PAX Prime 2014: Interview With Tyrone Rodriguez

Monday, September 1st, 2014

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Interview | Tyrone Rodriguez

A while back, I was given the privilege of interviewing the President of Nicalis, Tyrone Rodriguez. He was a refreshing change of pace in an industry stunted by cynicism and shortsightedness. We discussed primarily Grinsia, as well as some other Nicalis properties. This year, I was given the opportunity to meet him in person at PAX Prime, and he was just as great in person as he came across via email. The following is a transcription of that interview (questions and comments from me in bold).

Interview | Tyrone Rodriguez

In our previous interview you mentioned you were very fond of classic JRPGs. Would Nicalis consider making their own in house?

Tyrone: As I mentioned, as a company, we’ve previously released Grinsia. I’ve sort of been moving on a personal level of “hey, what sort of games do I want to make or play that I loved as a kid?” I would love to make an RPG. But if you look at the traditional true JRPG, either 2D or 3D, the amount of people that it takes to really produce a quality game is very intimidating. When we worked on Cave Story 3D, I think we had a little over 20 people, and for Isaac, it’s almost close to that number. If you factor in a RPG, say we do pixel art, we would probably need a dozen pixel artists, a dozen programmers. So, it’s not a game that I don’t want to do, if I was in the right situation I would love to make it. We would basically need to occupy everybody to make this game. It would be a very long process. You have to have the right story, the right characters and make it an endearing game. I’ve played enough RPGs over the years that I know what it takes to do, and I take it very seriously. For now, what we can offer people is to partner up with people and make quality games, like Grinsia, and introduce them to different players wherever they are.

Is there any progress regarding getting The Binding of Isaac to Nintendo consoles?

T: So, we don’t have any official answer to that. As of now we’ve announced PS4, Vita and PC. But as fans and people that follow Nicalis know, I don’t give up. I’m very optimistic. I’d love nothing more than to give Nintendo fans the games they’d like to play on Nintendo consoles.

Interview | Tyrone Rodriguez

How about Legend of Raven? I remember it was originally slated to release on the 3DS, and then the situation changed. Is there any chance of that being brought to the 3DS?

T: At this point, probably not. All the feedback we got from the super hardcore fighting game community, they spoke, and they are on PS3 and XBox 360, and we opted to go PS4 and Xbox One, since that is where gamers will be in a year. Madcatz and others are all making controls for these new generation consoles, and as much as I would love it on the 3DS, I just don’t see it happening. I would love to see a fighting game on 3DS, but for now, I feel Legend of Raven is more appropriate where it is.

Interview | Tyrone Rodriguez

So what can you tell me about the 90s Arcade Racer?

T: I’ll preface it by saying we’ve never been known for speedy development. We like to take our time, even if it drives fans crazy, because we’re at a point where all our games should have the right amount of polish and time spent on them. We wanna get it right. With 90s Arcade Racer, from early on it was very special, but as we’ve put more time into it, and polished the amount of detail and the physics, it became more important. This is our one chance to emulate the 90s. To emulate Daytona USA and Speed Race, and we want to get it right.

So what we’re doing is we’re leading with PC and Wii U as sort of the lead consoles, and at a later time we hope to release on PS4 and Xbox One. It’s moving along well, we’ve made good progress. We’ve got one of the sound designers who worked on Grid, we’ve got half a dozen musicians who are pretty high level game musicians, doing soundtracks to give it this compilation type feeling. We’ve been a little quiet with it just because we’re focused on putting all the pieces together.

Once it’s close to done, we can do something similar to what we did with Isaac. We can spend more time introducing people to the game. It’s just that with a racing game, compared to something like Isaac, where there’s so many secrets to hide, and it’s very easily to continuously update players. With a racing game, there’s such a specific dimension to the development cycle. It’s a car, it’s a race track, it’s physics, so how much can we update players on a weekly or monthly basis? We really wanna blow it out and surprise people once it’s ready to go.

So you’ll probably let people know once it’s closer to completed?

T: Right, definitely.

What is it about 90s Arcade Racer that appeals to you and the rest of Nicalis?

T: Me, I was born in the late 70s. I was at the perfect age to catch the 80s pixel art, scaling pseudo 3D racing games. And I love cars. I love, love cars and I love racing games. So that combination, and growing up and working at Tricks magazine and strategizing on racing games. In my teens and 20s I grew up playing racing games, and there was something really magical about Daytona USA, Ridge Racer, these sort of coming into polygonal racing games in the mid 90s. They were really awesome, they were still pure. It wasn’t liscensing BS. Then the 2000s happened, where they became these liscensed messes where like “hey, let’s liscense every car, use real tracks, make it a real serious driving sim.” That’s boring. I want the blue skies and I want the crazy music. That’s what appealed to me about the game, and that’s why we’re trying to get that feeling down.

Interview | Tyrone Rodriguez

What can you tell me about Castle in the Darkness? How damning is the difficulty set to be?

T: It’s a pretty difficult game. I would say it’s not as difficult as 1001 Spikes, but more difficult than Cave Story. It’s that happy medium there. It is not an easy Metroid game. It is fun and fair, and it’s really well done.

I mentioned it was originally designed by one of our lead artists, Matt Kap, who also did the music on Legend of Raven. He really knows his stuff and understands games. That’s why I wanted to work together. It looked like a Nicalis game, like one we should and would publish. We already worked together, we’ll help out, get the exposure out there. It’s just a really fun, tight game.

Back to your point about 3DS and Wii U, that’s a game we would likely put on 3DS and Wii U at a future time. For now, Matt’s been working on it two years, he’s hit that sort of peak where he really wants to get it out, we’ll see how people like it, and if there is enough motivation from players, we would consider bringing it to those consoles.

This is kind of a generic one, but is there an aspect of PAX that appeals to you the most?

T: I’ve been to every E3 except for one. I think I missed 97. And it’s great as a professional event, but it’s a lot more fun to interact with others. The industry has turned into a machine that makes money and then you get the people who get degrees just to work in the industry to make money. They want to be in a serious business. I got into the industry when I was basically a kid. I did it for fun, I do it for fun still. I could probably make more money doing something else, but I just love games. And being around PAX, Comic-kaze, all these events that are more fan related, it’s just fun being around people who love games. I don’t get that same kind of reward from E3 or GDC. It’s a different kind of feeling. And I still love those shows for what they are. PAX is about people with like interests coming out and being able to talk.

Anything else you want to talk about or mention?

T: As always, we get a lot of support, good and bad, from the fans. I love the feedback. I always keep and open mind. We have to try to be an interactive company in the sense that we want to listen to people. 3DS players got mad about the Legend of Raven, and that’s difficult. Unfortunately, they don’t get the game, but I hope fans keep in mind that we’ve been supporting Nintendo as a digital store a lot more than some have. We will continue to do so. And thank you!

Thank you for your time!

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.