Minon: Everyday Hero launches next Friday, 24th April, exclusively on Wii. It's a quirky action platform game where the hero, Minon, can change his shape to match the world around him. He can be as small as a flea or as big as a skyscraper - whatever he needs in order to save the town's inhabitants from trouble. Players can also team up with a friend. Bright and bold, it's the sort of title publisher Nordcurrent is becoming known for.
The excellent PSP puzzler Fading Shadows is another, developed internally under the Ivolgamus label. "Beautiful, understated and relaxing, this is to normal 'marble puzzle' games what ICO was to normal platform games," concluded Rob Fahey in his Eurogamer Fading Shadows review. It was surprise hit from the leftfield, and left us wanting to know more about who was behind it. The answer is Victoria and Michael Trofimova, a couple whose Lithuanian publisher is riding a wave of success into an ambitious future. Heading off the beaten track, we sat down with Nordcurrent and Ivolgamus bosses Alex Bravve and Victoria Trofimova for a little chat.
Eurogamer: Hello! Yours is a rather heart-warming tale, and not at all like the mean, grey businessman stories we normally hear. How did you originally set yourselves up?
Victoria Trofimova: Hello! Videogames have always been something we wanted to be in. When we started, business objectives, profitability and so on weren't amongst our top priorities. We made our first game in our spare time and luckily we were able to find a publisher. Once the game was released and we received our first pay cheque, we rented an office, hired the first bunch of employees and started to think what to do next. We almost died in the first year of our existence as we couldn't find a publisher for our second game, but survived somehow and promised to ourselves to pay more attention to the business side of things.
Eurogamer: Have you ever - or do you still - cling to an ideal or a game as inspiration? Something, perhaps, that you aspire to be or to produce?
Alex Bravve: We were lucky - our first game was the ideal game that we all wanted to make. We were huge fans of 2D scrolling platformers, such as old NES games or Commander Keen, and our first game was just about that - a scrolling 2D platformer for GBA. With regards to games that we are producing right now or have produced recently - we are trying to make games that we ourselves enjoy playing as gamers. We have a broad spectrum of interests in videogame genres, which we incorporated into our first mass-market casual title, which was 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix. It's currently headed for 100,000 units shipped, so we must be doing something right! We are currently focused on releasing our first Japanese game. Minon: Everyday Hero for Wii will hit the shops in April. We are just trying to be honest with ourselves and release games that we like ourselves.
Eurogamer: We feel rather out of touch with the Eastern European market. Are you really, metaphorically, that far away from the West?
Alex Bravve: We have polar bears walking on the streets and we drink a lot of vodka, so we are not that far away from the West, metaphorically speaking! On a serious note I do not see too many differences, although videogames are not that mainstream over here. PC games are quite popular, but consoles are non-existent - we probably know all the lucky Lithuanian PS3 owners in person! At the moment, we are the only videogames developer and publisher in Lithuania, so I think it was probably harder for us to break through than if we were based in the West.
Eurogamer: What have been the standout and most exciting moments at Nordcurrent? What have you been most proud of or looked forward to the most?
Victoria Trofimova: Lots of them! Signing the first development deal back in 2002, getting an official developer licence from Sony, publishing Falling Stars - our first game in Europe on PS2, licensing Fading Shadows to North America (our first US deal), getting 9/10 in Fading Shadows review from Eurogamer, achieving day-one shipments of more than 50,000 units of 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix in Europe, opening studio in Buenos Aires in 2007, etc. When something like this happens, you feel that all the hard work was worth it.
Eurogamer: Fading Shadows for PSP appeared from nowhere. It put you on the map; you have a hook in our heart. But how do you sink other hooks in? What's the big idea? Do you have a masterplan?
Alex Bravve: Thank you for your nice words! We were trying our very best with Fading Shadows! Our big idea is to make and publish more unique games that nobody else has ever done (like Fading Shadows or Minon) and to also make distinctive mass-market games for wider audiences. We are sure unique games will find their market, and in the mass-market, great, distinctive games will surely do that as well. For example, Atlus - the company well-known for their core games - will be releasing 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix in the US this April. They really liked it!
Eurogamer: Minon: Everyday Hero (and we'll get back to that) is on Wii and Fading Shadows is on PSP. Are you making anything for Xbox 360 and PS3? Is nailing those platforms the golden key to opening Western Europe? Are those platforms scary?
Alex Bravve: I don't think the issue is specifically about platforms. I'm sure it's all about the games. Every game we work on is made with genuine passion and care. If we want to succeed in Europe, we need to make fun games and that's that, really. But to answer your question - yes, we have plans for Xbox 360 and PS3, but it is too early to mention anything about that. But they are definitely not scary! A better word is exciting...
Eurogamer: What's Nordcurrent working on now? Can you sprout us a leak of teasing information?
Victoria Trofimova: We have some very exciting projects in development. First of all we're releasing Minon: Everyday Hero in Europe in April. It's a really fun title developed by Japanese developer Success, and this is the only title that we didn't develop ourselves. Everybody who's seen this game really liked it, so we are counting on that one! We are also working on a version of 101-in-1 for another platform - it'll have a multiplayer focus and will be a collection of 101 fun short mini-games for four players. This summer we're planning to release a humorous title called about 4 clumsy cats-turned-ninjas that travel around the world trying to save it (with no luck!). We're also working on a hardcore game for digital distribution. It is too early to mention anything about it yet, but we promise that you won't have seen anything like it!
Eurogamer: Should we, as core gamers, be taking particular note of Minon: Everyday Hero? What bits of the game will get us excited?
Alex Bravve: First of all, it's got a great gameplay concept. Minon - the main character of the game - runs through various objects placed as dominoes. He has to do this as fast as he can and he must choose the correct turns, jumping where necessary, avoid objects that won't fall like dominoes, etc. The closest game to it is probably Katamari Damacy - in Minon, the player also operates in different scales where in one level the dominoes are skyscrapers, and in the other level dominoes are grass leaves. Secondly, it's got a great story. Each level starts and finishes with a long cut-scene, filled with mad Japanese humour. Everybody who saw them laughed out loud. So all in all, this is a pretty unique, light-hearted game for gamers that want to try something different.
Eurogamer: Do you like the model of big global publishers and is there even room to emulate them in Eastern Europe?
Victoria Trofimova: To tell the truth, I think it is extremely difficult to emulate such large businesses in general, but to do so from or in Eastern Europe is nearly impossible, sadly. It won't work without rapid business globalisation, so I guess that in the end, nobody would even know that the company had originated from Eastern Europe. But I think it's a good thing. Another question is whether we need to emulate anything at all? I think we have our own "original" way of doing things!
Eurogamer: Do you like David Hasselhoff in Eastern Europe?
Alex Bravve: I personally prefer Pamela Anderson.
Victoria Trofimova: I agree with Alex. Not because I'm a fan of Pam, though...
Eurogamer: Where do you want to be ten years from now? And where do you think the industry will be ten years from now? Also, if you could change one thing about our industry, what would it be?
Victoria Trofimova: In ten years time, it would be really nice to have fanbase of loyal gamers who will be looking forward to all our games. And that's because our games will bring something special to them. Regarding the future of the industry - I am personally looking forward to consoles which you can control using your mind. And I wouldn't want to change anything, as I like game industry as it is. It is an exciting place to be.