Mike Merren of Crawfish
Interview - the GameBoy Advance is a pressing issue for gamers everywhere, and Crawfish are going to be a big name when the system is at everybody's fingertips
Crawfish is a company with a lot of GameBoy Color games under its belt, and a history of good ones too. We've reviewed a few, including Street Fighter Alpha, and the company has worked on ports of Driver and others. Nowadays though, the company has designs on the GameBoy Advance, and with the Japanese unit due to launch next week, it seemed like a good time to collar them for a few moments and have a chat.
The most pressing question we could think of was, how does it feel developing for the GBA having spent so much time with the previous format? Mike Merren, the company's Director of Development, told us that programmers at Crawfish are "overjoyed to be working on a system that doesn't have so many limitations." The skills of the team are greater than could be catered for on the GameBoy Color, "and now they can express themselves a lot more - as the will artists as well." Crawfish have released scant few details of their GameBoy Advance endeavours, but one of the most interesting demonstration titles the company has produced is an unnamed first person shooter. "The publishers that have seen our FPS demo have been impressed and willing to push for a title that might be for an older age range." Nintendo themselves have shied away from graphical violence in the past, censoring games like Mortal Kombat, and farming off the publishing rights to sure-fire hits like Conker's Bad Fur Day on the N64 so as to distance themselves from the content. Nevertheless, Mike believes the game has a place on the GBA. "I think the whole styling of the machine will be appealing to a larger audience, and I think that the age range is set by the type of products that appear on a machine near to launch," he told us. At the moment the FPS demo is using artwork and level data from Doom 2. What's the thinking there, we wondered. "To help us get moving on our engine we were able to take some of the shareware WAD files from Doom. As yet no feedback from the guys at Id." Needless to say, "if we were approached we would love to work on a title such as Doom."
One of the things that people criticized the GameBoy Color for was its poor use of the linkup cable. Many people owned the cable, but due to the complexity involved in keeping the machines in sync with one another, few multiplayer titles were attempted that made use of it. Mike is looking at Link options - "there are rumours that you will be able to play multiplayer titles without having to purchase two or in the case of the GBA up to four versions of the game." Surely that will just complicate matters though. Transferring that much game data across four systems can't be easy… "As yet we do not know how flexible this will be for certain titles, but if this is true, then this will widen the use of Multiplayer products and make multiplayer only games a step closer." Another demo that Crawfish produced, which has just been snapped up by Cinemaware under the titles "Wings," is a Desert Strike-alike that looks uncannily similar to the 16-bit classic. But does Mike think it's fair to compare the GBA to 16-bit consoles? "I think it is fair to compare. The GBA is basically a SNES in your hand - in fact, with a little more power than the SNES. So we are at the Megadrive / SNES / Amiga stages with the Handheld systems."
Bridging the gap
Elsewhere, Crawfish have produced a racing title. This writer has felt for a long time that racing games on the handhelds play badly from behind due to the lack of that third dimension. The top-down perspective has always done better - as proven by Crawfish's own Driver title, yet the game we've seen uses the more risky above and behind angle. How will companies like Crawfish overcome the GameBoy Color's many problems in this area? "We are using something similar to the Mode 7 that the SNES had, but there will be many other ways to get a good behind view racing product." Driver, of course, wowed GameBoy punters in its bold translation of the console and PC hit, and won credibility for knocking back the handheld gauntlet thrown down by GTA 1 and 2 from Rockstar. But is the company involved in a sequel, perhaps for the GBA? "Driver did very well, with a change of publisher from what was GT to now Infogrames [after the French giant acquired the company in December 1999 to the tune of $135m and formed Infogrames Inc.]. We will have to wait and see what their plan is for GBA. I would hope that what with our efforts on the GBC, we will have a chance to do Driver 2 if it is developed by an external team on the GBA." Another successful title was Street Fighter Alpha, which gave even the Neo Geo Pocket Color a run for its money. Mike feels that "something like Street Fighter will appeal more to the people who buy the GBA." Would a fighter be the sort of contract Crawfish were looking for then? "Yes, a beat 'em up would be good to develop."
Speaking in an interview to IGN a while back, a Crawfish representative claimed that the company has never had to turn down a development idea for the GBA due to over-ambition. All things considered though, if it was possible to take one title developed by Crawfish and update it, which would it be, and why? "If we had the chance then something like Ready 2 Rumble or indeed Street Fighter." It's not about feature-creep and over-ambition, but "these could look and feel much closer to their well known counterparts. I suppose we will have to wait and see though." With so much information being thrown into the faces of gamers worldwide about GBA over mobile phones, 3G, I-mode phones in Japan and such, it's become quite hard to work out where the handheld format is going as a whole in the next few years. To Mike though, it's pretty clear. "The new phone systems that will be out next year are going to start to change the way we play games on the move," he says categorically. "Games will be more connected either through the Internet or through direct play with other machines. "Also, the ability to link the GBA through to the GameCube and take a favourite character on your GBA into a massive broadband universe on the GameCube is not far away."
Finally, and this is something that has confused a lot of people, with a company as talented as Crawfish, what is it about developing on the handheld systems that keeps them coming back? Is Mike never tempted to get in bed with one of the big home console developers and expand horizons in that direction? "We feel our horizons are already expanded. Why use the whole company's personnel on one title that takes two years to develop, when we can have six games all of different genres completed in half that time?" "As for working with one of the big home console makers - we feel that there is an alternative market out there that although limited will soon be the most popular way for playing games." Does that mean Crawfish are getting touchy-feely with Nintendo? "As yet we haven't worked directly with Nintendo on anything to do with the GBA," Mike mused, "but don't rule it out for the future."