Founded back in 2007, French games firm Dotemu has made a name for itself with its modern ports of classic games from IP including Final Fantasy and Metal Slug. In March 2018, the company decided to launch an indie publishing label called The Arcade Crew and more recently released an eagerly-awaited remastered version of Final Fantasy VIII.
We caught up with CEO Cyrille Imbert to found out more
So, why set up Arcade Crew?
We all play indie games in the office and love them. With Dotemu we only do licensed games and wanted to do something a bit different. We didn't really need to do it - it was more us now having the experience as a publisher and developer to really help studios so let's try to do it and work with cool teams. We're really picky with the projects we work with; we don't need to have ten projects a year, so we can be choosey with the projects and teams. We love working with people we get along with. There are many indie games that have a retro feel that are heavily inspired by older games so it was close to our DNA. We're looking for games that have a retro reference, either in gameplay, graphics or the general universe of the game. We were seeing some cool indie games that didn't get the success they deserved so figured we could help out so we reached out to the teams we liked. We're looking at doing three or four games a year. Sometimes, we just don't find projects we feel are very good so we'll see. But sometimes, you're like: 'This game is cool, they need a publish and want to release in six months' so it's perfect. It's a bit shorter than the timeframe for Dotemu where we need to negotiate the license, start production and takes much longer.
How does Dotemu plan to stand out from the rather busy indie publishing landscape?
The most important thing we bring to studios is we are developers ourselves. That changes a lot of things because we know the struggle and know what's important for studios when you're creating your game. There are some things that we can bring to the project. We do a lot of consulting for the studios all along the production process. We have an internal QA team who are all designers so not only are they noticing bugs, but they can give their opinion along the way, they test mechanics and so on. Also, we really try to be as positive as possible because we know it's really hard and we've been through lots of different productions with big publishers ourselves. Already our goal is to make everyone happy in the end. We are adding value in the sense that we know the production process and we know how to help people because we do that internally. We are also really used to working with IP holders like Sega, Square Enix, SNK and so on and have been used to handling other people's work and taking care of it in a way that people are really confident about. We always seek approval from big IP holders because otherwise it would be impossible to do deals. We do the same with the Arcade Crew basically, whether it's Square Enix or someone else, it's the same in terms of how we take care of their creation. That's also something that studios really like.
Why did Dotemu decide to support Stadia with Windjammers 2?
They really liked the project. We were interested in working with them because it's a new platform, it's interesting how they are handling things. It could be the future. You have to be flexible and go with the flow. It's important to not avoid these things for reasons you don't understand. The Google team has been really cool with us; they're really passionate people. It's not just some random distributor - they really know their games well. Windjammers is a good fit, too, because we want to push the competitive scene. With Stadia, we'll have even more reach so more people can play and we can have even more people at tournaments and potentially get to Evo's main selection of games at some point.
What's it been like from a technical standpoint?
We just started. It's hard to draw conclusions just yet. It doesn't seem like a huge challenge. It's different so we need to get used to it. There are always new things. With Dotemu we're used to working on crazy projects - games where we didn't have the source code so we had to reverse engineer it or emulation or things like that. We also have source code from different games from the 90s written in Japanese and we know how to work with that so we're not really afraid of new technology.
You recently remastered Final Fantasy VIII for Square Enix. Given that the original source code for the game didn't exist, I imagine that created a number of challenges.
It's always hard to work on Final Fantasy games because there's a lot of pressure, but we've been doing it for five years now. Final Fantasy VIII was hard and took a lot of time. We've worked with Square Enix for a long time and they're super nice and understanding with us. Working on Final Fantasy VII on PS4 was our first console game and that was very stressful. Now we're more used to it. We don't have a huge knowledge of 3D games so they hired another company to help us for the new models and textures and everything. It was quite smooth. They really helped us out.
How did you get around the lack of original source code?
We reverse-engineered it. We rebuilt source code from scratch. That's our technique. We did that with many games. It's hard but our technical team is high-qualified. We've been playing around with emulation and reverse engineering for ten years. The bigger the challenge, the cooler it is because it's hard but we can make it happen.