As stark contrast to 2009 when Ignition Entertainment published King of Fighters XII and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Ignition had a turbulent 2010. The video game publisher closed their Florida studio and shelved two in-house titles that were in development for years. What’s going on with the niche company that dared to publish Boing! Docomodake and Lux-Pain out of Japan?
Shane Bettenhausen, New Business Development Director: Yeah, we were talking about that at E3 before. I agree with a lot of the concerns you have with the voices in Arc Rise [Fantasia]. I’m not happy with how it turned out and we will definitely not use that localization company for any voices in the future. I think the voices in El Shaddai are definitely better than the voices in Arc Rise Fantasia. They were done in England by a totally different team.
In terms of localization, my whole time at Ignition has been a learning process. We continue to strive to do better in the future.
That’s reasonable and I hope that’s the case! We’ve seen El Shaddai, Swarm, and there may be a PSN game [*cut*] in the future.
Has that been announced? [laughs]
What else are you doing on the localization side? Have you been talking to SNK or Marvelous?
SNK, we’re definitely still in talks with them, but nothing to announce right now. We’ve worked with them for a long time and I have a lot of friends there. And, I would definitely like to work with them again. Marvelous, on the other hand, they have kind of scaled back their Japanese game development and publishing. So, they have fewer titles, but we will continue to look at their titles.
You know me, like I love Japanese games. A game like Swarm is an original product we’re doing in here in North America. You know, last year we did Blacklight Tango Down. So, we’re going to continue to do Western style games, but I definitely am committed to bringing top quality games from Japan. You’ll see more titles being announced from Ignition, original things and also licensed pick-up things. Fingers crossed at PAX East, I think we’re going to announce a really hardcore Japanese title that people recognize and will be happy to hear coming from us. [Editor’s note: Ignition did not announce any new games at PAX East.]
Are you working with Kadokawa Games?
They’ve announced some cool stuff. We don’t have anything with them yet, but that’s the kind of developer I look at in Japan.
There are only a few developers left to partner with now.
That’s true. There are very few independent guys in Japan that don’t have a Western subsidiary, but those little guys need someone to help them. Trust me, I was just in Japan two weeks ago and the little guys I was meeting with don’t know how to succeed in the West and the Japanese market is shrinking. I think the future is to make games together for the global market. That’s what I really want to do with Japan is actually from the ground up create a game with a Japanese developer that would work everywhere.
So, something like El Shaddai?
El Shaddai is another unique thing. It was a project started in Japan by Ignition, completely funded, where they hand picked people, made a dream team, and let them make the game they wanted to make. It’s really unique, you just played it. I’m proud to get to work on a game like that where the artistry came before the product. It wasn’t born in a marketing meeting – what are the notes that gamers are looking for? Does this have all of the things that you know Call of Duty has?
This is a piece of art, really. More things like that, maybe not on the same scale as El Shaddai. El Shaddai is a really big production. I think it’s easier to get smaller games for handhelds or download that are a little more avant-garde out of Japan. My commitment to bringing cool Japanese games out is not going away and if anything I want to save the little guys in Japan. There’s a real trend away from small development.
Speaking of saving, some people are worried about Ignition. Studios were closed recently and Reich was shelved. And the Japan studio only has one title.
I’ll admit… when the US office, the office in Florida closed down, that studio as you talked about did close down. The UK development studio isn’t actually gone, but it is smaller. I’d say both of those titles you mentioned aren’t actually necessarily canceled, but the form they were taking previously isn’t there anymore. They are going to be reworked. I can’t really comment on those so much. Ignition, at the end of last year, there were decisions being made. The office I worked at in Los Angeles was actually closed, so I’m now working independently. Their main office is now in Texas, Austin, where we merged with True Games which is our sister company that makes free to play and browser based games. We’re kind of combining our resources and re-upping and rebuilding Ignition. Clearly, I think we have a big lineup coming, throughout the year and we’re going to be announcing more titles at E3.
What’s going on with the Japan studio. Do they have another title in development?
I think there will be extensions of the El Shaddai universe first, before they work on a totally different game. Clearly, the world is deep. I played through the whole game now and it left me with tons of questions. What happened a thousand years ago? What happens after this? What does this character do?
I think those guys, when I was just there, are thinking what else can we do with this world? The characters have taken off in Japan. It’s a big meme. Everyone is into it. There are character goods coming out from Bandai. I really think El Shaddai has the potential in Japan to become a big franchise with lots of games.
Check back next week for part two where we talk about Deadly Premonition and the struggling Nintendo DS market.