Nintendo but that may change as we grow the business.
Lifespeed was originally set to launch Summer 2015; do you mind if we ask what caused the fairly long delay?
Everything took a lot longer than we hoped to finish! Lifespeed looked finished a year ago but that final layer of polish just takes so much effort to complete especially when you only have 1 developer. The translations, online leader boards and testing all took a long time and then we also improved the graphics which wasn’t initially planned.
So E3 then! E3 is a massive trade show that has traditionally been dominated by the big players; what made you decide to attend?
It’s dominated by the big players so all the most influential people are there at one time making it a great place to do business. As a small Nintendo developer we really never felt side-lined while there and found with a bit of preplanning we would get all the meetings we wanted organised.
Obviously Lifespeed is already coming to Nintendo’s eShop and, therefore, you weren’t necessarily there “peddling your wares” but did you see it as an opportunity to network and make connections for the future?
Yes it’s amazing for networking. Last year we went not knowing anyone and worked hard to meet journalists etc, and this year we were able to build on those relationships coming up to the release, also forging some new connections that may be very important in the coming years to Wee Man Studios.
Did you go with some kind of “gameplan” or were you there to simply enjoy the experience and see what happened?
If you want to get meetings you need to put the time in before the show. Most people’s diaries are filled up from about 2 weeks beforehand so we already had our schedule set before we even got on the plane. That’s not to say we didn’t take the time to enjoy playing some games in between meetings too! Final Fantasy XV was the highlight of the show for us.
Did you feel welcome as an indie developer/ is there any camaraderie amongst the “indies?”
Definitely, you tend to get a bit of respect for making it all the way over from Northern Ireland for one thing! We love going to the parties and having a bit of craic with the other Nintendo indies especially. It was nice going back a second year and seeing some familiar faces.
Lastly, would you go back and/or encourage other small studios to attend?
We will definitely go back and encourage others to do so, E3 was the best thing we have done in terms of marketing and networking. There is nothing like meeting people face to face plus we found the E3 experience itself is better than you dream it will be!
Lifespeed is expected to come to Nintendo’s eShop sometime in August; keep checking Orange Bison for more news and a review on the game.