There's a little corner of Cardiff that's forever Kyoto. Here, in spitting distance of Cardiff University and within the sprawling student district of the Welsh capital, lies Dakko Dakko, a little cauldron of colour hidden in an otherwise drab office block. Leave your shoes at the doors and you enter a small, busy space, decorated with bright tatami and candy-pastel Mario toys.
And at the far corner you'll find Rhodri Broadbent, a man whose heart's been touched by the Japanese city. He's had a fascinating career, has Broadbent - having worked at Lionhead on the first Fable, the Welsh developer moved out there to join Q-Games, where he got to meet Shigeru Miyamoto while working on Star Fox Command.
"It was possibly the most embarrassing moment in my life," blushes Broadbent. "Because everyone knew that I was a Nintendo fan - well, everyone was a Nintendo fan at Q, but there was a focus on me.
"And then the producer says to Miyamoto 'I asked Rhod why he moved to Kyoto, and he says it's because of Nintendo'. Everyone started laughing, Miyamoto did his humble thing - and I just collapsed in my chair. I crumpled up into a ball, and then realised I was crumpling into a ball in front of Miyamoto. That must have been strange for him."
Broadbent's more than a Nintendo fanboy, though. In his life post Q-Games he's set up his own outfit, Dakko Dakko, a studio responsible for a brace of games whose titles are as long-winded as their play is simple: The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character was a well-defined PlayStation Mini, the follow-up Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims an undisputed highlight of Sony's humble service.
"Towards the end of Cloud God we started to get a bit more ambitious," explains Broadbent. "We thought we can't just keep doing the same development cycle, so we'll have to do something that takes a bit longer." And so Broadbent followed his heart. "I just shot off an email to Nintendo - which was a bit blasé - but they said yeah, you can come and develop for our platform."
A brilliantly bold move, and it's one that paid off. A meeting was set at GDC last year, the scheduled ten minute chat blossoming into over an hour of shared enthusiasm, and what was once a 3DS project evolving into an all-new game for Nintendo's Wii U. "Yeah, that was a good day," deadpans Broadbent.
Aligning itself with the Wii U has meant that Dakko Dakko has had to scale up its operation, moving away from the living room that birthed its first two games and into an office space with room for new recruits. Like Broadbent, they're a bunch with an impeccable track record - Dan Croucher of Relentless joins the team, as does Soul Bubbles and Perfect Cell programmer Thomas Volbrecht, while Gary Lucken of Army of Trolls fame, the creator of some astounding pixel art who lent his talents to Floating Cloud God, returns.
Aligning itself with the Wii U also means there are going to be some inevitable questions. Is there more to Broadbent's decision than a mere love of Nintendo? "Well, I wouldn't want to deny that," he admits. "I'm a video game fan, and of course Nintendo plays a big part in that. But genuinely it's the hardware - I love handheld machines, but the PixelJunk experience means I love high definition machines. So there's this peculiar unexplored marriage of a screen in your hands and this powerful HD machine - and I thought that's amazing, and it needs to be explored.
"There's stuff there that I don't fully understand, and I like that in a platform. It was like that with Starfox on the DS - the best thing of working at Q was all of the creativity would come with coming up with ways to control Starfox. The final controls were awesome, and the process of getting there was incredible." Dakko Dakko's still embedded in that process with the new project, and it's still at an early prototype stage. Called Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails and shooting for release later this year, it retains the studio's love of long-winded naming - and right now it also retains its love of finely-honed mechanics, even if Scram Kitty does display a bolder ambition.
Scram Kitty lives in the TV, and you play the buddy on rails in what's essentially a 2D shooter, although it's one that seeks to pursue all the eccentricities of the Wii U. Right now, that means that you whiz about the interior of spaceships disposing of enemies with colourful little jets of gunfire as you bounce and grind off networks of rails. It is, if you're after a lazy comparison, a little like Smash TV getting together for a playful tea party with Jet Set Radio.
There's some second screen magic that has the TV broadcasting the buddy on rail's actions, overlaying it with splashes of action and commentary that turn the 2D action into something that's as energetic and engaging as a Japanese game show. "I like it when you have experiences with family," Broadbent says of his inspiration. "They hate touchscreen because the stress, but they enjoy the passive thing of watching you play the game. My brother used to enjoy watching me play Speedball 2."
A link exists between the two screens that has the buddy on rails sending items across to scram kitty in order to progress - and it's a link that's to be explored further through some smart Miiverse implementation. "We want to make it so that it can translate messages that you send into an assist mode," Broadbent excitedly explains. "You know in Street Fighter 4 and you get a super finish and everything goes crazy and it feels awesome? We want to make it so you can send those abilities to other players. So if you beat a boss or do something in a certain time, that can be translated into an assist item for a friend."
Even in its rudimentary form it's clear that Scram Kitty has got potential, and its enthusiasm for the oddities of the Wii U makes it one of the more exciting prospects for Nintendo's console. In fact, right now, it's one of very few prospects for the Wii U, slotting into a 2013 release schedule that's currently so barren you have to ask why Dakko Dakko chose to ally with the machine?
"I think there's potential to have a hit on Wii U in its first 18 months. To get a game out and have it when the system's starting to ramp up with the Miiverse, to be involved in that will be good for us from a business point of view," answers Broadbent. "As for XBLA, I don't think we'd have the budget for it these days. PSN was an option but with the hardware I wanted to try something different. And as for Steam, it's part of my slightly primitive perhaps thing about liking to know the experience that the user's going to have. I was even uneasy about the PSP games being emulated on the PS3. I want to know exactly what people are going to play."
And what of the Wii U's wider prospects? "I don't think anyone reasonable was expecting Wii U to go out the gate like the Wii did," says Broadbent. "For any of the new platforms to really fail requires a shift in humans that I'm not aware of yet, in terms of people not wanting good content. The 3DS showed quite clearly that if you say this machine has a new Mario, and it's got this and this and this... In Japan last year the 3DS had an amazing year, and if they start translating that sort of excitement to other platforms then I absolutely believe not just in Wii U but in the grand console future.
"Video games are something to be cherished and celebrated, and there's no one better at doing that than Nintendo. It's that simple - it only takes one game to turn a platform around. People will buy a platform for one game, and when they've got the system they'll buy more games. It's just about finding that one game." That one game might not have revealed itself just yet, but if the Wii U can become the home for smart, quirky and unique fare like Dakko Dakko's Scram Kitty, then maybe its future is brighter than we'd all hoped.
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