We recently had an opportunity to talk to System 3's CEO Mark Cale about some of System 3's upcoming products. System 3 is a small developer with a rich history. The company has plenty of promising titles coming in the next few months including Impossible Mission, Ferrari Challenge and California Games. We thought we'd look at what System 3 has up its sleeve.
PALGN: Could you tell us a little bit about your role in System 3 and how the company was formed?
Mark Cale: I'm the CEO of the company. The company was introduced almost 25 years ago, We've obviously been very passionate, and have been following games since the birth of the industry. My role is 'chief creative officer', really. It's a major role, though it's my business, I want to hold onto the development side.
PALGN: Firstly, Can you tell us a little about Leaderboard Golf which is coming to the Nintendo Wii, will it be based off the Commodore 64 version, and will it take advantage of the Wii remote?
MC: Yes to both questions, it's an obvious implementation of Leaderboard, but it doesn't just end there. I mean obviously with the passion we have for games and the history we have in the industry with a lot of the games we've connected with in the last 25 years, the retro games are the other sort of major focus of ours going forward over the next few years, as you are probably aware, there is quite a large retro movement, it's not just Leaderboard, we're looking at Impossible Mission and California Games to name but a few.
PALGN: As a smaller developer do you sometimes find it tough to get word out about your upcoming titles?
MC: I've never had a real problem in terms of promoting our games. Obviously, we have just changed our focus a little bit and I think in terms of what you say, partially it is very competitive to go up against the likes of say, Gran Turismo when you're launching Ferrari Challenge or Vice City in terms of getting magazine coverage when you're actually launching a title in November this year. Of course one of our prime strategies of late is not to just bring good games to market, it's also to have some of the most powerful plans associated with that. We're not going to stop with Ferrari Challenge. I think there's a lot of equity and value in the retro catalogue, certainly for the likes of California Games that alone gets a lot of people extremely interested in where we are with the products.
PALGN: Will System 3 be looking at developing any new IPs in the future?
MC:Yeah, We've got some original content that's been designed specifically for certain set platforms. For example we have Puzzle Balls, which is a Marble Madness type game where obviously you're using the specific, unique Wii controller to control the ball, and change the number of colours in terms of blocks and destroy certain blocks in a certain way. In terms of other IPs, we are continuing our pinball games and we'll have some more announcements to make about a pinball title that will be launching also in the summer, and this will be on Wii, PSP and PS2. In terms of IP for next year, of course there's things that we're working on, but we're not announcing them just yet. If you like pool games, we have a pool game coming up and I'm quite confident that it's by far the best pool game that's come yet to the DS. A couple of titles have been available so far, I think they've been extremely poor, lacking in quality and physics, in terms of that, what we've done is taken the physics we've learnt out of our pinball title and put that into this product, and I do highly recommend that title as well.
PALGN: The Commodore 64 system appears to be a favourite platform for the System 3 team, is there a reason for this in particular?
MC:Back in the 80s when the Commodore 64 was the dominant format, I think we were the only major developer outside the U.S who actually created consistently some of the best products around. At that time we were undeniably the best publisher who could get the most out of the Spectrum. Likewise we've had luck in producing some of the best games you could find for the PAL territory on the Commodore 64. So, obviously we have a very soft spot for it, for myself and for my team that continue to work with me for many years. We built on the strength of trying to make games playable out of restrictive hardware that we may have at any time. Also, if you look at the way people moan about how hard it is to program PS3, and you can't use C++, there's multiple processors, I mean this is the old school way of doing things, we always had multiple processors and older machines and that was the way they were engineered, to get the best out of them.
PALGN: So can we expect to see more Commodore 64 titles in the future aside from Leaderboard Golf and Tennis Masters?
MC:Well, Tennis Masters was never a Commodore 64 title, Tennis Masters is a new title that we've been working on, but in terms of the Epyx catalogue, you are probably aware that we've bought the complete Epyx catalogue and range, and we've got quite an extensive range of titles of our own based from the original Commodore 64. Last Ninja will be coming back to celebrate 21 years next year. We are launching, in the next six weeks, Impossible Mission, we are launching in August California Games. Skeet Shooting will utilise the touch screen to maximum advantage. We're also going to be bringing out other titles, such as Constructor, which was a huge hit.
PALGN: System 3 appears to enjoy developing for multiple platforms, is there a platform that you personally prefer developing for?
MC:They're all great! I think they all have their advantages, and some have their disadvantages. I think developing on a Nintendo platform obviously has a different style, but it's always difficult competing against Nintendo because they do such a damn good job of crafting good games, and you only have to look at the top 10 or the top 20 in any territory in the world, and you see a majority of the spots actually held by Nintendo themselves, generally always the top 5 at least. But obviously that means it's quite a challenging position for a publisher to come in and to put their titles there and compete against such strong 1st party titles. However, I feel obviously with the catalogue we've got, there's a great opportunity. Impossible Mission, just as an example, would be one of the first titles we're going to be launching on Wii, they'll be available from retailers, and to download as well, and that's where we're going to be exploring what Nintendo can actually do in terms of downloadable content, and see if it can match Xbox Live.
PALGN: So it will be coming to the Virtual Console?
MC: I wouldn't say Virtual Console, because they're not actually calling it the Virtual Console, but in the next few months there will be various announcements I'm sure made by Nintendo that will offer users a system that will be similar to that of what Microsoft is offering at present, which is the ability to download content, which you guys are able to do, but they've got to set up their various systems. Microsoft are years ahead of the other two major players in that regard. It really depends on when Nintendo are rolling out their strategy, which I expect will be within the next two months.
PALGN: Have you had any troubles getting the game online?
MC: At the moment we are focused on the retail launch and as and when Nintendo open up their services, what we've done is that we've made a commitment to try and make sure that the product is going to be one of the first products that can independently be brought away from the Virtual Console. At the moment, the Virtual Console as you know is based just on the NES, SNES, what we're actually offering is new downloadable content designed for Wii.
PALGN: Can you tell some of our younger readers a little bit about the idea behind Impossible Mission?
MC: There's a number of different keys that you've got to find, and you search a variety of rooms to find these keys, there's a professor who's trying to get in your way who has a number of robots that you've got to navigate around. So, you don't actually shoot anything, it's all running and jumping, searching for a variety of objects, and they can either zap you or touch you. The way that the puzzles unfold is that you have to die in a specific way sometimes to complete certain puzzles, so that you can get across to an area. Once you've collected all the pieces, you've got to put the pieces together to make a password (a passkey), that will allow you to then get into the final area to shut down the computer and stop a ballistic attack. There is a countdown, which counts down in real time so you'll need to try and stop this attack. Every time you die you lose so many minutes. There's endless lives, but it quickly counts down. Ultimately, it's a classic puzzle jump and run.
PALGN: In the original game, the maps were randomised, will the same thing happen with the new Impossible Mission?
MC: Absolutely, same philosophy, there'll be a redesign of the level every time, so the levels are different and you won't find the same passkey in the same area as you did previously. One game never plays the same as another game. The PSP version supports game sharing so you can give your friend a copy so he can play until he loads his next PSP title or switches of his PSP. We did try to look at 2 player co-operative, but it just didn't work within the environments of the way the whole game has been set out, and it would have to take some kind of radical redesign to do co-operative play, which wasn't one of our original intentions. What we've also done was to absolutely replicate the 64 version, and when I say that, we haven't emulated the 64, we've taken it, we've got all the graphics, and then we've reprogrammed it frame by frame with the whole look and feel of the original 64. So it's not Commodore 64 code, it's our code, it's our interpretation of how it should feel and look, and if you compare it side by side with the 64 like many people have gone and done, you can't see any difference whatsoever, but it doesn't have a horrible sort of PC feel that some of the other retro games on PSP have. Since we chose a re-skinned mode as well as a merged mode, some people may argue that the original animations of the main character, you know, are timeless, and we should have kept with those so you can control the original 64 character in the new mode if you want as well. So you've got, like I said, a number of modes - Original, New and Merged.
PALGN: Is Dennis Caswell going to be involved?
MC: That's a question everyone asks. I'd love for him to be involved.
PALGN: Will the game retain the difficulty of the original Impossible Mission?
MC: I don't think you need to mess around with the playability, but what we will do however, is give people the option to go onto our website and see how all the different keys match up together, to help them if they want to. We have the option to save the game, which we didn't before, and that could make it a little bit easier for some people because you can try, play around, save, and then don't try something, and obviously reload and and that certainly can aid you, but there's no point in changing the playability of the game if it worked perfectly all those years ago and there's nothing I can do now to make the game play any better.
PALGN: You touched on California Games, which was such a massive hit back in the day, can you tell us a little bit about how the modern day remake is going to be handled?
MC:We're re-skinning the game, bringing it up to date having the original available to play, which is the total 64 version, not emulated but totally redone from scratch, but using the exact 64 animations and positions as well as generally re-skinning, bringing it totally up to date with the look, the feel and the sound and then to merge we've got the original character in the new re-skinned background, that withstands the test of time. California Games however withstands the test of time in terms of being a sports title and a great, fun title to play against your friends. Unfortunately, the one disadvantage it has is that it that it only ever had six events. So, how do we get over that? Well, the simple answer for us is that, what you do is you have your six events, which if you recall were the surfing, the BMX, the Frisbee, the Keepy Uppy, half pipe and rollerblading. Once you compete in these events, if you get a gold medal in one of the events, it unlocks Summer Games 1 and 2, and you are then chosen the represent your country, and then you represent your country playing Summer Games 1 and 2, so what it does is that it actually unlocks a whole sort of a game series, instead of giving you just six events, you've now got twenty two events.
PALGN: So will the PSP version be a straight remake, will there be additions to the game?
MC: Again, I think there's enough in it, there's a variety of events, whether there's kayaking, cycling, running, javelin throwing, high jumping, equestrian, surfing, half pipe, BMX, Frisbee, Keepy Uppy, all these sorts of things. Even just your hundred metres and two hundred metres dash, that sort of thing, there's so much in there, diving, swimming, but there really weren't many sports that the games series didn't cover, there is absolutely nothing that we are going to break in terms of the original philosophy of Epyx and what they thought that the title should have. You know, "if it 'aint broke, don't fix it", it's a great game that overall, if you take all the events together, and they are re-skinned, and they are brought up to date, that they play exactly how the originals were, but you're given more content. At that time I said six events would not have been enough, but twenty two events in terms of content on the PSP or Wii, whatever, is more than enough if you consider that it matches some of the other Olympic games that have come out in recent years from some of the first party platform holders. I think that there's nothing more that we can really add or say or do to it, they've covered all the most important events and they are events that people will know and be familiar with.
PALGN: Will the game have multiplayer?
MC: The PSP version will support up to eight players, there will be four players on the DS and you will be able to play online with the Wii. You'll be able to buy it online, as an online purchase of course, on Wii and PS3, and you'll be able to buy it as a retail product too on Wii and PlayStation 3.
PALGN: You've mentioned System 3 will have content for the Wii online and the PlayStation 3, is there a chance you'll be providing content for Xbox Live Arcade?
MC: Of course we'll be looking at all viable formats that are available to offer this service, and that will include Xbox Live.
PALGN:Thankyou for your time Mark.
MC: Thanks Luke.
PALGN would like to thank Paul at Funtastic for organising the interview. Mark Cale of System 3 for his time and our forumer, Admeister for transcribing the interview.