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The RetroBeat: How Dotemu makes retro gaming magic

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Streets of Rage 4 with the classic character sprites.

If you’re a retro gaming fan like me, then Dotemu is probably one of your favorite modern studios. The company has made its name as a developer and publisher by reviving classic franchises with excellent games like Wonder Boy : The Dragon’s Trap and Streets of Rage 4. It’s also publishing a remake of the classic city-builder Pharaoh and developing a sequel to the arcade hit Widnjammers. Last month, Dotemu delighted nostalgic gamers by announcing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge.

The company is a leader in the retro-revival movement. It’s not just exploiting old gaming franchises but also reviving them with passion and care.

I recently interviewed Dotemu’s CEO, Cyrille Imbert. I asked him about the new TMNT project and how it came to be, and we also talked about his company’s position as a premier retro gaming studio. I also clumsily tried to get him to bring back one of my favorite Genesis franchises. (You miss 100% of all the shots you don’t take and all that.)

This is an edited transcript of the interview.

Turtle power

GamesBeat: Was the TMNT deal hard to lock down?

Cyrille Imbert: It didn’t feel that different than classic video game licenses in terms of approach and talks we had with Nickelodeon. It’s just that it’s a big company. We’ve worked with big companies for some IP, of course, but this one is pretty big. Lots of licenses there. That’s a huge part of their work, to make sure that their licenses are in the right hands. That’s something they do a lot. They have lots of different licenses in different media. It was a bit different. But right from the start, we had a good connection with the Nickelodeon team.

For me, because of our DNA, it was important that we worked with the ’87 design. That was a personal dream. But it just made sense. Also, because — not only as a fan of the old TMNT games, but also because we wanted to see that coming back, that’s our childhood. We knew that we’re not the only ones around who want that. We pushed for that, but with a complete idea of how to do it and what it should look like. We were already working on Streets of Rage 4 back in the day. It all made sense, and I think it made sense for Nickelodeon as well.

But it took some time. It’s just because of random elements that I can’t communicate. Nothing out of the ordinary. It’s just that some events on the other side meant we couldn’t sign anything right away after first discussing it. It took quite some time, almost two years, to get that done. But it wasn’t because either party wasn’t into it. We just needed to get everyone on board and that takes time, especially when there are changes in the different teams over time. At Dotemu we’ve learned to be patient and to never give up. That’s what we did. It finally happened.

The funny aspect of all this is that pretty early in development, maybe after six or eight months, after our first contact with Nickelodeon, we met at GDC, and I learned from the guys at Limited Run Games, from the guys at Nickelodeon, I learned that there was another studio that was proposing content for a game, similar to what we were proposing. I was like, OK, that’s never good news. But that’s life. That’s how it goes. Nickelodeon, it was completely normal for them to do that, to receive different concepts and ideas. But I managed to know on the same day who was at the other company doing the pitch. It was Tribute Games. I knew that through Limited Run Games, because they heard about it. They’re good friends with them. And basically I got their email. I knew about the company, but never met them in person. I asked if they were available for a meeting in the afternoon. We met and talked. We had almost the same idea. It was perfectly in-line. I thought it was great, because back in the day we were wondering who could be the right studio. It was right there. We said, OK, let’s go together instead of doing two separate proposals. Let’s join forces and propose something really cool that’s in line with Nickelodeon’s expectations, that would please the fans, and that would be made by fans, because that’s one of the most important points of all our projects. The teams are actual fans and know everything about those projects. That’s how it came to be.

It was a long story, but it ended pretty well, and now we need to deliver an awesome game. It’s not over yet, but it’s a good step. We now know that we’re not the only ones happy about this.

GamesBeat: Was there any pushback about going for that original cartoon aesthetic?

Imbert: I don’t know exactly the internal discussions at Nickelodeon, but from my side, it wasn’t an issue. From the start, I said that’s how we wanted to do it. We didn’t want to do it in a different way. We crossed our fingers that they would accept. But it was never a subject like, no, that’s not possible, or it’s going to be super-complicated. I don’t know about those internal discussions. It might have taken some time to validate that. But for me it never appeared to be a huge issue.

GamesBeat: When it comes to the classic TMNT games, Turtles in Time is the one people think about. Are you taking inspiration from some of the other games?

Imbert: Shredder’s Revenge is a beat-’em-up, so most of the inspiration comes from the old Turtles beat-’em-ups, especially Turtles in Time, which was probably the best of them, the arcade version. But Tribute Games worked on other TMNT games in the past, some time ago. They’ve already been inspired by different games, and that’s what they want to do again. Taking inspiration from different games, cool aspects from different games.

But in the end it’s a beat-’em-up. It’ll be mainly inspired by beat-’em-ups from that era, not only Turtles. Inspiration is going to be taken from all these awesome beat-’em-up games that came out back in the day. We have some freedom around that.

GamesBeat: Do you have to talk to Konami at all? Does it have any rights involvement in this?

Imbert: Not on our side, at least.

GamesBeat: The classic TMNT arcade games are simpler than Streets of Rage 4. Are you going to make this new TMNT game’s combat more complex?

Imbert: The idea is going to be pretty similar in Tribute’s mind. That’s why we got along on the project. They have this idea of taking most of the feel, the good parts of the games back in the day, but adding modern gameplay. Feeling and mashing those together, trying to find a balance between what made those games great, what made the whole experience great, and translating it to a modern era with modern gameplay mechanics, additional mechanics that are not too invasive. Same for Streets of Rage. We’re not going to do an RPG with multiple paths and something super-complex and modern. We’re going to stick to the classic formula of a beat-’em-up, but adding mechanics that will improve the core mechanics, the basics of what makes a good beat-’em-up, but expanding it, finding nice touches and mechanics that will improve the overall aspects. Those little details that can make a big difference.

Above: Streets of Rage 4 with the classic character sprites.

Image Credit: Dotemu

GamesBeat: With Streets of Rage and TMNT, there’s been a revival in beat-’em-ups. It wasn’t long ago that it seemed like a dead genre. How do you think the whole beat-’em-up scene had such a big revival recently?

Imbert: For me it was weird that we weren’t still playing beat-’em-up. It was the other way around. For me it was like, why? This is so good. Why aren’t we playing that? I don’t really know. It just makes sense to me. It’s a great genre. It’s chill. They don’t have super-long sessions. You can play with your friends. You don’t have to think too much. It’s so nice, nice moments that you have with beat-’em-ups, whether they’re on the RPG side or more on the arcade side. It doesn’t really matter. If it’s well-made, it’s always good. I’m super-happy that it’s coming back and that we’re contributing to that.

Of course I remember when I was talking with different partners about Streets of Rage when it wasn’t announced. They said, yeah, but a beat-’em-ups? Are you sure? Nobody plays those today. It’ll just be a small crowd playing that. They weren’t sure it was the right idea. Sometimes I had doubts. I looked at the different numbers, the recent releases, and there weren’t many of them. I wasn’t sure people would like it. But in the end, people were waiting for that. I’m glad we contributed to that, and hopefully it’s going to stay there now.

GamesBeat: With Wonder Boy and Streets of Rage, you took the original pixel look and adapted it into something more hand-drawn. With TMNT you’re sticking with pixels. Why did you make that decision?

Imbert: It’s mostly about finding the right team for the right project. For Wonder Boy and Streets of Rage, the team with Lizard Cube and the talented Ben Fiquet, who took care of both of those projects, it just made sense. He’s so good at animation and character design. Everything about it makes sense. We thought it was a good idea, especially for Wonder Boy, because it’s an 8-bit game. It didn’t age well. It’s still very charming, but it’s harder than playing Streets of Rage 2 nowadays, for example. It needed to have something different, and Ben is extremely talented. The first time we saw the artwork, it was perfect. He managed to translate the 8-bit art into something fully HD with a living universe. It was so cool. Streets of Rage, the original games are nice. Wonder Boy III is really nice. But the Streets of Rage games are younger than Wonder Boy. They still look really nice.

If we wanted to go for something pixelated first, then we wouldn’t have done it with Lizard Cube, because it’s not necessarily their main thing. On the contrary, we said, we have to do something different, because otherwise the difference wouldn’t be that huge. It just made sense. Because we were working with Lizard Cube, the things they had in mind, even before we started to work on the project, were really in-line. If we had those graphics back in the day, we would have said, yes, that’s it, that’s how it needs to be, because it’s more about the opportunity in the moment. It just clicks. It feels right. For TMNT, of course, when I received the first fake screenshots from Tribute Games — I know their password. I know how beautiful they can work on pixel art. That just made sense as well. Streets of Rage is not necessarily associated with arcades. It’s a console game. It doesn’t have that link with the arcade. It makes sense to have pixel art TMNT, because it’s been a long time, first of all. Streets of Rage, there was nothing after the third one. TMNT, there have been some tries, many games for the past 20 years. Almost none of them have been pixel art. It just made sense. It clicked.

It needed to be pixel art, but with the awesome art we know Tribute can provide, that really shined in the trailer we released. When we saw those first artworks, it was great. We knew people would like it, because we liked it, as gamers and as fans. We knew it was going to work. But it’s not something we really thought through a lot, like it needed to be this way. We just thought we would try it, especially with their expertise. Let’s see what they can do with their own expertise. While Lizard Cube is more about HD hand-drawn animation, Tribute Games is more about very nice clean pixel art. It worked out.

Working retro

GamesBeat: How do you go about picking the projects for Dotemu? Is it more about looking for franchises that have been dead for a while, or is it more about teams approaching you?

Imbert: It’s a bit of both. Sometimes teams approach us. For example, for Pharaoh, the remake we’re doing, the team came to us to do another game first, a city-builder. But then we said, you’re good at doing city builders and you love that, what’s your favorite game? They said it’s Pharaoh, the best city builder ever made. Would you like to do a remake of Pharaoh? Yes, of course. Then I had to check if it was possible and talk to Activision. This time it came from both sides. Sometimes it’s on our side. It would be great to work on that license, everyone would be happy to see it coming back! First we check with the IP holder and see if it’s possible, under what conditions. If it works out well, before proposing anything, we look for the right studio to do that. It can be our internal studio that’s working on Windjammers 2 right now. Or it can be an external studio as well.

We try to find the perfect match. It can’t be another way. It has to be a perfect match between a studio that knows the license by heart and the license. Over the years I’ve had some proposals from studios because they know what we do and they know we have ways of getting licenses, even if it seems impossible. But every time we’ve felt there’s a slight chance the studio doesn’t really know the game, we refuse those projects. It can’t be any other way. It’s so complicated. The fans expect so much. We like those licenses as well. We don’t want to propose something that would be harmful to the license. We want to go further. We need to work with the right people, people that know everything about those games. It can’t be any other way. For Windjammers, for example, not everyone on the team, in the studio, knew about the game or played a lot of the game before. That’s why we started to do a remaster of the original version, so we were sure we would know every detail about the first one before starting production on the second one.

GamesBeat: Do you have many pitches turned down? Or would you say more pitches are accepted than rejected?

Imbert: We have more pitches that are rejected, for sure. Probably 1-out-of-10 is accepted, and it takes some time.

GamesBeat: Working with these established franchises, how much creative freedom do you have with each one?

Imbert: It’s about the same for each project, because the way we approach the IP holders is we come with a concept. We come with a proposal, full proposal with all the details. That’s how we want to do things. If the IP holder doesn’t agree with that, OK, why not, but what do they want to change, and is it still in line with what we have in mind? If it differs too much and we feel it’s not the right way to do things, we just don’t do it. Until now, at least, every time we came with a concept, it clicked as well on the IP holder side. They saw the idea held together. It made sense. Because everything is set right from the beginning, almost everything, or at least the big idea is there, then we have freedom, because we’re initiating the thing. We didn’t have to change things afterward. We just have to stick to the plan.

GamesBeat: Going back to those pitches, after some of the successes you’ve had, especially with Streets of Rage, do you feel like those pitches are better received now than they were a few years ago?

Imbert: Oh, yes, definitely. It helps, for sure. It’s hard to earn the trust of an IP owner. We’re always ready to take all the risk on our side, in order to convince them that we’re confident in our capacity to do the project well. We have to maintain what we have in mind and do it our way.

GamesBeat: Are you interested in doing any sequels to your revivals? Or is it more interesting to move on to another IP?

Imbert: It’s more interesting to move on to another IP, from my personal point of view. But it depends, above all, on the studio and what they want to do, what motivates them. It’s hard to work on a sequel or a remake of an existing license. If you’re a true fan, you don’t want to mess that up. It’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of questioning. It’s hard. You have back-and=forth with the IP owner, with us. You have lots of things to handle, how to do this or that part, will people be happy about this? It’s tough work. When you’re a fan you don’t want to mess that up, so it’s additional pressure. If you’re doing your own IP, there are no expectations from people. You just need to deliver something great. In the case of a sequel or remake, you need to deliver something great that’s in line with people’s expectations, even if those aren’t perfectly in line with your expectations. You have to understand that and deliver something that’s close to that. That’s why sometimes they’re like, OK, that was great, that was awesome, but I don’t want to do that again for a few years. That’s completely understandable. But if at some point someone said, hey, let’s do another one, I need to check with the IP owners of course, but if it’s possible, we’ll do it.

GamesBeat: It’s interesting how studios like yours are focused just on retro gaming. Do you think that this is a development that’s going to grow in the future? Do you even see yourselves as a retro gaming studio?

Imbert: Absolutely. Dotemu was founded in 2007, and the DNA hasn’t changed since then. It’s been a long time now that Dotemu has been working on that kind of phenomenon, of bringing back those old IP. It’s completely natural, with the way the market is evolving. It’s like every other art form. The music industry, they started to do remasters, remakes, finding old tracks from famous artists, bringing them back. Using old lyrics. Same thing goes for movies, finding the first version of a movie, the director’s cut, remastering it, making it a 3D movie, all that kind of thing. It just makes sense. That’s how you revisit art. There’s a need from the creators to go through that process of working on something that’s a passion for them, and there’s a need from the players or the viewers or the listeners to revive that thing that had an impact on their life. There’s an emotional connection with that. It makes sense that it’s coming back. It’s also important. I’m glad that this is a natural process. Especially in video games, which evolve so fast, way faster than any other type of art. If you lose track of what’s been made in the past, you lose your soul, kind of.

All those creators from the ’80s, ’90s that did games with almost nothing, in a market where their parents thought it was disastrous to see their children trying to make a career out of video games. They made the market. Thanks to them and their efforts and their craziness, today we have those awesome games, even up to the latest triple-As. It’s thanks to them. We must not forget where video games come from. That’s part of our role as well. The creators of tomorrow, the people that will become designers that are young today, that are starting their careers, they need to know what was up back in the day. They need to know how games were made, how they’re made like this, and why those games are still good today, to get inspiration for future games and not forget about this legacy, the way games were made. It’s not only natural, because our art form is very young. It’s only been maybe 50 years. Probably less than that. The history is just starting. We didn’t have any history 20 years ago, almost. It was all the present. Now there is a past, and that past needs to live on, to not be forgotten. That’s a need for creators and a need for gamers. That’s a good thing, I think.

Wonder studio

GamesBeat: Who do you think is your primary audience? Is it people in their 30s and 40s, who are nostalgic for that period in gaming, or do you have a substantial amount of younger gamers playing these projects, even if they didn’t grow up with the titles they’re inspired by?

Imbert: Of course our primary target would be people like us. The average age at Dotemu is around 30 years old. That’s why we love working on these projects. We’re the target. We know what we want. But our goal is beyond that. I’d say between 25 and 45 years old, around that. But beyond that our goal, again, is to go beyond those lines and make younger people discover that, thanks to the success we can bring to these licenses. Wonder Boy, Streets of Rage, Windjammers, they’re being talked about within the gaming industry, the gaming world in general. People that never heard about those games are hearing about them, even if they never played it when it came out, or they were too young. They’re discovering that, and we’re aiming for that. That’s the point of modernizing the gameplay, to address the people who never heard about those games and make them discover it. You have a game collection and you want to show it to your friends, even if they don’t know, and talk about those games. It’s a way of sharing that passion for each game with other gamers that we know will like it. When you discover a game and you really like it, and you have a friend who’s never heard of this game but you know they’ll like it, you want to show it to them and make them enjoy it, then it’s the same spirit. We want to share that love for those games to as many people as we can.

GamesBeat: Was Wonder Boy a big turning point for the company? Was that the title that put you a bit more on the map?

Imbert: Absolutely. It was a risk for us as well. It was probably the most expensive project we ever worked on. It was our first remake. It was definitely a turning point. In the end, we developed our knowledge of how to communicate about these games, how to approach the fan base, how to manage expectations, and also how to understand what a good studio is and what quality is, because that’s what Lizard Cube delivered with Wonder Boy, a very high level of quality and attention to detail — we grew up from that experience. It was definitely a turning point. It was the confirmation of our strategy. We had that in mind for a couple of years. We were going for that, but we weren’t sure it would work. We had another experience that was not super successful before Wonder Boy with Pang Adventures. But we said, let’s continue and see if we can find the right way of doing this. Wonder Boy was the confirmation of that idea. That’s when we said, we’re on the right path. Let’s continue and try other things.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap came out in 2017 for consoles and PC.

Above: Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap came out in 2017 for consoles and PC.

Image Credit: Dotemu

GamesBeat: Do you think Wonder Boy benefited from good timing? It came out a bit after the Switch released, and it seems like people who were hungry for Switch games, it was one of the first digital titles that a lot of people flocked to.

Imbert: Yeah, we were super-lucky with the timing. But for success you always need a bit of luck. A lot of luck, I’d even say, especially in the entertainment business. Whether it’s movies, TV, music, video games, you need to have the stars align at some point. That makes the difference between a game that has good success or great success. You just need to provoke that chance and that timing, doing the best you can do. Have a good game, good communication, and then if the timing is right, if the stars are aligned, everything is there for success. Even if the stars are aligned and your game is only okay, or your communication is not really good, then it won’t work. It’s a complicated recipe.

GamesBeat: Is the Switch still your strongest platform for your releases?

Imbert: It’s definitely one of the strongest platforms, but it depends on the game. For example, Streets of Rage 4 is even between all platforms, which was quite surprising. We were thinking it would do better on console than PC, but that’s not the case. It’s pretty even everywhere. For Wonder Boy, if I remember correctly, it’s evened out over time, but at the beginning the Switch was definitely stronger. Over time it evens out across all platforms. You can find console gamers on PC and PC gamers on console now. The frontier is a bit blurry nowadays compared to what it used to be. But for other games like Pharaoh, of course that will be much more PC than console, if we ever do a console version.

GamesBeat: Are there certain franchises that fans request you guys tackle a lot?

Imbert: That’s the funny thing. When we announced and communicated and launched Streets of Rage, almost every time people were talking about Turtles in Time. And we knew — we were like, yes! We weren’t the only ones with that idea. It makes sense. But yeah, we have lots of ideas from people following our games. We sometimes do surveys on Twitter. What game would you like to see come back? Lots of Sega games of course. Shinobi. Golden Axe. Those are games that come up often. Since we announced Pharaoh lots of people are asking about Caesar or Zeus. It depends on what game we’re communicating, but usually we’re pretty much in line. When people ask us, do you think about this one? We’re like, yes, we have!

GamesBeat: Has anybody else asked about Ecco the Dolphin, or is that just me?

Imbert: No, I’ve personally asked about it myself! I asked the team and we talked about it. We didn’t go too far, because it’s a complicated project. It’s super emotional. We didn’t find the right idea so far at least.

The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.

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Nintendo has some intriguing indie games to fill out the Switch’s future lineup

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Nintendo has some intriguing indie games to fill out the Switch's future lineup

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OK, I admit that I’m a little bummed that we didn’t see an update on Hollow Knight: Silksong during today’s Nintendo Indie World event. But we got enough other cool looking games that I’m not too upset.

Nintendo has done a great job showcasing indies on Switch during the console’s first four years. Along with those awesome Nintendo first-party games, it has really been these smaller digital titles that have kept the Switch’s library looking so attractive. And today, we saw some that I imagine many of us are going to want to download.

Play them soon

A few of them are even coming out later today. The Longing jumped out at me with its moody, hand-drawn art. It also looks like an adventure game of sorts, which sings to this old LucasArts fan. There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension is also coming out later today, somehow looking even weirder than The Longing. It gives me some WarioWare vibes. It looks like you’re playing snippets of minigames.

Above: There Is No Game.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Fez is also heading to Switch later today. This is a classic indie game that should appeal to anyone who enjoys 2D platformers with a heavy emphasis on puzzle-solving. As the Switch continues to become such an indie-focused machine, it’s important to get classics like Fez on the console.

Look at all these games

I also saw a few action games that look intriguing. Skul: The Hero Slayer is a 2D roguelite that gives me a bit of a Dead Cells impression, both because of its pixel art and its fast-paced 2D fighting. Then there’s Aztech: Forgotten Gods, a 3D action game! You don’t often see the indies take on that genre, and its Mesoamerican aesthetic helps it stand out from all the fantasy and sci-fi stuff that we usually see.

aztech

Above: Aztech: Forgotten Gods.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Nintendo also showed off some neat games that focus on story, like Road 96. This one is about a teenager going on a road trip, and its procedural story should make for a lot of replayability. Nintendo closed the show with Oxenfree II: Lost Signals, a sequel to one of the better-liked indie games ever. I was also impressed by Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield, an auto-runner set in a Tokyo-Detroit mashup.

It was an impressive showcase. I know that some Nintendo fans have been worried that 2021 would be a quiet year for the Switch. That may be true when it comes to Nintendo first-party games, but these indies should help keep the system relevant for a lot of players while they wait Breath of the Wild 2.

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

How will you do that? Membership includes access to:

  • Newsletters, such as DeanBeat
  • The wonderful, educational, and fun speakers at our events
  • Networking opportunities
  • Special members-only interviews, chats, and “open office” events with GamesBeat staff
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USC Games Expo will highlight 70 student games on May 15

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Danny Bilson is head of USC Gam,es.

Join GamesBeat Summit 2021 this April 28-29. Register for a free or VIP pass today.


The USC Games Expo will debut more than 70 student-made games at noon Pacific on May 15 in a livestreamed online-only event.

The event for the University of Southern California’s video game program will feature returning host Geoff Keighley, creator of The Game Awards. Long-term partner Jam City returns as well. The USC Games program is rated as the top undergraduate game school in the country by The Princeton Review.

The event will be the second time it has been held in an online-only format because of the pandemic. The 70 games are up from 50 a year ago. They’re from students teams who worked remotely and were distributed across the globe.

Continuing the “global” theme, an additional live encore of the expo will stream that evening Pacific time to coincide with daytime in Asia. All interested attendees can register on uscgamesexpo.com for event updates, with North America attendees who RSVP eligible to win prizes, including game codes, during the stream itself.

Above: Danny Bilson is head of USC Games.

Image Credit: USC

This is the fifth year USC Games has held an expo, which covers the video game development programs offered by USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. The Expo will also feature the first hands-on for the 10 projects being developed in its capstone course, the Advanced Games Program (AGP).

The 10 games from the AGP class are:

  • Beat the Beat Up (Oculus VR) — A VR action/rhythm game where you fight to the beat as the star of your own Bollywood blockbuster. The neighborhood Don has sent out his goons to terrorize the locals, and you are the only one that can stop them. You have to impress the critics, including one voiced by Bollywood star Abhay Deol (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dev.D, Happy Bhag Jayegi). If you rack up your score and clear the streets, you can save the village.
  • Corporate Clash (Mobile IOS/Android) — You can become the richest CEO of 2250. Corporate Clash is a casual mobile strategy game where players are the CEO of a futuristic company that makes widgets for robot consumers. You have to deal with the twists and turns thrown at you by your factory, employees, investors and other demanding groups. Pollute to cut costs but irk environmentalists, or raise prices and upset your customers?
  • Crescendo (PC) — Crescendo is a 2D combat action game where you conduct a musical world through your actions. Travel through an eerie fairy tale setting with music and battle the monstrous personifications of an orchestra.
  • Detour Bus (SteamVR, Oculus Rift/Link) — Detour Bus is a VR construction-comedy game where players build winding highways around themselves to take the Flowers family on a psychedelic road trip across post-infrastructure America. Snap together random road pieces to traverse groovy landscapes, avoid hazardous obstacles, and prevent corrupt Senator Joseph McCarthief from turning all freeways into pay-to-drive tunnels.
  • Larger Than Light (PC) — Traverse shadows by manipulating light in the 2.5D puzzle platform game, Larger Than Light. Escape a haunted school as the sibling duo: Skia the shadow, who can move across other shadows on the wall, and Lux the lightbulb, who can manipulate the size and placement of shadows for his younger sister to platform across. A single player will control both characters, getting them to work together to break away from the otherworldly force trapping them in their school while overcoming their bitter sibling rivalry.
  • Leechbug (PC) — Leechbug is a real-time strategy combat game where players take on the role of the Leechbug, a robotic symbiotic parasite who exists in an alien seascape. Your home is under threat from a polluting force that’s also sapping the will of your fellow undersea denizens. You have to use your powers of possession to free your friends, control their unique abilities synergistically to engage in combat, and reach the surface of the ocean to rescue your underwater world.
  • Pelota (PC) — Pelota is an action-packed online sports game for 2-to-4 players that brings an ancient sport into the interactive medium. Players will be immersed in a Mesoamerican setting as they master the game’s novel physics-based mechanics to get the game ball through a vertical hoop, using everything they have — except their hands — in order to win the favor of the gods.
  • Snowshoe Thompson (PC) — Explore the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in The Trials of Snowshoe Thompson, a skiing expedition game set in the 19th century about an immigrant traversing the elements and laying the groundwork for what would become the U.S. Postal Service. During 1856, Snowshoe Thompson sets out to aid his new community as a mailman cross-country skiing across the Sierra Nevada mountain range, connecting the wild west with the wider world.
  • Sweeping the Ruins (PC) — Sweeping the Ruins is a two-player co-op strategy and combat game that let’s players engage in asymmetrical combat with an overpowered behemoth inside a dark and deep dungeon. Armed with no weaponry, two players will rely on their wits and use environmental traps to work in tandem to take down the beast. Players will need strategic coordination, situational awareness and teamwork to defeat the massive enemy and prevent the destruction of their nearby homeland.
  • Wheelin’ & Mealin’ (PC) — Wheelin’ and Mealin’ is a two-player co-op driving-and-cooking game that blends tooling around a bright, colorful cityscape and cooking fantastical dishes. Players can maneuver a souped-up race car and immerse themselves around a fantastical city to create crazy dishes that satisfy their customers in order to rise to the top of the restaurant world.

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Nvidia forms Inception VC Alliance to connect AI startups with venture capital

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Nvidia forms Inception VC Alliance to connect AI startups with venture capital

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Nvidia has formed its Inception VC Alliance to connect AI startups with venture capital. The move will help connect more than 7,500 startups in the company’s Inception program for AI tech with venture capital firms.

Jeff Herbst, vice president of business development and head of Inception at Nvidia, unveiled the alliance today at the AI Day for VCs event during Nvidia’s annual GTC 21 conference. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang unveiled the company’s latest products on Monday in a keynote speech where he talked about the company’s new Grace central processing unit (CPU).

“We always felt a very strong connection to the ecosystem. We give them technology, we introduce them to our 150 different software development kits, we give them joint marketing, we introduce them to investors,” Herbst said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We give them Cloud Credits. We give them discounts for GPUs.”

Above: Nvidia’s Jeff Herbst (top left) leads a panel on AI startups at GTC 21.

Image Credit: Nvidia

AI adoption is growing across industries, and startup funding has been booming. Investment in AI companies increased 52% last year to $52.1 billion, according to PitchBook. The Inception AI startups are up 9 times from 2016, Herbst said.

The alliance aims to help investment firms identify and support leading AI startups early, as part of their effort to realize meaningful returns down the line. The goal is to educate VCs about AI opportunities and nurture startups, Herbst said.

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Above: Inception has more than 7,500 AI startups.

Image Credit: Nvidia

“AI is growing like a weed. We’re over 7500 companies, and it’s not going to be long before we’ve doubled that,” he said. “The ecosystem is clearly exploding. And VCs are a super important part of it. Startups need VCs, and VCs need startups. It’s just that simple fuel for startups to grow. We have thousands of VCs that are already part of our ecosystem, but we’ve never formalized the partnership with them until now.”

Founding members of the alliance include venture firms NEA, Acrew, Mayfield, Madrona Venture Group, In-Q-Tel, Pitango, Vanedge Capital, and Our Crowd. More VCs can apply here.

nvidia panel 2

Above: Nvidia’s Inception AI startups by industry.

Image Credit: Nvidia

The Nvidia Inception VC Alliance is part of the Nvidia Inception program, an acceleration platform for startups working in AI, data science, and HPC. These startups represent every major industry and are located in more than 90 countries.

Among its benefits, the alliance offers VCs exclusive access to high-profile events, visibility into top startups actively raising funds, and access to growth resources for portfolio companies.

“It’s both a corporate goal and a personal goal to extend this ecosystem around the world,” Herbst said.

nvidia panel 3

Above: Nvidia’s Inception AI startups are from the green countries.

Image Credit: Nvidia

Nvidia currently counts about 40 companies it has invested in directly. Around 300 Inception companies are making presentations at the GTC 21 event, which is expected to have an online audience of about 150,000. And around 35 of the startups are in emerging markets, Herbst said.

“Is there parity in the world with AI startups? No,” Lopez Research analyst Maribel Lopez said on the panel. “Do we have a long way to go? Yes. But I’m seeing exciting things like Cuda, a fintech startup in microfinance in Africa.”

These startups are using AI for a wide range of tasks, like figuring out what percentage of fisheries in the world are operating illegally.

“Now that Jensen has shown the roadmap, people know that Nvidia is a complete platform, with CPUs, GPUs, DPUs, and everything that enables these startups to do their life’s work.”

nvidia panel 4

Above: Nvidia’s Inception AI startups over the years.

Image Credit: Nvidia

On Monday, Herbst moderated a panel on investing in startups around the globe and the need to create a more diverse ecosystem for entrepreneurs. He estimated there are 12,000 to 15,000 AI startups around the world and said Nvidia is only in touch with about half of them through Inception.

“It’s an open invitation to join our ecosystem,” Herbst said. “Nvidia loves startups.”

Herbst said about 16% of Inception members are part of the health care industry. Growth areas include robotics, self-driving cars and trucks, and data science.

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