One of the early pioneers of videogames with hits like Doom and Quake, American McGee, has abandoned the console gaming space in favor of tablets. McGee is currently working on a trio of new free-to-play games designed to take advantage of the latest tablets on the market. His Shanghai-based game studio, Spicy Horse, has been working closely with NVIDIA to enhance Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, a Japanese take on the Red Riding Hood faerie tale. The CEO was at the Game Developers Conference (GDC 2012) to showcase Akaneiro running on a Tegra 3 device. He talks about what the power of this chip technology opens up for his creative team in this exclusive interview.
How have you been working NVIDIA with the new Tegra 3 technology?
We have one game in development right now, Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, that we’re really building out as a tech showcase for the Tegra 3 chip set. It’s based on Red Riding Hood, but it’s set in Japan about 100 years ago with her fighting against wolves and demons. We’re working with NVIDIA where we’re trying to bring AAA console quality graphics and gameplay experience to the tablet devices.
What are your thoughts about the actual Tegra 3 chip technology?
The development team has been having a lot of fun with it. Just in terms of the amount of graphical density that it can deliver, and also the effects that they can put on screen. It’s something that, in many ways now, is making these tablets feel as if they are the next generation of console.
What has been the impact in terms of how large a team and how long it takes to create a game using Tegra 3 technology?
These days, the combination of the chip set plus the tools that we’re using, which is Unity 3D, means that our teams can be a lot smaller and a lot more efficient. We’re spending a lot less time worrying about the technical aspects of stuff, and much more time spent on making the art and gameplay be as awesome as possible.
What’s the gameplay experience like?
Akaneiro: Demon Hunters is basically a light RPG dungeon crawler for social networks, tablets, and mobile devices. The player is going to engage in all the kind of things that you might expect from an RPG, where you’re going around questing through dungeons and villages and collecting items. Also, there are social components where I might go in to craft a new sword, and if you’re in my player profile, I can have a golden sword plus my friends’ attributes in there. At launch it’s going to be single-player, but a few months after launch, we’re going to come out with a co-op so we can go into a gauntlet-style, co-op dungeon crawl together as a team.
Coming from the PC and console game development business, how are Tegra 3 devices impacting the games industry?
It’s an incredibly interesting time right now for us to be doing games, because as I can see it, we’re entering a new cycle of hardware and game development that is mirroring where things were maybe 20 years ago. There was a simplicity to the hardware, development, and games that I think is coming back again, except that we’ve got much better tools and chip sets to work with. As these things come up from a basic dumb phone, to smartphones, to tablets, what we’re seeing is the games and the game designs are going through the same kind of cycles that they did 20 years ago, plus we now have the cloud, ubiquitous connection, and social components playing into all of this.
It’s an incredibly exciting time. I think that what we’re seeing with the mobile devices and tablets, specifically, is that these are going to replace the idea of what the next generation console is, or even what the next generation PC is.
When it comes to your studio, can you talk about where you guys are based, and how you’ve actually worked with NVIDIA there?
We’re in Shanghai, and we’re actually one of the largest Western independent game studios there. We had a history of making PC and console games. The last big project we did was actually the largest AAA console development in China, which was Alice: Madness Returns that we did with EA. We also worked with NVIDIA on that very closely. If you play the PC version of the game with an Nvidida-powered video card, it’s an amazing graphical experience.
Now, it’s really fun for us to come back and work with them again on the tablets and with the Tegra chipset. They’re an amazing partner, and have given us a lot of direct support in development, sending guys over to our office. They’re in China. I think we’re in a very unique position, just geographically, next to a really nice piece of their technology and expertise.
Can you give us a sense, living over there, how you see tablets changing that area of the world?
I think it’s very, very different. When you go further East, call it; in fact, we’re going further West, but China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia; these are places where people didn’t grow up with PCs as a given. We grew up with consoles since the Atari days, and PCs since the early Windows days; that just was the norm for us. These are societies and countries where mobile and smart phones were the first computer device that they had, and now tablets are starting to become the thing. They almost skipped over the whole console business. They skipped over, for a large part, the advanced PC business.
What we’re seeing is, the emerging game culture in those markets is all about downloadable content on mobile devices. Now they’re getting their AAA game content, it’s happening on these tablets.