Thursday April 3rd, 2003

"Interview: Climax"

I conducted this interview with Mike Merren and Cameron Sheppard of the Climax handheld division. As everyone should know by now, Crawfish Interactive went out of business. Merren and Sheppard used to work at Crawfish, which produced many GBA titles and could easily be considered one of the premier GBA developers. One game that they were not able to finish was Grand Theft Auto 3 for Game Boy Advance. As we have always known, it is not just a rumor, and these guys divulge a couple tiny but important details about it. We mostly talk to them about their new jobs at Climax, the company that many former employees of Crawfish came to.

1) NP: Can you please state your names and what role did you play at Crawfish? How many people work at Climax now that used to work at Crawfish?

MM: Mike Merren and my role was as Director of Development.

CS: Cameron Sheppard and my role was President. Nine ex-Crawfish employees now work at Climax.

2) NP: What made Crawfish, one of the leading GBA developers with so many GBA titles also published? What created the downfall of Crawfish, since the company had so many projects?

MM: Crawfish focused solely on the handheld market, so was able to build up the skills involved with developing games that need to be pick-up-and-play. We were also able to concentrate 100% on the hardware, pushing it to its limits.

CS: The demise of Crawfish had two reasons, the backend of 2002 saw a lack of interest in new titles from publishers, which left us exposed with no new titles, and the titles we had just finished we were not being paid completely for. Interest was beginning to improve but people wanted to start projects in the new year, and time ran out for Crawfish.

3) NP: What are your opinions of the bad market for GBA games?

MM: The amount of software sales ultimately took publishers out of the GBA market, and that meant the games dried up late last year. However, with the SP now doing well, publishers are interested again, and hopefully games can be sold at a competitive price.

4) NP: Why did Crawfish only develop GBC/GBA games and not titles for next generation consoles games?

CS: Crawfish was built on the GBC, and the GBA was an obvious system for the company to work on. However we were, to some degree, victims of our own success - because if we tried to get PS2 or Gamecube titles, publishers would say "but you are GBA developers, we think you should stick at that". Although we developed some exciting technology for Gamecube...

5) NP: Does Climax intend to develop as many GBA games as Crawfish did in the near future, or are they going to take it slower with their GBA development?

CS: The first year will be a bedding in phase, to get everything on track and just do a handful of titles, but all things going well we should see a growth in the second year with perhaps between 5-8 titles
in development at any one time. We are also spending time this year enhancing our technology and we have some very cool stuff in development, which we'll be able to talk about very soon...

6) NP: Crawfish has created different GBA game engines from boxing, fps, racing, to a few others. Will you use some of Crawfish game engines or are you intent on using new ones?

MM: We have the immense experience of what was done at Crawfish and we are pushing on with new technology as well.

7) NP: What was your favorite Crawfish GBA engine that you created and what were some of your favorite Crawfish GBA games?

MM: The FPS engine was great as we were showing this before anybody else in the world had anything similar. Some of the games include Ecks Vs Sever using that engine, Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Nick Toons Racing.

8) NP: Crawfish Interactive made various GBA games that never saw light in a game store. What were some of your favorite cancelled Crawfish GBA projects and why did you love creating the game?

MM: GTA3 has to be the favorite game that hasn't seen the light of day... we were all incredibly excited about it! Who wouldn't love working on biggest selling franchise. It was also the worst kept secret that we were working on it!

9) NP: Did Destination Software cancel the project (GTA3) or is another GBA developer handling the game now? If your new company is handling GTA 3, what can we expect and maybe some screenshots?

MM: With regard to what is happening with it now, that is in the hands of Rockstar and I'm sure they are looking at potential developers for the title right now.

10) NP: Could you please explain the setup of Grand Theft Auto 3 on GBA? Could you give us details?

MM: Our version was to be VERY similar to GTA2 in regard to engine, but with a new story and gameplay elements seen more in GTA3 and Vice City.

11) NP: What did you learn and how much help was Cinemaware in making some of your GBA games

CS: Cinemaware was involved in the design of Wings, Defender of the Crown and Three Stooges, they advised us on the Cinemaware way (of doing things), but that was all. We had full control over design, technology and gameplay.

12) NP: First off, I enjoyed both Ecks Vs. Sever GBA games. What were some of the challenges of making your FPS engine a success from scratch and using a mediocre license movie?

MM: The hardest thing is trying to ensure that you get a good enough frame rate with all the gameplay elements you want to deliver. The GBA is a great machine, but we really were pushing the system to the limit. I think a lot of games have come out that from screenshots promise incredible things - but when you then play them the frame rate is SO poor it is impossible to play them. I think that movie license was irrelevant to some degree, as the first game was released a year before the film. It gave us a set of characters and a storyline for us to run with. Some people even thought the movie was based on our game!

13) NP: How does having all these ex-Crawfish employees add to the new GBA department at Climax?

CS: Experience, fantastic technology, and great game design ideas.

Interview by Ronald Dubyak, Head of GBA Department