March 31, 2022 officially marked the end of an era.
With the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U eshops preparing to shut down in 2023, last week officially marked a quieter, but incredibly significant deadline: the deadline for developers to submit new games for either platform.
Sure, you might think, but who’s submitting new games on the 3DS or Wii U in March of 2022 anyway? Well, at least three developers: Luke Vincent, William Kage, and Jerel Dulay, all of whom were in the final stages of submitting and releasing their respective games on 3DS and Wii U just as the deadline for submissions came and went.
Each developer started on their 3DS and Wii U games for very different reasons. Vincent got into making games as a fun side project during pandemic-related lockdowns and did his best to finish a game he was already working on by the deadline. Kage, who had been working on a full 3DS game when the deadline was announced, realized he couldn’t make it in time and instead worked to convert a minigame from within his original project into its own full-blown title to make it across the finish line. And Dulay, a committed developer who was already working on a whole universe of games, took the closure of new game submissions as a personal challenge and is trying to release seven whole games across both platforms in the span of a few months.
All three developers love Nintendo’s aging platforms of an era now effectively over. And all are proud to be a key part of leaving one last stamp on the 3DS and Wii U for the handful of remaining fans who still look for new games to play on either.
Harold’s Walk to the Finish
Vincent’s decision to develop games on the 3DS wasn’t because of some calculated marketing decision, or because he thought there’d be an existing audience there at all. When he started working on games during COVID-19 lockdowns, he opted to develop for the 3DS purely because he liked the console. He’s especially a fan of its StreetPass and 3D features, the former of which hasn’t been possible to integrate into new games for a while, but the latter of which he feels has been “overlooked” by many other developers.
He didn’t have any particularly high sales expectations from his first game, Harold’s Walk. After all, he was releasing it at the end of 2021 — well after Nintendo audiences had largely moved over to the Switch. And yet, Vincent found a surprising number of people were interested in playing it. Why? He suspects the main reason was just because a single new game on the 3DS at that time was immediately noticed by anyone who happened to be looking for one.
“Harold’s Walk probably got more attention on 3DS than it would have on Switch, because there’s just a flood of little games coming out on Switch all the time,” he says.
In response to the unexpected attention, he kept developing for 3DS. Vincent began work on a larger sequel, Harold Reborn, which he released late last year. And then he began his third game, 3D platformer adventure Automaton Lung, knowing as he did that the submission cut-off was looming and he would be one of the final developers to release a game for the 3DS.
Despite his unexpected audience for both Harold games, Vincent isn’t bracing himself for a massive windfall from Automaton Lung, especially as the eshop is slowly closing off its features over the next few years, including halting purchases. He does plan to port the game to PC eventually to get more mileage out of it, and is looking to continue developing new games for other platforms — possibly the Switch, though he says he’s having trouble getting a Switch development kit to work with, and doesn’t seem as enamored with the Switch as he is the 3DS.
“I don’t think the Switch is as good as the 3DS, but it is better than the 3DS in a lot of ways,” Vincent says. “The unique features on the 3DS make it cool to develop for, like the two screens and the 3D. There are other things too, like the little pedometer…StreetPass…all those cool features made it unique and gimmicky in a fun Nintendo way. The Switch is more like an Xbox that you can take on a plane with you. Which is cool. But there aren’t as many unique features.”
Vincent is currently waiting to hear back from Nintendo following the submission of Automaton Lung, so he doesn’t have a release date for it yet, though he hopes to drop one as soon as his game is approved. Overall, he seems relaxed about the entire situation, even though he’s just submitted months of hard work right before a very dramatic deadline. While proud of his work, Vincent also seems ready to move on, and is considering continuing making games for PC or even in VR after this.
“It seemed cool to have a [game on a] Nintendo platform,” he says, reflecting on his time as a 3DS developer. “It was hard, but I think there’s just a lot of nostalgia for the 3DS. There’s not really a good reason to make games for the 3DS. There are other people doing it, and I respect it, but…it’s definitely not lucrative. It’s more like a fun tech project.”
The Little Minigame That Could
Next, there’s William Kage, a game composer who got his start making SNES-style tunes with instruments from Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6. That passion quickly turned into game development, as Kage created a SNES-style game engine and began work on a personal project: a Final Fantasy 6 prequel. He kept that hosted privately, “out of respect for Nintendo and Square Enix,” but from there began working on his own IP: Otosan.
Otosan, a 16-bit RPG about a young man going on an adventure while his father is away on a business trip, was originally planned not just for PC and mobile, but also for Nintendo 3DS. Kage had become interested in developing for 3DS a few years ago when he joined Nintendo’s indie portal and discovered that while Nintendo had a strict approval process for individuals to get Switch development kits, they were approving everyone who wanted to make games on 3DS. He figured that making a game for the 3DS first would make it easier to get Switch approval later.
When Nintendo announced the impending end of submissions for game developers last year, Kage knew that he wouldn’t be able to finish Otosan in time. So he pivoted. Within Otosan, he had created a minigame called Fragrant Story.
What if he pulled out Fragrant Story and made it a standalone game? And also made it much bigger? And did a physical release? All in a matter of months?
“I basically sprinted to each door Nintendo was closing, and rolled under it at the last second, like a classic Geordi La Forge GIF,” Kage says. “So many doors.”
When Kage first made the change, Fragrant Story was a 10-minute minigame. But it quickly evolved into a much bigger, multi-hour tactics RPG.
“The minigame grew and grew!” Kage tells me. “Normally you might trim your game in a crunch. Here I was drawing all new sprite sheets, composing additional music, coding up new features and modes.”
What’s more, Otosan was originally planned for a physical run, and now, so too is Fragrant Story. Effectively making it the final physical cart release for the 3DS after last month’s release of shmup Andro Dunos 2. And this was Kage’s first experience with physical game publishing too, making things even more overwhelming and complex.
“It was a humbling experience, to suddenly be a physical game publisher,” he says. “Hours of old-school ESRB prep for physical, as opposed to five minutes filling out a form for digital. Zillions of documents to read and sign. I had to get good at several Adobe programs I’d never used before. And on, and on.
“I thought I’d worn a lot of hats at once before, and adding publishing would be another. It turns out publishing is hats, plural.”
But like Dulay and Vincent, Kage made it. He says Nintendo of America was a huge help throughout the process, answering questions and working with his lack of experience to get him through the finish line.
With Fragrant Story done and ready for distribution on April 21, Kage is looking ahead. He’s up for releasing free updates for Fragrant Story if enough folks are interested, but in the meantime, he’s hoping it will serve as a gateway to Switch access for Otosan. And despite the tricky publishing process, he’s still optimistic about physical editions for future games, too.
“Carts are forever!” Kage says. “The slow wind-down was great for me, because I think I actually managed to Geordi La Forge my way under a couple more doors. That’s all I can say about that, for now.”
The Silver Falls Extended Cinematic Universe
Jerel Dulay has wanted to be a game developer since he was a kid. He made his first game in high school, and sold it to his classmates for $2, using the money to buy extra chocolate milk at lunch. He went to college in Australia for software development, and his first commercial game, Animelee, came out in 2016.
Animelee, a fighting game featuring different animals, is a mobile game. But something didn’t sit right with Dulay. He understood that in order to effectively monetize mobile games, he’d need to run ads, but he didn’t want to feel pushed into a business model that pressured players to spend tons of money.
So he moved to Nintendo platforms. Dulay had already gotten ahold of a Wii U development kit prior to Animelee, but felt at the time that the horror game project he was working on for it, Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars, wasn’t good enough. However, after his work on Animelee and a few other mobile games, he felt ready to revisit his old project in early 2018, this time on the 3DS.
Development was hard. Unity, the engine he was working in, proved a struggle to work with. But all the while, he had a small following on social media that was cheering him on.
“There was a lot of negativity because you see, in 2018, if you announce a 3DS game, everyone’s already moved on to the Switch,” Dulay says. “You’re going to see a lot of people that are saying, ‘You’re an idiot, you must hate money, why are you making a 3DS game?’ But there were far, far more people that were saying this is really cool.”
3 Down Stars had a rocky launch at the start of 2021 in part due to a miscommunication with Nintendo that led to it unexpectedly missing its launch date by a few weeks, but Dulay’s audience remained positive. Many reached out kindly to point out bugs or other issues, continuing to support him as he fixed the game and spent the following year adding new features. But even after all the issues he’d had throughout development, when the time came to move to a new project, Dulay didn’t want to leave Nintendo platforms.
“I knew that my ability to make an impressive game just wasn’t there because I am a solo developer,” he says. “If I were to try to make a PC game, it just would not look as good. It wouldn’t play as good. It wouldn’t present as well as teams that have more people…And I knew that I would just get drowned out in that market…But I thought people on the 3DS are not getting games that often anymore, I’ll make a game for those people. And that’s why I chose the 3DS.”
Dulay started a number of different projects, and did eventually move to Nintendo Switch development. But when Nintendo announced the slow wind-down of the 3DS and Wii U eshops, Dulay saw it as a challenge. He wanted to make something just for the audiences remaining on those platforms.
And not just one game, either. Seven games. In two months.
- Silver Falls: White Inside Its Umbra – Wii U, survival horror game taking place in a dark forest, where the Gamepad stands in for the player’s phone. Supports all of the Wii U’s different control schemes, including the Wii Mote and the Balance Board.
- Silver Falls: Undertakers – Wii U, Atari-style, top-down survival game. A port of Dulay’s existing game of the same name on the 3DS.
- Silver Falls: Gaiden – Wii U, open world multiplayer monster battling game.
- Silver Falls: Guardians and Metal Exterminators – 3DS, dungeon crawler with RPG-like character growth
- Silver Falls: Ghoul Busters – 3DS, in a Game Boy style, straightforward action platformers
- Silver Falls: Vicarious Brothers – 3DS, in the style of the Visual Boy, first-person RPG
- Silver Falls: Gaiden Deathly Delusion Destroyers – 3DS, involves holding the system portrait-style, RPG battler where characters have access to different skills depending on the day of the week.
That’s a lot! But Dulay’s not making them all from scratch. All those projects Dulay had started over the last few years have been at various stages of completion, and he’s been working to get them playable in time for the deadline. He’s also a much faster, better developer now than he was when he first started, and is able to solve problems on the Wii U and 3DS that he didn’t know how to solve back when he was first making 3 Down Stars.
And Dulay also has an ace up his sleeve: some of those seven games won’t be finished yet when he releases them on the eshop. Dulay tells me something both Vincent and Kage also confirmed: in the twilight years of the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, Nintendo was very eager to work with any developers willing to make new content for either platform. For Dulay, that meant incredibly fast and positive communications and, apparently, a willingness to work with a seemingly absurd request. Dulay proposed submitting seven games by Nintendo’s deadline that would be functional, just not fully complete. Maybe some of them would only have one level, or would be technically a game, just very small. Then, over the following several months after the deadline, he would update them until they were fully complete.
Nintendo immediately said yes.
The process of putting together seven games in four weeks, regardless of how complete they were already or how complete they needed to be to launch, was a massive undertaking. Dulay almost didn’t make it, submitting one of the seven games within the final minutes just before the deadline.
In a video posted yesterday, Dulay admitted he worked a self-imposed, unhealthy amount of hours in the run-up to the final submission, including pulling hundreds of hours a week and multiple all-nighters that resulted in detrimental impacts to his health. He began making errors in his submission paperwork due to a lack of sleep. Two of his games had issues working on original 3DS hardware right as he approached the deadline, which would have meant they wouldn’t be able to release at all.
“I pushed myself too far physically. I wasn’t getting enough sleep,” Dulay says in the video. “I thought I was going to make a joke, but I don’t think this is the sort of situation where you can joke. Because this is something that means a lot to me and I think it means a lot to people around the world, so I really wanted to do my best.”
Amidst all this, Dulay was in communications with Nintendo the entire time, and at the last minute, Nintendo stepped in. They made the necessary changes to get the two games that didn’t work on original hardware as New 3DS exclusive, and assisted Dulay with completing the paperwork. It was down to the wire, but Dulay managed to get all seven games approved in time. “[Nintendo] not physically, but literally picked me up and carried me across the finish line so that these games could be submitted.”
Dulay isn’t sure how long he’ll continue updating his seven games beyond just getting them finished — it’s dependent on how interested his audience is. He says a few of the games (Gaiden, for instance) are explicitly built to be expandable long-term if the interest is there. And all the games can connect with one another via a code handshake system, as well as with past and future Silver Falls titles, including the one Dulay is working on for the Nintendo Switch. So, in theory, Dulay might still be developing for the 3DS and Wii U months, or even years down the road, as long as Nintendo continues to allow developers to submit updates for existing games — and he’s confident they will for a while yet.
“The eShop closing isn’t— You don’t have to view it negatively,” Dulay tells me in our interview. “Look at these great games. And Nintendo is helping me get these out. I’m not on a rogue mission here. And so, I feel really encouraged that I am supported by Nintendo to get these games out. It feels so cool.”