Less than four weeks from now, Nintendo’s newest home console will release and make its way to gamers hands all across the globe. As each day passes, we get to learn more about the Switch and the games that will be playable on it, so with GoNNER and Kingdom confirmed for the console, it’s only natural we’d want to learn whatever we could about them.
So we got in touch with Raw Fury, the publisher who is bringing both titles to the Switch and arranged a Skype interview with Gordon Van Dyke. Due to a loss of voice and other commitments, I was unable to conduct the interview myself, so armed with my list of questions, Mike Scorpio conducted the interview on my behalf. With Gordon providing such responses, the interview lasted for more than 60 minutes, so with that in mind, we have opted to split this interview into 2 parts, with the first (this one), being posted today (February the 8th) and the second to be posted at a later point this month.
Not to delay it any further, this is Part 1 of “A Miketendo64 Interview,” with Raw Fury’s Gordon Van Dyke:
*All questions and answers come from the first half hour of the hour+ long interview.
Gordon Van Dyke (Battlefield & Beyond):
Miketendo64: “First and foremost, who are you?”
Gordon Van Dyke: “(Laughs) That’s a good question. “Who am I?” I´m Gordon Van Dyke, I started in the games industry around the end of 2oo2-2003, it so long ago now. I was in the MOD industry. I started modding for Battlefield 1942, Battlefield Vietnam and also started my own mod based on the new reimagined series of Battlestar Galactica.
I caught the attention of some of the producers at the EA side of things who were working with DiCE on Battlefield 2 and asked me to come to one of their Mod days because they thought that the mod was really cool and I lived in California so it was really close by to go to the EA office. So I went there and I was like “This is where I need to be,” I quit a cushy job where I helped run a beer distribution company in the San Francisco Bay Area and took a low paying QA job and focused on the battlefield 2 tools. An early state of my mod got an interview with DiCE and I got hired and moved to Sweden.
I moved my entire life to Sweden and started working on Battlefield and I worked on Battlefied 2142, Battlefield: Bad Company One, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 1943 and helped with the early design concept and concept design for Battlefield Heroes. From there I moved back to California for a year but I ended up marrying my Swedish girlfriend and she got pregnant so I moved back to Sweden because it’s got much better health care and stuff for schools. So I moved back to Sweden and started working at Paradox.
I started working on their Multiplayer games that they were trying out, War Of The Roses and War Of The Vikings. I got tired of that and wanted to do my own thing and start my own company and was itching to do that. A Friend I made there asked If I could help him start up Raw Fury. So we started up this little indie publisher, it was mostly just the two of us. That’s when our relationship with Nintendo first officially started. Jonas had actually known a couple of people at Nintendo but there was no relationship with Raw Fury. I had the first meeting with them at Nordic Game Jam.”
Gordon Van Dyke’s Role at Raw Fury:
Miketendo64: “What is your role at Raw Fury?”
Gordon Van Dyke: “’What Is My Role?’ I do a lot of things. It’s the start of it, it’s a small company, there’s not that many of us. We have just grown by three people so now we’re eight. Jonas started everything officially in January, I wrapped up some projects that I was helping with, at Paradox with Magicka 2. Once I finished there, I joined up in April and in July, David Martinez joined up who also worked at Paradox where he did PR for them.
He joined us and helped on the PR Marketing front and helping with sales as well so he is carrying a lot of hats. I mainly focus on production and developer relationships, helped heavily with kingdom, I rolled up my sleeves and jumped in using my designer experience using Unity and helping with the design elements of Kingdom. I work heavily on trailers and cultivating relationships with our partners, work closely with Microsoft on Kingdom, work with Apple, Google, Nintendo and Steam. In this case, you do a lot of things. Sometimes I’m a producers, sometimes a director or capturing Trailer footage. I can be working on art assets or localization. We are all over the place and do what needs to be done at this stage. We are a small lean team and you wear a lot of hats.
On the way out of leaving the office we had just set up, I was the last one so I took the trash out.”
Raw Fury did try Kingdom on the New Nintendo 3DS:
Miketendo64: “Other than Switch, was Kingdom considered for another Nintendo platform, like the 3DS?”
Gordon Van Dyke: “We did try to get Kingdom to run on the New Nintendo 3DS but it just wasn’t powerful enough. Kingdom is deceptively more CPU intense than people expect. They see this presentation of pixel art, there is a lot of modern rendering and shader techniques going into the game that Tom, who is the creator, artist and programmer for a lot the rendering techniques, he did it so well that people don’t notice which really shows his skill set and nobody realises…”
Miketendo64: “…How complicated and complex it is?”
Gordon Van Dyke: “Yeah, he does it so well. He does this trick for lighting individual pixels so that the light didn’t just shine in an inclusion way and gradient through the pixels. No, the lighting lit up individual pixels and the further away they were, the less bright the pixels would get. The Water as well, if you look at the water, it’s a shader technique to give it the perception of being liquid but pixels because he wanted it to be pixel perfect. So unfortunately the New 3DS just wasn’t powerful enough and then there were rumours floating around about another portable device by Nintendo. We were respectful, we didn’t ask them about the rumours.”
Miketendo64: “But you did talk to them?”
Gordon Van Dyke: “Yeah, we talked to them about potentially doing something for the Wii U because it was more powerful and using a more up to date version of what we were using for Unity. So we were going for that and they started poking us and saying that they really like GoNNER and we got a lot of interest from them for that their external publishers really wanted to meet with us at PAX, Especially PAX West because it’s in their back yard. Nintendo America is in Kirkland which is close by in the same region.
Close to the announcement, Nintendo got in touch with us and said that they were coming out with something as everyone knew which we are going to be announcing soon but we can’t tell you the exact details because we haven’t done the partnership but we are interested in bringing some of your games, especially GoNNER, and putting it in our Launch window of around 3-4 months from the release of the hardware. We were just floored.”
Raw Fury’s Process when it Comes to Publishing new Games:
Miketendo64: “As a publisher, you have taken on plenty of games and put them on various platforms. What is it you look for in the games you undertake and who initiates the first contact?”
Gordon Van Dyke: “It’s actually pretty mixed. Kingdom is kind of our Darling so I don’t know if that one falls into that category. It was those guys that were looking for a publishing partner, Jonas initially tried helping them to find a solution and for six months it never happened. Ian wanted to create this publishing company. It was a mutual partnership a mutual respect because often times the Developer is beholden to the Publisher because they have the money so there becomes this stranglehold that can easily happen.
I don’t think anyone does it on purpose but it’s just the nature of those relationships can easily slip into that direction. So he wanted to make this more happy, friendly, more happiness publisher but of course part of that happiness does come from making enough money to keep doing what you’re doing but that’s our goal. It’s not our goal to be like the biggest publisher in Sweden or having the highest revenue. When we look for games, we look for games that affect us emotionally.
With GoNNER, we ran into Ditto in this like indie incubator, which is an event set up by some friends of ours and it’s called Stugen. They invited a bunch of indie developers from anywhere in the world, they fly out there and they set them up and get donations, its non-profit and they get a place in the woods in Sweden over the summer for several months and they just all work on their projects and then submit their projects. Ditto was one of those that got selected and he was based in Sweden as well. We met him there and vibed with him so it was more to do with a personal relationship and loving the things he did. He has this creative style, the visuals that you see in GoNNER absolutely reflect Ditto’s personality 100%.
He knew he was working on a different kind of game and that we were really interested in working with him and trying to see if it was a fit. Somebody backed out that was supposed to come with us to Gamescom that year and so we had an extra ticket and hotel bed so we said to him “Hey, you want to come along?” This was in 2015 and he was like “Hell Yeah! I’ve never been,” and he helped us a little bit but there was no requirement to do that. He hung around us a little bit and did his own thing as well. We then thought that maybe there was something cool that we could do together and he was like “Yeah.” Back in December he came to us with an idea so we talked it over and worked with him and talked about it for a month or something and then we signed him because we have a lot of faith in him.
With Kathy Rain, it was something we signed in April when I started. It was a friend of mine that I worked with at Paradox, he’s a super talented programmer and writer, and absolute creative individual. He had this pet project called Kathy Rain, which, he had been working on for several years. I played it and I don’t typically play ‘Point & Click’ adventures but I was like “This Story is really compelling. I want to keep playing.” He had left Paradox when we were working together to start working for this new studio Hazelight, the guys that did Tales Of Two Brothers which he had worked on.
I said that he should give Jonas a demo for Kathy Rain and let him play it and Jonas felt the same way I did and we both felt like this game had to be made. It was a really interesting project for us to take. We wanted to take something daring, risky. Point & Click games are very difficult to market and sell. So Joel was interested and we talked to him and he quit the job he just started for another job and took a risk with us as well, we equally took risks with each other and it turned out really well. Kath Rain is now profitable, it’s highly revered. It’s critically acclaimed and got great feedback. It’s emotionally captivating and touched on subjects that you don’t typically see in games and approached story telling in a modern way with this classic presentation. I just loved that and it’s something that I always wanted to do after starting at DiCE where I had this personal feeling that I would love to make games for adults which can come off incorrectly as you can’t really explain what you mean by that, games that have more…”
Miketendo64: “…Adult themes?”
Gordon Van Dyke: “Yeah and coming off of a deeper philosophical point, to make you really question about things in a deeper more meaningful way and challenge you on a more intellectual level. While I love the games you can chill out and play I also love games like Heavy Rain and games that try to have a profound effect on you. So we signed that one and then the next game TXP came just came from a recommendation for Tormenter X Punisher and Jonas Turner, the guy making that, his profile and cred list is stunning; BroForce, Nuclear Throne, all the way to Angry Birds: Transformers. He just oozes with talent, an awesome guy. He has a DJ persona and puts on a lucha libre mask, like in Mexican wrestling and becomes the lobster and does a whole Dance set mix DJ kind of thing with 2 Nintendo DS’s and it’s incredible.
We do get a lot of pitches but some of them don’t pan out. A lot of time when getting pitches over email, from people randomly searching for publishers. Typically they are not usually the right fit for us, we are very picky and very selective.”
Miketendo64: “Well of course, you’ve got to look for something beneficial, not just for you, but for them in the long run as well. It could be the next angry birds or it could be a massive flop, you never know but you have all these requests coming at you every single day and you’ve got to think “Is this going to work? Is this something you can take further?”
Gordon Van Dyke: “Well Yeah. We don’t actually wonder on whether we can take it further. We just want to know if we can support them in a way that’s mutually beneficial. We do not interfere with the design or milestone checks, which is typical of other publishing companies that hold money until you’ve completed that, which forces control into the hand of the publisher and that is not how it should be. It should be in the hands of the people that are working on it day in, day out. We just give them our opinions and if it makes sense to them and they use that information, great! Sometimes they ignore it and we’re ok with that because we trust them. Trust is a huge factor in who we want to work with. First it’s the game and we want to see something playable and also emotional value when you play the game and a developer we can trust and give them that freedom and liberty that we feel is important.
There has got to be some kind of a connection with the game obviously as a player, not just as a publisher or developer but as a gamer in general that makes you feel “This is the kind of game I want to play and invest my time in.” Because as you know in this day and age, along with working jobs, some people work two or three different jobs and work very, very long hours. When they come home, what little time they have left is very precious to them. So in the mind of the developer is ‘How can I keep the gamer interested in my game? How can I make them ‘connect’ to my game?’ ‘How can we take them somewhere interesting and satisfy that desire for Quest?’ I thinks it’s super important that people sometimes forget that they get too caught up in the focus of realism which is not what people really want, right?”
Gordon Van Dyke: “You go into videogames because you get enough realism in real life. When a car goes past you and gets you all wet or your girlfriend dumps you, whatever crappy thing happens to you and you go home, the day was really bad and you want to go to that videogame, you want to go to that place and that is why games like Sky Rim and Minecraft are so popular because it takes you somewhere fantastical. It takes you somewhere you’d never be able to go in life which is why I think it’s great that Battlefield when back to Battlefield One. It takes you back to a time period to what’s not really going on now. There went somewhere where no one can ever go again and they took you on this journey where it feels realistic like you are there and it’s tangible but it is so far in the past you don’t feel a connection to it like if you turned on the News, you don’t see something similar to what’s in the game happening right now in the world.”
And now that we’ve got you hooked, this is where we’ll stick a pin in it for today. Be sure to join us when we share Part 2 as that part of the interview is focused more on GoNNER and Kingdom and less on Raw Fury and the publisher’s workings.