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Most tactics RPGs are pretty much necessarily in 2D, because they're grid-based. This game has nothing to do with grids, which is one of the big differences -- you have proximity instead of squares. It's a very different sensibility. You also have to aim, so it actually brings it into 3D. Was it a design decision right from the start that you weren't going to have a grid? And how did you come up with the active points system that allows character movement?
RN: The first time that we made this game it was actually a regular tactical RPG. We didn't have a grid from the start, but it was a top-down map and we worked on that. But then after we played that initial build we realized that it didn't express what we wanted to communicate in the game, which was having the player identify with the characters in the game.
In traditional tactical RPGs you'd have units, but one unit would maybe have five tanks, or four soldiers or whatever. And then when you fight with the enemy and after the battle ends, your unit may only two tanks left, or three soldiers left.
When you're playing that type of game you don't really feel the pain or the loss of actual characters that are in those units, and that's what we wanted to communicate in this game and have the player identify with in this game.
That's just why we developed the current system where it's almost like third-person action -- where you're battling in the gunfire and you're being shot at as you shoot other people and you have to hide behind stuff.
At a certain point in traditional tactics RPGs when you've seen all the battle animations you'll turn them off. You don't care anymore to see the same animation over and over. But in this case you never do that, because you're actually playing through it. It cuts out some of the fluff that you didn't need for the gameplay before. It's an interesting way to do it.
RN: Thank you. I agree with your comments and I'm very thankful that you see the game that way. We wanted to add something that was more emotional into the tactical RPG genre.
Rather than you being God and you moving your chess pieces on a board, we wanted the player to be in the battle and to feel the tension -- to be afraid of your enemy shooting back at you.
Your game was originally created as a traditional top-down tactics RPG. Was the initial design done on paper, or is it done in the engine with polygons?
RN: I start out with pen and paper and then I give it to the map development team who specializes in 3D modeling environments.
It seemed like some of them were very deliberately crafted from the overhead perspective, so that's why I was wondering if they were created that way first.
For the battle system that you have, did you make multiple prototypes to figure out how it would work or did you document it all first in the design document? It seems like it may have had to evolve naturally from that original gameplay system that you created through iterative prototypes.
RN: All the changes were made at once. I had the first version of the game, which we built. We played it and it was a regular tactics RPG -- and no one was happy with it.
We discussed all the changes that we needed to make, and because we wanted it to be like third-person action, we discussed how all the maps needed to be 3D and have verticality. And then those were all implemented at once. So we had a big change, all at one time.
My impression of the process in Japan as being somewhat different from that in the U.S. is that there's a lot more documentation up front, quite often. Whereas in the U.S. the documentation will be much more vague and just outline systems. But then all of the actual gameplay as it fits together will be developed on the fly.
RN: I'm not aware of how things are done in other companies or countries, but in my experience it is true that there's usually a lot of documentation up front and then everything needs to be secured and approved and good to go before you start building anything.
But in this case, for Valkyria Chronicles, because the team started out very small and we were all thoroughly aware of all the issues in the game, we understood the game and what it needed to be. So everything was done as we went with that very small team.