Sense of Wonder: Indie-fying Japan
November 2, 2010 Page 1 of 3
The Tokyo Game Show's annual Sense of Wonder Night brings together a selection of independent and experimental games from around the world. In October of 2008, PlayStation Network title PixelJunk Eden by independent developer Q-Games was chosen as a showcase finalist.
The title's visual style and soundtrack were designed by Baiyon, a Kyoto artist who has in recent months discussed at industry conferences strategies to capture imaginative design concepts.
Coinciding with the 2010 Tokyo Game Show, Baiyon's latest collaboration with Q-Games is hinted at in a recently released promotional video directed by company president Dylan Cuthbert.
The PixelJunk Lifelike music visualizer will be controlled by the PlayStation Move accessory for the PlayStation 3 console. Participating in this group discussion, producer Tatsuya Suzuki has also been focusing his efforts on the creation of a Move title: namely, the puzzle game Echochrome II.
Suzuki has been responsible for discovering breakthrough talents in the world of experimental games as part of Sony's "Game Yaroze" and "PlayStation CAMP” initiatives.
Titles emerging from the recruitment and development programs include the interactive novel Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot, the refuse puzzler Trash Panic and warship dismantling game Patchwork Heroes. The producer was also responsible for guiding the development of the original Echochrome.
Having created numerous surprising and comical flash titles for the independent studio Nigoro, Takumi Naramura is in the process of completing his first game for Nintendo's WiiWare service. Previously released as an retro-style platformer for the PC, La-Mulana is being given a complete audio and graphical overhaul for the WII, and will be released in English-language regions by Cave Story publisher Nicalis. In this discussion, the participants share their perspectives on designing standout gaming experiences.
Tatsuya Suzuki, Takumi Naramura and Baiyon in Tokyo.
Would you offer by way of self-introduction a few words on your background in game design?
Tatsuya Suzuki: I'm Suzuki of Sony Computer Entertainment. My most well known game is Echochrome, released for the PSP and PS3, on which I served as producer. The original idea was envisioned by Jun Fujiki and released as a freeware PC title. I was asked to adapt the idea for the console market, and in the process wound up serving in a role not unlike that of a director.
Much of my work has been in producing PSP titles. Upon joining Sony Computer Entertainment, I worked on a number of out-of-the-ordinary game concepts, including Intelligent Qube, Devil Dice and Yarudora. From that point on, it became my job to find people from outside the company to join in a game development project called "Game Yaroze," now known as "PlayStation CAMP.” For CAMP I produced Echochrome and Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot.
Takumi Naramura: I'm Naramura of Nigoro. Our team has not released a console title for sale, so I'm not entirely certain why I've been invited this meeting. (laughs) Our intended debut may yet meet with an untimely disaster and never see the light of day.
Judging by your personal experiences, what would you say are the greatest challenges in expanding upon a previously existing game? For instance La-Mulana is a remake, PixelJunk Eden Encore is an expansion pack, while Echoshift and Echochrome II draw inspiration from the design of Echochrome.
Baiyon: Is it hard to expand on an existing game? It wasn't so much the case in my experience. In becoming more familiar with the programmers' processes, little by little I found greater enjoyment in collaborating. It helped that the studio placed no restrictions in the way of my creativity. The process of creating the expansion was a continuation of the same feeling of freedom to do what I wanted, which makes it difficult to prefer the one over the other.
TN: Our case is a little unusual. As a hobby we created a retro-style game on contemporary computer hardware. This time around, rather than creating a remake, it feels like we're developing an entirely new game from scratch. We want it to make the most of the full capabilities of the console. As a result, everything we're doing now is new to us, though at the same time I find myself stumbling over design problems I'd previously thought I'd overcome for good. At moments I feel a little like the student who's fallen behind in class and is told to stay after school. (laughs)
B: Are there many of these challenges that you're facing for a second time?
TN: There are quite a few. In changing the system we now have to think through the same problems all over again. Also, these days you can receive reactions from fans through the internet, so there are a lot of helpful opinions we receive. I take it to heart when people say, "I don't like this part," or "That part is a pain in the ass." It compels us to improve the design as much as possible.
TS: In my own case, I have two answers. I'm not the producer for Echoshift, which was done by Artoon, the makers of Xbox title Blinx The Time Sweeper. They wanted to create a 2D action game that like the earlier title incorporated a unique time control system.
Having brought this idea to the company, it appeared to be in line with Echochrome's theme of space manipulation. On that game, I was serving as more of a supervisor, offering my perspective on the design philosophy behind Echochrome. It was a unfamiliar experience, to have my game analyzed by another party as the basis for a new title.
Two additional expansions of Echochrome were released based on user feedback. It used to be the case that if you wanted to add content to a game, it had to be through a sequel. With downloadable expansions, the situation has changed, which over time I think is going to have some interesting consequences for the industry as a whole.
Though Echochrome was released some time ago, we're still disseminating free content online. I'm certain there are those who would be far from interested in the idea of extending development for so long, but for me I've found it to be a rewarding experience.
B: It's only very recently that I started designing games, so I have no experience predating downloadable content. For instance, a lot of people said PixelJunk Eden was too difficult, so we released a patch that lets you continue where previously you had to start over.
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