If you missed Overlord last time around, you're unlikely to miss it on 26th June, when Codemasters releases Overlord II for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, Overlord: Dark Legend for Wii and Overlord: Minions for DS. What's more, publisher and Wii/DS developer Climax have been labouring to make sure that the Nintendo-console versions are more than just the usual 2D platform game spin-off, as you will know if you read our recent previews of both. Using the miracle of email, we caught up with associate producer Dean Scott to discuss getting the most out of the Wii, potentially cannibalising your own audience and what to do as a third party on a Nintendo system.
Eurogamer: So, Overlord: Dark Legend. What's your approach to the Wii? Who do you think buys it, what do they play, and why has this driven you into the neglected arms of the graphics hardware, rather than the whorey embrace of neverending gestures?
Dean Scott: You can sit down and 'run the numbers' and you can obsess over demographic graphs and all that stuff, but that is how you get cel-shaded cat games that play themselves while you just shake the remote indiscriminately. I doubt a research group told Miyamoto prior to Super Mario Bros. that 'people want a game where they can jump on turtles and go in big pipes'.
Sorry, I'm getting a bit 'lofty'. Our idea with Overlord: Dark Legend was that if we made a decent game, then people would want to play it. We wanted to grow Overlord as a franchise after its successful debut, and the control possibilities afforded by the Wii seemed an ideal match. Overlord is a game about commanding minions, doing bad things and feeling powerful, and using the Wii remote we're able to forge a better bond between the player and that experience. They are more connected to their on-screen actions.
We didn't want to compromise. Wouldn't minion-baiting mini-games be hilarious? Well, maybe. But it certainly wouldn't be Overlord. We wanted to retain the core of Overlord being a gamer's game, which means it's not a casual experience like Wii Sports. But that's the cool thing about Wii: it's desensitising a generation of new games to The Fear of Joypads. A PS3 pad is an intimidating collection of buttons for a new gamer, but they know they can play Wii games. A swish of a Wii remote to hit a tennis ball showed them that. The challenge now is to get them engrossed in more videogamey experiences, entertainment that just doesn't exist in other forms. Wii Fit is great at what it does, but are you happy for that to represent videogames as a whole? I'm not. I want to use the Wii as a Trojan Horse to sneak the stuff that games are actually all about into people's consciousness.
Nintendo has done an amazing job with Wii, they've grown the market. But there's a real danger now of the Wii becoming a two-game console for people: Wii Sports, Wii Fit and then it's back in the cupboard. Let's not forget there's a generation of people out there that got into Megadrive as it was the faddy thing, played Sonic, and then it was in the bin. Only by converting those kind of people to like proper videogames for proper videogame reasons can we win big.
For Dark Legend, we used the gesture control to a logical extent. We didn't go overboard on Overlord. We went mental on the graphics, though.
Eurogamer: A lot of people - developers included - still treat the Wii as "my other console". Isn't that a bit of a worry when you're making a version of a core or a hardcore game that's also coming out on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360? Isn't your target audience already sizing up Overlord II?
Dean Scott: We expect Overlord II to sell more than Overlord: Dark Legend, that's true. But that's not a reason to not try. I think Nintendo's hardcore base have been sold a little bit short on the Wii so far. These are people that are loyal, and know good games. Those are the people we want to get behind Dark Legend initially. We've made an entirely original Overlord game for Wii, not just ported the old 360 game. Good Wii games are built around the controller from the start, you can't just retrofit that into a game that already exists and expect to succeed. And that's what we've done: direct pointer interaction with objects, send minion there, break that, attack that. Full FPS-style aiming with the magic attacks, a touch of FPS-style camera control... it's Overlord, but the playing experience is very different.
Who knows? We may even convert a few of the PC/PS3/360 gamers to playing Overlord the Wii way. We're giving them every incentive to try, as it's a different game on the two platforms.
Beyond that, the minions undoubtedly have crossover appeal. They've got a lot of character, and the game in which they appear does look fantastic considering the hardware it's running on. Graphics aren't the be all and end all of course, but they sure help with that first impression.
Eurogamer: MadWorld's performance recently suggests that one target you shouldn't bother aiming for is the hardcore action gamer. Is that a fair assessment, or do you attribute that kind of content's lack of traction to something else?
Dean Scott: It's not fair for me to comment on MadWorld. It's not my game, and I don't know all the facts about how it was marketed, etc. I think it's as much of a challenge selling Wii games as it is to create them.
Even if you (wrongly) assume all Wii gamers are non-gamery casual types, that's still no reason for a violent videogame not to appeal to them. The adults in that group don't just watch fitness DVDs... they watch The Dark Knight, they watch action movies. Maybe we just need to reach that tipping point on Wii where people accept there's more to it than sports games and the content is good enough to engage them.
Our opportunity is the lack of gamer-focused, quality titles on the platform. We're hoping if we create a compelling experience, it'll find an audience. We might be wrong. Maybe it is impossible. S***, I'm worried now.
Eurogamer: Graphics in console games typically improve over time, but there's also less sign of that on the Wii than on other consoles. Why's that, do you think?
Dean Scott: There are some great-looking Wii games out there. Most of them are first-party though, admittedly. Good art takes time and resource, and that all costs money. We made it a priority, because a distinctive visual character is part of the Overlord experience. When the first game debuted on Xbox 360, the vivid colours of the sunflowers was in massive contrast to the gritty, grey realism that seemed to dominate 360 at the time.
We worked with great people in Climax to realise that same distinctive character, because that was an important part of our offering. For other Wii games, perhaps visuals are deemed less important? Some of the games my kids play on Wii look like brightly coloured vomit, but it doesn't seem to bother them. I'd love to name names.
Eurogamer: Do you think other devs will see what you're doing to coax more out of the Wii, punch themselves in the heads and suddenly we'll have an upsurge in Wii graphics quality? Or is this the sort of thing that only really works in specific cases?
Dean Scott: There was nothing in Overlord that made it especially easy! We wanted to have a fluid main character, a supporting cast of 20-odd minions all running around destroying things and an expansive and epic-feeling fantasy world to explore. There's no hidden Super Minion FX chip that gives you 50 per cent more performance for having minions in your game - we worked hard to get what we have.
We were fortunate to work with an excellent team at Climax who didn't need to be pushed and just killed themselves to make it look brilliant. Is it going to usher in a bold new dawn of Wii graphics? I doubt it. From a selfish point of view, we don't want it to. We want our game to stand out.
Eurogamer: I'll stop asking difficult questions about the Wii now. Let's have a light-hearted one: tell us something exciting you've done in Dark Legend this week. Preferably something you haven't told the other gentlemen of the press about (they're scum).
Dean Scott: The production phase of the game is now over. But what we have done is receive confirmation from Nintendo of Europe that the game is all approved. So yeah, the big news this week is that we're allowed to release it. That's the most exciting thing for us. Sorry it's not something about tits!
Eurogamer: Moving onto the DS version, didn't you get the memo about making a shonky 2D platform game? It's the law, Dean.
Dean Scott: They wouldn't let me make Super Mario World again with minions instead of Marios. It was a sad time, I love platform games.
Eurogamer: For the benefit of those who haven't read our recent preview (also scum), Overlord: Minions switches the focus to the four minion types' unique abilities and using them to solve puzzles. Why did you decide to go down this road?
Dean Scott: We had a commitment across all the games to make the right game on each platform. That meant ditching the idea of doing Overlord as people understood it on DS. Too much would have been lost in translation. Overlord games are synonymous with quality as much as they are with commanding a big horde.
We came up with a more DS-friendly design, which took some inspiration from The Lost Vikings (which is also a platform game, although not at all shonky). The key idea being to have four different minions that combine their abilities to solve traversal puzzles. The pace would be slower than on 360, more puzzly, entirely touch-screen controlled as in Phantom Hourglass, broken up into discreet 10-minute stages.
There's no Overlord in gameplay, as the player is the Overlord - controlling the minions directly. Like the Wii version, it connects the player to experience without overkilling on 'gimmicks' like blowing into the mic. Games that do that deserve to be sealed inside a giant iron ball and fired into the sun.
Eurogamer: It sounds like a good premise, but how do you keep it going once the player's got the hang of what each minion can do?
Dean Scott: That's down to design. Shadow of the Colossus doesn't change at any point from being just a dude with a sword and a horse climbing up even bigger dudes to stab them in their weak spot. It's amazing though.
Eurogamer: Final question: Codemasters hasn't been massively active on the Wii or DS so far, and you've taken quite a bold approach. Is it fair to say the Overlord strategy is something of an experiment? And if it pays off, do you think we'll see more Codies games making the jump?
Dean Scott: It's fair to say we had a slow start on Wii, but the platform is very much in the front of our minds now.
We brought the Overlord games to Nintendo in the best way we could. Now hopefully that is an approach that will pay off and people will embrace the products. Looking around the external studio here, I see stuff like F1, Ashes Cricket and DiRT 2 being brought to the Wii and looking great with the same 'do what's right for the platform' ethos. Nothing the Overlord games do is going to change that.
I guess what might happen, is we might take a chance on more hardcore products. For me as a gamer, that exactly what I want. We were lucky with Dark Legend, because the Overlord mechanics lent themselves to a Wii game. Not every game is good a fit. So if we're learning lessons, we need to make sure they are the right ones.
And also make more Super Mario Worlds.
Dean Scott is associate producer on Overlord: Dark Legend for Wii and Overlord: Minions for DS. Both they and Overlord II for PC, PS3 and 360 are due out on 26th June.