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Q&A: Namco Bandai Talks Wii Fitness With  Athletic World

Q&A: Namco Bandai Talks Wii Fitness With Athletic World

December 28, 2007 | By Christian Nutt

December 28, 2007 | By Christian Nutt
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The original Power Pad was originally manufactured by Bandai in Japan under the name "Family Trainer," and was used with a game called Athletic World, which was licensed by Nintendo for production in the U.S. Now Namco Bandai is bringing back a classic. Originally revealed at this year's Tokyo Game Show, it's slated for a 2008 release in Japan under the name Family Trainer Athletic World, and in the U.S. as Active Life: Athletic World.

Gamasutra recently spoke to localization producer Naotaka Higashiyama and producer Sayaki Mori, who are working on the minigame-based athletic game for the Wii. It utilizes a foot mat alongside the Wii remote, and as Higashiyama points out, in a nod to the NES Power Pad of yore, players use both the Wii remote and their feet.

Can you talk about the relationship, and why you decided to bring back this title right now?

Naotaka Higashiyama: Well, the Wii came out, you know? And the first thing off the top of your head when you think about Wii is using your body to play the video game. And, 21 years ago, that was the only game that let you use the body. So, we get the concept from both sides, and that's why we decided to bring it back to Wii.

Obviously, people are trying to figure out the best kind of title to bring to the audience for the Wii. Nintendo has Wii Fit, you guys have Athletic World, Hudson has DecaSporta; a lot of sports games. What does Family Trainer: Athletic World do that you think would capture the audience that has already been established on the Wii?

NH: That's a difficult question to answer! It's not a serious game, but at the same time it's harder than it looks. It's fun by yourself, or with your family -- as with Wii Fit, which you can probably play solo or with two players.

What do you think?

Sayaka Mori: When it comes to Wii Fit, you use the feet. When it comes to DecaSporta, you just use the Wii remote and that's it. But with this one, you use both. It's a combination between the mat and the Wii remote. So that's the differentiation factor. And I'm pretty sure that this will be the only game out that uses a mat and a Wiimote at the same time.

In the sense of sports games, yes, but there is Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party, that has its own mat and uses the remote as well.

SM: The concept of the game is different. I just imagined family, kids, friends, having fun at any time, easily. Anyone can play it, and it's also fun to watch other people playing it.

Earlier we spoke about how this has an origin with the NES, and the Wii has a nostalgia factor, and Nintendo is expanding its audience back to what it was meant to be in the NES era. Is that an influence on the decision to make this kind of game as well?

SM: Of course! Of course, our target is exactly the same as Nintendo's target, and they brought them back from the past to now. Back in the day, good gamers, non-hardcore gamers, and hardcore gamers used to play together and have fun. That was the whole point. So, even if you're really good at playing Halo, a little kid may be able to beat the guy who's good at Halo, in this game. So, that's what it is.

Before you worked on this game, did you work on more "hardcore" traditional kinds of games?

SM: I was in charge of high-end videogame creation, yes.

How did you feel when the Wii came out? Was it something that you were inspired by? Like, "Oh great! I can make the kind of game I want to make, now!"? Basically, how did the Wii affect the development studio?

SM: Yes, this is mainly because Wii came out. This is what made me say, "This is it! We have to make Family Trainer, using the mat." It's fun for everybody.

There's been some discussion that maybe the bubble might be bursting on the Wii already; that maybe there's a fad, and people are going to grow bored with these kinds of games. Does that worry you at all, or do you think it's just gonna keep growing?

SM: I'm not worried about that too much. When it happens, it happens. It will happen to everybody who is making games on the Wii. Right now I can just picture the whole situation where the family and the friends get together, play casually, not for a long time.

So did you observe other Wii games and use that as an influence, or did you go back to the classic idea of what worked for Athletic World 20 years ago?

SM: Both together.

What do you think is very important when developing a family game, that's different than developing a hardcore kind of game?

SM: The easy access. Something that anyone can play, and not for a long time. Like, just push it and play it. Not something that you have to sit and train your skills to get better at. Also, something that you won't get bored watching other people playing. It's fun even to watch a grown up, mature adult getting serious on the mat, and laughing.

How many players does the game support?

NH: Two players.

Oh, on one mat. So it's gonna have to come as a set with the mat, and it's two players on one mat. When it comes to developing the game and releasing a peripheral, is there a cost consideration that you have to worry about? How do you balance that with the game's development cost, and the fact that a general audience that might not be as willing a hardcore gamer to spend a lot of money on a single title? For example, Time Crisis 3 with the GunCon 3 will be $90.

NH: Well, we haven't decided the actual price of the mat, but it's definitely gonna be lower than the GunCon! It's turning out to be pretty cheap. I can't tell you the price right now, but anyone can afford it.

Speaking of the GunCon, I was just speaking with the team, and they're hoping that more developers will make games with the peripheral. Are there any plans like that for this mat?

SM: Definitely, yes. If there are people who want to create a game using the mat, or publishers who want to release a game using the mat, we're definitely open to that.

Are there any discussions with third-parties about that?

NH: Not yet, because this is the first one we've made. But there are more [titles] coming next year.


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