We chat with Roger Mendoza, co-founder of Nomada Studio, responsible for one of the greatest national successes of recent years.
There are many processes that a video game studio must carry out to see your project in the market; even more if you are a team of just half a dozen people and you are born with an ordago on your first attempt: if it doesn't work, we close. That is the case of Nomada Studio, based in Barcelona, responsible for the successful GRAY. We have chatted with one of its founders, Roger Mendoza, at Fun & Serious Game Festival 2019, where the city of Bilbao has once again become the epicenter of the biggest European videogame festival.
Return Digital, love at first sight
Devolver Digital has more than one thousand requests from all types of equipment throughout the year; some larger, others with more budget, others with just a couple of people. However, only a few manage to receive the coveted yes only a dozen listen every season. GRAY literally entered the eyes, but why?
Mendoza is clear about the motive: "We had certain advantages over many other people, and that is that the art of our game is a pass", he comments without regard. Nomada Studios is fully aware of the virtues and defects of his work, so they believe that, when contacting any editor to publish your title, you have to go straight and show those strengths from the first moment: Time is worth gold.
GRAY | Nomada Studio
“The second reason is that Adrian (another of the founders) and I had worked with Ubisoft, in Square Enix… and that helped us a lot so that Devolver knew there were people with experience here. They didn't see it as much as a risk. ” The most important thing, however, is “sell your main idea very soon. In that Gamescom (2016) there was another game with very good ideas, it was super good, but he could not show his ideas, people were getting bored. That was a mistake; they see many games, therefore, the sooner you show your strengths, the better it will be: the sooner you transmit your message, the easier it will be. ”
They did not have to think much. Although there was always a plan b, with negotiations more or less initiated with other publishers, the yes of Digital Return allowed to follow a clear course throughout the development; they saw potential and helped them to exploit it. Mendoza recognizes that they did not expect, much less, a success of this magnitude. Currently, according to the information provided by him, there are already more than 600,000 units sold between PC and Nintendo Switch; in the absence of seeing how much they are able to achieve with the recent launch of the title on the Sony home console, PlayStation 4. Mendoza estimated 70,000 units, although he acknowledges with laughter that "I am the most pessimistic of the group." The most expected was about 120,000 units. Never this dimension, not to mention the number of nominations and awards received in the national and international scene. Notably, eight National Video Game Awards 2019 or three British BAFTA nominations. Now, even three nominations in The Game Awards 2019.
“We had no more money: or we signed or closed”
Roger Mendoza in Fun and Serious 2019, Bilbao | Meristation
“We did not give a hard one; We thought they were not going to remember, ”he acknowledges. But let's go back to that Gamescom of 2016, when the relationship with Devolver began. “At the meeting, although we felt they liked it a lot, four months passed and the point came when we thought they wanted to sign with us, but they didn't tell us, so we started talking to other publishers. We had no more money: either we signed or closed. ”
One of the keys, according to Mendoza, was the curriculum of some of the members of the group, but how different is it to work in a team like Nomada Studio and another one like Ubisoft, where the partners are counted by tens? “It is a very different experience; I recommend that people, as far as possible, do so. You learn a lot, you learn another way of doing things and you work with very intelligent people. In addition, when you start you have almost more bosses than colleagues, ”he says about his relationship at Ubisoft Montreal, when he worked with the intellectual property of Assassin's Creed.
All that took him to Barcelona: problems in developments, technical vicissitudes, when editing … "all these things you take with you and help you face possible problems like that." To get an idea of the magnitude of Nomada Studio, fixed began being five people, then went to eight and, at certain times of the development of GRAY, increased to fourteen, always temporarily due to the pulse that kept the budget constantly, extremely limited .
“If GRAY had not sold well, Nomada would have closed. The contracts were for work and service. Now we will start again ”, because they already have their new video game underway. “We have an idea that we believe works again. Whatever we do, we will always make art and music stand out, because Conrad is there ”, referring to Conrad Roset, director and co-founder, with whom FreeGameTips had the opportunity to speak months before the launch of GRAY. "We want to make a work of art," he said that summer of 2018. At the moment they cannot say anything about that new game, which is not a sequel to GRAY, but something totally new, still in an embryonic process.
The role of Digital Return in the development of GRAY
“The relationship with Devolver was fantastic. What surprised me most was the creative freedom they gave us. We had the project by objectives; sometimes we did not fulfill them, but they paid us with total confidence. They wanted us to feel comfortable (…) They were in charge of designing the events, the fairs stand, they built them, they sent people and asked us if we liked them … Something that many people don't know is that there were only about fifteen people. Now they have grown. ” Because Digital Return, despite everything, is also a small company. "They took care of practically everything, we are delighted."
But no, they don't think of a sequel to GRAY. “We like how it starts and how it ends, the truth is that it is a fairly closed work. You could try to do something, but… we prefer to do other things, ”he assumes. We are in a moment of technological transition, with PlayStation 5 and Xbox Project Scarlett just around the corner, really; but in Nomada Studio they are not worried about their arrival because their titles do not require technical power, nor do they stand out for a gameplay with an exaggerated depth. "As we will continue to create in 2D, what interests us most about the new consoles is what they can offer again at the level of controls, features of the operating system …", but not technically.
Beyond the sales of GRIS, it has become clear in a tangible way that they are extraordinary for their expectations and for those of the editor herself, why is she enjoying the title so much? Simply enter forums or portals aggregators of critical and public notes to realize that there is a common denominator: GRAY like. The situation surprises Mendoza; not so much for not believing it, but for having succeeded fully with what they intended – which is perhaps the most difficult of all.
GRAY | Nomada Studio
Why GRAY likes here and there
The keys are clear: “Once again, I think that art and music, with the work of Berlinis, is very good. No matter how long the game lasts three or five hours, we wanted it to be well finished, polished as much as possible, without bugs, and have a very strong start and end; Let you have a good taste in your mouth. Also, finally, that it was never boring (…) Having these things, the final product is as we wanted and people have thanked it, ”he says after a reflexive pause.
And now that? In GRAY we see the occasional loophole of the metroidvania genre, and that is our next question. “We are very fans of metroidvania; in fact, the game was initially going to be like that, but we finally decided to make it more linear and accessible. ” You cannot die in GRAY, a completely deliberate element to open to a less common audience. “We are also very fans of FromSoftware. We will always have something like that in our heads, but it is very difficult to make a metroidvania; when we do it, if we do it, it will be because we are clear that we can do it well. ”
The hardest part: crunch, overtime and how to avoid it
Let's talk about problems. The development of GRAY lasted twenty months, what was the most difficult time? "The most complicated thing was to make sure that the game worked well on Nintendo Switch and on low-end computers," he begins recognizing. “We believed that the game was going to get the attention of unusual people in this and, therefore, that it probably did not have a powerful computer at home. We wanted to make sure it worked on as many teams as possible. ” The most difficult time came in August 2018, when there were days when they literally did not go to work because they couldn't do more. “I have that moment stuck in my head. I remember being very, very burned in August. There are things that do not work well technically and you enter that loop of despair … We work hard with Adrián on the technical side and we manage to keep the spirit to get ahead. It was hard, ”says Mendoza, serious and aware that this moment, although it was worth it, was also a sacrifice.
GRAY | Nomada Studio
Is it possible to avoid crunch? “Yes, but money is needed. We reach the end of the project without money, we run out of budget before finishing the development. Therefore, when planning the budget we pull down, to convince the editor more easily. That ended up causing us to enter crunch, we burned a lot. Planning failed. I think we don't plan everything with the possibility of delays. ” Everything is learned, not in vain. Mendoza believes that these mistakes are an apprenticeship for his next project, they will not stumble twice on the same stone.
"People are increasingly accepting the existence of delays," he adds. The calendar rules, but sometimes a couple more months can make a difference – and the health of the developers. Before finishing, Mendoza acknowledges that, despite everything, at least the game has been a success even able to see the light in physical format. "It's very satisfying, it's very exciting." The process, he says, is easier than it seems for the developer. “They (Digital Return) take care of that. They have a company that takes care of everything. We did not have to do anything at the programming level. Thank God they were in charge during those six months of the art book, covers, promotional material … The game, as it was, already fit in the cartridge ”, in relation to the Nintendo Switch version.
However, GRIS has not only completed its commercial journey as a success in the sector, but has allowed Nomada Studio to work on its next project. What they have in hand is something to be begged for, it needs time. They do not want to make mistakes of the past. Meanwhile, it's time to savor, if that is possible, today's success.