We had the opportunity to talk with Jools Watsham, the founder of Atooi. Our interview covered a wide range of topics, ranging from Watsham’s retro gaming roots to the low sales of Chicken Wiggle, and the future of their games on Nintendo Switch, of course. Enjoy!
Nintendo Enthusiast: Hi, Jools. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us. To start off, why don’t you give our readers a background of who you are. Specifically, though, your gaming history. What first got you interested in video games? Do you have a favorite game of all time?
Jools Watsham: Hi there! Thanks for having me. I was first introduced to video games when my Dad brought home a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The one with the rubber keyboard. The Speccy, as it is lovingly referred to, had great games like Jet Set Willy, Hungry Horace, and Skool Daze – to name but a few. Since then, I have owned many different gaming machines, including computers like the Commodore 64, Amiga, and Atari ST, as well as game consoles such as the Super Nintendo and SEGA Genesis, all the way through to today’s Xbox One, Nintendo 3DS, and the new hotness: the Nintendo Switch. One of my all-time favorite games is Super Mario World on SNES.
Nintendo Enthusiast: Your company, Atooi, is known for making retro-inspired games. What sparked your interest in creating modern titles that callback to games from the 80s and 90s?
Watsham: Yes, Atooi’s slogan is “Retro Roots. Modern Mojo,” and even though our library includes titles like Mutant Mudds, Xeodrifter, and Chicken Wiggle, which are very much callbacks to the 90’s, we have also made games like Totes the Goat and Mudd Masher, which both utilize modern aesthetics to present classic retro-inspired gameplay that are adapted to modern touch controls. Moving forward we will continue to dance between 2D titles and 3D titles, paying close attention to solid and fun gameplay fused with appealing visuals. There are a few reasons for this: The main reason is this aligns with my personal interests. Not just 2D platformers, but also experimenting with ideas in 3D, such as Mudd Masher for mobile. The other reason this approach works well for Atooi is the fact that we’re a tiny team, and focusing on gameplay first and then facilitating it with the best visuals we can muster makes it possible for us to make great gaming experiences with retro-inspired presentation.
Nintendo Enthusiast: You’ve been a designer, artist, producer, and even director on a slew of games dating all the way back to 1992. Can you share some of the skills you’ve learned that positively impact your plan with Atooi?
Watsham: Yes, it has been a fun ride. I started as a pixel artist for SNES games and have also taken on leadership roles in art as well as design and production. Every single project has been unique and has taught me something new that I can bring to the next game – whether it be something to repeat, improve upon or avoid completely! The combination of creative roles and management roles has given me the ability to be both a dreamer and a practical number cruncher. I don’t wear these hats at the same time, though. I define different phases of production that take advantage of each stage. It is important to be free to dream and reach for the sky during the early conceptual phases, and not be tethered or influenced by the reality of time and cost. Once the concept has been fully explored, the not so fun task of measuring it against the realities of the project can happen. This may result in having to reduce the scope of the game, at which point it can be important to revisit the dreamy concept phase to ensure the vision of the game is still cohesive and delivers a great, well though-out experience.
Nintendo Enthusiast: Totes the Goat was your first game. Take us back to the time of development. What was the process like? Was it different than you imagined? How did it all come to fruition?
Watsham: I was inspired by the success of games like Crossy Road and other smash hit indie mobile titles of that time. I often like to try and deconstruct a successful game to see if I can create my own from the ground up, after understanding what could have been its foundational building blocks. For example, Bomb Monkey – or what is now known as Mudd Blocks in Mutant Mudds Collection – is my reconstruction of Tetris. In the same way, Totes the Goat was my reconstruction of Crossy Road. In my mind, the core building blocks of Crossy Road are: 1. Adapt a classic arcade gameplay experience to simple touch controls. 2. Present the game with a new modern aesthetic that is commercially acceptable. 3. Monetize. All three of these steps are equally as important as the other. So, if we look at Totes the Goat with this in mind, I chose to adapt Q*bert to touch controls, which I think we achieved well. I really love how Totes feels, jumping around the platforms. One of the currently acceptable modern aesthetics is voxel art. It’s like the new flash animation look, which is a great fit for me as it is essentially pixel art in 3D. And, lastly, I monetized it in a very similar way to Crossy Road with the game being free, offering characters as in-app purchases, and optional video ads.
Nintendo Enthusiast: Totes the Goat seems like it was a hit. I can’t speak on sales, but people definitely liked the game. Your most recent game, Chicken Wiggle, didn’t receive the same positive feedback. It’s gotten some good reviews, but as you mentioned on Twitter, the sales weren’t there. As an independent developer, what is it like seeing your game underperform? How do you try to salvage the game and adjust its marketing strategy?
Watsham: It is extremely difficult when one of our games does not sell well – especially one like Chicken Wiggle, which we spent 16 months to create and poured a tremendous amount of passion into. I think it’s like any grieving process, you take some time off to reflect on everything and then you get back to it. I always try to learn from my mistakes or when unfortunate things happen to me. I chose to dive into bringing something to Nintendo Switch as soon as possible, which was Mutant Mudds Collection. The accomplishments we achieved with Mutant Mudds Collection helped me get back into the groove and feel energized about the development process again. I was also working on Treasurenauts in parallel to Mudds, which is a really fun project that I am still working on. Chicken Wiggle’s failure was primarily due to the choice of platform. Interest in the Nintendo 3DS sharply declined when the Nintendo Switch entered the scene. I firmly believe that if we had launched Chicken Wiggle on Nintendo Switch it would have sold very well. We may bring it to the Switch in the future, but unfortunately the timing will not be as sweet as it would have been if it had launched on Switch in August, 2017. The Switch market is quickly becoming saturated with titles, which is great for the players but makes it more challenging for developers.
Nintendo Enthusiast: Moving from the past, let’s look to the future, and specifically, the Mutant Mudds Collection. How excited are you about making games for Nintendo’s latest system? Do you see a future for Atooi on the platform?
Watsham: I am thrilled we’re bringing Mutant Mudds Collection to Nintendo Switch – and the fact that we managed to launch it before the end of 2017 is fantastic. Whether or not it is a success remains to be seen, but I am extremely proud of the game. It is an incredible collection of games, and a product that we took pride in executing properly and not rushing out, despite our desire to release it as soon as possible. We have a few titles lined up for Nintendo Switch, but beyond those, Atooi’s future on Nintendo Switch will depend on sales. Even though I love the process of developing games, it has to be profitable for it to be sustainable. That has to be a key component of Atooi’s future survival. We’ll go where the audience is.
Nintendo Enthusiast: What can we look forward to with the Mutant Mudds Collection? Any word on a release date for the physical version?
Watsham: In addition to Mutant Mudds Deluxe and Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, we have added a new puzzle game called Mudd Blocks. Mudd Blocks is an adaptation of Bomb Monkey, which we released on Nintendo 3DS in 2012. It rounds out the collection really well with a more casual paced experience. It has single player modes as well as two player versus and co-op modes. We also made sure almost every controller configuration imaginable is supported for each game, so those who like to use attached / detached Joy-Con, Pro Controllers, or even view Mudd Blocks in TATE mode are good to go. We have added online leaderboards and HD rumble to each of the three games, which I feel goes beyond what many players may expect from an indie developer. I think it’s fair to say that just the collection in itself is fairly special, but adding the extra features like leaderboards, rumble support and multiple controller configurations pushes it to that next level, which we hope players will enjoy.
Nintendo Enthusiast: Any closing words for our readers?
Watsham: Thank you for reading this interview. If you want to follow me on social media, you can find me on Twitter @JoolsWatsham, where I frequently post game related thoughts and news about our games. Thanks for playing!
Atooi’s latest title, Mutant Mudds Collection, releases for the Switch digitally on December 14. It will come in at a price of $14.99, however, if you pre-purchase the game starting December 7, it will cost players $9.99.