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The Indie Scene | Ronimo Games

Focusing on independent developers on Nintendo platforms, The Indie Scene takes a monthly look at small companies working on games for either download or retail. This month The Indie Scene turns to Ronimo Games, the Dutch developers behind 2009 WiiWare title Swords & Soldiers and upcoming Xbox Live Arcade / PlayStation Network game Awesomenauts, and we speak to Jasper Koning to find out more about the company. Be sure to click the audio links throughout for further information...

Beloved gaming mainstays robots, ninjas and monkeys are things appreciated so much by the founders of Ronimo Games that they decided upon their company name by welding the first two letters of each word together. "I think they're some of the coolest elements in gaming. I mean, who doesn't love robots, ninjas and monkeys?!" laughs Jasper Koning, co-founder and game designer at the company. "We also considered pirates, and zombies and other stuff as well of course, but that didn't make a nice name. But luckily, those are three of the coolest ones."

Before robot ninja monkeys roamed the Earth, though, there existed Banana Games. In 2003 several classmates were working on a game design course at the Utrecht School of Arts, Netherlands. The third year was split into six months of internship, six months of group work on a project assigned by Utrecht city. Areas of the city were about to undergo major reconstruction work, and so the task was to create a game that could fit into an information centre and demonstrate how great the city would look once the building work was completed.

For their project, Banana Games came up with the original downloadable PC version of paint 'em up platformer de Blob. Inspiration came from an unusual place: McDonald's. "It was actually fairly classy for a McDonald's, with leather chairs and everything. It has a huge mural of the city of Utrecht in black and white. That was part of the idea. We thought, well, wouldn't it be cool to highlight how nice this future city of Utrecht is by giving it colour yourself?" De Blob's round character was chosen as a natural fit to the input device, the information centre's trackball.

With another year left at university, however, the decision was made to sell the rights on to an interested THQ, who have so far released two entries in the franchise, developed by the now-defunct Blue Tongue Entertainment. "We thought that us working on the concept was not that handy, because we wanted to finish our school," Jasper explains, though notes that the contract procedure actually took close to a year in the end anyhow. "It would've been a possibility de Blob>. Also, at the same time, we wanted to...we had great confidence that we could pull off the same trick again. That we could create something cool again. That we could maybe use the funds or the connections that the whole process gave us to get started on our own next concept."

Why sell de Blob?

That next concept came about during this year of contract negotiations, where their final year of education gave them the chance to work on a personal project of their choice. Some members of Banana Games teamed up with others and moved a step up the food chain to form Ronimo Games for this. The company was formally registered with the Utrecht Chamber of Commerce in March 2007, and they set to work, intent on creating a prototype that they could build themselves without thinking about selling on. The result was a 3D Jak and Daxter-style demo - "a single fairly large level with a few novel gameplay concepts" - that, as yet, has not amounted to anything commercially. "We talked to publishers at GamesCom 2007, when the demo was done, and most of them liked it but none of them had enough faith in us, as fresh students, to invest in us."

It was around the time of Game Developers Conference 2008 that THQ once more swept in with an olive branch to Ronimo Games, offering to help them push their creation forward on consoles. "At GDC 2008 we tried again, and another big problem we had at the time was that we couldn't get a console licence. A console licence requires either console programming experience or a publisher. So THQ said 'we could help you with a Wii licence, and then you could get started on porting this demo to Wii, and then we can maybe consider funding it to finish the game'." THQ "pulled some strings" and gave Ronimo the chance to sign up to Nintendo's development program at a time that the console manufacturer were setting up WiiWare. Rather than pursuing their 3D prototype further - though it is still a consideration for the future - they took the opportunity to have a crack at Nintendo's new downloadable portal. "We thought, 'why not use the Nintendo licence, the Wii licence, to make our own game that we could publish ourselves?'" reasons Jasper. "So that's what we did. That's where Swords & Soldiers came in."

Swords & Soldiers, of course, being the game that put Ronimo on the map when it was released on WiiWare in mid-2009. The cartoon 2D real-time strategy title earned multiple awards, including an IGN Editor's Choice, and at the time of writing still sits in the top 50 Wii games on Metacritic, two and a half years after release. Players take control of three different factions - Vikings, Aztecs and Imperial Chinese - through a light-hearted but challenging campaign. Rather than having any command over the fighters' movements, other than selecting which fork in a road they might take to their goal, the player's role is more about adjusting the flow and density of the warriors' march forward by purchasing units, then helping them along with mana-limited magic, plus upgrading units and spells. Its main focus is as a multiplayer game, though.

Swords & Soldiers was a success on WiiWare, coming within a year of the service's European launch. Ronimo were also fortunate enough to get help with marketing from Nintendo of Europe through their website. "Near the end were very supportive with the marketing," Jasper shares. "At that point Nintendo of Europe was working on new, more expansive detail pages on games, and we were one of the first to get one of those. We worked with them on that, on the content and the videos." Versions of Swords & Soldiers can now also be found on PC, Mac and PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network. "The controls needed quite a lot of work, as the original Swords & Soldiers was cursor-based. The PC port to Steam was really easy, but the controller...that took quite a lot of work."

Whereas de Blob was responsible for teaching some of the members of Ronimo about publishing relations - "we didn't have any before we did that game" - Swords & Soldiers was a wake up call on the amount of time needed to bring a commercial release to fruition. "Just as we did de Blob in three months, after three months of working on Swords & Soldiers we were pretty far along. We had splitscreen multiplayer, we had two factions with all the units and spells working. But from that point to actually having a full, downloadable game with age ratings and a manual and all that stuff...polishing, balancing..." Jasper laughs heartily. "Especially with the level of polishing that we required from ourselves to make it stand out on a console platform. That was a lot of work. And we still underestimated that with Awesomenauts."

Porting Swords & Soldiers

Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network will home Awesomenauts, a multiplayer online battle arena inspired by many evenings playing Defense of the Ancients (DotA). Two teams of three fight it out, each attempting to destroy the other's base while protecting their own. Ronimo Games' take is slightly less serious in tone, though plentiful in challenge, with a cast of characters ranging from maniacal Russian monkeys and robots with gigantic jaws to chameleon cyborgs and brains in jars. Each character starts off with a number of items and abilities that can be upgraded throughout matches with credits accumulated during play; dying thrusts players into a mini-game where they fall from the sky before respawning, giving them the opportunity to grab a little more currency to aid with those modifications.

Though it's designed primarily for six person multiplayer, Awesomenauts can also be played in single player or with fewer than the full complement of people, with tough AI filling in any gaps. Should a human player join mid-match, an AI player will drop out and make way for them. Similarly, if a human needs to leave the AI will pick right up where they left off - and it's pretty smart, judging by our playtest at Eurogamer Expo. Jasper is looking after the behaviour of the CPU players. "When I see a cool trick, especially if it's relatively easy to do, I'll try and teach it to the AIs to surprise new players with. The AIs will surprise players probably, especially initially. We've seen in playtests that they can be a bit brutal."

Traditionally, DotA-style games are found on PC, but Ronimo are taking a different tack with Awesomenauts. "We wanted to bring <DotA-style games> to consoles, but streamlined, in the same way that Swords & Soldiers streamlined RTS," Jasper notes. "The genre is already very well established on PC, and it will be hard to get players to switch to something else I think. And also, at the same time, there's a big hole on the console markets - there's no real MOBAs out there." Wii will miss out on Awesomenauts, though, due to the strong emphasis on online multiplayer. "When we released Swords & Soldiers, WiiWare was still fairly healthy in hindsight, but online multiplayer was, already back then, not very well supported on Wii, and it was going to be such an online-heavy game that we felt WiiWare wasn't worth the effort."

Which is not to say that Ronimo would not consider releases on Wii U if the online situation improves sufficiently, whether that is Awesomenauts or a future title. "We'd have to see what it brings to the table in the online department, but it be cool to see Awesomenauts on WiiWare or something like that. But we'd probably need help from a publisher to do it. It's not a matter of principle. We love Nintendo, and we really like what we've seen from the new platform so far. But for the moment, we're focusing on finishing up Awesomenauts. We don't know enough about Wii U to make any decisions on that at this point." There's certainly love for Nintendo within the company. Jasper cites "old Nintendo games" as key inspirations to him personally, while others are "hardcore Blizzard fans".

Swords & Soldiers and Awesomenauts have a common design philosophy. "We always try to strive for games that appear to be really simple, or at least very easy to get into, to get started, very appealing to get started with, but then when you start playing them you'd be surprised by the layers of depth in there. There's lots of little things that keep you playing. What we've done so far is games that don't have that much content in the traditional sense, but have a lot of replayability and different tactics to try out and keep you playing."

A multiplayer focus?

Ronimo also like to put a little bit of themselves into their games; specifically, their voices. Swords & Soldiers' characters were all voiced by the team - Jasper voiced a necromancer - while several of Awesomenauts' bizarre cast share Ronimo speech. This time around, however, they've brought in professionals for several roles. "The announcer, the frog and the cowboy have all been done by one professional guy. The chameleon, the robot, the healer and the monkey, they've all been done by us." It's unsurprising to see that they saved the robot and monkey for themselves - maybe a Ronimo-voiced ninja can be expected as downloadable content...

Our huge thanks to Jasper Koning for taking the time to speak to us. Swords & Soldiers is available on Nintendo WiiWare, PC, Mac and PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network, and there's no excuse not to give the streamlined RTS a shot. Awesomenauts will be available on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network in the following months, though there is no set date at this time.

Also be on the look out for future issues of The Indie Scene coming monthly on Cubed3. If there are any independent developers on Nintendo platforms that you'd like us to take a closer look at, please feel free to get in touch...

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17.10.2011 07:01



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Beetle manuscript (guest) 17.10.2011 08:21#1

Another excellent article Mike, I am a huge, huge fan of these guys works I have Swords on pc.

Staff Member

I've always wanted to check out Swords and Soldiers, maybe I should have a look at it on Steam or something. Awesomenauts seems like it'll be pretty fun, too.

This is kind of off topic, but has anyone played The Binding of Isaac? If you love dungeon RPGs and was a fan of the old Zelda games, particularly the first one, I advise you to get it right now! Oh, it was also designed by Edmund McMillen, for those who don't know who that is.. he has worked on other fantastic titles such as Super Meat Boy. I would say Gish too, but I've never played it to make an opinion.

I got it last night and already I've played for around 7 hours, I haven't managed to complete it yet though... the furthest I've got is to The Cave 2's boss. Randomly generated dungeons and items make it really fun to come back to though. I don't mind if I die a lot, because I know the next playthrough will be completely different.

I have been fairly unlucky a few times and got really crappy items, but I guess that's what comes with the randomness. So yeah, £3.99 on Steam... it's a bargain if you're open-minded and don't mind dying frequently. Smilie

BACK ON TOPIC... I enjoyed reading this article and listening to Ronimo talking about their games and stuff. I'll definitely need to check out Swords and Soldiers. Not sure if it'll be a game I like, but I'm pretty open to most genres so I might just love it. I'll also have to keep an eye on Awesomenauts, as it seems like it'll be pretty fun and the art style looks awesome.

I look forward to next month's article. Smilie

( Edited 18.10.2011 08:02 by Mush123 )

MissLara (guest) 19.10.2011 18:28#3

Awesome article Smilie Great to hear some more on the background of Ronimo, can't wait for Awesomenauts' release Smilie

I wish there was a little more audio though Smilie

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