Making of Desperados III: Interview with Mimimi Games (Part 1/3)
Making Games sheds light on the development of the real-time tactics game Desperados III in an XXL interview with Mimimi Games.
Mimimi Games was founded in 2008. In its early years, the Munich based developer had to do regular commission work with titles such as Whoowasit (2012) in order to keep the company running.
That changed with the release of the real-time tactics game Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (2016). The Studio won four awards at the German Developer Award 2016: Best Game Design, Best PC/Console Game, Best German Game and Best Studio. Mimimi Games suddenly became one of the hottest German game developers, so THQ Nordic took notice of Mimimi Games and gave them the development contract for Desperados III. A wise decision because series like Commandos and Desperados were a great source of inspiration for Shadow Tactics.
Desperados III was released on June 16, 2020, and achieved top ratings. Our Computec colleagues from PC Games gave it 9/10, on Steam the average is 10/10, and the Metacritic
average of 86% is also impressive.
At the end of 2020, Mimimi Games took the next step as a company and is now going to self-publish their next game codenamed “Süßkartoffel” (Sweet Potato). It will also be a real-time tactics game, will be released not before 2023 and is already something special in Germany. Codename Süßkartoffel is the first game to be funded by the stately game’s promotion with an amount of 2 million euros. Mimimi moved to a new office building in Munich and plans to expand its staff from 30 to 40 people in 2021. The studio is currently looking for additional employees in many areas.
Making Games had the opportunity to interview Mimimi Games. We talked about the sometimes stoney past, the surely exciting future of the studio and, of course, the development of Desperados III. This is part 1/3 – don’t miss the other parts coming in the next days.
Making Games: Let us look back: How and where did you celebrate the success of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun? Would you have expected such a success?
Dominik Abé: Crying alone at home. Since our studios was close to bankruptcy at release we had very mixed feelings. But we celebrated a bit at the German Developer Awards. The real success of Shadow Tactics was a slow and steady one. I think, now after four years and the release of Desperados III we slowly understand and see the real meaning and success of it.
How did you get the contract for Desperados III? Was there a pitch or did THQ Nordic come directly to you?
Dominik Abé: During the final phase of Shadow Tactics, we pitched a new Desperados to THQ Nordic which they signed shortly after the release of Shadow Tactics. We have always been big fans of Desperados and Commandos and had a look out for those IPs.
Despite your success with Shadow Tactics, how much respect did you have for the task?
Dominik Abé: A lot. The pressure was quite high to make two successful games in a row. And to be frank: Desperados III had to be even a bigger one because the production was more expensive. At least we were confident as we understand the genre at its heart. But to do right by an existing IP and its fan base is not easy. Working on one of my favorite IPs was also a lot of fun. It was a great honor to shape the franchise in a modern direction.
How did the collaboration with THQ Nordic go? How concrete and strict were their demands on you?
Dominik Abé: THQ Nordic trusted us a lot and gave us nearly complete freedom. Only some topics that might change the future usage of the IP needed to be discussed in detail. There was only one case I remember where they put in a veto and even there we fully understood their decision.
Westerns are not exactly a hip genre these days. How much do you think Red Dead Redemption 2 has helped you in this case?
Dominik Abé: This is hard to say for us. Perhaps it hyped and made the western genre more visible for the mainstream audience in general but this has also been happening through other media, such as Hollywood movies, as well. On the other hand, it might have taken away some of the uniqueness because there now was another and way bigger title for western fans available.
The line between challenge and frustration is thin. How did you manage to balance it so well in the end?
Dominik Abé: This is true, particularly if the last stage of development seems to take forever. But on the other hand, you have a clear challenge that implicates very explicit tasks that you can work on. The frustration comes if you run out of ideas what you can work on to improve something. That was especially true when we were optimizing the game for consoles. It was okay to make baby steps but it felt quite desperate when we ran out of ideas. The thing that keeps you going is the confidence that the game you are going to release will be good and hopefully even awesome. The excitement to know that your game will soon be played by others is very high and gives you some adrenaline. This time was quite emotional because you know the end is just around the corner – but the last small step seems to be impossible to make at times. During these times you experience rapidly changes between ups and downs. You need a lot of trust in yourself and the people you work with to stay confident and focused.
Overall: What were the biggest challenges and how did you master them?
Bianca Dörr: We had multiple challenges during production regarding different areas in the art team. Here are some examples:
First of all, the graphic style of Desperados III was a big challenge for us. After Shadow Tactics, we were very ambitious. We wanted to make everything look better by adding more details, create unique settings and ramp up the overall quality of the graphics. We realized that we didn’t have the required capacity to finish all the assets and levels in time. In addition, we underestimated the amount of overhead and planning time the project needed, which resulted in lack of time for team members regarding their creative work, such as making textures. We solved this problem by getting external art support.
Early on in the development process, we decided to move toward a more minimalist overall aesthetic for Desperados III’s UI, as we wanted to move away from the old-school, cluttered HUDs real-time tactics games are usually associated with. We wanted to create a fresh and modern interface. Of course, moving in this direction took lots and lots of iterations until we arrived at a satisfying end result. Curating thousands of images for the UI can quickly get very overwhelming. Hence, writing custom scripts and tools to automatically export assets with corresponding image size and name was critical in the asset creation process.
Having more and bigger levels with high amount of details resulted in the need for more VFX and environment art. To make a level look lively, you need ambient VFX, such as falling leaves, dust, moving flags, etc. Also, the player should be able to explore the maps and discover lots of little environment stories. In both fields, we discovered that we needed more support. So we hired an additional VFX and an environment artist, who helped us achieve the quality that we wanted to deliver.
For the animations of Desperados III, we used motion-capturing for the first time. All animations for our other projects were hand keyed by our only animation artist Cem, who got some support from another colleague from time to time. We underestimated how much overhead this would imply and also planned too many animations and cutscenes overall. In comparison to Shadow Tactics, in which the cutscenes used mainly existing animations and were in general very simple, we wanted to tell the story of Desperados III in a more vivid way with higher quality. That’s why we decided to use motion-capturing. In the end, this was a fantastic experience for us – despite the fact that it was only manageable with careful planning and more time in general.
Frieder Mielke: Certainly, the biggest challenge was to bring the game to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in a technical state that we would be satisfied with. We defined pretty early on that this meant a stable 30 fps frame-rate at FullHD (1080p) resolution. Getting there was far from easy though. After porting Shadow Tactics to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2017, we transferred a lot of our learnings from that to the pre-production of Desperados III. This meant that we had to change and add several core systems to better fit into how Unity handles systems internally. This ranged from improving transform data caching (position, rotation and scale of objects) to implementing a robust editor “pre-warm” phase (pre-calculating and instantiating objects before the game runs on target). With these changes and our experiences with console porting of Shadow Tactics, we were rather confident to meet our performance goals with Desperados III without too much trouble. Among other factors, this lead to us checking way too late if we are actually on track to hit our framerate and resolution targets on consoles.
Long story short: When we had finally realized that we were in trouble, we had to shift most of our programming resources into figuring out if we could get Desperados III running on consoles at all – even if it meant downgrading frame-rate, resolution or other parts of the game. At the same time, this meant that we could not take care of finalizing features, fixing gameplay bugs and the like, so all other departments were left to their own devices for quite a while. After about six months of purely focusing on optimization, we saw a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s when we said that we would be able to ship Desperados III on consoles with our original goals regarding the technical setting. It still took quite a while to finalize all the little (or not so little) details we left open, such as smoothing out frame stutter during loading screens, handling memory fragmentation, making sure replay data wasn’t lost in weird cases, fixing crashes caused by Unity’s cloth system, and much much more.
Moritz Wagner: While there is always a huge number of challenges during production and I have probably already forgotten half of them, the following three spring to mind: In the beginning, a big challenge that we faced was making the game feel like its a clear advancement over Shadow Tactics from a design perspective. There wasn’t too much criticism to go off, since Shadow Tactics was received so incredibly well.
Then many of the initial ideas for new features, which we had in the beginning, didn’t work out, so we scrapped them. At some point we had to make sure that we still implemented things that would make Desperados III stand out more, which leads to the next topic. Designing Isabelle (the voodoo character) was a huge challenge. We wanted her skill set to feel powerful and be true to the vision players would have, but also her skills shouldn’t be overpowered. We went through countless iterations of her skills – until we finally arrived at something that worked for us. Combine this with the fact that her being so different from a gameplay perspective was also very important for the issue, that we didn’t just deliver a reskin of Shadow Tactics, we really had to get her right.
The third one is just the overall level of quality of Desperados III. It made huge advancements in every aspect, be it technical, visual etc. Hence, this created many, many small challenges all over the place and I think we underestimated this a little.
Creative Director & Founder
Head of Production
Head of Development
Head of Art
Managing Director & Founder
Head of Design
The post Making of Desperados III: Interview with Mimimi Games (Part 1/3) appeared first on Making Games.
Making of Desperados III: Interview with Mimimi Games (Part 1/3)
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