Exclusive: Interview With Tom From 13AM Games

Tom over at 13AM Games was kind enough to answer a few questions about their upcoming Wii U games, Runbow. Check out the full interview below! As a reminder, this was the first exclusive article forTorontoGameDevs.com, and you can have special early access to it by contributing to our patreon

TorontoGameDevs.com: First, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? About 13AM Games? How did you guys start and what's the history behind the studio?

Tom: My name is Thomas McCall and I’m the Lead Designer here at 13AM Games. We are a small indie company located in Toronto, currently developing the title Runbow for the Wii U. Our rag tag team of nine first met during George Brown’s post grad Game Design course in September of 2013. Either through destiny, careful planning, or black magic the nine of us seemed to get along and work extremely well together throughout the course. During the Toronto Global Game Jam in January 2014 we created the first prototype of Runbow, which would go on to win Best Design at the Level Up Showcase. We pursued a console release and Nintendo saw the potential Runbow had and really made the effort to work with us and give us the exposure we’d need. Runbow has always felt like it would resonate with the Nintendo audience. From then on, we’ve been developing and improving the game with Nintendo’s support wherever we needed it.

TorontoGameDevs.com: Why did you decide to work on Wii U for your first game?

Tom: The decision to work with Nintendo came from two factors. The first was that we wanted to get Runbow onto the platform we thought would really showcase its strengths as a chaotic local multiplayer game. As a bonus, the GamePad allowed us to create an asymmetrical mode, changing the dynamic of the game itself. The second factor was the the support Nintendo has given us right from the get-go. We would not be where we are today with the exposure we have if it wasn’t for them and their teams.

TorontoGameDevs.com: Where did the basis of Runbow start? Was it always going to be a nine player multiplayer platformer?

Tom: Runbow was conceived during the Toronto Global Game Jam. In keeping with the chaotic and crowded nature of the event, we set out from the start to make the game playable by as many people as possible. After throwing around several ideas for an hour or so, we landed on the concept of running through short obstacle courses while battering anyone in your way. The idea for the colour mechanic came from us trying to squeeze the theme of the year, “you don’t see the world as it is, but as you see it” in the game somehow. Dave threw out the idea of disappearing platforms with colour and it just grew from there. With those basics nailed down we went to work for the weekend eventually creating the first prototype of Runbow. Originally, we only went up to 8 players because we figured that was the sort of normal thing to do with a party game. It wasn’t until we got our hands on Nintendo’s hardware that we realized we could squeak one more in, which was a no brainer. Who likes being the awkward 9th wheel?

TorontoGameDevs.com: Speaking of nine players, I've always thought that was crazy. How did you achieve this? Was there a big challenge in distinguishing controllers? What about the frame rate?

Tom: The path to nine player Runbow started when Alex, our resident game hipster (he prefers game lord) remembered that the game Gyrostarr, a WiiWare game, had used tethered controllers. He sort of jokingly asked our technical director Marty if he could throw in our game. Marty, being Marty... just sort of did it. We all agreed that 9 is bigger (and thus superior) than 8, making the decision to include it easy. Marty claims that the controllers are actually really easy to distinguish as they come in tagged as separate entities right from the start.

Getting the game to run with an acceptable framerate was a bit more of a struggle than we first thought it would be. It took us a solid 2 -3 weeks of work to get it where we were happy with it for both visual and gameplay performance.

TorontoGameDevs.com: There are a lot of secret characters in Runbow from different indie games on Wii U, including some from follow Toronto developer DrinkBox Studios and their Guacamelee franchise. How did that come about? Did you approach them, or the other way around?

Tom: It all started at IndieCade 2014, where Nintendo invited us to demo our game. At the event, our booth was next to developers like Yacht Club Games and Ronimo Games. Our character at the time, Hue, had a pretty similar facial structure to Shovel Knight and the we jokingly asked if we could throw him in our game. After hearing the idea out loud, both sides realized it was actually an interesting proposition. They agreed and we used this show of faith and a little help from Nintendo to reach out and contact as many indie Wii U developers we could. Due to the awesome nature of indie developers, we received a bunch of positive feedback and quickly assembled a pretty large cast of interesting characters. From there, it was just on our artist’s to realize these other characters in our art style and make them all work, and I think they nailed it.

TorontoGameDevs.com: At E3 you were part of Nindies@Home. How did that come about? What was the reception like from players when they finally got to play the game?

Tom: The Nindies@Home program was proposed to us by Nintendo a few months before E3 and we definitely wanted to be involved. The reception of the event preview has been, for the majority, very positive and really helped us gauge what people thought of our game. Obviously we got our fair share of critiques and feedback which we took into consideration for the final polishing steps. The opportunity to expose our work to everyone, while still having the chance to implement necessary changes, was a huge help to us and we’d definitely consider doing events like this in the future.

TorontoGameDevs.com: What's it been like developing a video game in Toronto. Has there been a challenge with resources, or talent?

Tom: Toronto has been a great place to start up our studio and develop games. The community is extremely supportive and constantly holding events for people to meet and share ideas. I have personally worked at both XMG Studio as a QA tester, and Get Set Games as a level designer and both of those experiences have solidified that this is what I want to do, and this is the place to do it. We’ve also got a ton of help from George Brown College and funding from the Ontario government. All three of these factors make Toronto one of the few places where I think a startup like us can really thrive and accomplish its goals.

TorontoGameDevs.com: Do you have a firm release date for Runbow yet? Price?

Tom: I can only say that we are aiming for a Q3 release and that the price will not be anything unexpected or out of the ordinary. Once a few things solidify here on our end we will be able to give these details so stay tuned.

TorontoGameDevs.com: Anything else you want to share about Runbow?

Tom: Get ready.


A big thank you to Tom for doing the interview. Make sure to follow 13AM Games on Twitter and keep checking back here for the latest on Runbow.