• Larry Kilgore III

PixelSmiths Ep. 12: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge w/ Game Designer Frederic Gemus



How a Canadian game developer went from making AAA game titles to working for an indie studio.


On this episode, Larry & Clinton talk with Frederic Gemus, the Game Designer at Tribute Games who was behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge. Shredder's Revenge is a retro-inspired beat-em-up, seen to be the spiritual successor to the TMNT games of the 80's and 90's. It is available now on most gaming platforms.


Fred talks to the boys about his time developing AAA games at Ubisoft, figuring out how to go out and follow his own passions in the gaming industry space, joining his friends at their indie studio, and what it took to get Shredder's Revenge made. He also talks about his games store, Retro MTL, that is based in downtown Montreal.


Other games and media discussed include: Ubisoft, Far Cry 6, Assassin's Creed, Just Dance, Rainbow 6: Siege, The Simpsons Arcade

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Find Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1361510/Teenage_Mutant_Ninja_Turtles_Shredders_Revenge/

Follow Fred on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fredgemus

Visit the Tribute Games website: https://tributegames.com/

Follow Tribute Games on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TributeGames

Visit the Retro MTL website: https://retromtl.com/


Transcript:


Larry Kilgore III:

Video games are an art form. From the bits and bites of the old school arcade cabinets to the technological advancements of the modern era, video games have been a way for creators to tell stories in an interactive environment that can be shared the world over.


Clinton Bader:

Developers, designers, visionaries, and storytellers like the artisans of old, it's their blood, sweat, and tears that go into crafting these unique and innovative experiences for players. But oftentimes, the independent artists get lost in the overwhelming space that is today's hectic gaming market. And on Pixelsmiths, it's our goal to be a platform for those artists to celebrate their drive, their vision, and the work it takes to create their art.


Larry Kilgore III:

On this episode, we'll speak with the Montreal based game designer behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shredders Revenge, a side scrolling, Beat' em up, inspired by the Turtles cartoons of the eighties and nineties. This is Pixel Smith's.

Hello and welcome to Pixelsmiths. I'm Larry Kilgore III, Podcast Creator and video game enthusiast.


Clinton Bader:

And I'm Clinton 'Paperthin' Bader, an eSports Broadcaster and Commentator. And we here at Pixelsmiths want to share the stories of the how and what it takes to make Indie games.


Larry Kilgore III:

Today we are talking with Frederic Gemus, Game Designer at Tribute Games and designer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shredders Revenge. Shredders Revenge is a retro inspired co-op, Beat' em up side scroller available now on multiple platforms. Fred, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us here on Pixelsmiths.


Frederic Gemus:

Thanks lot for having me. It's a pleasure being here.


Larry Kilgore III:

So Fred, you're an industry veteran who have spent quite a lot of time in the AAA development space. You spent 12 years at Ubisoft, Montreal and have worked on numerous games including several Assassin's Creed titles, Just Dance Three and Greatest Hits and Rainbow Six Siege. What made you want to leave the AAA space to join an Indie company like Tribute Games?


Frederic Gemus:

That's a funny story. I'm a retro game enthusiast for sure. I've been playing video games all my life and I don't really make any differences between what's retro and what's modern. To me it's all video games, just like movies. There's not old movies, there's only movies. And I always love Déjà. After spending so much time in the AAA industry, at one point you start to think about maybe it's time for me to just go and fly on my own and do my own thing. Try to work on a passion project, pitch something and develop a game that you really want to make. And while I was thinking about that at that time, I decided to try to stay where I was, but friends of mine actually did it and went ahead and started their own studio on the side, which was called Tribute Games. I always envied them being able to live the dream and go ahead and really do exactly what they wanted to do.

And on my side, I focused on other things and at one point in my life the need came back. So instead I tried to work on other personal projects. I started a side Business with some friends that we can talk about maybe later. But then at one point my friends from Tribute actually reached out to me and asked me if I would be interested to join them about three years ago. And at that point it was the easiest decision to make. I was very happy where I was in the industry at Ubisoft, as you mentioned, I worked on a very wide palette of video games, let's say, from Assassin's Creed to Just Dance titles and even competitive shooters like Rainbow Six Siege. At that point, I felt like I touched everything I wanted to try at the studio. The last project I did was Far Cry 6.

I'm a big first person shooter fan and I really wanted to work designing weapons and doing core game plays for shooting and stuff like that. And that's exactly what I was doing and I really loved it. But then I felt like I did everything I wanted to do when the guy actually reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to join them. And since I had my own business on my side, I knew what it was to, what I like to say is when you make your own mistakes, because sometimes when you work in too big companies, you feel like you're making the mistakes that people require you to do, but you want to learn from your own mistakes. And I really understood what the guys were going through with the studio and where they were. So it felt like a perfect fit for me to actually go there and finally be able to join all of my different passions into one and now making retro inspired video games.


Clinton Bader:

That's great. Wow. I want to know more about the differences in how you feel about them between the AAA and the Indie World. Which one do you prefer? Maybe compare and contrast them a little bit in terms of your personal preference.


Frederic Gemus:

It really depends on the projects because Rainbow Six Siege was something very unique when we were making the game because it was something that Ubisoft never did before. When I joined the team, that's the moment where the project decided that it would be very multiplayer centric and it wouldn't have any single player component, which is something that Ubisoft never did, selling a full price product with only multiplayer. And that was something that was scary to them. But it was also very exciting because at that point it was mostly all of the decisions were based on the design. So it was really the first time I was working on a project where, like an Assassin's Creed, usually those games are built with such focus on storytelling and there's a lot of motion captures, actors and there's so many people that it's decided exactly what you'll be doing for the next two years right from the start, as opposed to making a competitive first person shooter like that where basically it's all micro design decisions that actually driving the production.

And the fun thing about it is that we were playing the game every day to try the changes. So those two projects were from the same studio, but they were quite unique. And I really liked the experience on Rainbow Six Siege. And I think it's similar to what's happening on smaller scale studios like Tribute Games. So at Tribute Games we have a team of about 10 to 20 people depending on the momentum of the production and everything. And it's a lot based on iterations and you are really in control of more things for sure, and the possibility to do more iterations and you'll be more hands-on on everything, which makes the development of these games way more interesting.

Like I was saying before, making your own mistakes, because at some point in the bigger studio, sometimes you have to not necessarily make decisions, but you have to work in the way that you don't necessarily agree with and you feel like, "I know this won't work, but if you want me to do it, we'll do it". And it happens quite often. And then when it fails, it's never anyone else's fault but yours. But when you're working on a smaller scale studios, well you are making your own decisions most of the time. So the outcome is actually always something that you'll learn for yourself. It's not learning from others mistakes when what you're doing is not good and you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. So now you're really learning from your own mistakes, which I think is something very refreshing and important.


Larry Kilgore III:

Well, that's a very interesting way to look at it, especially with your experience to be able to know what it's like when there's somebody above you making those decisions and telling you what you are. Where you are now, a smaller team, it's much more you guys are all working together. Would you say that you really enjoy what you're doing now and being in that smaller team and being able to learn from your mistakes like that?


Frederic Gemus:

Yeah, absolutely. And also what's fun about the smaller scale teams is that I'm not only doing game design now, I'm also doing a lot of level design, which is something that in bigger studios generally the tasks are more separated. So you have many game designers for many different systems in the game. You'll have many level designers, you'll have a lot of different roles, but in smaller studios and smaller scale games, you have to put your hands in everything. So I think that's also something that is quite interesting and you really feel like you're creating the game that you had in mind rather than just doing a small part of it.


Clinton Bader:

I want to get into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles part. Obviously for all of us here, we were literally listening to the theme song before you got on because we were so excited for this. Now this is a great game. I've played this game, absolutely love it. Growing up, those were the games I played as a kid on the Nintendo, Turtles Arcade, Turtles in Time, these kind of things. This is such a cool game. This is such a cultural influence. How did this even start? How did this happen? Because this is a phenomenon.


Frederic Gemus:

Yeah, it's a crazy story. I know the guys Jonathan and Jean-Francois, the two studio co-founders at Tribute, they are of course Big Turtles nerds. They really love TMNT. They worked previously on the Game Boy Advance version of the game that was developed at Ubisoft back in the days while they were at Ubisoft again. And they always wanted to do another game. And I think a few years ago they pitched the idea to Nickelodeon and they were interested in it. They were like, "Oh, we didn't know about you guys". And I think that Nickelodeon actually counter pitched with another property that they wanted them to have their hands on first just to see how Tribute Games work because they were not familiar with them. And the guy said, "Oh no, we really want to do TMNT". And it stayed like that.

And then a few years later, I think Nickelodeon came back again with a proposal for another IP and that's when the guys just went back with "We really want to make TMNT, so is there a possibility to make it happen and everything?" And basically at that time there was a possibility. So Nickelodeon was open to it and they were like, "You know what, we'll get back to you on that". And at that time it was near the moment where Streets of Rage 4 was announced by Dotemu, our publisher and Nickelodeon were like, "Hmm, TMNT, Streets of Rage 4. So there's interest definitely for that and there's people that are able to actually make actual sequels through these games". So they reach out to Dotemu for their interest in the IP too, just to see if they were interested and maybe having a shot at TMNT.

And of course, Dotemu were also big fans of TMNT. They said that they were interested, but they had no one to work on the game because basically they were just so busy with Streets of Rage 4 at that time and everything. And that's when Nick told them, "Well, we have a studio that is actually interested, bugging us to actually make that game. So maybe you guys could work together. And as a plus they also speak French, so it should be easy to get along". Yeah, so the guys met with the team at Dotemu, it was really a good match. We really shared the same vision and same passion for these games. So it was a easy match. So everything appeared and started from there.


Larry Kilgore III:

I think it's really cool that they set their minds to Turtles or bust.


Frederic Gemus:

Yeah. Exactly.


Clinton Bader:

So Rafael mindset for sure.


Larry Kilgore III:

Well, Fred, it's been interesting learning about your journey from AAA to Indie and we want to get more into the development of the game, but first we have to take a quick break. We'll be back in a moment with more from Frederic Gemus here on Pixelsmiths.


This is Pixelsmiths, the Podcast that gives a voice to today's Indie game developers. I'm Larry Kilgore III.


Clinton Bader:

And I'm Clinton 'Paperthin' Bader. And we're talking to Fred Gemus, Game Designer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shredders Revenge. So Fred, I think it's on the surface obvious what the inspirations for Shredders Revenge were, but maybe walk us through not just the old arcade TMNT games that inspired you, but maybe some other ones. You've already mentioned Streets of Rage 4 as being a cross competitor of sorts in your space. Are there any other games like that that were influences for this?


Frederic Gemus:

So funny enough, most people remember the arcade version of TMNT because it was the most impressive one. But actually a lot of the way that we build the levels and the gameplay was based more on the home console ports, especially the Nintendo NES version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles too, the arcade game, which of course, due to the limitations of the systems, they had to change the way that they were building the stages, also the combat and the amount of enemies on screen. So that was a big inspiration for us also, mostly because it wasn't designed like the arcade games where it was more of a game that is made to suck your coins and get through your wallet as fast as possible. It had to be a game that you can get for Christmas and play for a while. So it's a longer experience.

And what we liked about the game was mostly and all of the other Beat 'Em Ups from Konami on the consoles like Batman Returns and such was that the way that the script, the stages, it's like a choreography or almost like a shoot em up video game stage where enemies will come always doing actions in pre specific patterns that at the end of the day, if you learn the stage, you basically can move and do the perfect attack at every places in the stages to get through the enemies as quickly as possible. So it really becomes a dance. And that's something that we found was way more interesting than in the arcade game where it's mostly a lot of enemies pounding, trying to get over you. So this is how we felt like the game should be made to be more interesting than just being overwhelming.

A lot of the inspirations also came from some of the other Konami arcade games, especially the Simpsons video game. The thing we liked about the Simpsons video game was how each stages had their own small storylines where you would always meet the bad guy at the beginning of the stage would do something and then you would start to chase him through the stage and you will meet him halfway and something else would be happening. So it was always a small storyline that almost every time a little chase, but you had some teases to what the actual bus fight would end up being. So this is something that we also felt was very, very interesting. Obviously our animators are big fighting games fans. One of our animators, Matthew is amazing on all of the combat animations and such. And we tried to take inspirations from different styles of fighting from different games.

We of course did some little references to the previous Turtles fighting games like the Tournament Fighter, but also introduce moves that were inspired by other games too. We wanted to make sure that it was not just like a straight sequel, but more like a spiritual successor. What we say at Tribute Game is we tried to make the games the way you remember them, not how they were. If we did exactly what TMNT was, the reception might have been a bit different because of course they had more shortcomings back in the days. So there were a lot of few things here and there that we needed to change to update the game and make it modern. But at the same time, we needed to remain true to the core of the game play, which is a fast paced, Beat' em up action game.


Larry Kilgore III:

Was it intimidating for you guys to take on an IP as big as the Turtles that is so important to so many people and their childhoods and their nostalgia and their memories that go along with it?


Frederic Gemus:

I think at first when we started, we just approached it as fans. We're just so happy, finally we can work on the Turtles because when I joined the studio, I didn't know that the next project was supposed to be the Turtles. I was hired basically to work on another game and then at one day I walked in and they were like, "Oh by the way, Fred, do you mind if the next project is not what we were supposed to be doing, but making a Turtles games instead"? So of course, it's even better. So when we started, it pretty much started at the same time as the global pandemic, which forced us all to work from home. At first, it felt like doing this big fan project and then when we announced the game, it became real at that point that, "Oh okay, now people are expecting the game".

Seeing trailers break down from a trailer that basically had four seconds of footage, we realized that people were actually hyped for the game and waiting for it. They would be really scrutinizing it. They would analyze everything to make sure that everything was perfect. And the first public showing we did at the game was at PAX East this year. It was a crazy experience because before PAX East, most of the development of the game would be handled from my basement here and from everybody at home, sometimes at the office, but not as much as before.

And then we got to the first public showing, which was a very big event with a huge line of people waiting to play the game and we're like, "Oh, it's better be good because people are going to be pissed". But then we saw people playing four players and all be very excited and then stop playing the game and they were like, "Oh, when is it coming up? Please just tell us". And very excited, receiving a lot of love. It was amazing to actually realize that, okay, I think we did what we had to do.


Larry Kilgore III:

When you were on the show floor and you saw that first set of people really enjoy the game, were you able to breathe a sigh of relief and relax and be like, okay?


Frederic Gemus:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean that was the biggest reward. People sometimes they don't understand. People can be very mean online when they don't like a game and such and you really pour yourself out, you really give everything you have to make sure that you make the best game. Sometimes it doesn't work out, other times it do works out. And when it does, it's a very rewarding experience and being there to see that in person and all the smiles. And even up to this day, we still receive emails and messages from people telling us that they're so happy that the game exists because they were able to play the game with their kids and actually beat Shredder, something that they couldn't manage to do when they were young because it was too hard. For us, it really means something for us. It really makes our job not only easier, but makes it relevant for sure.


Clinton Bader:

Obviously this is a huge commercial success, over 1 million copies sold in the first week alone. It's on Xbox Game Pass. Obviously the question on everyone's minds is what's next for Tribute Games? Maybe tell us about what you guys got in the works.


Frederic Gemus:

So currently, I think we just finished the last patches for the game, so we really wanted to make sure that we support the game post launch. We always try to make the perfect game at launch, but of course when you have online multiplayer like that on many different systems, sometimes we can't catch everything. So when we get to having millions of players actually playing the game, they might find things that we missed obviously. So that's the first thing that we really wanted to make sure is that the game is fully polished. We're still talking about what's next for TMNT, for the post launch support. We don't have anything to announce yet. We might have things to announce in the future for sure. And as for Tribute Games, we're still very early on the talks for the upcoming projects. There's definitely a lot of cool things that are being prepared that I can't really talk about today. But yeah, we are really aiming at trying to top what we did with TMNT, Shredders Revenge and tried to do another game that everyone wants to play.


Larry Kilgore III:

You mentioned earlier too that you have your own business that you do that's related to games. You want to talk a little bit about that as well?


Frederic Gemus:

Yeah, so I've been collecting video games for most of my life. I've been more seriously collecting retro games for 15 years. So I have a collection of over 3,000 games. And while doing that, you end up having a lot of games to get rid of, doubles and such. And with some friends, about four years ago, we decided that we should just work together and do a small online business where we can basically get rid of our doubles, we can buy lots of collections of games together and pick what we need and then sell what we don't need and live the dream. So basically it started as something very small and then at one point it really took over the basement of one of our partners. So we needed to move out of there. And so we decided that we should just go ahead and try to have a real brick and mortar store and put everything there.

And our store is called the Retro MTL. It's located in Montreal, but we of course sell online to anywhere, especially in North America, so retromtl.com. So we started that thinking that it would be some sideline, and then the first week came in and the things went crazy, we were overwhelmed. So basically my two partners who had day jobs at that time decided to quit it and invested full time in the business, have new employees and try to overcome all of the success. So now today the business tripled in size. We are about to basically, it's going to be a spoiler, but we're looking at moving the store to have a very big store where we'll be able to have more than just video games, but maybe have some arcade machines and stations that people can play, maybe small museums and stuff like that. And we still have the big online store presence.

The company itself now hires, I think 15 employees now. So it's really like a real business and it's running pretty nonstop. I think especially with the pandemic, when the pandemic hit in 2020, people were worried that is it the end? Will we be forced to close and such? And I remember that back in 2008 when the first recession hit, I remember that at that time, video games, the sales climbed up because people were stuck at home. They had less money. So they basically decided to spend it in video games to just entertain themselves.


Larry Kilgore III:

Something to do while you're stuck at home.


Frederic Gemus:

Exactly. So I was like, Yeah, maybe it's going to be good for us. And yeah, indeed it was very good because it was complicated to manage for sure because the store was closed, but we had to manage it from distance and then go there, do shipping.

But yeah, it ended up being a very good thing because it exploded also our presence online. People that were used to come over to the store were discovering that I can buy online and just go pick up in the store. You know what? I can just get it shipped to my place. And it really became very big at that time. So while everybody was home, we were the providers of many, many, many video games. So we cover video games from every generation. So obviously we are old people now, so we love our Nintendos and Super Nintendos , Sega Genesis. But we also cover more recent systems like PlayStation 5, Xbox and everything. At first, we're thinking about let's take over Game Stop here because Game Stop is having such trouble. And at the same time we're like, you know what? I think right now we're good to have one successful store.

Maybe we should just have one giant store and make it a destination. It's something that when people come over, I really love Digi Press and all of these other well known stores in the US that are unique and they have their own history and when you go to these places, you want to visit them because they're unique and that's really what we wanted to aim for, especially in the location we are. We are near a lot of the touristic attractions here in Montreal, so it's a good spot for that. So we'll have many things to announce for this pretty soon. But yeah, it's another passion project that's really like all video games related.


Larry Kilgore III:

Well, you clearly have a passion for games, Fred, and we want to thank you so much for taking your time to share your story here on Pixelsmiths. Shredded Revenge is a game that I think you should be very proud of making.


Frederic Gemus:

Thank you.


Larry Kilgore III:

And I think we both look forward to whatever you guys at Tribute Games have to say next. And I also wish you good luck on growing your retro gaming business as well. It sounds like that's going pretty good. So thank you again for taking your time to share your story here on Pixelsmiths.


Frederic Gemus:

Thanks. It's a pleasure.


Larry Kilgore III:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shredders Revenge is available now on PC, Xbox and PlayStation platforms and Nintendo Switch. Learn more about Tribute Games on their website, tributegames.com, or follow them on Twitter at Tribute Games. You can also follow Fred on Twitter at Fred Gemus and check out his retro gaming store on their website, Retromtl.com. Pixelsmiths is brought to you by Podcast Media where we provide branded podcast production service for businesses, podcastmedia.com. Executive producer is Dusty Weis and I oversee editing and production.


Clinton Bader:

And you can follow me, Clinton Bader on social media at Paperthinhere and on twitch.tv/paperthinhere.


Larry Kilgore III:

Thank you for tuning into Pixelsmiths. I'm Larry Kilgore III.


Clinton Bader:

And I'm Clinton 'Paperthin' Bader.



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