Designing games that truly suit the hardware platforms they're on is a more difficult proposition than it seems, at first blush - but Sony's Tsutomu Kouno has made a pretty good stab of it.
His history at the PlayStation-creating company includes work as a designer on the seminal Ico, but the first project he ever led was LocoRoco, the critically feted PSP 2D platformer which stars a pile of singing blobs.
While the game has perhaps not had as much commercial success as Sony and fans had hoped, it won the company a couple of BAFTAs, and more attention for its portable from a wide audience. The sequel, unsurprisingly called LocoRoco 2, was released in North America this month, after launching in Japan and Europe late last year.
In this in-depth Gamasutra interview, Kouno discusses the creative impetus which led to his creation of the LocoRoco characters, the core gameplay, and the wider cultural forces which helped inspire him. He also discusses his background and his thoughts about the wider industry.
I wanted to talk about developing a game for the PSP specifically, because it's a platform that has some different possibilities and different challenges than developing for a home console. When it comes to LocoRoco, the one thing you think about is the control, and I was wondering which came first: the game design or the control? From where did you proceed, when you originally thought of the first game in the series?
Tsutomu Kounou: When I came up with the concept for the first LocoRoco, I was spending a lot of time sketching game ideas while riding the train. These weren't just ideas for LocoRoco, there were a bunch I was working on. [Shows drawing]
So, this is the one that became the jumping off point for LocoRoco. When I looked at it, I saw that with so many characters on the screen, this wouldn't be the sort of game where you'd control a single guy directly.
But I also thought it might be cool if you could rotate the landscape around all of them. The picture's about the same dimensions of the PSP screen, and although it didn't have L and R buttons, but I'd tilt from side to side and think, "Hey, this might actually work."
After this initial drawing, I started churning out more sketches at a crazy pace. The PSP was also being released right around the time I first had these ideas, and using the L and R triggers to get the rotation seemed like an obvious choice.
When you saw the PSP's controls you decided the L and R buttons were the best control method for rotating the world.
TK: Well, I had the ideas in my head and drew these sketches right around the time the PSP came out. I thought it would make an interesting game, and knew that I'd want it to remain 2D, like the drawings. And when I thought of rotating the environment, clicking the L and R buttons just sort of came to me.
Did you prototype different control methods? Did you try different things before you arrived at the control for this game? Different button combinations, or something like that?
TK: I was pretty much set on using L and R from the start. Aside from those, we tried out a few different arrangements, but I realized quickly that I wanted the game to use as few buttons as possible, and we eventually pared it down to just one.
What was your thinking behind wanting to reduce the number of buttons? Was it wanting to make the game simpler for a wide audience, or to make it easy to play on the go as a portable?
TK: Yeah, I definitely wanted the game to be accessible to children. I also wanted it to be something people outside Japan could pick up and "get" without too much explanation, simply by pressing L and R.