Interview: Daniel Coleman of Semnat Studios

What do action side-scrolling adventures, samurais, and toasters with attitude have in common?  Ordinarily nothing, but all that’s about to change in this crazy new world we all independent game development.  Gone are the days when obsessive focus groups determine what the people want, as a new generation of motivated developers are taking charge and leading the digital distribution revolution.  And when creativity rules, you too will believe that a simple toaster can fly…and attack relentlessly.

With that in mind, the world of independent development meets aggressive cookware in Eduardo the Samurai Toaster, the debut title from Semnat Studios and available exclusively for Nintendo’s WiiWare service.  We sit down the series creator and appliance aficionado Daniel Coleman, where we dish on first games, motion-controls, and if he really knows what side his break is buttered on.

Eduardo stems from quite the novel concept into the debut release for Semnat Studios.  Can you tell us how this charming little toaster get to become a samurai?

First he was Eduardo the Magical Toaster. Then I gave him a topknot inspired by Sonny Chiba’s character in the movie Shogun’s Samurai. It was a silly, random idea, and we’re pretty surprised by some of the reactions. We just thought the premise itself was nonsensical enough that people wouldn’t expect a realistic reason for him being a samurai, but now everyone wants a back-story for the character, ha ha. Maybe if we did an Eduardo web comic or something along those lines we could get into some story, but as a game designer my personal feeling is that if you can’t tell a story through game elements alone, then I’m not interested in telling the story through game form at all. It’s flattering that people actually want to know his story though, when all we thought was that he was just as abstract as Pacman. I had no idea that people would like the character, so for those who wanted a story and got none, sorry about that.

Eduardo made sense to use in a shooter because he himself is a gun of sorts, and his pastry enemies (those are the little rectangles with Peking Opera masks) would naturally be his projectiles as well since that’s what you do with toaster pastries: put them in a toaster. So there is a bit of sense within the whole premise. J

The nice thing about the randomness of Eduardo as a concept is that it allowed me to create whatever kind of environment I felt like making. I could just experiment and learn how to create game art as I went along, and not have to stick to any particular setting. The finished game represents five years worth of experimenting, at the very least trying to do something different and interesting (for me and hopefully others) with videogame art. All while having to keep everything under a very tiny file size.

Your website lists Eduardo’s beginnings on the PC, yet the concept really seems to have solidified for his WiiWare debut.  Was this a conscious decision to choose Nintendo’s service over others like Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, or any of the various PC distributors?

We are amateur game designers and our goal is to eventually make enough money to do this full time, so we jumped at the first opportunity to get a game on a major console. Nintendo offered us the chance. I never thought we’d get a console game out, a crazy thing for a developer like us!

Depending on how Eduardo performs sales-wise, do you plan on staying with Nintendo or venturing onto another platform?

We’ll develop for whatever makes the most sense to us. We would like to be able to dedicate ourselves full-time to making games, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get there.

Although Eduardo is a WiiWare title, it doesn’t utilize any of the Wii’s motion controls – a move that’s sure to make plenty of traditional gamers quite happy. Why did you make the decision to withhold waggle?

The game didn’t need any of it. J

It’s always nice to see hard-drawn artwork in games, particularly in independent titles.  Apart from a series of Disney films, we haven’t seen many self-motivated toasters hit the scene.  Who’s responsible for creating/designing the idea of Eduardo?

Why thank you. I created the character of Eduardo.

Back to the actual game for a moment, the option to allow gamers to play without taking damage and to basically free-roam levels without fear of dying is an interesting one. Did you implement this so that gamers of any skill level could complete the game?

Yeah, though perhaps that was a mistake! We thought that if people felt that there wasn’t enough challenge in the default difficulty setting that they would limit the number of lives they played with and/or increase the difficulty level. But we’ve received a number of complaints that the game is too easy in that it allows you to play with infinite lives. And that the default setting is a breeze. Perhaps we should have presented that choice differently.

The easiest setting allows for you to take a lot of damage, whereas crazy-hard mode will kill you with one hit.

Are you associated with any other indie developers, or is this a side project you decided to expand into something much bigger?

We are independent, the three of us. Eduardo is our first game, and we hope that we get the chance to make more games and learn from what we’ve done.

Thanks for taking some time to speak with us Daniel, and we wish you the best of luck with Eduardo in the future.  Before we go, any parting words for aspiring independent developers with dreams of action toasters of their own?

I appreciate it! To other indie developers:  just do your best and learn from everything you do. Keep on trying until you achieve success, and learn to humbly take all criticism and praise.

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