A Game of “Grutte” Proportions: An Interview With Triangle Studios About Cross of the Dutchman
Triangle Studios are a Dutch development company who were founded by Remco de Rooij and Timen Rienstra after they had graduated from the NHL University. They now have a small team to work alongside and are currently developing their first original project. Cross of the Dutchman is based on the local Frisian legend surrounding the mighty, seven foot tall “Grutte” Pier Donia. The legendary figure is seen as a pirate by some, and a liberator by others. Remco found the time to sit down with us and talk about how they were packing all that man into their game.
IGM: First things first, it’s a pleasure to speak with you Remco. Please introduce yourself and your role within Triangle Studios.
Remco: Thanks, I am the founder and director of Triangle Studios. We started out in 2006, and have been developing cool games ever since! My role is a supervising role, I am responsible for bringing in new projects.
IGM: Which brings me nicely on to my first question. Triangle Studios started off as a project between you and Timen. Since then you have worked on many other projects. What kinds of games were these, and what did you specialise in?
R: Well, when we were still in college, we worked on a project called ‘Metal Wings’. It was supposed to be a shooter similar to Ikaruga, but developed for the GBA. We showed it to Nintendo in the summer of ’04, and got approved for developing on Nintendo platforms. This is also what we started doing when we founded the company in ’06, we’ve worked on many DS titles and proved to be a great platform to develop for!
As for specializing, we have a lot of experience in working with IP (think books, TV shows etc) so most of our DS projects were work for hire, and were intended for kids.
IGM: Fairly typical of the Nintendo handhelds, the kids games always seem to sell a lot on those platforms especially. Now, you have moved on from developing other people’s projects, presumably you are now doing what you have always wanted to do – developing your own original projects. How did you find the transition? Did you need to hire many more staff, find funding etc?
R: We’ve found it pretty difficult, not only because we were with 15+ employees at the time, but also because you have to teach yourself how to keep control over your own projects. So far we’ve developed games such as Heron: Steam Machine, and WINtA. Both projects have taught us a lot about creating your own IP, and what it takes to become successful in doing so.
In terms of staff and funding, the work for hire projects we’ve done so far allowed us to mature and become professional developers. It actually helps a lot to know exactly how much time you’re going to spend on development, and not have to spend your evenings and weekend at your desk fixing what was supposed to be done a week ago! That in turn helps us keep control of costs as well.
IGM: Indeed, I have glanced at your offices and they do seem very professional. I was impressed! How do you manage your team nowadays, is it controlled from the top or does everyone contribute to ideas?
R: That is also something that is changing now that we’re working on our own projects. We see that the guys are much more likely to pitch in new ideas, and come up with cool additions over the weekends. We do have a middle-management that is responsible for planning tasks, and making sure everything gets done. But those guys are involved with projects themselves as well.
IGM: I had an inkling that might be the case. Working on your own creation must be more exciting at least. Speaking of which, you have started to talk about your current project, The Cross of the Dutchman. What inspired you to work on this particular title?
R: The story behind Cross of the Dutchman is that of “Grutte” Pier Donia. It is a legend that is told in schools to the kids in the area from the Netherlands where we’re from. It is the story of a man who stood up to those who took his lands, and formed an army to fight them. That’s pretty much as epic as you can get, and it originated right in our own backyard as well!
When we started talking about doing a game on Grutte Pier, everybody got excited and was throwing around crazy ideas on what the game should be like. This is when we knew we had something special.
IGM: From the little I do know, it is a very inspiring legend. It has a Braveheart kind of vibe to it. Now, you mentioned Grutte Pier there, your protagonist. The legends say he was a mighty man, even standing at seven feet tall. How did you research and consequently design his character?
R: Well, the name “Grutte” actually refers to the English word “Greate”. His name would mean as much as “Big Peter”. When we researched the story, we knew that we would encounter a lot of contradictions. How tall was he really, did he cut off the heads of five people in one blow and was he so strong he could lift a horse? As it turned out, some of the sayings are true, but most of it is the people glorifying the name of Grutte Pier.
The cool thing is, that the stories of Pier are very likable. It is almost a David and Goliath story, only now we’re dealing with a 7 foot-tall David.
IGM: That is certainly epic! So, I guess the obvious thing to ask is, are you trying to remain historically accurate, or go along with the legend? Or is it more of a mixture?
R: Good question! We want the game to feel authentic in the way that we want people to experience the world of medieval Frisia. As for the story, we want Pier to live the legend, and show the player how his actions are regarded as great victories by some, and as an act of crime and piracy by others.
IGM: Aha! Now, I wanted to ask how you were dealing with his dual reputation. Will there be some form of moral choice in the game? Like a good or bad path. Or will this merely be experienced through interaction with characters and cutscenes for example?
R: Well, we certainly won’t go the Fable route with this one. One important aspect of the gameplay is that Pier will leave a trail of destruction where he fights his battles. If you want to protect the people in the villages, it’s not really a good idea to start a battle in the market square. The player is able to choose to protect the farmers and villagers as much as possible, or dive right in and see how much will remain of the town in the end.
We also want to show that Pier had an internal struggle. One of his most important drives for going into battle was the murder of his wife. During the story, Pier will realise that he is causing destruction far greater than what was done to him. Spoilers!
IGM: I really love that idea. We are starting to delve into matters of gameplay, so what is the genre that you have gone for with Cross of the Dutchman? And why did you decide upon this?
R: We’ve gone with the Action and Adventure genre. We explored the idea of having a more strategy based game, but in the end the story of Pier revolves around his battles. We wanted to make this the important aspect of the game. We do feel that we have a great story to build on, so there will be lots of opportunities to explore that as well.
IGM: The artwork is reminiscent of a comic book, or perhaps a graphic novel. It’s certainly very stylish. Will this mean that the game will feature comic violence rather than a more visceral tone?
R: Correct, we knew this would not be a game for kids, but we don’t want it to be an adult-only title either. The game will definitely have its fair share of violence, but don’t expect Pier to rip off the arms of his opponents or anything
We definitely want the game to appeal to a broad audience, while keeping the story and the authentic feel to the game intact.
IGM: Keeping on the theme of the battles, are there any particular scenarios that you will try to re-enact within the game? I am looking forward to seeing what you do with the naval battles that have recently been discussed.
R: Yes, there are a couple of pivotal points in the storyline that have been documented in terms of the outcome of the battle. Most of Piers’ battles will be on land, but there is a wide diversity of the challenges he will face. We don’t want the game to be just about defeating all the opponents and moving on to the next quest. As for the naval battles, this is a particularly difficult challenge for us so far. We don’t want to focus on steering your ship in the right direction, but rather choosing the right approach to conquer an enemy vessel.
IGM: Could you elaborate on the gameplay outside of the battles? What kind of other challenges can players expect other than hacking through the enemy?
R: I don’t want to spoil too much, but outside the obvious collecting and gathering quests that will keep players busy throughout the game, there are also quests where Pier has to team-up with other characters in the storyline. These quests will require a much more strategic approach than the average hack ‘n slash quests.
IGM: Sounds intriguing! A game that recently came out from Iran seems similar to Cross of the Dutchman. The game is called Garshasp the Monster Slayer, and its purpose was to tell the world of the Persian mythology it was based on. I am not sure whether they achieved that, but do you aim to educate the world of your Frisian legend?
R: On a personal note, I would like it if more people became aware of the legend. I think it’s a story worth telling. I think there’s a lot to choose from nowadays; there’s your space marine blockbuster games, and Total War franchises that let you re-enact the past. If we create a game that makes people aware of this awesome story, I think we will have reached our goal.
And, perhaps we are able to continue down this path as a company. There are many more stories we would like to tell this way.
IGM: Good to hear. I find it odd that many previously untold stories and legends are being realised as computer games rather than films. What do you think it is about games that make them the choice for these stories? Do they transfer into gameplay well? I am not sure what it is myself.
R: Well, If I was doing this 20 years ago, it probably would have been translated into a movie. Now, I think games are able to reach out to people more easily than movies are. Who knows what that will turn into in the next 10 or 20 years, but let’s hope we’re always able to find a medium that can get people in touch with the untold legends.
IGM: This is certainly true. And hey, who does not want to play as a seven foot liberator?! Have you decided what platforms that you will be making Cross of the Dutchman available for?
R: We want the game to be available on as many platforms as possible. We will start by releasing a PC version, but we are actively searching for partners who can help us publish and market the game on 360 and PS3 as well!
IGM: Excellent! Would you trade your independent status if a big publisher wanted to reel you in? I guess I am asking whether you value your independence as a company above everything else?
R: Well, let me put it like this: We’ve learned that siding with a big-name publisher is not a guarantee for success. We do feel that if you’re releasing your games on the console platforms, it really helps if you have a partner company to help you out. For now, nobody is in charge but us, and we are very careful in which direction we will take our project.
I don’t know yet where this takes us, but we want to give Cross of the Dutchman the chances that it deserves.
IGM: Very admirable of you. I salute you! Where can people find out more info on Cross of the Dutchman, and when will it be available to purchase and play?
R: We have a development blog on the go at the moment over at crossofthedutchman.com, so those seeking more information should head over there. As for a release date, we aim to have Cross of the Dutchman available for everybody within the first half of 2012!
IGM: But it is available to pre-order right now, is it not?
R: Not just yet, we will announce pre-order packages in the next month!
IGM: Fair enough. Lastly, we always ask those we interview the same question – what advice would you give upcoming indie developers?
R: Be realistic — We see lots of indie developers taking on much more work than they can handle. Know where your strengths are, and play to them.
IGM: Well, it has been a pleasure speaking with you Remco. All of us at IGM wish you the best of luck, and we will certainly be keeping an eye on Cross of the Dutchman, and your future projects. Thanks for spending time to answer our questions.
R: Thank you too, I’m looking forward to the reaction of your visitors to CotD!
IGM: I am sure they will love it. And if they don’t, they can expect a seven foot tall angry man at their door no doubt!