Interview | Endgame Studios on Fractured Soul

By Jordan Hurst 26.02.2015 2

Cubed3 caught up with Grant Davies from Endgame Studios on the the reality shifting 2D side-scrolling game, Fractured Soul.
Image for Interview | Endgame Studios on Fractured Soul

Cubed3: Can you introduce yourself and explain how/when Endgame Studios formed?
Grant Davies, Co-Founder of Endgame Studios: My name is Grant Davies, and I founded Endgame with Nick Kovac back in 2003. Prior to that, we had worked for other game developers, and we really wanted to try making our own games.


Cubed3: Was Fractured Soul your first project, and can you tell us more about the Film Victoria funding you received? Was that sufficient to get the game finished?
GD: The first project we ever pitched was a survival horror game based on the Doom 3 engine, similar to Silent Hill 2. We failed to secure funding for it and, since the DS was coming out, we started thinking about ideas that might take advantage of the two screens in an interesting way. Fractured Soul was the best idea we came up with.
We received funding from our screen body here in Victoria (Film Victoria) to build a prototype of the game in 2005. In 2010 we eventually found a publisher and co-funded it with Film Victoria. The game was finally finished in 2012 - 8 years after we first came up with the concept. Over those years we did contract work for various other developers and publishers, pouring the profit into Fractured Soul. I've never dared tally just how much we spent on Fractured Soul, but it was a lot of money - the government funding was a small, but essential, portion of that.

Image for Interview | Endgame Studios on Fractured Soul

Cubed3: What do you think about the idea of using things like Indiegogo and Kickstarter to get intriguing new projects off the ground?
GD: It's one of those ideas that seems obvious in hindsight. I love the concept, and I'm sure we'll be doing it with our next project. In general, I think there needs to be greater scrutiny of projects, because it's difficult for people outside of software/game development to evaluate whether a project is likely to succeed or fail.
Cubed3: How best did you put your past game development experience to use when working on Fractured Soul?
GD: In our previous development roles, we'd worked on a lot of platformers, so we really understood the technology behind it. Plus, we'd done years of work on Nintendo consoles - GBC and GBA - so we felt very comfortable in the relatively tight environment of a DS.
Although, perhaps the best experience was the opportunity to do some porting work at Endgame where we worked with the Rayman 3 (GBA) codebase. It was great to see how such world leaders approached the technology of platformers - that gave us some new ideas.

Image for Interview | Endgame Studios on Fractured Soul

Cubed3: Fractured Soul was originally a shmup before switching to a platformer, but the final game still features a pair of shmup levels. Why did you decide to reincorporate the shmup mechanics after switching genres? Was it just a matter of not wanting existing code/assets to go to waste?
GD: No, it wasn't anything to do with that - we re-wrote that portion anyway. I guess it was partially an homage to Ikaruga, which was a heavy inspiration for the original concept. Part of it was also coming from an era where it wasn't enough to just have platforming as a game, so in the years before self-publishing was a thing, and we were shopping it around to publishers, we were concerned that they wouldn't bite on a game that was "just a platformer." If I were making the game now, I think the shmup levels would be a secret unlock, or maybe we wouldn't include them at all.

Image for Interview | Endgame Studios on Fractured Soul

Cubed3: Any plans for revisiting and fleshing out the shmup mechanics for a full game?
GD: It's funny that we get asked this a lot. We really see the platforming as the main part of the game, so it's always surprising when people focus more on the shmup sections than the platforming. We've discussed it, but our main concern is that designing a shmup game is outside our comfort zone, and we'd be immediately compared to Ikaruga. That's a comparison we'd do poorly on, I think. The shmup sections work well as a diversion from the platforming, but fleshing them out into a full game would be quite a challenge.

Cubed3: Can you shed some light on the game's story elements? What is the Typhon Cluster? Why does the Entity have the powers he does? Are the invaders just violent aliens or something more complex?
GD: The idea is that two universes are colliding, and the overlapping portion - the Typhon Cluster - is where the Entity can move between the universes. He's been created for the sole purpose of pushing the universes apart, and saving them both, sent on a one-way journey for decades to reach the edge of the universe to perform his duty.
Cubed3: The game's levels all have names like "Guilt" or "Despair". What's that about?
GD: Originally, the storyline was intended to be the final seconds of a man's life. One screen was to represent his will to live, and the other was his acceptance of death. In those final seconds - stretched out to hours - he was torn between a desire to stay alive or a resignation and acceptance of his inevitable death (hence his Fractured Soul). After completing his personal journey of grief, he'd come to accept his death and the two worlds would reconcile into one.
Sadly, at some point we had to make the call to abandon this, because we simply didn't have the money to do the story justice. So, we had to decide - do a half-baked version of the life and death storyline, or do a lighter story that would not get in the way of playing the game. We felt the gameplay should be the focus, so we chose the latter.

Image for Interview | Endgame Studios on Fractured Soul

Cubed3: The 2010 progress video showed a radically different art style from the final product. What was the reason for the switch?
GD: By the time we'd finished the DS version, the DS market had tanked and we couldn't release it. So we were desperate to find a publisher for the 3DS (which had recently been announced). We only had a few weeks left before we would have had to shut down the company, so we really had to make something happen fast. The main marketing point of the 3DS was stereoscopic 3D, but we realised immediately that this wouldn't work for a game where you need to constantly change your focus between the two screens. This made our pitch to publishers very tricky - a game for a new platform that didn't even use the main feature. So, instead, we decided to offer a game that showed 3D on both screens, which no other game had done at the time. This worked: we landed a deal, but it caused us problems that we're even now still dealing with on the PC port, and cost a lot of money to build. Personally, I would have preferred 2D pixel art, and if we could have afforded to build the game without a publisher, that's what we would have done.

Image for Interview | Endgame Studios on Fractured Soul

Cubed3: During Fractured Soul's long development, two similar games were released: Divergent Shift and Chronos Twins. Did this discourage you at all?
GD: Interestingly, we heard about Chronos Twins early in development - way back in 2005, I think. So that was a bit depressing, especially once they got the publishing deal that we didn't. But once we played it, we realised it was different enough from Fractured Soul.
It's a little irritating when people comment that the game is derivative of those games, because we had the original concept a long time ago.
But yes, it's certainly heartbreaking to see other similar games get signed by publishers when we'd showed Fractured Soul to those publishers previously. It does make you wonder what you're doing wrong.
Cubed3: You've stated before that you considered switching the game's platform to Steam in the past, when it was having difficulty releasing on DS, but decided not to because of graphics concerns. What changed your mind in the years following the 3DS release?
GD: Scaling up a DS pixel art game to PC at the time wouldn't have been acceptable - we knew we'd never make it through Steam approval. These days, low-res pixel art is more acceptable thanks to people embracing the idea of indie, and gameplay over art.
Since the 3DS version is in 3D, we had more flexibility to put the game on PC - the art scaled better than pixel art would have, and we could stretch and letterbox the viewports without killing the gameplay. That, and the acceptance of indie, made PC a much more viable option in the last few years.

Image for Interview | Endgame Studios on Fractured Soul

Cubed3: Did you have to redesign anything to fit two screens worth of gameplay onto one when porting the game to PC?
GD: Yes - because of the aspect ratio change. If we merely stretched the 3DS viewports to fit the PC screen, it would have looked awful, so we had to extend the view. This meant that enemies would trigger earlier, and the player could shoot them earlier. It also meant the player could see more than we intended at certain points. So we had to go through the game and re-design any areas where this happens.
Cubed3: Since self-publishing is easier than ever, do you think you'll continue to do it, or try to seek publishers for future projects?
GD: I'm not sure. It will be interesting to see what the new generation of indie publishers can offer - companies like Double Fine, and the Indie Game Fund. And it will be interesting to see whether Kickstarter continues to be viable for developers in the longer term. I suspect that publishers will always be part of the picture - just not the publishers that we've been used to in the '90s and 2000s.

Cubed3: Will we see a Fractured Soul 2?
GD: We'd love to do Fractured Soul 2. We started work on it 18 months ago, prototyping some levels. We had some really great ideas. But again, it takes money to build games, and we couldn't face spending more years trying to convince publishers to invest in a sequel - we were just mentally washed out from the eight years trying to get the first game out. I think if we ever did a sequel, we'd go for high quality pixel art, and maybe try to return to that original storyline. But it's very difficult to secure investment in such a novel idea as Fractured Soul, so unfortunately, I'm not holding my breath.
Cubed3: What else can we expect from Endgame Studios through 2015 and beyond?
GD: For the last 18 months we've been working on The Wanderer, which we describe as "FTL meets Fallout." It's a journey through a brutal and savage post-apocalyptic landscape - a violent and cruel world where you'll be asked every day how far you're prepared to go just to survive another 24 hours. We're hoping to get that to Kickstarter in the next few months, and I'm really excited about showing that to people!


For more on Fractured Soul, be sure to read Cubed3's review of the 3DS eShop version or the more recent PC update.

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Good interview here. Liked the question about making more of the shmup levels!

I've sadly not had chance to try this. I loved Divergent Shift and both Chronos Twin / Chronos Twins, so I'm eager to give it a whirl.

I'd love to see Fractured Soul come to Wii U eShop, and a crowd funded sequel with more features. Also, come on guys, don't be put off doing a shmup! The more, the better Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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