I agree that Kickstarter can be very unpredictable. Some studios like Obsidian survived because of it, and some tried and lost their dream of independence. My observation is that it works best for established or returning veteran indie developers.
Anyway, back to you! In 2013, you released a reimagination of your most successful child, Flashback, in Unreal engine. Some of the old Delphine crew assisted you and the game was published by Ubisoft. However, it got a mixed reaction. Do you think Flashback could have had any chance to save the studio in the end, or was its demise inevitable?
It is always the same; it is a race against the clock and the budget. I had the license for Flashback, so I went to Ubisoft and they were okay with the idea of making a game. I wanted to do something different, but they wanted it to be a 2D game, so we decided to remake the game. But it was also a difficult project, because we had a really tight deadline and there were some delays. For them, it was an experiment; should it succeed, they would buy the license; otherwise, they would pass on it. They just wanted to push it out as quickly as possible, even when they knew there were some unfinished parts. They had some marketing opportunities at that point and we were tied to them.
I learned a great lesson from this: I am a programmer at the core and it’s hard for me to manage a company. It was very difficult to do two such different things at the same time; sorting out contracts and money, and at the same time being creative. Some do it very well, but it is not part of my talent. So, I decided to finally quit and close Vector Cell, as I found out that I really prefer to make games just by myself.
What are you working on at the moment? Have you got any projects going on?
Yeah, I freelance for various companies as a technical director on some projects – and I specialize in consoles now, so I constantly work with different teams. Lately, I have been working on the Siberia 3, Fort Boyard [both for Microïds] and some other projects. It is different for me now; lots of technical stuff, consulting and programming.
Is that what you enjoy the most?
Yes. I mean, I like to create games, of course. But sometimes consulting is almost like being on vacation [laughs]. You rely on others to create, and you just have to say, ‘okay, this will work and this won’t, here are the technical issues, this and that is needed’ etc., but you don’t have to worry whether the game will be good or bad.
I see. Do you still own the Flashback license, by the way?
I still own the license and I recently ported the game onto mobiles. That was released about one or two weeks ago [July 22nd 2019] on iOS and Android. It was quite fun as I made various enhancements to the code, especially with the new touchscreen controls.
Ha, that brings to mind a very technical question! I played the game with a joystick, keyboard and game pad. I find that quite intuitive, apart from one specific action. Quite a lot of people I know find the big jump frustrating! To this day, after all those playthroughs, I still haven’t mastered it 100 percent. How did you tackle this on the touchscreen, I wonder. Have you simplified it?
Yes, I have simplified it. In fact, you just use a diagonal swipe movement to jump, and I have harmonized all the controls, so they are much easier. You used to have the small jump and the big jump, for which the controls were different. Now, on the touchscreen, both are activated the same way. Of course, the game is still difficult. It was created this way and I don’t want to change it.
What I like best about the remaster is the new save system, which allows you to start the game from your last saved checkpoint.
Oh, the rewind function?
Nah, no way! [laughs] That makes the game way too easy! I mean the save checkpoints that used to only save the position during the game session – not after restart. But now they do. Anyway, do you see yourself revisiting Flashback in the future? Perhaps releasing a brand-new, original installment like another sequel?
I don’t know, it’s not really my decision – it depends. Maybe, who knows, one day, I might find someone who would be interested in doing the sequel.
I’ve always wondered about a remake of Fade to Black. I can imagine it like full-on 3D platformer parkour, a bit in the flavor of Assassin’s Creed or Prince of Persia.
The problem in France is that nobody would risk creating that kind of game, because again, it would be very expensive, even for a rather well-known game. So, I don’t see anybody in the near future coming and putting money into it unfortunately [laughs].
Well, one could argue that Flashback was a little more than a relatively well-known game. It was the highest selling French game at one point and achieved semi-legendary status. Not unlike Jordan Mechner’s success formula with Prince of Persia. Via its transformation to 3D, Prince of Persia indirectly birthed Assassin’s Creed. I’d always hoped for Flashback to achieve a similarly stellar transformation [laughs].
That’s some high hopes! [laughs]
Yup, it’s my modest personal dream [laughs]. Let’s move on to the last, obligatory, question: Do you still have time to play games nowadays?
Yeah, I still play games – not as much as before as I have a lot of work to do [laughs]. I mostly play games on mobile phone or PS4, but not so much on PC.
What are you enjoying the most right now?
Hmm, on mobile I played a very nice game called Inside (2016). On PS4, I really enjoy a game called Horizon Zero Down (2017), which I think was quite successful. I used to play a lot of different games, but I really prefer inventing games to playing them [laughs].