Interview with DotEmu, Developer of The Last Express
GameWoof sat down with Xavier Liard (@xld) and Romain Tisserand (@RomainTisserand), co-founders of DotEmu, developer of The Last Express to talk more about their point-and-click adventure game. We recently reviewed their Android game where we gave it an almost perfect score of 4.5 Woofs. This made us want to know more about this French developer. We discussed the origin of their name, the challenging gaming business, the difference of PC and mobile gaming, their favorite retro games, and what’s next for DotEmu.
GameWoof: First, could you tell us the background of DotEmu? How did you come up with the name?
DotEmu: Romain Tisserand, my business partner, was working in its part time on emulation projects as a hobby and the idea to set-up DotEmu came up when we meet in Engineering school. It was in 2006 and Romain already spent several years of work on it. Romain got reached by big key industry players interested in his technology, and we knew at this time we could do something about it. On my side, I was basically looking for launching a company and the timing was perfect. Basically, our idea was to build up a legal alternative for players to get their beloved old games in today’s devices.
Good question about the name! We thought about hundred of names and wanted a short name with not too much letters and not too many results in Google, etc. We have fond memories when the temporary name was transemule (laugh). It didn’t sound good at all especially in French! So, DotEmu stands for Dot = “The reference”/”The Key player” and Emu = “Emulation”.
What’s it like in the gaming business? How would you describe it?
Challenging. This is precisely the right word to define the gaming business. In our case, our challenges are a bit different since the major difficulty is to secure the rights of well known and great old video games. Then, come all the technical work where we need to enhance the game to specified platforms and sell it.
How would you differentiate PC gaming and mobile gaming?
Originally, the PC gaming was for hardcore players with 1 hour+ game session and the mobile gaming was typically for casual players with very short game session. Over time, the difference is clearly shading off as the casual market pops-up first with the Flash gaming, then with the increase of casual download gaming and more recently with Facebook. On the mobile side, the game session length is clearly expanding and more hardcore player are coming while F2P games are currently reaching the larger gaming audience ever.
So basically, the PC gaming is still more hardcore and the Mobile gaming more casual but this is by default, not by will.
What are your favorite retro games that served as an inspiration?
Personally, I love Final Fantasy VI and Zelda on SNES. We were so happy when we had the chance to work on Final Fantasy VII for Square Enix (now on Steam). It was like a dream come true!
Since 2007, you’ve been bringing retro games to a lot of platforms. Why do you think Retrogaming is still important?
We believe that a good game remains a good game even if it’s an old one or have low resolution. It’s like music or movie. It’s very important to keep them alive one way or another.
What can players expect from your collaboration with Jordan Mechner, bringing the point-and-click adventure The Last Express on Android?
For those who have played the game before they will notice that we put a lot of effort into the porting. We added, for example, an in-game hint system updating in real-time. We also made several additions such as character biographies to unlock, achievements, touch optimized navigation system, etc.
For those who didn’t know the game at all, don’t expect to see a traditional point-and-click such as Broken Sword or Runaway. This game is clearly unique and is so different that you could even be destabilized at first. The rotoscopic animation and the fact that the game is almost in real time is a completely new experience. Here at DotEmu, we are extremely impressed by the level of detail Jordan Mehcner did in pretty much any part of the game. For example, at a specific hour depending on where you are, you will hear different conversations, different story, different “side” of the characters and all this with voice coverage. Also, at some point of the game you can sit and listen to a 20 minute classic concert (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXtn0l0rCvA from 4:30).
How important was it to make this game look and feel the same as the PC version?
Actually, we were not looking to have a PC feeling for this mobile version. What we wanted to keep, however, is everything that made the game very good in the past and to try to update it the best way for mobile devices. It was quite a challenge.
The Last Express was first launched on the iOS platform. A year later, it became available on Google Play. Why do you think developers release their game first on the App Store before the Play Store?
The Last Express was a very long project that we have started in 2011. At that time, Google Play was not as big as today and the cost to reach a wide range of Android devices was too high for the results. Today, all our projects target both iOS and Android and in some cases even Blackberry and possibly one day Windows Mobile. From our previous experience, it’s much better to release the game on every store since as a publisher you can have a deeper marketing impact and press coverage.
What made you want to bring the game to Android?
We are doing pretty good results on Android. Some of our games such as Raiden Legacy did similar if not better results on Google Play than on iTunes. Also, the Last Express is even better for tablet and Android is doing pretty good in this area.
We reviewed The Last Express and it received an almost perfect score of 4.5 Woofs. Were you surprised to receive this warm response from gamers and critics alike?
First of all, thanks a lot for your nice review! When we started working on the project back in 2011 we were a bit nervous since the game is SO different than what we usually play at. The reviews back in the days were excellent, plus it was a unique opportunity to work with Jordan Mechner on a project! We were confident about the game quality but were nervous about finding the good angle to do the mobile version. Jordan Mechner provided us with tons of feedback as we did like 20 internal versions, and we were so relieved when we see the first reviews at the iOS launch with 90% on Metacritic.
How would you compare the process of working with iOS and Android platforms?
Android requires more technical skills and devices than iOS. There is much more test cases to check with over 2000 different devices, a lot of resolution size, etc. In addition, the development environment is trickier, and to be featured on Google Play you need to be compliant with Google recommendation that could be tricky especially if you use a middleware preventing you to update some behaviors.
Today, we are thinking cross-platform and not only iOS/Android, but PC, Mac, Linux and why not PS4, XBOX-ONE, etc. (or at least to design our ports to add pretty much any kind of platforms in the future). We are convinced that as an independent developer and publisher it’s the way to go! Also, if you want to choose the middleware to go cross-platform be very careful!! It could be dangerous if a new target opportunity pops-up and you need to wait 1 year for the middleware guy to support it and it’s too late.
Are there any updates for The Last Express that we should look out for?
As we always do for our other games, we will provide continuous updates for The Last Express. We should also have great news to share, but we can’t announce anything yet!
Is the partnership with Jordan Mechner will continue on future projects?
Once again, I can’t say anything yet but what I can tell is that Jordan Mechner is really outstanding and working with him was extremely interesting.
What’s next for DotEmu?
We are currently working hard on Frederick Raynal’s Little Big Adventure mobile game. It has been close to a year that we are working on this project and we are confident to release something cool either at the very end of the year or early 2014.
Finally, do you want to say something to our readers?
Firstly, thank you Gamewoof for the interview! We can see that you guys are passionate people like us, and we wish you all the best! We wanted to say to your readers that we are very much looking for any kind of suggestion about game improvements, games we should convert or anything else! We are reachable especially on Facebook & Twitter.