iTête à iTête – Adventure Games, The iPhone and Everything – An interview with Emmanuel Zaza of Tetraedge Games
Following our recent scoops on the upcoming releases from Tetraedge Games, as well as the excellent review of Secrets of the Mysterious Island by my esteemed colleague shigzeo, I was able to secure an exclusive interview with Emmanuel Zaza – one of the founders of the company and the project manager of the Return to Mysterious Island and Secrets of the Mysterious Island games. More after the gap!
My questions are in bold. Yes, I’m that vain!
1. Emmanuel, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and Tetraedge games?
Tetraedge Games is a french videogames studio, we created in 2002. I was one of the founders. Our first idea was to bring some games to Windows Mobile Phones. We’ve never made any Java games, so we were in 2002 a bit alone 😉 Because at this time the smartphone was not a reality. So we have made some games, ported others on WM, Symbian and now we are on the iPhone!
What is your role in Tetraedge games?
We are a small team, so i make a lot of things. But I am the project manager.
2. Tetraedge has chosen quite a unique and rare path in the on the current market – a large part of the business is porting games to various mobile devices. Why?
We have made this choice for different reasons.
First, if you make a port or an adaptation (we can say that), you will have great graphics and sounds. Making a game from scratch only for the Smartphone market was very dangerous in 2002! With the iPhone, now, it is possible, but the cost is still very high.
Second: we have decided to work on Adventure Games, because an Adventure Game can be popular a long time!
But your first projects on the iPhone were brand new games, weren’t they?
Taptatop is a creation, but Return To Mysterious Island is an adaptation. But you are right, on iPhone we try to make new games (small in general like Taptatop or Cocoto Kit For Kids) and adaptation (that are large games in general : RTMI, SOTMI, DRACULA, and more…)
3. Why did you decide to specialize on porting adventure games? Could you elaborate a bit?
First, I like Adventure games But I like story more than puzzle.
Second, Adventure games are perfect on Smartphone. Easy to play with Touch Screen (our first game, Atlantis Redux, was on WM2003, with touch screen). The first Smartphone was poor in processor (200mhz with no 3D) but was great in graphics, video and sound. Perfect for Adventure Games.
4. Your first adventure project for the iPhone was the famous Return to Mysterious Island. Were you happy with the result? How did it do in sales?
Yes, it was a success, that’s why we have decided to work on the sequel. But we will continue making some upgrade for the first one. V1.3 is coming since there are always some things to improve.
5. You just released the sequel. Was it a difficult project? Are you happy with the result?
From the technical view, it was not very hard, because we used a improved version of the same engine we already have in RTMI : the new one can manage larger animation/sprites. But the game is far longer than the first one! For example, in SOTMI you can play Mina and Jep! You can explore more different places and there are mini games (the ants, the fish, ect…) so we need more people to work on it.
I want to say something about our games! Many players use the PC walkthrough, but it is not a good solution. Our games are not direct ports of the PC version. We always make some changes to make the games more playable on the iPhone! We have added some elements to be easier and in general we’ve removed the excessively hard things (hard puzzles, or ones that neeedd to much things to read). On a small screen, we can’t put too much text.
So, some players find that good, and other not :-), but we think that on a mobile platform, games must be easier than on a PC, where you can stay in front of the screen and play a hours on end. On a mobile, you play sometime just 5 minutes or 10, and so, it important that you do a lot of things in a small amount of time.
6. What are the main challenges in bringing such a game as RTMI or SOTMI, or the upcoming releases to the iPhone?
First, the engine: you don’t have a PC, but players want to have a very good looking game, so you must have an engine that allows that.
Second: the redesign and the UI : The one in RTMI was not perfect, we have changed it after reading what players said, and the one in SOTMI is, for us, better!
Loading time is a problem too: a game with too much loading is in general not fun to play!
7. What main challenges did you encounter in your work on SOTMI?
In SOTMI you can play with Mina, Jep or Mina&Jep: so the same place can be viewed differently. Some things can only be done by Jep and others by Mina! Testing all of the possibilities was very hard! The puzzles and minigames were harder to do.
8. In any project there are lots of funny stories. Could share one or two of them from your SOTMI project?
I have a funny one: some players say that Mina in RTMI looks like Michael Jackson, and in SOTMI, we have add Jep: remember, Michael Jackson had a monkey (bubble, if I am right) Maybe it is the reason for the success 😉
9. You port games for a variety of handheld devices, ranging from Windows Mobile to Nintendo DS. How would you compare them to the iPhone?
Working on DS is harder, because of the memory limitation (and more), but there is only one DS! So, if the game works on our device, so it will work on all DSs in the world.
On the iPhone, you have more power, more memory, more all ;-), but there are different OS, different devices…
On WM is like on PC : a lot of devices: sometimes we have emails from players that have devices we never even thought existed!
10. Did anything change for you with the introduction of the 3GS and iPod Touch 3G?
Yes, the 3GS is more powerful and all our games run better on it. But for the moment we can’t do specific games for the 3GS. The only thing we do is using some special features (compass for example).
11. What can you say on the future of the iPhone as a platform for adventure games?
We think that the iPhone is perfect for that, but we think that adventure game need to be easier than on PC. The iPhone is mobile and so you don’t play for 3 or 4 hours. So too difficult of a game maybe frustrating!
Is this really a problem? Adventure games generally are not time-constrained, so you can get back to where you left off at any time.
Yes, it is true, but, one of the problems is when you play in multiple sit ins. You forget some elements and the game becomes much more difficult. So our idea is to have a game in which if you play for 10 minutes or so you advance in the story. But you are right, we receive two type of email : some to say that the game is too easy, and others to say that is too hard So we will certainly search for a mid solution!
That does make sense. Maybe a good hints system?
For the Hints: We have added our “icon system” to show the action spot and we have put a link to a complete walkthrough. But, we are thinking about a better system. Like: a system that gives you hint in a particular place when you ask for it.
12. How do you envision the perfect GUI for adventure games in the iPhone?
I think the one we have for SOTMI is not to bad (I hope ), but I know that it is always possible to do better!
Personally, I don’t like the “button” system, playing with the hands always on the iPhone doesn’t let you see the screen
So I would prefer a GUI where you have to give some orders only at particular moments, but all games can’t be played like that
13. If you went back to the start of the project, what would you’ve done differently?
We would work on sounds at the beginning. In general, sounds are the thing you do at the end of the project, and so it is not as good as I wanted.
I would have added more hints and a complete “objective” system. In SOTMI we have added some “objectives” but is our first version. We will do better in the next games (and the next upgrade).
14. What can you say about your upcoming releases?
Dracula will be certainly a great game: very different than Jules Verne Series. It is game with a very good story, so there is a lot of text to read, but it is still great (the story of this game won an award on PC here in France)
Egypt is more of a classic, but it will be great too 😉
What about Syberia? I know it is in plans for Q1 2010. Have you started on it already?
We have already doing some things on it, but the engine is not ready yet, and Syberia will use a new engine, not an upgrade of the one in Jules Verne. So I have a lot to do! Q1 2010 is what we expect, but, I can’t say that it is certain, unfortunately.
15. What can you say about Apple’s approval process? Did you have any difficulties?
No, not too much, in general our games are approved in 10 days. For SOTMI, we have made an error in the name of the exe, so we have lost a week. Adventure games are, in general, for all audiences, so there aren’t too much problems with Apple.
I want to add a thing about Apple: it will be great if we could post upgrades without going through a new approval process.
16. What’s your take on piracy on the iDevice platform? Lately there has been a lot of hype about that.
Piracy is always a problem for developer. On DS or PC it is the same. The only thing is that the developer won’t have enough money to make great games, they will do small games (with the money they have).
Do you think the real impact of piracy on the iDevice platform is as big as recently raved about? Or is the discussion blown out of proportion? Do you have an estimate of how much you lost on piracy of your games?
Sorry, I don’t have any estimations: we know, and we have found a lot of copies of our games on the net. But I can’t say about the real impact. A lot of players download games just to have them, but they never play them. So we can’t say if a guy who have downloaded a copy of our game is a real adventure fan/player.
17. Emmanuel, thank you for your time. Could you say some final words for the TMA readers?
Thanks to you to let me do this interview :-). I just want to say that we will do our best to make great games on iPhone (and mobile) because we think that a great part of the future of the game is on mobile devices.
This interview was conducted by TouchMyApp’s ChiffaN with Tetraedge’s project manager, Emmanuel Zaza. As you can see, the French company have a lot planned for 2010 which gamers should be able to look forward to. Thank you Tetraedge.