Shoot first, ask questions later
Blasting its way onto the Nintendo 3DS eShop, Kokuga is the latest game from G.Rev studios. G.Rev are well known for releasing SHMUP games across several different platforms from arcade machines to mobile devices.
Hiroyuki Maruyama, CEO of G.Rev was able to speak with us about Kokuga and how the game not only came to the 3DS but also an international release.
Daniel Scheid: For those who are unfamiliar with Kokuga, or even previous titles G.Rev has developed, how would you briefly explain this game?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: Kokuga is a top-down 360-degree shoot'em up game in which you control Country A's newest compact mobile tank. Players can shoot in any direction, destroying enemy tanks, gun turrets, drones and other mecha en route to the stage boss. Players have access to 15 types of power up cards ? including special weapons and defensive boosts. The difficulty a player experiences in a stage is greatly dependent on when and how he or she uses the cards. So there is a bit of strategy incorporated. We hope players will think about the best course of action in each situation and strive to clear all stages.
DS: What was the development of Kokuga like? Was there a clear vision of the game from the start or did the game come together piece by piece?
HM: From the start of the development process, we had a clear idea that we wanted to use a card-based power up system, offer a high degree of freedom in regards to selecting stages, and use a download play system for multiplayer gaming.
Conversely, an issue we did not have finalized at the start was the platform on which we would release the game (laughs). I will expand on that if you do not mind...
The feature that actually pushed us to select the 3DS was something that does not directly influence the content of the game itself ? the 3D effects. We were very surprised by how nice the game looked with the effects enabled, and how well it suited the game. At the time, we were not sure if the public was going to support the 3DS, so it was somewhat of a risk for a small studio like ours. In retrospect, we are happy we made the decision to put it on the platform.
DS: Please tell me more about the card system in the game. What kind of powers and abilities can players gain from these cards?
HM: You can divide the cards into two broad categories ? attack cards and support cards.
We would like gamers to note that some support cards are much more valuable when playing multiplayer as opposed to the single player campaign. Cards such as ?Restore Shield? and ?Defense Up? are paired with what we call the ?Adjacency Effect?. When a player uses a card that has the Adjacency Effect, all other players in the immediate area will also benefit from that card. So, for example, if you do not have a ?Repair? card in your screen when you go into BREAKDOWN, but your teammate in the area does, they can use the card and repair your tank for you.
In regards to the 9 types of attack cards, we suggest to just try them first without thinking too much strategy in terms of which weapon is more effective with specific types of enemies. Sure, some enemies are programmed to dodge the player's shots, but a new player will probably enjoy the game more by using the cards often and when they are available.
DS: At first glance Kokuga looks like it plays a bit slower than some arcade shooters. Instead of a hectic screen I feel like I have some space to calculate action. What was the intention behind the different speeds at which the player moves and different guns shoot?
HM: One of our broad goals for Kokuga was to develop a game that broke away from the mold of the current arcade shooter. Instead, we considered classic titles from the 1980s as a benchmark. Shmups have greatly evolved since that era, but we feel that the old-school style shooter can still be enjoyable today. We wanted modern gamers to experience that through Kokuga, and hope that it will be a stimulus for people who enjoy the game to learn about other old-school shooters.
DS: How important is sound and game music in a handheld? For instance, unlike an arcade machine or home console, someone playing a 3DS could easily play much of the game with headphones or with no sound at all. Does that fact change how you approach game music?
HM: We consider sound and music very important for every game we develop. Of course, each platform has its own characteristics and programming environment, so the music and sounds must be tailored and tuned for the specific target platform. We do not take shortcuts or lessen the priority of this aspect of the game simply because of the platform (whether it is an arcade machine or a handheld).
That said, we are very pleased with the quality of Kokuga's sounds and the soundtrack. We hope gamers will listen to it and enjoy.
DS: What was it like to develop for the Nintendo 3DS specifically?
HM: In terms of the performance of the hardware itself, one cannot deny the difference in power when compared to a home console. However, once we acknowledged and planned around the limitations, we were able to develop the game somehow.
Especially in terms of a shooter, making a game at 60FPS that is acceptable in quality, and offering Download Play nonetheless, was quite a challenge. Though there was quite a limitation on memory, we feel that we were able to deliver a quality game.
DS: This console has a lot of different features, 3-D effects, Gyro sensors, download play, and networking to name a few. What was the process behind deciding which features would go into the game and what wasn't required?
HM: As I mentioned above, one of the elements we had determined from the start that would be included in the project was multiplayer via Download Play. We decided to use the 3D effects shortly after that. Use of other features was eliminated from the beginning as well.
DS: As for multiplayer mode, do you feel like playing with friends close by creates a more personal game than via a wireless network?
HM: Let me just state first that when we launched the project, we were thinking Kokuga would only be released in Japan. At the time, a certain multiplayer action game (which we cannot mention by name (laughs)) was very popular. Taking that game's multiplayer system as reference, we developed the current multiplayer system and hoped that Kokuga would be the means for gamers to enjoy a shooter with friends close by.
DS: With download play you can play the game with people who do not own the game themselves. Does Kokuga balance difficulty for players who are only playing casually or for the first time?
HM: I would not say that specific considerations were made for this. However, this is somewhat compensated by the stage select system. We wanted gamers to be able to play for as long or as short as they wished, and at a variety of difficulty levels. The flexibility in the stage select system perhaps makes it easier for new and casual players.
DS: Can you please tell me a little about releasing Kokuga in different regions?
HM: The international release, in general, was a series of firsts for us, as the experience was quite different compared to the ones we had with our previous overseas releases. We had to learn the process from the start. In that respect, it was a bit of a struggle.
Though not specific to a certain target sales region, frankly speaking, the less content that requires to be localized, the better, as there is a cost related to that process. Somehow we were able to bring the game to the international market, and despite the difficulties, it was a huge learning experience.
DS: What can you say about your experience on the Nintendo eShop?
HM: This will overlap with my response above, but a precondition of the international release was that it would be sold through the eShop. If we were a large publisher with a presence in multiple countries, then we might have considered a retail release (laughs). But since we aren't, it was only natural to distribute the game digitally through the eShop.
DS: There has been a lot of discussion and debate online concerning Nintendo and their policy to region lock their systems. As a developer how do you feel about this issue?
HM: In consideration of the current situation in which individual countries and regions regulate age ratings, if someone were to gain access to a region free copy of a game from a country other than the one in which he or she resides, then that game could be regarded as an unofficial product. Certainly there are hardcore gamers that, acknowledging the nature of the product, do not consider that an issue, but there are other consumers that do. As a developer, we would like gamers to understand that position.
As a hardcore gamer myself, on the other hand, I understand the issue and would like games made region free regardless (laughs).
3 news items
Wii's World is not officially affiliated with Nintendo! (but they wish we were).