Unseen Interview: Massimiliano Di Monda (Raylight Studios)

Unseen Interview: Massimiliano Di Monda (Raylight Studios)

While working on our book about lost video games, we were able to interview many developers who worked on cancelled projects, but we had to cut some of these interviews from the book because of the 480 pages limit. As promised, we are going to publish all the missing articles directly in our website, and the following interview is one of these! During his career Massimiliano Di Monda has worked at Pixelstorm and Raylight Studios on such lost games as Monster Truck Madness (Microsoft), Dukes of Hazzard (Ubisoft) and Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid tech demos for GBA.


Unseen64: To start this interview, we would like to ask you to introduce yourself to our readers: we’d love to know more about your career in the gaming industry and what you are working on today.

Massimiliano: I started working in the world of video games through a friend who worked at Namco in London, we exchanged technical advice on some video games, at some point he told me that there was a team in Naples that was working on a new project and asked me if I wanted to participate. From there, I began this adventure.

So I started to work on video games in 1996 from zero in the QA department, and after years of experience I got into designing and producing video games. In these 19 years, I worked at Raylight Studios on about 30 products for a variety of platforms, ranging from Sony PlayStation and Nintendo GameBoy Color, PC, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and mobile platforms. In 2002 / 2003, I worked at Wing Commander Prophecy for the Nintendo GameBoy Advance, the game was named runner up (2nd place) at E3 2002 in Los Angeles in the best technological excellence category (first place was Monkey Ball). Most recently I worked on games such as the much-acclaimed Sniper Elite for Nintendo Wii, published by Reef Entertainment; My Little Baby (1st prize winner Samsung Bada contest in 2010, Nokia / Microsoft App Campus selected project in 2012) for various platforms including Android and iOS; I also worked on a number of ports and bundles titles for Nintendo 3DS. At the moment we are working on PS4 games, Xbox One, mobile, VR and some original IP which I still can not name.

Unseen64: What are some of your favorite video games? Have you been playing anything lately?

Massimiliano: My favorite video games are classic shoot’em ups, arcade driving games and laser disc games. I could mention Radiant Silvergun, Thunderforce, Sega Rally, Ridge Racer, Wipe Out, Dragon’s Lair, etc. I am currently exclusively playing Splatoon and we formed an official e-sports team and a very active Facebook community!

Unseen64: Did you know Unseen64 before this interview? What do you think of our “mission” to create an online archive to remember those video games we’ll never play?

Massimiliano: I knew Unseen64 because long ago you wrote an article about our Resident Evil 3D tech demo for Gameboy Advance. I like your initiative, maybe today with the huge amount of games in development and often never completed you will have a lot of work to do. :) I would limit the preservation to titles of some importance or to games made by teams of a certain level.

Unseen64: In the early 2000s the name of Raylight Studios and your Blueroses Engine became popular all around the world thanks to some awesome 3D tech demos you created for the GameBoy Advance, which showed a 3D graphic level then considered impossible for a handheld console focused on 2D. Was it difficult to develop that kind of 3D graphical engine for the GBA and what kind of feedback did you have from websites, magazines, gamers and international publishers? Do you think it could have been possible to push the GBA hardware even more for 3D or had you used all of its potential?

Massimiliano: In fact we were the first to launch a 3D engine on the Gameboy Advance, I don’t know if it was hard or not (as I was not the main developer), but one day when I entered the office they put a GBA in my hands and on the screen there was a textured polygon… from there we prepared those tech demos that gathered interest from companies like EA, Namco, Midway and Activision and that allowed us to work on titles such as Wing Commander Prophecy, Street Racing Syndicate, Spider-man, Ozzy & Drix. So let’s say that the success was clear. :)

We tapped the GBA for all it could offer, in Street Racing Syndicate we had also implemented texture correction to avoid that annoying texture distortion, but we were really at the limits of its power.

Unseen64: Among your GBA tech demos, one of the most impressive was a full recreation of the first few sections of Resident Evil 2. Did you have any contact with Capcom to develop a port or a new chapter of Resident Evil for the GBA?

Massimiliano: At the time we were invited to the Capcom offices in the UK. We discussed the project at various levels, but then Capcom Japan vetoed it because of the downturn of the GBA, adding the fact that a mature game was not suitable for that type of console.

Unseen64: Another of the most famous tech demos for your Blueroses Engine was the recreation of the Metal Gear Solid Hangar in real time on the GBA: did you have any contact with Konami to develop some games with them, maybe even a Metal Gear for GameBoy Advance?

Massimiliano: No, never.

Unseen64: The Blueroses Engine was then used to develop other games published for GBA, including Wing Commander Prophecy, which initially began as your own new IP titled “Star Giants”. How did the collaboration start and how did it become a new chapter in the Wing Commander series?  Was anything changed compared to the original concept?

Massimiliano: During a meeting in London with CEO of Destination Software Stuart Kaye (now deceased, a veteran in the video game industry), we had shown our demo of Star Giant, which technically impressed their executive producer. Knowing that Destination was fresh from signing a deal with EA for the distribution of some EA titles, I suggested to them that the game could easily be transformed into a Wing Commander game. With just the time of a phone call to EA by Stuart, and we had the license to develop Prophecy.

Unseen64: Over time you moved on to develop for PSP, what do you think of the console and how Sony handled its marketing at the time? Were there some concerns in developing for a much more powerful handheld than the Nintendo DS, but with higher costs, a smaller user base and a high level of piracy?

Massimiliano: In fact, fears regarding the PSP were well founded, we developed a single title “Hot Wheels Ultimate Racing” for the Sony handled, with an almost ridiculous budget compared to our other productions, because the PSP was burdened by many unknowns.

Unseen64: Which difficulties did an Italian game development studio find in a market lead by English, American and Japanese studios?

Massimiliano: There are still many prejudices about Italian developers and the fact that the development of video games in Italy is not yet as mature as in other countries. The same Eastern Europe exceeded us with AAA productions that currently fail to take root in Italy, a bit for lack of active people in the Italian industry, a bit because in the markets you mentioned the development of videogames has been consolidated for years and there are highly respected studios.

However, for what concerns us at Raylight, we have worked and / or are working with Japanese, British and American publishers, with moderate success.

Unseen64: Did you work on other lost games that have never been published, that you can talk about?

Massimiliano: We made several game demos that for various reasons were not developed further and / or have been assigned to other teams, such as Monster Truck Madness (Microsoft), Dukes of Hazzard (Ubisoft) and many more.

Unseen64: On the topic of other games you have worked on over the years and that have been published, was there some interesting element that had been changed or removed before the final version?

Massimiliano: In the PSP version of Hot Wheels we planned an aerial combo trick system, but due to time constraints we had to remove it from the project. It could have been a good feature to give more content to the product, but the time limit dictated by marketing and money almost always have priority on creativity and development.

Unseen64: How do you see the gaming market today, where on one hand there are enormous possibilities to create international success thanks to digital distribution, games for smartphones and the new wave of indie titles on Steam, and on the other hand the competition is higher than ever and it is increasingly difficult to attract the attention of players, now dispersed among countless devices and with an infinite backlog of games still to begin?

Massimiliano: Platforms such as Steam or smartphones and tools such as Unity, opened the world of development to many independent teams… if on one hand it may seems positive with the release of such titles as Limbo, Shovel Knight, Monument Valley, etc. on the other hand this new market has created a huge amount of junk games that subtract visibility to the best ones, creating the paradox that to emerge now you have to spend more on marketing and in the development of the product. I’m a traditionalist, I want my console, with my disc or cartridge, and the manual!

Unseen64: Do you think virtual reality systems can be good for any kind of game, or just for specific genres?

Massimiliano: I think that virtual reality systems are optimized for experiences developed specifically for VR, I am not convinced that classic videogames like Call of Duty or titles with very fast action can work. I think that other fields (such as movies, architecture or culture) will be the ones to drive virtual reality rather than video games, at least in its first phase.

Unseen64: VR is a format that has already been tried in the past with dedicated consoles (Hasbro, Nolan Bushnell, etc) and as an add-on to existing hardware (PC, Sega MegaDrive, Atari Jaguar, etc), both with little success. Today, technology is definitely more fit for the purpose, but do you think that developers have managed to learn from past mistakes? How to get users to buy a VR system with such an high cost, when the only way to appreciate it is to try it yourself?

Massimiliano: This is a question that only the market can answer! There are many problems to be evaluated in addition to the cost of the display, also the cost of a high-performance PC or console, and the space needed to play / interact. It will not be easy, probably as I said before initially VR will be used more for business purposes than anything else. Compared to the past, technology has made leaps and bounds and today it can offer a very high level of realism and involvement, but it is the market that has the last word.

Unseen64: With different types of VR (Oculus, Vive, PS VR, etc.) is there a risk to see the market divided, making it more difficult to reach a wider circulation of the new technology and to find a proper development standard that could make the most out of this technology?

Massimiliano: I think it will be a tough fight, there are many factors that can determine the failure or victory of one or more technologies against the others. Their quality, the price, the games and many more things including the fact that VR needs some space to be played, space that may not be available in every house.

Unseen64: As most of the Unseen64 Staff is also Italian, we just LOVE to eat good food. :) What is your favorite food ever? Any secret recipe that you would like to share with us?

Massimiliano: Being Neapolitan, can I say pizza? I like to cook, but I don’t have secret recipes, I only read and prepare what I find on the internet. :)

Unseen64: Well, that was the last question, thanks again for your time Massimiliano!

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