The Wii U's unique hardware features and unfamiliarity mean Straight Right has more than a simple port on its hands with Mass Effect 3. We spoke to founder Tom Crago about working on one of this generation's most important franchises.
"Even though we’ve been handling the game very gently, there has still been a lot of satisfaction creatively with the changes we’ve been able to implement. We have a lot of fans of the series here at our studio. And they’ve been able to contribute to all the new stuff we’ve implemented."
As if porting a game as significant as BioWare's space opera weren't enough, Mass Effect 3 is also going to be one of the Wii U's earliest core games, primed to convince punters to make the leap to new hardware It's under a heck of a lot of pressure to deliver something special, and so it's a source of Aussie pride that the Wii U version is being developed in Melbourne by Tantalus sister studio Straight Right. We caught up with founder Tom Crago to get the word on what it's like to take such a central position in the holiday season limelight.
VG247: Is it frustrating working on a port of a game as beloved as Mass Effect without being able to contribute to its narrative, or is porting it to such a unique system creatively satisfying enough in and of itself?
Tom Crago: It's true that we're not contributing to the story, but really it's the gameplay, in a moment to moment sense, that I think is the most important element. On Wii U you get the same narrative, but we're able to exploit Nintendo's GamePad, and as a result try to deliver an experience that exceeds the original versions of the game. That may be a tough ask, but it's what we're trying to do. Even though we've been handling the game very gently, there has still been a lot of satisfaction creatively with the changes we've been able to implement.
Do you have any really big Mass Effect fans on the team? What would they change about it if they could?
We have a lot of fans of the series here at our studio. And they've been able to contribute to all the new stuff we've implemented. We never really approached it thinking 'what would we change about the original game.' Our attitude was always 'what can we do to improve it and to leverage what's unique about the Wii U.' That's what we've endeavoured to do, and I hope with some success.
How does the Wii U stack up against other hardware in terms of ease of porting/development?
The Tantalus limb of the organisation did Unreal II on Xbox, which was about as complex as conversions get. We also ported the Wipeout games from PlayStation to Saturn, and Manx TT Superbike and Area 51, among others, from coin-up to console. So we've had a lot of experience with very challenging ports. From a pure technology perspective, and maybe this speaks volumes to the power of the Wii U, working on ME3 has been very manageable. It's been a good experience for us, although of course it's challenging right now as we get close to completion. It always is with new hardware.
I read recently that you have two games in development for Wii U besides Mass Effect 3, but aren't ready to say what they are; do you have other even more secret projects in the works for other platforms or is Straight Right doubling down on the new console?
So many secrets, each more secret than the next. Yeah look we do have a couple more games in development on Wii U, one of which will be announced shortly. We've made a big commitment to the platform and we're really hoping it's a great success. We're also doing iOS right now, with a view to doing a lot more in the mobile space. That's it at present.
Can you explain a bit more about how your studios is related to Tantalus? Who founded Straight Right? What does the name mean?
I founded Straight Right, and I own and run Tantalus. The two are sister companies, and share the same studio and technology. Tantalus has been around since 1994, which makes it one of the oldest game development studios in Australia. We started the Straight Right label as a way of differentiating from the kids and family stuff for which Tantalus was growing synonymous. Tantalus is going to continue to work on those kinds of games, across a range of platforms. In fact we released a 3DS title with Ubisoft very recently.
Straight Right is focussed on games for more of a core audience, maybe with an emerging nod to digitally distributed titles. Part of the reason we started it was to make a genuine attempt at actually connecting with the people who play our games. We were never able to do that particularly well as Tantalus. The name is from boxing, it's a kind of punch, although I guess you can also say that in video games there are situations when you go 'straight, right.' I spent many hundreds of hours playing multiplayer Goldeneye on N64 and that's exactly the kind of commands we used to yell at one another in the living room.
Mass Effect 3 arrives on Wii U during the console's launch period; that's November in the west and December in Japan.
[Image courtesy of Dead End Thrills.]