Home-grown game developer Zengami makes timely Switch

Zengami founder and chief executive Andrew Carter (centre) with co-founder Holger Liebnitz (on his left) and their team (from far left) Mr Raphael Haddad, Ms Crystal Toh, Mr Robin Choo, Ms Cindy Lee and Mr Matthew Yeung.
Zengami founder and chief executive Andrew Carter (centre) with co-founder Holger Liebnitz (on his left) and their team (from far left) Mr Raphael Haddad, Ms Crystal Toh, Mr Robin Choo, Ms Cindy Lee and Mr Matthew Yeung.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Its Turtle Pop will be among the first Singapore-made games for Nintendo's latest console

Readying its first mobile game, local game developer Zengami braced itself for a fiercely competitive mobile gaming market.

But the arrival of Nintendo's Switch video-game console has given it - as well as other local developers - a new playing field and fresh optimism.

Zengami had nearly completed its first mobile game, Turtle Pop, earlier this year when Nintendo released the Switch, a tablet-like touchscreen with two controllers attached to its sides, in March.

Seeing the potential of the new platform to display its game's fresh take on the platform-puzzle genre, Zengami decided to redo the game for the Switch instead, said its chief executive, Mr Andrew Carter.

Doing so also means that Turtle Pop will become one of the first locally made games to be available for the Switch. Mr Carter said the company is aiming to launch the game by the end of the year.

"We didn't like the way the mobile market was shaping up. The current state of the mobile game market is very, very crowded," said Mr Carter.

"It's very difficult to take a risk in such a crowded space, especially if you have a new game with fresh new gameplay. It made much more sense to go early into a new market, with a new idea, at a time that's good for new ideas," he added.

Zengami is one of the eight local game studios which announced plans to develop games for the Nintendo Switch, following a collaboration between DigiPen Game Studios and the Infocomm Media Development Authority earlier this year.

Some games, such as PD Design Studio's Dusty Raging Fist and The Gentlebros' Cat Quest, are being developed for both the Switch and other platforms like PC and PlayStation 4 simultaneously.

Mr Carter describes Turtle Pop as a "platform-puzzle game" which blends elements of 2D side-scrolling platformers, such as Super Mario or Sonic The Hedgehog, with puzzle-solving elements.

Players have to navigate increasingly complex levels to find, release and guide turtles hidden throughout the level to safety, using a variety of skills and items.

There will be a strong focus on the multiplayer mode as well, which is possible only on a dedicated console like the Switch - which was another reason why the team decided to make the switch from mobile to console.

"The Switch lets us offer more multiplayer elements that mobile games can't, along with enhanced graphics," said Mr Carter.

Zengami was founded here in 2013 by three seasoned game developers with more than 50 years of game-development experience among them.

They are looking to publish Turtle Pop through DigiPen Game Studios, which was set up by gaming and media school DigiPen Institute of Technology Singapore, which helps third-party and independent developers to create, publish and distribute original game titles.

Turtle Pop was developed by a team of eight employees, including Mr Carter and two other Zengami co-founders, at a small shophouse unit in Tanjong Pagar.

Singaporean Robin Choo, 34, who did design work on the game, said one of the biggest challenges of modifying the game from a mobile to a console game was tweaking the levels from a shorter, more casual one to something more appealing for hardcore console gamers.

"On the Switch version, the gameplay is more fast paced," said Mr Choo. "We also took advantage of the Switch's versatility by designing a brand-new local cooperation mode which is possible only on the Switch."

While an exact price has not been fixed yet, Mr Carter expects it will retail on the Switch Store for about US$20 (S$27.40).

An official launch date has been set for next year, but the team is hoping to finish and release the game by this Christmas.

"My only gripe right now is that the store is not available in Singapore," said Mr Carter.

"It'd be nice if one day there's an official store for Singapore so Singaporeans can play the games which are made here."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2017, with the headline 'Home-grown game developer Zengami makes timely Switch'. Print Edition | Subscribe