A lot of times, especially in recent years, the most interesting of games come from the most unlikely of sources. The usually hidden indie community has lit up in recent years, becoming the source of vibrant new games, sometimes even matching the big shots of gaming.
Recently I got to sit down with the Chief of one such Indie studio, The Gentlebros, to talk about their upcoming game, Cat Quest. For the uninitiated, Cat Quest is an open world RPG for PC, Mobile, PS4, and of course, the Nintendo Switch. Hard at work, we were very lucky to get some time out of Desmond Wong, the Chief Executive Bro at The Gentlebros.
Though based in wealthy Singapore, The Gentlebros faced similar struggles just like any other indie developers around the world. Squeezed into a small office in a shared production facility with a handful of other indie studios, the team mostly worked from home. “We come to the office at least two to three times a week to discuss certain things and not forget each other,” Desmond joked.
Their initial plans to put Cat Quest on the Nintendo Switch was at one point even put on hold when they decided not to go with Digipen Game Studios as their publisher. Digipen Game Studios is a Singapore based game publisher which provides mentoring and publishing on Nintendo platforms for indie developers.
“We weren’t sure whether we could interact with Nintendo as much as before since Digipen was touting themselves as a middleman (to indies in Singapore) – without them, you couldn’t talk to Nintendo,” he said.
However, in a stroke of luck, their game caught the notice of Nintendo after their initial pitching and Nintendo started contacting them directly and ask if they would like to be part of Nintendo’s BitSummit sizzle reel. As a result, Cat Quest briefly appeared on Nintendo’s BitSummit Nyandies special video.
In a world where many indie developers fail to deliver after their initial media hype, The Gentlebros’s were not inclined to repeat the same mistakes as many before them had. Crediting their experiences at Koei Tecmo and the discipline that has been instilled in them while they were there allowed for a smooth development of Cat Quest. “It’s all the stuff that we learnt from working in a professional environment that really helped us when we are doing it on our own, such as naming files correctly, having a good schedule. Fresh grads who start their own stuff straight out of school, may not realize it’s important until they really mess up at it.”
Adventuring into Cat Quest
Originally conceptualised as a dancing game, Cat Quest back then was a whole different game than what it is now. Yet much of the initial inspiration was retained, along with the addition of new ones. Seeing as there were no good open world games on mobile, The Gentlebros set off on a quest to fill in the gap, and in the process, they drew more inspiration from games they had enjoyed.
“I really love The Legend of Zelda, but Metroid is really cool as well. I have a lot of good memories of Zelda, and I really much prefer the top down 2D Zelda games,” Desmond reminisces. “We were inspired a lot by The Legend of Zelda’s simplistic but fun gameplay, Skyrim, and Final Fantasy (for Cat Quest).”
The cutesy cartoonish graphics was also not something decided on a whim but carefully crafted to allow players from any platform to enjoy it.
“The thing with cartoonish graphics is that it is instantly kind of appealing. It’s much easier to put on a mobile device, and also on the Nintendo Switch. Cat Quest is probably going to run really well on the Switch as opposed to graphics that you see on Assassin’s Creed. We are totally capable of doing that, but made the choice of choosing an art style that could work over a broad range of devices,” Desmond said.
That is where one of The Gentlebros core philosophy lies, making games not just enjoyable for everyone, but also accessible to everyone. In fact, the indie developer believes in making it accessible so much that they made Cat Quest for 5 platforms and 7 languages, with Thai being one of them. As of the time of writing, Cat Quest is scheduled to be the first Nintendo Switch game localised for the Thai market.
However, making it accessible for everyone does not mean making it same for everyone. There are fundamental differences between platforms and even within platforms themselves, it was important to customise the experience for each platform. Games played on the mobile platforms will definitely differ from the consoles, in terms of controls and screen.
“So we customized the field of view (FOV) for both small screen devices, as well as big screen devices that display on TVs and monitors. So you aren’t getting the same picture. On the big screen, you’ll be able to see more stuff. We tweak the FOV for each device, even between mobile platforms, so it looks perfect for each device.Because usually on small screen devices, everything needs to be bigger, more zoomed in because it’s a smaller screen,” he explained.
This was especially so for the Nintendo Switch version of Cat Quest. According to Desmond, the Switch version of the game will automatically switch between FOVs for handheld and docked modes, providing a more pleasant experience for both the TV and on the go.
Thankfully developing for the Nintendo Switch was also easier than before with the inclusion of Unity support. Still, there was much work for them.
“Our version of Unity is not fully supported yet by Nintendo, so we’re waiting for Unity and Nintendo’s update for our current version of the editor. Once we get that right, it wouldn’t be that hard to port over because the Nintendo Switch itself is quite close to a full PC, and our games are already working on those platforms so it’s not going to be much of a stretch Thankfully, Nintendo has done a good job of making their platform very user friendly and indie friendly. It was terrible back in the day when you practically have to rebuild your game from scratch,” Desmond said.
When it comes to Consoles, going physical was also a hard pressed consideration for The Gentlebros. While not present for its initial release on Steam, iOS, and Android, a physical release is under serious consideration for the Nintendo Switch version of the game as part of its customised experiences.
While the PS4 is already confirmed for a physical release, which comes with a cute Cat plush toy, Desmond stressed that things were still under consideration for the Switch due to the increased cost of producing physical copies, especially with the Nintendo Switch cartridges reportedly costing more to produce.
“There might be some issues, because on the Switch, if I’m not wrong, the physical version of the game has to be the same price as the eShop version,” Desmond explained. “We want to keep it (price on the Switch) as close as possible to the Steam and PS4 releases. So the Steam release is going to be $12.99. We signed with a publisher so we need to discuss with them.”
Cat Quest and Beyond
With the release of Cat Quest on Steam, iOS, and Android this August, as well as, on the Nintendo Switch and PS4 this holidays, The Gentlebros will be continuing their hard work to bring enjoyable games to and for everyone. Yet Desmond says they have no intentions to just stop after the release. Taking an optimistic approach, Desmond explains that the release of Cat Quest is only the beginning of more to come.
The studio has drawn plans for one or two additional downloadable contents (DLCs), adding new quest and gear to an already expansive open world RPG. Even so, the world of Cat Quest will not just end there.
Letting us into their future plans, Desmond said: “We do have plans for our next game that is also going to be in the Cat Quest Universe. It’s a spin off, so it’s not a direct sequel to Cat Quest. When we do sequels, it’s going to be really epic.We are trying to build a Cat Quest IP, where Cat Quest is going to be a universe where there are many games and stories that we can tell within this universe. So our next game is going to be in the same universe but it’s a different game with different mechanics.”
At some point during the interview, we even talked about Cat Quest amiibo figures being produced. Desmond laughed and took a more realistic stance, “If (Cat Quest) becomes super popular, I guess we can talk to Nintendo about it. Our Cat would be super suitable for an amiibo.” Being an amiibo figure collector, that is an amiibo that I will definitely be hoping for.
Cat Quest will be released on Steam on 8 August 2017, which also happens to be International Cat Day. It will be available on iOS and Android two days later on 10 August. It will also be available on the Nintendo Switch and PS4 later this year.
On closing, we’ve asked Desmond to give us what he feels about his studio’s latest creation:
“Cat Quest is going to be a game that feels fresh from other open world games. We designed it to be really simple to play and really fast to play. We have designed the game so it can be played in really short sessions and really long sessions, which we hope people will appreciate. It’s a game made by people who love cats for people who love cats.”