Published on October 30th, 2015 | by Patrick Garde0
Interview with Aquiris Game Studio
Games Reviewer recently sat down with video game developer Aquiris Game Studio, which is a company based in Brazil. The team has recently worked on the hit game Horizon Chase – World Tour, which we named as one of the best iPhone and iPad games of August 2015. Hence, we became curious as to what goes behind the scenes in developing a game, here is what we spoke about:
Could you share a bit of history of Aquiris Game Studio?
Aquiris Game Studio is a company based in Porto Alegre, Brazil. It was founded in 2007 by Amilton Diesel, Mauricio Longoni and Israel Mendes. They teamed up to develop virtual reality experiences and advergames in a 30 square meter office. Since then, they got enough experience to grow the company to 40 people, including three new partners: Raphael Baldi, Kely Costa and Sandro Manfredini. Now, with 8 years of history and a team of 40 people, we have created more than 20 games for a broad range of platforms, from browser to PC and mobile. Our big focus since the very beginning has been on delivering the best artistic, technical and gameplay quality to our players, in partnership with our publishing partners. Today, Aquiris develops Cartoon Network great games like CN Superstar Soccer, The Great Prank War and also high quality original titles such as Ballistic, Ballistic Overkill and Horizon Chase. With these last two games, the studio is taking a step further into the wild world of self-publishing.
How did you arrive at the name (Aquiris)?
When we started the company, our main focus was in architectural projects. I read a lot of articles about landscaping and botany. Then, I got particularly interested on a kind of plant with blue leaves that really standout from the others in the gardens. I wanted to apply that concept in the company somehow. The name Aquiris is a mixture of scientific names from different plants.
When did you learn that you want to develop games?
It happened when we perceived that, among all the things we were able to do, be it in the architectural 3D recreation market, or advertisement, games were still a more global and scalable product, it was a tougher challenge. We started to target our efforts in order to produce games the best way possible, rescued all we could from what we consumed and learned about games in our childhood and adolescence. To combine all that in a business was something we never imagined could be done.
Do you have favorite titles that served as inspiration?
I was always a big Nintendo fan, but also have great admiration for other multi-platform franchises. My top franchises are Metroid, Resident Evil, Street Fighter and Donkey Kong. Some particular games that influenced me to work with 3D, even without having the intention to work with video games are Metroid Prime, Perfect Dark and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Are there any pros and cons of being an independent game studio based in Brazil?
The positive part is that we’re talking about a market in development. Being like that, there are many things that still can be changed and improved without many hurdles. It’s like working in a white screen, the willingness of people to create games is quite genuine and everybody is very passionate about it. The negative side, also due to being a market in development, is that there are very few really experienced professionals. A lot of developers don’t manage to execute their ideas well due to a weak technical background or the lack of experience.
You specialize in the Unity3D platform. Why did you decide to use this game platform?
When we met the guys at Unity it was a 15 people company, they seemed to be working on a quite promising software and there were no barriers to talk to the developers of the engine. That made a whole difference, we had the chance to take an important step forward versus many other game developers by specializing ourselves in an engine that would become one of the most relevant for creating mobile games some years later. At that time, another factor that made a difference was the Web Player, which was running both on Windows and Mac. As our main projects were for advertisement agencies, the Mac portability was a key point that really made a difference.
You’ve made games for huge brands in the past. What’s the difference in making your own IPs as compared to developing titles for others?
To craft good and original games is the hardest part. The developer needs to assume all the responsibility for that, which demands, not only planning and managing skills, but also a high level of maturity. The choices cannot always be taken in consensus, pleasing everybody. Sometimes the decisions need to be made by the leader of each respective area. And the rest of the team must trust and keep working. That’s different when those choices are taken by a client, whom the team tries to respond to his demands, simply because he’s the client.
Horizon Chase – World Tour could serve as a template for other developers who want to do retro-inspired titles. How did you come up with the idea?
Horizon Chase had a very clear goal from the very beginning, to take the funniest elements of games from the past and evolve them where possible in the present. We chose to develop that project because we knew it could become a good game, was based on solid and funny gameplay ideas. Games with retro inspirations cannot be barely homages, they need to be good games. It’s not a question of fitting a market demand for players in their thirties. It’s about improving something that was already really fun.
Metacritic has an 89/100 metascore rating on Horizon Chase and we’ve named it as one of the best iPhone and iPad games of August 2015. Were you expecting this kind of warm reception from critics?
Until a week before launch, we were kind of clueless regarding which kind of reception the game would get, especially from the press. Players really praised the game from the earliest stages, and the hype only grew as we progressively unveiled more details of the game. The first indicator that made us start thinking the game would be a great success appeared when we discovered that our App Store page was customized by Apple, something that only games awarded with Editor’s Choice get. From that point on we’ve had an overwhelming general response from mobile critics and players, the game won the 3rd prize at Gamescom’s Pocket Gamer’s BIG Indie Pitch this summer and recently was awarded as Best Brazilian Game at Brasil Game Show. The response was more and more enthusiastic, all those high expectations fortunately matched with the real game after release, also seemed the market was ready, I’d dare to say that it needed a game like Horizon Chase. To give you an idea, we compiled some of the best comments left on Twitter by our players below.
It’s also worth to mention that some quite relevant game industry names, as Project Cars Creative Director Andy Tudor, Gamasutra’s Editor in-Chief Kris Graft or Crossy Road developer Andy Sum, openly recommended the game to their followers.
Why do you think Horizon Chase became a hit? Is it because you brought back a classic genre with a touch of modern gameplay elements?
Our goal was to deliver the best classic arcade experience we could on mobile devices, a key for that was to preserve the retro spirit, what made us play games as Top Gear or Out Run, back in the days? There were several factors: discovering beautiful landscapes, face the challenge against yourself and try to beat your friends, all wrapped in an electric catchy soundtrack. We believe the biggest virtue in Horizon Chase relies on how we translated those feelings, that pure retro racing fun we enjoyed as kids, to mobile devices and make it live up to the really exigent quality standards of 2015. There were many players looking for a game like this, players who also missed this “classic approach” in a modern racer.
Horizon Chase is priced at $2.99. How did you come up with the price?
According to the game quality and the amount of content offered, we could have set a higher price for the game, but, as Horizon Chase was a new IP, we thought it was the best to lower the price tag, so the game will be much more accessible to everybody.
Why did you release the game on the iOS platform first? Are you going to release it to other platforms like Android? What do you plan next for Horizon Chase?
Our studio has a previous history of successful premium games on iOS, we’ve developed several titles in partnership with Cartoon Network that were very well received both critically and commercially, Regular Show: The Great Prank War and Copa Toon. Regarding the future, we’d like to remark there is a long way ahead for Horizon Chase, the game will receive significant updates on iOS and still has to land on Android, Amazon Appstore, Windows Phone, PC and PS4. And we don’t have plans to stop here, our idea is to bring our modern retro racer to as many platforms as possible. Who knows what the future holds for Horizon Chase?… sometimes the game seems to be a living entity on its own, unpredictable, as the video game market is, so we’ll try to find the best way for it to evolve with each platform, and be enjoyed by as many players as possible.
What are the ideas lined up for Aquiris Game Studio?
The studio is characterized by its versatility, having started with advergames, then mobile games and now working on games for PC and consoles, as Playstation 4. Other than what we already commented regarding the future of Horizon Chase, we’re working on a couple of announced projects, one of them for Cartoon Network, and recently we launched Ballistic Overkill on Early Access, a very fast-paced class-based FPS with a very strong competitive component. This project is being a really fascinating experience for us, since we’re reformulating a Free to Play browser game and improving the experience in many aspects, from improving the graphics to revamping the game balance and adding new content.
You may also download their retro racer, Horizon Chase – World Tour, on iTunes for only $2.99.