IO Interactive discusses its new IP, Mini Ninjas

How the Hitman team turned family-friendly

With a portfolio consisting of titles such as Kane & Lynch, Freedom Fighters and Hitman, it’s fairly peculiar to see IO Interactive turn to the broader, more family friendly side of the game business.

But as Agent 47 was sharpening his knives, the Danish developer’s workforce were suddenly getting married, becoming parents and raising families. Develop sat down with IO’s Justin Hills about the transformation of the company and its new venture, Mini Ninjas.

Why did you decide to develop a kids IP, considering you’re so well known for your violent action games?
I do not think we can say we were trying to develop a specific Kids IP. We are always working on concepts for new IP and Mini Ninjas developed from that same process.

That said, Mini Ninjas was definitely born out of a new phase in IO’s history, many people were having families and that does change focus for some on some ways. Mini Ninjas actually started as a collection of drawings done by Henrik Hansen (MN art director). These drawings were early shots of a ninja, much like how Hiro looks now, and some environments really got people excited. It was a very captivating style.

Have you had to think differently when designing a game aimed at a younger audience?
This was the most challenging part for all of us. It was very important to us that the game was appealing and fun for an 8-14 demographic – so had that pick-up-and-play feel to it – but also had additional layers of depth to appeal to the full spectrum of gamers.

We put a huge effort into creating a deep gameplay experience — such as the stealth system, or the magical spells and equipment you can learn to use. Keeping it simple on the surface, but putting depth just below for people to play the game in the way that they want to.

Would you like to see Mini Ninjas become more than a game IP?
Of course our dream is that Mini Ninjas develops into more than a video game. We all have the fantasy of seeing kids with MN toys or lunch boxes or watching a MN movie one day, but we are taking everything one step at a time. We fully appreciate that this is a market dominated by big budget movies and established franchises.

What are your hopes for the Mini Ninjas brand?
First we want to get the game into people’s hands and have a great launch worldwide. It has been extremely encouraging to see how people react when they play Mini Ninjas. From there the options are endless.

What is the Danish game development scene like?
For IO, Danish game development is pretty strong. The industry right now is challenging for all developers and publishers, but we have gained a lot of strength out of the IP we are working on.

The studio has grown in size, we are working on multiple projects, across multiple genres and we are encouraged that we have something new to offer. There is great pool of talent in Denmark but we also attract a large percentage of non-Danish to the studio.

IO Interactive HQ, Copenhagen, Denmark

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