Nintendo may not shout about their progress with supporting indie developers as much as other platform holders, but there’s no doubt about the progress they have made in this field. The sheer number and variety of games coming to the eShop over the coming year is nothing but gargantuan and enough to make wallets tremble.
One of the biggest titles arriving in the coming months is Pier Solar HD, a HD remake of a classically inspired JRPG originally released in 2010. It is a title not only anticipated by gamers around the world, but by Nintendo themselves who have been one of the title’s most ardent supporters.
Nintendo Enthusiast, being the indie-loving place that we are, decided to talk with WaterMelon’s President Tulio Goncalves to find out more.
NE: First of all, who are WaterMelon and what experiences have you had in the video games industry?
Tulio: WaterMelon consists of myself, Tulio Gonçalves, President and founder of WaterMelon. Gwénaël Godde is the Art Director. WaterMelon’s office is located in Muscatine, Iowa. The company started in 2004 without an actual business office, when Pier Solar was under early development stages. Gwénaël and I both worked on WaterMelon as a second job for quite some time, with Gwénaël eventually becoming full time in 2010, but after the success in Kickstarter, the office environment became necessary in 2012 with both partners becoming full time dedicated to WaterMelon.
I have a lot of experience in the IT corporative sector, where I worked over the past years as software engineer. Gwénaël also has a great background in Graphic Arts and programming. He graduated in France — where he is originally from — and have been working all over the world with his creative and unique style. He lived in Muscatine for a few months in a row during the first semester of this year, but he is currently living in France.
It actually is very convenient to have one head of the company living in the US and the other one living in Europe. We are able to attend game expos and fairs on both continents and that way, we can bring inspirations from ‘both worlds’ into our own projects. I’m now absolutely engaged to Pier Solar HD, and Gwénaël — after his creative art direction contributions to PSHD — is putting a lot of dedication for Project Y and Project N — two brand-new games coming soon for Sega Genesis and SNES, respectively. Besides Gwénaël and I, we have developers and artists all over the world, who have been working with us for a long time. Our team now has 28 people in total, counting our developers, musicians, graphic artists, and other contributors.
NE: What actually is Pier Solar HD and what takes place in the game?
Tulio: Pier Solar and the Great Architects is a classic JRPG that had been first developed for Mega Drive / Sega Genesis, released in December of 2010. Pier Solar HD is that same game being transported to modern platforms (Wii U, Dreamcast, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, OUYA, PC, MAC, Linux, Android). The story tells about three best friends — Hoston, Alina, and Edessot. Hoston’s father is very sick and only one rare magic herb has the power to cure him. Hoston, with the help of Alina and Edessot, starting of on an incredible journey of discovery about their world and about themselves. The player will face many challenges, venture through many places, solve mazes and puzzles, fight many bosses and discover many things through this journey.
NE: The game was originally released for the Mega Drive. Has much changed in this new version?
Tulio: It’s quite obvious that the major change is related to the graphics, the art of the game. Our game is a mixture of elements of pixel art and modern graphics that will result in a unique experience for the players. Besides the graphics, the soundtrack has also been updated to HD, and our musicians were absolutely flawless. The soundtrack is amazing, and we’re very proud of it.
Finally, thanks to a stretch goal in Kickstarter, we’re also doing an extended version of Pier Solar HD, which includes at least extra 10 hours of gameplay compared to the Mega Drive version. There are also new mini-games.
NE: How large is Pier Solar and what is your favourite aspect of the game?
Tulio: Pier Solar has 50+ hours of gameplay, over 300 locations, nearly 500 unique treasure chests, and over 800 NPCs. We also packed in many other surprises and secrets, like hidden areas and mini-games! Some of these mini-games are four-player capable. But my favorite aspect on Pier Solar is that 90s JRPG feel that you will find in it. We dedicated a lot of time and effort and, while building this game, we always had those great jewels of the 90s RPGs in the back of our mind. So I think that Pier Solar HD will bring the players an experience that has been missing in modern RPGs.
NE: Have you considered making use of any of the hardware’s unique features?
Tulio: On Wii U, we’re definitely putting the second screen to good use, a feature that will be exclusive of that platform — well, maybe not for long if we end up making it to the 3DS, but that’s for later. We planned a few functions for the second screen that will add to the gameplay; I’m sure the Wii U players will enjoy them. We’re hoping to release the game in April.
NE: Why did you choose to go down the Kickstarter route and would you ever repeat this process if necessary for another game?
Tulio: We chose Kickstarter because it was the most effective way to work on fundraising and have a fresh start for our project, free of any type of debts. The costs of creating the HD graphics are quite high for a project the size of Pier Solar and especially in the unique graphic configuration that we choose. The Pier Solar HD Kickstarter campaign was very successful, and we were extremely happy with how it turned out.
Would we do another Kickstarter project if necessary? Probably, yes. However, we like to see Kickstarter as a “kick start” and not as a way to fund every project. We understand that Kickstarter’s main role is to help small businesses or individuals to gather enough funds so they can hopefully be successful and continue their journey on their own. We are working hard to make this plan happen. With more and more players learning about Pier Solar HD and all of the other games we are working on, we have a good chance of doing well. And we hope that WaterMelon can serve as an example of how Kickstarter set us in motion and made us capable of self-sustaining, giving other people the motivation and opportunity to do the same.
NE: How did you find the process of becoming an approved Nintendo developer?
Tulio: Nintendo has been absolutely fantastic! It is impressive and I’m afraid I won’t be fair enough when describing the way Nintendo has been treating us from the very beginning. When you have a small business that is trying to make it in the monster-sized game industry, you pretty much feel like a tiny dot in the wide universe. We know how great Pier Solar is and we believe 100% in our products and potential, but we expected to face a lot more challenges when trying to communicate with a great company like Nintendo.
However, despite their endless demand from multiple other companies, they were one of our biggest supporters on the path of not only developing (which was crucial), but also of promoting Pier Solar HD. We participated in great video game fairs such as iDÉAME and IndieCade, which are very meaningful to this industry. Saying that Nintendo was has been fantastic to WaterMelon is actually an understatement! They were awesome!
NE: Once development is complete, what’s on the cards next for you? Anymore Nintendo support?
Tulio: We do have two brand-new games coming up soon born from the Magical Game Factory: Project Y for Sega Genesis and Project N for SNES. We want to see both projects made for the modern consoles as well. Besides the working projects we have many other game concepts to explore for the years to come, both for retro and modern platforms alike!
Pier Solar HD is currently scheduled to launch on the Wii U eShop in the next few months. Tulio previously revealed to Nintendo Enthusiast that “We’re about to enter the beta test. The engine is practically finished, the major thing now is to finalize the HD assets.” Thanks to Tulio for taking the time to answer our questions!