|by jasonrohrer||Monday, July 4, 2011 [6:48 pm]|
Diamond Trust surfaced briefly in 2009 and then disappeared completely for quite a long while. A few people emailed me during that time to find out what happened, but I generally kept quiet about it. Small bits of information appeared in various interviews. And now Diamond Trust is back in full view again. So what happened? I'll try to summarize.
Back in 2009, shortly before GDC, Majesco approached me by email and phone about making a game with them. We scheduled a face-to-face meeting during the week of GCD. On my way to the meeting in Majesco's hotel suite, I met Auriea and Michael from Tale of Tales
in the elevator---also on their way to a meeting with Majesco. Majesco was certainly branching out in some unexpected directions.
During my meeting with them, they proposed the idea of a cartridge-based DS game. The Nintedo DSi's release was right around the corner, and if my game took advantage of DSi-specific features, like the camera, it would have a marketing advantage.
At the time, I was keenly interested in two-player games
, and Majesco was enthusiastic about strategy games on the DS (their Age of Empires
game had apparently sold well). I came home from GDC with the task of coming up with a concept for a two-player DS strategy game. And of course, the DS with it's wide reach (100 million units) and small screens (256x192) was a perfect fit for a niche game made by a single person.
As I thought about two-player, turn-based strategy games on computers, I wanted to get beyond the idea of simply playing a board game on a computer, because I couldn't see a substantial reason for doing that (simplified bookkeeping?). If two players were on two separate screens, however, computers brought something new to the table: players could have completely different views of the game state. Interesting spy mechanics, which are impossible in board games, become possible on computers. And the DS, with it's local WiFi and matchmaking, was perfect for this two-view setup.
In April, I submitted a concept to Majesco called Deception
about cheating spouses who are both secretly filing for divorce against each other and hiring private eyes to tail one another to gather evidence for the divorce. And hiring private eyes to follow each other's private eyes. All sorts of juicy mechanics were possible when a player doesn't know what the other player knows about what she knows.
Given the theme, however, Majesco---not at all surprisingly---said "no."
I went back to my notebook, still thinking about the same mechanical space, and in May I came back to them with a second concept called Diamonds
about spying and bribing diamond traders operating in Angola on the eve of the passage of the UN's Kimberley Process for diamond certification.
By July, we had a signed contract, and by August I had a dev kit and the necessary office (a Nintendo requirement).
I turned in regular milestones in October, November, and December, bringing the game to a gameplay-complete state for both one and two-player modes---just needing music and a tutorial.
At some point in early 2010, for reasons that I don't know, discussion from Majesco started turning away from "cartridge" and toward "DSiWare," Nintedo's new downloadable service. Looking at the wording in my contract, there was no specific
mention of cartridges in writing.
I did some research about DSiWare and was disappointed: it had a narrow reach (only 10 million units) and poor sales numbers. Not only would my game likely not sell well on DSiWare, but my existing fans would be unable to get the game without buying DSi units. You know, everyone
has a DS lying around. Very few people have a DSi.
Of course, all of our verbal agreements had been about making cartridges, so I dug my heels into the sand. What about an Amazon-only release instead of shipping a few copies to every GameStop in the country? They weren't into that idea. Then there was a whole other debacle with GameStop pre-orders. Suffice it to say that 23 pre-orders wasn't enough to excite Majesco. The phony cover image that they threw together still lingers on the web:
NOT THE REAL COVER
NOT THE REAL COVER
I just noticed that they stuck London Bridge
on the cover there. Clip art rocks.
At that point, they kept asking when I was going to turn in the next milestone, and I kept pushing for a guarantee of cartridges instead of DSiWare. That went on for a while, but kept myself busy by working on and releasing Sleep Is Death
. In March, I ironically gave a keynote at the GDC Serious Game's Summit about Diamond Trust. By May, it became clear that Majesco and I were at an impasse, and we wound down the project. I closed my office and sent back the dev kit.
And there Diamond Trust sat. The GameStop pre-order page eventually disappeared. I worked on other stuff. Oh well. Lessons were learned.
In September of 2010, I signed up to do some consulting work with a new agency called Gun
. In October, they brought some potential work my way for Zoo Games
. I can't even remember what the work entailed anymore. But at some point in the initial phone call, the Gun guys were asking if I knew of any indie games that needed publishing help. I took a look at the Zoo website, saw that they published lots of DS games, and tossed my languishing Diamond Trust project into the discussion.
I sent Zoo a ROM through Gun, and Zoo expressed interest. In fact, Zoo's interest was so vigorous that a dev kit showed up in November before
I even had a meeting with them. In December, I had a great phone call with Zoo's CEO Mark Seremet where we ironed out the details.
Unlike the guys at Majesco, Mark was
interested in pursuing a limited-run, Amazon-only release instead of shipping a few copies to every GameStop in the country. A niche game needs to reach each and every member of its niche audience to be successful. Mark was also interested in making the limited edition special---signed and numbered, special inclusions in the box, and so on. He seemed to get it. My conversation with him was a breath of fresh air.
So, Diamond Trust came back to life after all, nearly a full year after it started to wither. As the game has neared completion, Zoo has continued to be great.
Though I did get the "we will actually make cartridges" part in writing this time.