Mercenary Kings Developer Interview: Free Upgrade, Cross-Buy, Switch Version And More

Tribute Games has slowly built up a reputation among the indie development scene with games like Flinthook, Mercenary Kings and Curses ‘N Chaos. They have just released Mercenary Kings: Reloaded Edition, which is an upgraded version of the original game with new features and additions. The upgrade was available free of cost to the owners of the original game across the PS4 and PC while those who haven’t played it yet were able to get it on the Xbox One, PS Vita and Nintendo Switch.

Recently, we had a chance to get an interview with the co-founder of Tribute Games, Jean-François Major. He was kind enough to answer our questions giving detailed responses to each of them. You can read the full interview below, it has been edited to fit the format otherwise it is untouched.

Why did it take so long to release the reloaded edition? What kind of feedback did the developers look for in order to improve the game?

The ports took us longer than anticipated. Initially, Xbox One and Vita we’re set to release a bit after the PS4 launch. When we finished working on Flinthook, we decided to put everyone on staff on an update to Mercenary Kings to at least somewhat make up for the setbacks and delays. And we added the Switch version to add an extra layer of challenge!

Why was the decision made to launch this as a free upgrade? Was the cross-buy offer with the PS Vita a mistake or was it always planned from the beginning of development.

Everyone likes free upgrades right? We figured, it’s a good way to thank our fans for being so supportive and what better way than new free content 3 years in.
Cross-buy was always planned. We want people to feel like they got their money’s worth. While it makes less sense financially for us, we’ve always prioritized our fans over our wallets.

Which platform has worked out the best for you in term of sales for the game? What has been the response so far from the community for reloaded edition?

It’s a bit early to say. I have high hopes for the Vita crowd and the Switch version is really fitting with all the four player options.
But so far it’s been great. I’ve noticed many people decided to give it another go and are appreciating the improvements.

What kind of development challenges did you guys face bringing the game to so many platforms, particularly for the PS Vita and Nintendo Switch.

For the Vita, you’d expect a 2D game that looks like it could’ve been made for Super Nintendo to run smoothly. However, it turns out it’s a pretty complex game and we’re really pushing the system’s memory and CPU limits.

While on the Switch we did not have to worry so much about performance but rather how can we support the device to its full potential on a design and feature stand point. We support, local split screen, online and local wireless four player multiplayer. We tried to take advantage of the HD Rumble. And we even designed a “face to face” mode for two player co-op in handheld mode where you can sit across from your friend on the device laying down and share the screen that way instead of squeezing next to one another.

What plans do you have for the future of the Mercenary Kings brand. Are you guys planning to offer post-launch support or go full hands-on with a sequel?

For now we’re listening to feedback. We have a pretty lengthy list of features that couldn’t make the cut that we’re keeping for a potential sequel should that ever happen.

What was the hardest part of developing Mercenary Kings? How much did the experience from developing Scott Pilgrim factor in making this game?

When we started working on Mercenary Kings, we already had shipped close to a dozen games each. So developing the game was no surprise to us. The biggest challenges came from doing all that on a tight to non-existent budget while starting a business. And then figuring out what goes into marketing and distributing games. Luckily we had gone through the process once with Wizorb.

What do you think about the indie gaming scene back when you launched the original game, and how does it compare to the current?

It’s really scary how much it changed in such a short period of time. Just in Montreal, we went from roughly 50 studios to now 200. Standing out is getting harder and harder. Since Mercenary Kings, we released Curses N Chaos, Ninja Senki DX and Flinthook. What we’ve noticed is smaller games that are good games but don’t try to raise the bar, just don’t really have any breathing room anymore.

Why was the game designed as a multiplayer focused shooter instead of something linear in nature like Metal Slug? What was the inspiration behind this design?

I think the art style sets the wrong expectations for the game. We love Metal Slug. However, our initial goal was to try to interpret what Monster Hunter would look like in 2D with guns. The game is closer to Borderlands than your typical sidescroller run and gun game. As an RPG of sorts, it’s much more enjoyable to loot with friends, show off your setup and split up amongst your team to tackle the various objectives of a mission.

What was the experience of releasing it free of cost on the PlayStation Plus? Did you guys reach the target audience with this promotion or it didn’t work out in the end?

I still believe that was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to take at Tribute. I still don’t have a clear answer yet. In the end, it generated tons of buzz around the game and drove sales up on PC.

Which market is the hardest to break out these days? Is PC still the easiest to develop and market games or has the focus shifted to consoles like the Nintendo Switch?

It’s hard to say at the moment. Nintendo has done a great job with the Switch and generating huge developer interest. The Nintendo Switch subreddit is pretty positive about all the games they are getting.

While I think the PC is easier to develop for, you still have that extra challenge to make sure it works on just about any hardware and software combinations. Someone’s game is crashing because they have two mice plugged into their PC? Yup, we should’ve thought about that!

Mercenary Kings: Reloaded Edition is available now for the PS4, PC, PS Vita, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. You can read our review of the game from here.

Danial Arshad Khan

Founder of GearNuke.
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