A lot of indie games have garnered a lot of attention as they’ve made their way to the Nintendo eShop, usually bolstered by the likes of a Kickstarter campaign fuelled by a social media campaign with verbal diarrhoea. Tengami however, is a beast of a different nature, developed by ex-RARE developers Phil Tossell and Jennifer Schneidereit, it was quietly confirmed to be heading to Wii U earlier this year. We decided to ask Phil a few questions about Nyamyam and their debut game Tengami…
Firstly, could you explain to our readers, who exactly are Nyamyam?
Nyamyam is an independent game studio formed of 3 ex-Rare developers. Nyamyam was started in late 2010 by Jennifer Schneidereit and me, and we were later joined by Ryo Agarie.
What games and systems inspired you to get into the games industry?
My first taste of games was when my dad bought a Spectrum 48K when I was around 5. I remember putting in the cassette tape for ‘Horace goes skiing’ and waiting patiently for it to load. My brother and I also used to type in code listings for games out of magazines and this left a lasting impression on me.
I could never afford the prices of games for the early consoles like the Sega Master System and original NES, so it wasn’t until I was a little older that I was able to get my first console. It was a tough call between a MegaDrive and a SNES but I ended up going for the MegaDrive because I wanted to play Sonic so much. Later when Street Fighter 2 came out I wished I’d gone with the SNES!
I also longed for an Amiga but I was never able to stretch to it. I used to spend a lot of time round my friend’s house playing on his Amiga.
You previously worked for Rare, I couldn’t not ask about your time there. What did you work on?
I started working at Rare in 1997 when Goldeneye was just being completed. On my first day I remember sitting in the canteen next to a guy called Mark Edmonds who happened to be one of the main programmers on Goldeneye. I was somewhat overawed and couldn’t help blurting out how amazing I thought it was! I initially joined the Diddy Kong Racing team although I didn’t do any direct work on the game. I was involved in writing some tools for it and subsequent projects.
My first full project was Dinosaur Planet which later went on to become Starfox Adventures. About a year into the project the current Lead Programmer moved onto another game and I was promoted to Lead Programmer. It was an incredible honour to become a Lead Programmer at Rare and definitely one of the highlights of my career. It was also very daunting as I’d only been in the industry for about two years at that point.
Starfox was finished just after the sale to Microsoft was completed. For a while the team were worried that the game might get shelved due to the sale, but Chris Stamper always assured me that it would be completed and released.
Following Starfox I went on to work on Kameo and then I was promoted to Director of Gameplay for Kinect Sports. In between the two of those there were about 3 years where I worked on a number of unreleased prototypes. Some of those unreleased prototypes represent some of the best work I feel I’ve ever done, so it always saddened me that we never got to develop them into complete games. I left Rare at the conclusion of Kinect Sports in September of 2010.
What did you think of the Microsoft sale, and Rare’s performance ever since?
I think most of the people who worked at Rare at the time were Nintendo fans and we loved working closely with Nintendo. Rare was also a close knit family and so it was something of a shock to suddenly become part of such a huge organisation as Microsoft. There was a severe culture clash which perhaps didn’t become apparent at first as Microsoft mostly allowed us to continue as we had always done. However as time passed and there were staff changes at MGS, together with Tim and Chris (Stamper) leaving, the culture changed and it began to feel more Microsoft and less Rare. While Rare continues to put out high quality games, for me it lost some of the spark that had made the company special.
I think at the moment the company is going through something of a rebirth as there are lots of new people and most of the old staff have left, so I’m excited to see what they do next. Whatever Rare does it will always hold a special place for me.
Tengami is a beautiful looking game, but what exactly is ‘Tengami’? Could you define the game for our readers who are just discovering about the game?
Tengami is an atmospheric adventure game that takes place inside a Japanese pop-up book. As a lone wanderer you explore Tengami’s beautifully paper crafted world at your own pace. You come across puzzles and obstacles that you overcome by manipulating the foldable world around you. It’s a very relaxing game that removes many traditional game elements and creates a beautiful experience in which to lose yourself.
How is development going? Roughly how far along is the Wii U version, and when will it be released?
Development is going really well. We recently showed the game at the Rezzed PC and indie game show in Birmingham [United Kingdom] which marks the anniversary of when we initially showed the game a year ago. At the show we demonstrated a new chapter of the game which is set in an ocean environment.
At the moment we are focused exclusively on the iOS version. Since we are such a small team it’s difficult for us to tackle more than one thing at a time. As a result, so far we’ve only done a small amount of initial investigation for the Wii U version.
What do you think to the Wii U? Have you enjoyed working on a Nintendo platform again? How did you find the process of acquiring dev kits from Nintendo as an indie developer?
The Wii U is a fascinating piece of hardware. I’m very much looking forward to delving into it in more detail to see what we can do with it.
Coming back to a Nintendo platform definitely feels like a nostalgic homecoming for me. I began my game career on the Nintendo 64 and so it reminds me of those days when I was just starting out.
Working with Nintendo has been a pleasure. They contacted us after seeing Tengami and expressed interest in us bringing it to the eShop. Up until then we hadn’t thought too much about other platforms but when they contacted us it seemed like it would be a great fit for Tengami. We had some initial challenges due to the old rules about needing a company office, but then they removed this requirement some months after we began talking with them. Once the requirement for an office was gone they sent dev kits to us within the week.
Will the Wii U version make use of any of the console’s unique features such as the Gamepad’s screen, motion controls, Miiverse?
I believe strongly in games that are designed for specific platforms. The best games are always those that are built from the ground up for a particular platform. This is what we always did at Rare, and this is also why console games rarely make good touch games and vice versa.
Tengami was designed and built specifically around the iPad and [iPod] touch, and so it might seem based on what I just said that it wouldn’t fit well with the Wii U. However, the Wii U is a console unlike any other and the Wii U GamePad offers an experience similar to a tablet. This means we feel happy that we can fully replicate the unique play experience of Tengami on the Wii U. Beyond that we will look closely at all the features specific to the Wii U and see where we can use them to make the game even better for Wii U owners.
Once development wraps up, what is next for Nyamyam? Would you make use of your Wii U dev kits again in the future?
We’ve had little time to think about what comes next. As a self-financed independent developer a lot depends on how well Tengami does on the various platforms. As long as we can be successful enough to ensure that we can maintain our independence and keep making the games that we want to then we will be happy.
I’d say that almost certainly we’ll be using the Wii U dev kits again in the future. The Wii U has huge potential. Unlike the other next generation consoles some of the big publishers also seem to be shying away from it which leaves plenty of room for smaller developers to put out great games for Nintendo’s fans.