Continuing with our BitSummit coverage is an interview we conducted with Mr. Cyrille Imbert. Mr. Imbert is the CEO of DotEmu. We were fortunate enough to discuss DotEmu, and one of their latest projects, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap (Which we reviewed).
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Please note: The interview was slightly edited for clarity.
You put a lot of work in the [art] style of your version of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. How did you balanced to add your own style, but also stay true to the original?
Ben, the game’s artist, is a huge fan of the Wonder Boy series, Wonder Boy III in particular. One of the things that was easy for that matter of balancing the original and new styles was that you can switch from the original to the new style. There was both, so there was not too much of a headache over how we should do it – you can always go back to the original style, so that gave Ben more freedom in terms of what he could do for the new type of graphics.
How he did it was by trying to make people see what he was seeing when he was young and playing Wonder Boy. He didn’t overthink it, he just thought “that’s how it should be”, that’s what the world would look like if Ryuuchi Nishizawa had the means of current days. He didn’t overthink it, he just did it. He knew you could go back to the old style, so he thought there’s no reason to overthink it.
So was it important to have the ability to go back to the old style? Was that something that Sega specifically requested, or was that something that Lizardcube or DotEmu came up with?
No, no, we came up with the idea. At the time we had been doing remakes and remasters for a long time. Omar, the developer, is a genius of emulation and reverse engineering – when he showed me the game for the first time, he showed me the HD graphics, which was really the most important part of the remake, but he was showing me that in his development tool, the original game was actually running behind. I asked him if it would be possible to switch from one to the other, as I know that many, many players and members of the community have asked for that for other games we have remade in the past, and it’s really hard to make. [Omar] said “yeah, it’s totally feasible, it’s going to take a bit of time, but that should be fine.” I said, “let’s go for it, the people are going to love it for sure, it’s going to be a feature by itself.”
So that’s something that you were personally involved with?
What do you think of the fan reaction to that ability to switch on the fly? I think it’s been mostly positive.
Yeah, very positive. We waited some time to announce it, we wanted to have the right timing, and we had many things to announce. The funny thing is, fans and people who were interested in the project were already asking for it – “it would be so cool if the original game would be included with the new game” – so they were not even thinking about [the possibility of] what we were actually doing, they were just asking for the original game to go along with the new one. We were excited, thinking “you don’t know!” (laughs).
It was probably even better than a lot of people even imagined!
Exactly, people were maybe just expecting to have the remake and that’s it, or maybe the remake and the original game.
Was there a particular character that Ben enjoyed animating?
Hmm… I don’t think he had a particular preference for the character that he animated, I know he really liked the smoking pig, obviously that animation is pretty crazy compared to the other characters. I couldn’t really tell you though, unfortunately.
Was there a particular reason why you chose to work on Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap? Was it because it was a game that Ben or you guys were interested in publishing?
Ben and Omar are huge fans of the game and the series, and are both very talented. Omar had this idea of doing a remake – they’ve also been in the video game industry for a long time, with very good experience and good track records – and Omar was saying “now I want to do my own game, and if I do a remake I want to do a remake of Wonder Boy because that’s my favourite game ever.” He started to work on it, to reverse engineer the game so he could do whatever he wanted with the actual original game and remain very, very faithful. Ben and Omar are friends, so Ben was involved in the project pretty early as well, maybe for some years before they came to me they started to work on it on and off. When they came to me, they already had some of the work done. It’s funny, because at the beginning some parts of the work were still 8-bit, and others were in HD. You had enemies that were 8-bit with backgrounds that were HD, and the production process was converting everything to HD little-by-little. The cool thing was that you could test it anywhere – even when Ben and Omar were still working on the Ninjas for example, you could still play the game and the Ninjas were there but they were 8-bit.
[Ben and Omar] came to me and they were looking for funding. They had already contacted the original creator of the game – Omar actually knew him for a long time.
That’s Ryuuichi Nishizawa, right?
Nishizawa, that’s it. The project was already something that was happening but they needed funding and publishing. DotEmu have been doing remasters and remakes for a long time, so when they presented the project, it was perfect. It’s exactly what we do. They didn’t have the name at that point, because Sega owns the trademarks for Wonder Boy – not the copyrights, or at least not all of them. We’re also rather expertised at getting the trademarks, talking to Sega and Nishizawa-san. It wasn’t a project from us, but it was really like a love project from Omar and Ben. They came to us and it was perfect for our line-up, our way of thinking. They’re really talented, so we said “let’s do it”, and that’s how we started working.
At DotEmu, you guys have a particular interest in remastering titles. Is there a reason for this and is this something that you’re personally interested in seeing in the video game industry?
In the team we are all passionate about old video games in general, the history of video games and the hidden licenses and IPs that everybody forgot. I think that every gamer can have that kind of interest – when you really like video games, you also like to remember. Why we do it is that we think it’s important to transmit the legacy of the creators from the old days, because they were awesome people with way less means than we have today to do things and they did really awesome things. We think it would be too bad if, just because of technological obsolescence these licenses would be forgotten forever, so we try to bring them back, for fans with nostalgia who will appreciate re-discovering their old games on the latest platforms, but also for younger players who don’t know these licenses, who are the future game developers or sound designers, who will get inspiration from these old games that are awesome and really good games that still hold up today. That’s our mission, to transmit the legacy of the video game industry of the past.
So you’ve worked a lot with the original creators to ensure that their vision was…
Yes, yes, we worked with Ryuuchi Nishizawa, I was having dinner with him yesterday, we worked with Éric Chahi from Out of This World (Another World), Frédérick Raynal from Little Big Adventure, Jordan Mechner for The Last Express.
Have you thought about working on another title in the Monster World series, for instance Monster World IV?
I don’t know, I don’t think that Ben and Omar want to do it right now at least, maybe later. We’ve had some people asking us for that. Making a game is a long process and again our goal is to transmit the legacy, so let’s give the chance to another license for now, and maybe come back to it later.
Where there any features that you wanted to add to the Wonder Boy remake that you couldn’t or didn’t, as a matter of time or priority?
There was actually, what was it… I don’t remember! I’m pretty sure there was. In the end we managed to add almost everything that Ben and Omar wanted to do, but I’m pretty sure there are some small features that we… maybe more cutscenes, that kind of stuff. Maybe not necessarily more core features, but mostly polishing features that we didn’t necessarily have the time to do. Most of the core features and important stuff we wanted to do, we managed to do it.
It’s not common – or maybe now it’s starting to change – for big companies to lend their IP to new indie developers. How was the co-operation between you and Sega?
We didn’t go to see Sega directly. We worked directly with Ryuuchi Nishizawa – actually it was Shinji Fujiwara who was managing the IP for Ryuuchi with a company called LAT Corporation. They talked directly to Sega, but we were with them to push it and say “let’s negotiate”, and to talk about different aspects of the way to work together, because we’re used to that having done it a lot in the past. We’re not in a direct relationship. I thought it was better that they talked together, the creator and Sega, like they did twenty years ago, but to still be present, to be here to help with the negotiations and discussions and to say “don’t worry, we’ve been doing this for a long time, there’s no problem”, to make both Sega and LAT understand that it’s safe with us.
Sega recently announced that they’re interested in reviving older IPs, which lines up with the mission statement that you discussed. Are there any particular IPs you’d like to work on from Sega?
Yeah, there are many! (laughs) There are many. Streets of Rage would be pretty awesome, and maybe Ecco the Dolphin, that would be great. You know, something very simple? Like a new game, maybe not necessarily a very faithful remake, but I really like the gameplay principle with the sonar and stuff like that. Maybe something new like a mobile game, because the platform would actually fit that kind of game, that kind of casual universe, or maybe on the Switch as well. But Sega, oh my god, they have so many licenses.
So for those titles, you’d be more interested in a new entry in the series rather than a faithful remake?
It depends on the license. We had so much fun working on Wonder Boy. We did another remake in the past that we had a lot of fun working on as well, it’s called Pang Adventures, a remake of Buster Bros, an arcade game. So we like to do that. There are some games, for example like Aladdin on the Genesis, you don’t need to do a remaster – the game is beautiful. Streets of Rage is a very beautiful game as well, so maybe a remake would not feel right? Maybe a sequel would feel better. Depending on the game, one would make more sense than the other.
Are there any particular IPs you’d like to work on from Nintendo that are forgotten?
There’s even more of them. The thing with Nintendo is that they really still work on their IPs, even the old ones. Most of the best ones, they keep doing them or at least are making them live. With Nintendo, it’s almost impossible to do it, so we don’t really take a look at it.
I think Nintendo’s a little bit more difficult to…
Yeah, because they actually can do it, and have the will to do it with most of their IP.
What was it like to work on the Switch?
It was very cool, very easy. Right away with Nintendo of Europe, when we talked to them about Wonder Boy they were interested, and then they came back to us and said “hey, would you like to work on the Switch?”, and we were like “yeah!”.
This was before it was announced?
Yeah, so we didn’t even know what it was. It was not the Switch, it was the NX. It was awesome, and really easy, pretty straight-forward. The people that worked on the porting and Omar, the developer of the game, they’re really good, so maybe that’s why it seemed easy, but I know that it was not that crazy, it was pretty straight-forward.
And the Switch already has the capability of certain engines, so did that help?
Yes yes, of course, and the game is not very high-demanding in terms of performance, so it was not that complicated.
Do you already have plans for your next project?
Would you like to work on a new IP, or an entry into an old series, or a remake?
We have many upcoming projects (laughs). Some of them are remasters and some of them are remakes.
What does ‘indie’ mean to you? What image do you think of when you hear ‘indie’?
It’s changed, I think. Over the years, since the word ‘indie’ appeared, the indie scene of like XBLA and stuff like that is not the same as the one today. Indie can be many different things. I think, for example, that we are indie (laughs), but we are a publisher. Sometimes it’s confusing because we want to assist with some indie shows and they’re like “no you can’t, you’re a publisher!”, but we’re twenty people in Paris, we’re not a big company, and we do our own games as well! It’s complicated. On paper, we definitely would not be an indie, but in spirit and the projects, the size of projects we do it’s kind of indie. We still publish ourselves on many games. I think indie is about the size of the project, the look of the project, the feel of the project… the size of the company, the spirit of the company. Everyone is kind of indie now, except if you’re a very big publisher, then you’re not an indie. Or if you’re a developer that only works with one publisher, then you’re not an indie. But even then, you can be an indie… it’s a very large term, for me.
With triple-A games, you don’t really feel the individual in the game.
Yeah, but still, you have triple-A’s that feel they’re kind of indie, even if they’re not – like Titanfall, for example, it has an indie feel, but it’s triple-A like crazy. It’s hard to really say, but I would say that the size of the project, even though it can be a really big project, and the spirit of the team and what they want to achieve…
What their goals are.
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