It now seems to be part of the standard movie package these days. They have the T-shirts, the action figures and the game of the movie. Unfortunately, the games are normally ill-conceived and don't live up to the hype of the movie. Speed Racer, the game of the Warner Brothers movie, has broken the mould.
Speed Racer has been around for some time. Starting life as a Japanese Manga Anime by Tatsuo Yoshida, and eventually making its way onto television as a cartoon series, it has developed quite a cult following.
With the decision by the Wachowski Brothers (the team behind The Matrix and V for Vendetta) the search was on to find a game developer to take their vision onto the gaming stage. They settled on Sidhe Interactive (it's pronounced "shay", if you're wondering), New Zealand's premier game developer.
We therefore took the opportunity to visit Sidhe's studio in Wellington and put some questions to managing director Mario Wynands and senior producer Andy Satterwaite.
GP: "Sidhe" is a small Irish elf/fairy type of creature that either lives underground or across the sea. What are the challenges of running a software company so far removed from the major players?
Mario: Sidhe Interactive has been going now for some eleven years, and one thing I have learned is the importance of face to face meetings. It's important to build relationships with your clients and to do this you need to be there in person. This year alone I have made four trips to the United States.
GP: Speed Racer is a significant movie franchise backed by some of the big names in the movie industry. What attracted them to Sidhe Interactive as the developer of choice for this important title?
Mario: Sidhe Interactive has a reputation for delivering good quality games quickly. We had around ten months deliver this game.
Andy: Our work on Grip Shift demonstrated that we had the ability to deliver over the top and fun, crazy games. My involvement in titles such as Quantum Red Shift, Wipe Out Frenzy and other fast paced titles demonstrated that we had the capability to deliver the producer's vision.
GP: Developing the game while the film was still in production must have presented some challenges?
Mario: We met with the Wachowski Brothers four times during production and we were able to get a clear view of what their vision was for the movie. What people miss is that the movie is a big departure from their usual visceral action movies. It is in fact targeted at 8-12 year-olds and is designed to be family friendly entertainment. We had to ensure that the game reflected this vision. This is not a racing game; it is in fact a car fighting game.
GP: The game has been released on the Wii, how challenging was it to develop on this console?
Mario: It was neither easy or hard, but rather just a different set of challenges. The Wii certainly has less buttons for players to use, with more reliance being placed on the motion controller itself. We were very conscious of the target audience and the need to make it instinctive to use.
Andy: We wanted players to get involved in the game experience, we wanted them to jump when the cars jumped. We wanted it to be a more physical experience.
GP: How much reference was made to previous games and some of the original Anime story lines?
Mario: We were doing a game of the movie and that was our focus. We were however conscious that the Speed Racer series had a large cult following and we needed to ensure we meet the fans expectations.
GP: At its core this game appears to be a racing game but that's not the case?
Andy: It's a car game yes, but really it's a fighting game. When we discussed the title with the Wachowski Brothers they likened it to Street Fighter with cars. Yes, there is car racing, but that's to set the scene for the car combat.