Interview: We talk to Just Add Water CEO Stewart Gilray about developing Stranger’s Wrath HD, why it’s not on Xbox 360, and the future of Oddworld.
Were you anxious moving from Gravity Crash, a relatively small game, to such a big game from such a huge series?
The first project we did was Stranger’s Wrath on the PC, which was a fairly straight port of the Xbox version – it was what we were hired to do.
And I was more anxious when we released it that the development was okay. We got it developed in five months, we released it, and the PC market on steam ripped us a new one. There were 2 weeks where I couldn’t sleep! I thought I had killed the entire franchise and brand off: I was like ‘Oh my god!’.
So we fixed a bunch of issues there and then, and then this year we gave them the HD version of Stranger’s Wrath for free with all the fixes and such on it. I think, touch wood, the community are happy with us and aren’t ripping us a new one.
The reception at the Eurogamer Expo was great – people seemed to light up with glee. What do you think was the main reason behind that?
I think, first and foremost, most of the team are Oddworld fans anyway, so we don’t see it as much as “Ah god, working on that project again”. We take a lot of pride in what we’re doing, a couple of the guys were working silly hours voluntarily to show what we were doing was right. Not just in their work eyes, but in their fan eyes. It’s that dedication and that pride and the fact that we love the brand really.
Is it fair to say then that you still care, even if it’s only a small amount of people who like what you’ve done: is that still a good reaction to get?
I’m happy if anybody likes our stuff, if it’s one person or 100,000 people it doesn’t really matter. What does concern me, though, is when people take a large dislike to what we’ve done. If we’ve ruined it or something, because at the end of the day I feel like I’ve hurt people, in the respect of the fans I didn’t mean to do that – it’s not our intention at all. We want to make everybody happy, and treat the brand with the respect that it deserves.
Do you have any comments on the way Microsoft treated you? How does it affect a company of just 12 people?
It’s a difficult one. When we announced we were doing a PS3 version back in August 2010, Microsoft approached us and said would you like to do this on Xbox 360? We said ‘yeah, great – love it’. We did the paperwork they asked us to do, did some comparisons on the original Xbox to the HD one and sort of said ‘do you need anything else?’. They said no, we just need the concepts approval form. Okay, fine, and we literally waited 9 weeks for them to come back and say no.
When we asked for reasons, they literally just said it’s been on the Microsoft Xbox platform before. So yeah, it’s a HD remake – but yeah we’re not going to take it any further end of story.
Move a few months on and they suggested we take the Games on Demand route instead, and there were a few things in that we didn’t adhere to: minimum price was $20. Things like that which kind of were surprising – they knew we were only charging $15 on PS3, why charge Xbox fans more? And other things like HD graphics, yeah we’re doing that – and gamerscore, yeah, we’re doing that.
We already know the things like that, the things they were throwing up in our way were ridiculous. Go forward another six months, we tried a third time to get on there. Second time for Games on Demand and they came back with three things:
1: “We want simultaneous release with PS3.” Well, we’ve been talking to them for 15 months: you had a perfect chance to get us on your platform.
2: “Get a minimum Metacritic score of 80.” Xbox was 88 and PS3 was 83 [At that point.]
3: “Sell 1 million units at retail.” Which I’ve since found out isn’t the case for Games on Demand anymore.
So there’s nothing that they’ve thrown up towards us that they usually would to stop people getting on their platform. they just don’t want us on their platform as far as I can tell.
Would you consider working with them again if the opportunity arises or would you kind of give them a back hand?
First and foremost, Oddworld is a platform agnostic publisher, in that we’ll publish on everything and anything if we can do. It costs us more to do that, more time and production costs, but at the end of the day it’s our fans that matter to us.
If we’ve got 50% of fans on our Xbox, and 50% on the PS3 – Purely hypothetical – we don’t want either of those 50% to miss out, so we have to be out there as much as we can be. As it happens, New ‘N Tasty has been approved for 360. We have to go through a company to do that, but they approved us very quickly indeed on that. Which is why I’m frustrated that they didn’t put Stranger on there, we’ve even tried putting Stranger on there via this third party publisher, and they still turned around and said no. It really is bemusing, I would say.