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 Post subject: Jamestown and Sine Mora - Shooting Gameside Interviews
PostPosted: Sat Dec 29, 2012 2:13 am 

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Catching up with my backlog... here are two short interviews from Shooting Gameside #5 with the developers from Jamestown and Sine Mora, respectively. There's actually a fair number of interviews already available online in English for these games, but I thought everyone here would be interested to hear the Japanese perspective on these Western STGs. I also really love Jamestown and wanted to promote it, of course (hehe). Sine Mora I haven't played yet, so I can't speak to it, but after reading this I'm thinking to give it a shot. Has anyone tried it in 3D yet? Lots of namedropping of classic STGs in both interviews.

One note: translating back into English from Japanese, I can't be certain what the original exact wording/phrasing was for everything. So if the interviewees by chance read this and notice anything amiss, let me know, and I'll fix it. I think Mike Ambrogi's interview was conducted via email, so that would probably be easy to verify, if it matters enough.

My previous shmupforum translations can be found at this thread, but I will also list them below for convenience:

Mahou Daisakusen manga translation
Toaplan Shooting Chronicle Interview Madness
R-Type Developer Interview Collection
Gradius Developer Interviews (I,II,III,IV,Gaiden)
Scorer Interview Collection - TAC, LAOS, NAL, MON, etc
Stella Vanity and Valhellio Developer Interviews
Two M-KAI Interviews (Eschatos, JSS, Cardinal Sins)
Yoshinori Satake - Steel Empire, Over Horizon Interview
Armed Police Batrider Characters/Stages/Bosses translation (w/ NTSC-J)
Basiscape Composers Interview - Shooting Gameside #1
Cave Shooting History Interview Extravaganza!
Doujin Round Table Discussion - Shooting Gameside #1
Mushi HD/Saidaioujou Famitsu Cave Interview
Raizing Interview - Sotoyama Yuuichi and Yokoo Kenichi
Masahiro Yuge - Toaplan interview (Shooting Gameside vol. 4)
Tatsuya Uemura - Toaplan interview (Shooting Gameside vol.4)

Jamestown - Shooting Gameside Interview
with Mike Ambrogi of Final Form games
Interview by Yamoto Shinichi

—How did the idea for Jamestown come about?

Ambrogi: When we decided we would make a STG, we also decided we needed to add some kind of hook. We exchanged different ideas we liked: "an elegant, beautiful steampunk world", "historical people and places", "space that feels is vibrant and active, not empty and cold like in reality"... We ended up creating an alternate history where we imagined Jamestown, the actual American colony, taking place on Mars.

—How long did the development take, and how many people were involved?

Ambrogi: It took about 2 years. The core group was 3 people--2 programmers and 1 artist. We got a lot of assistance from friends and outside contractors though, and this game couldn't have been made without them.

—What were the most difficult aspects of the development?

Ambrogi: There were many challenges in the development, and wittling it down to the hardest is difficult to say. The first hurdle was getting that actual danmaku feel down. Every genre has a 1000 little unstated rules. If you break one of them, it won't feel right to people who like the genre.

The second challenge was creating a multiplayer mode where players of different skill levels could play together. We wanted a game that both very experienced players and danmaku beginners could play together, in a way that would be meaningful to both of them, where players could support each other. Pulling that off was one of our greatest challenges.

Personally, I think the #1 challenge for any game is getting the game balance right. Our big wish for Jamestown was that it would help new players learn to play and enjoy danmaku games. Getting that difficulty balance right so that beginners and veterans could enjoy the game (playing alone or together) was something we grappled with through the entire development.

—You can see the influence of Japanese danmaku STGs in Jamestown. From your perspective as Westerners, what is the charm and appeal of danmaku STG?

Ambrogi: There's many elements we love from scrolling STGs, especially danmaku. All our members grew up playing Galaga, Space Invaders, Gradius, and similar games. Its really been a lifelong love affair.

But outside of nostalgia, we had an interest in the intensity and skill required for danmaku games. Its in that moment when you're threading the needle through a fierce bullet pattern, and the total concentration it requires. We especially like the dazzling bullet patterns in Cave games; in particular, Dodonpachi, Ketsui, and Progear were inspirations. On top of that, we love the idea of complex scoring systems in danmaku games. Its almost like you can have two separate games in one: a game for beginners who are trying not to die, and another for veteran scorers.

—The Vaunt system is very unique. Why did you opt for this, instead of the more typical bomb system?

Ambrogi: The Vaunt system was our attempt to share with players what we thought would be the most fun way to play a STG. It probably won't surprise you to hear that we were very inspired by Takumi's games, especially Mars Matrix.

When there's multiple players, you have to share resources and do things cooperatively, but when playing alone you have to do all the work yourself... that kind of scoring system was directly inspired by playing cooperative music games like Rock Band. As for the Vaunt shield, there were various reasons we used it instead of a traditional bomb. First, in a 4-player co-op situation, using a bomb means you're dominating a very large portion of the screen. Second, we thought it was cool to be able to shield your teammate from bullets with the vaunt shield. Third, I think that scoring systems that revolve around bombs are a bit overdone at this point. Rather than receiving a bonus for not using bombs, we thought staying in Vaunt as much as possible and keeping your multiplier going as long as you can made for a better experience.

—What has the reception to Jamestown been like so far?

Ambrogi: We've been surprised at how many people like Jamestown. We knew when we started development that this genre isn't popular with everyone, and that in America, many STGs don't even get reviewed. We occasionally get mail about Jamestown, or read posts on the internet about it. Its been kind of unbelievable, hearing people say things like "I don't actually like danmaku games that much, but when I played Jamestown, it made me want to play more games like this."

—What STG titles have influenced you?

Ambrogi: Well, as I said above, we're huge Japanese STG fans. We all played a lot of Gradius in the arcades. The big influences for Jamestown were Cave's fantastic games, especially Dodonpachi, Progear, and Deathsmiles. Takumi's Gigawing and Mars Matrix were also big inspirations. At the same time, with regard to building the right tempo and progression, Ikaruga and the amazing Gradius V provided many insights.

—What do you think of Japanese STG?

Ambrogi: I hope people can tell from this interview and Jamestown itself how much we love Japanese STG. We really strived to make Jamestown more like a Japanese STG, rather than any euroshmup or western developed STG.

—What are some of your favorite games?

Ambrogi: There's a lot! I've already gone over the STGs we like, so I think its ok not to relist them again here. We grew up alongside the game industry, so we like a lot of classic games. Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart, Zelda: LttP, Rock Band... naming them all would take all day. The two founding members of Final Form games met each other through Soul Calibur and Starcraft, so those titles are especially dear to us. We're also interested in the games coming out of the indie game movement. Monaco and Spelunky are two really interesting games.

—What are your favorite Japanese games?

Ambrogi: Well, as you can see, most of our favorites games are from Japan. I'll name a few others though:

Shadow of the Colossus - our whole team fell in love with this game.
Dark Souls - the very deliberate gameplay is wonderful
Suikoden II - one of our members thinks this is the best RPG made, to this day

...but yeah, I could go on all day like this!

—What is the ideal STG to you?

Ambrogi: If it existed, I think it would go something like this:

* a new and exciting idea every few seconds of play
* a scoring system that is simple, intuitive, and gives players interesting choices in how to score
* a game that can be enjoyed by both completely new players and 40-year old veterans who have dedicated their lives to STG
* an interesting story and setting that don't distract from gameplay, but rather strengthen and deepen it
* ushers in world peace

—Will you continue to make STGs?

Ambrogi: We love the STG genre, but we're looking at a lot of different options right now. There's a lot of possibilities to explore for our second game. We'll be experimenting to see what's fun, what's exciting to us... and that could be another STG, or it could be a different genre.

—Please give a final word for our readers.

Ambrogi: I want to extend our gratitude to those who have played Jamestown and supported us. Its a great honor to us that Japanese players (especially superplayers) have enjoyed playing our game. For those who haven't tried Jamestown yet, we hope you enjoy it!

Sine Mora - Shooting Gameside Interview
with Theodore Reiker of Digital Reality
Interview by Yamoto Shinichi

—The gameplay system in Sine Mora revolves around the use of time: rewinding time, slowing down enemies, and extending your time limit by killing enemies. This system is combined with a story about time itself. Where did the idea for that fusion come from? Did you have the idea for the story first, or the system?

Reiker: The system came first. For the idea of a game based around extending your time, we were influenced by an old Japanese doujin Galaga clone, Carax. It added a fresh, unique flow to Galaga, and we thought we could use a system like that in a hori STG. To that basic system we then added the ability to manipulate time. At the same time we started thinking about the world of Sine Mora and the heroes' backstories. When I was young I saw the film Wings of Honneamise, and I was deeply impressed by its wonderful world and the creator's loving attention to detail. I wanted to create a game that could be meaningful, too. I wanted the game to be like a well-written science fiction story, where both the game world and the game system, acting in tandem, would tell the story.

—What made you decide to create Sine Mora as a horizontal STG, as opposed to some other genre?

Reiker: At first we wanted to make an arcade version of Sine Mora too. However, after careful consideration and research, we decided to make it only for console. For creating a STG, The current generation of console hardware is very powerful: HD graphics, 3D surround sound, online replays, and there's even support for 3D displays now. To take advantage of these abilities, as well as the most widely used display form (16:9 widescreen), we made Sine Mora a horizontal rather than vertical STG.

Regarding the production itself, Sine Mora is the first game I've directed. Before I got involved in game design I worked in business research and development. In 2009, when Digital Reality established its publishing division, I was introduced to someone from Grasshopper Manufacture by Risa Cohen, who was involved with Shadows of the Damned at EA. Our company was searching for a quality game to add to our portfolio, and we were also interested in digital distribution. But for me personally, more than a simple business opportunity, it was the chance of a lifetime to create a game with a legend in the gaming industry.

So I left my position (in business R&D) and created the core team for this project. They're all veterans with a great passion and zeal for this project, and they too had long dreamed of creating a STG. I added my personal experience to this recipe and our "trojan horse" development began; our goal was to bring the dying STG genre and its splendors to a wider audience.

—In Sine Mora, you don't have the standard STG system where getting shot once==death. What was the reasoning behind that choice?

Reiker: We had two simultaneous goals for Sine Mora: creating a STG that would be deep and involving, and also creating a play experience that would be fun but different from other games. The time extension system served as the base from which many of our other ideas flowed. We also wanted to distance ourselves from the trend toward danmaku games and make a game that would appeal to a wider audience. Over the last 10 years Cave has pretty much perfected that subgenre, and we felt it would be suicide to try and challenge their dominance there. STG games today are synonymous with danmaku, and that's all thanks to the incredible passion of Cave.

Therefore, we decided to make a classic STG different from the danmaku style. We think its equally difficult (in a different sense), while also not scaring off new players with intense danmaku patterns. I think there's still a lot of room in STGs for new possibilities and ideas. In our system, you can take more hits before dying than traditionally allowed, so its a much easier game to get into. I think this system will allow more players to get hooked on the genre.

—Yeah, the fierce bullet curtains and instant death attacks can make STG look quite intimidating.

Reiker: Yeah, it does, doesn't it? Sine Mora's story mode was designed to be easy, where anyone could play it and experience the enjoyment of STG. I think it would have been very wrong to have made that too hard. But, yes, since STG players love the difficulty, we made the arcade mode hard. As a genre, STG is focused on player skills. So trying to make an "easy" arcade mode would have been pointless really. The true joy of STG comes from overcoming challenges, after all.

—The graphics in Sine Mora are very beautiful, and the retro-future mecha design is also very impressive. Please share any difficulities you had in terms of the art design and graphics.

Reiker: Thank you very much! The audio and visual work was done by Grasshopper Manufacture, and we're very grateful for their wonderful work. We originally wanted to create something that more closely resembled Raizing's Battle Garegga, but Grasshopper convinced us to choose a style that would better support the dark, serious story. We then decided on a presentation that would be similar to Studio Ghibli's vivid color and animation style. Also, we were very honored to have Mahiro Maeda, one of Japan's foremost anime creators, as a guest artist. In the west he's known for creating the Second Renassaince portion of The Animatrix, as well as Kill Bill's anime section. Of course he's famous in Japan as a director. For Sine Mora, he designed 3 of the bosses: Steropes, Palladion, and the huge zeppelin in the Tira stage.

When the actual development began, we were amazed at the quality of the concept art Grasshopper Manufacture had given us, and we wanted to recreate it for the game as accurately as possible. Luckily, almost all our design issues were worked out in the initial planning stage. Using a simple grey box demo level, we pointed out the significant structures and elements which the artists would need to create. The concept artists in Tokyo did the coloring for these key frames beforehand.

The greatest challenge was the 3D presentation, especially with bullet trajectories. Sine Mora is entirely in 3D, and we wanted to make full use of stereoscopic 3D rendering. When you force a 2D game into 3D, there's the possibility for many problems. So 2D games that want to look 3D often use "2.5D." One of the most important things we learned in development was how difficult it was to insert a 2D object in a 3D space, in such a way that the player knows it is part of the gameplay.

In many of the boss battles, we encountered a strange problem; that is, when the bosses actually entered the play area, the difference in scale was too big and it was confusing. So to blend the actual game elements and non-interactive cinematic elements together, we used some tricks. In many cases, we placed the bosses several hundred meters away from the background scenery, rendered the bosses' bullet trajectories on the same plane as the player, and avoided things like lengthy graphics fx and warping particle fx. I don't think players would notice these tricks outside of the stereoscopic mode. When you play on a 3DTV, the bullets are all rendered on a separate plane above everything. Before seeing it in action, this was my biggest worry. But it actually looks quite good, natural, and is suprisingly easy to play.

—I was impressed by the Domus boss fight among the huge buildings, and the Libelle boss that looks like a combination of a giant mech and living creature... the artwork and the setpieces for the boss battles are very elaborate.

Reiker: Our studio had never made a STG before, so we really struggled with that first boss fight with Kolobok (the huge guardian from the Moneta Point level). He doesn't just throw out a variety of bullet patterns and attacks, he also moves around as if he were alive. Blending the various animations together for those organic movements was very difficult. In contrast, the factory spider boss Tsuchigumo was the last boss we created, and it took far less time. Kolobok took about a month, but Tsuchigumo, including all his attacks, took us only a week.

—Please share how you came up with Sine Mora's story, which features tyranny, revenge, and other very dark themes.

Reiker: The main theme for our story is fighting against time. The time we humans can spend on Earth is limited. During our period of existence, we're constantly confronted with certain important questions: "Am I making good use of my time? What if I don't spend enough time with my family and children? Must I respect the time that went into the legacies of my father and forebears? How do time and trends influence our morals and actions? Aren't so many of our beliefs shaped by the place and time we live in?" ...and so on.

The actual story comes from a dilemma I was experiencing myself. To me, Sine Mora meant "the chance to create a game in a genre I love", but on a deeper level, it meant working together with a country I deeply admire and respect, one whose history and culture is steeped in games. It was also a chance for me to share the doubts I had with others.

—The geometry of the danmaku patterns is beautiful, and they're quite varied. Please share your design concept for the bullet patterns.

Reiker: Thank you. It makes me very happy to hear that you like the bullet patterns! To be honest, we don't consider our game to be a danmaku game. Of course, since we love Cave's games and design, there's definitely that influence, and maybe its impossible to avoid the comparison. Our bullet patterns are a mix of the style and design of Raizing and Seibu Kaihatsu. We did a lot of experimenting with the bullet pattern designs. Our planner would come up with all sorts of interesting ideas, then we'd test them out in the game.

Naturally, Sine Mora was influenced by all the STGs we've played before, and those we played during development. As a result the bullet pattern style is mixed, and I hope players find it interesting and original.

—Which STGs you were inspired by?

Reiker: Probably the biggest influences are Einhander, Under Defeat, and Shinobu Yagawa's legendary Battle Garegga. From Battle Garegga we took the score and rank system, as well as the dark theme and dieselpunk setting. Einhander is not a danmaku game, but is open even to casual gamers, and it made highly effective use of 3D. So that was very important. Finally, Under Defeat was an inspiration with its incredible attention to detail.

And there's many other minor influences in the game, like Progear no Arashi, the Gradius series, Steel Empire, G Darius, R-Type...

—Please give a final message to our readers.

Reiker: I am very honored to have had the chance to work with Grasshopper Manufacture. They are a very open company that allows a lot of freedom, and they excel in creating entertainment that will appeal to players outside of Japan. Thanks to them, I was able to express my respect for the Japanese STGs that inspired me as a child. With this joint development, we were able to share our part of the world with Japanese players, too. I hope others will find this journey interesting and valuable!
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Last edited by blackoak on Thu Mar 12, 2015 8:14 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Jamestown and Sine Mora - Shooting Gameside Interviews
PostPosted: Sat Dec 29, 2012 3:19 am 

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Another great translation, thanks.
RIP in peaces mjclark and Estebang

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 Post subject: Re: Jamestown and Sine Mora - Shooting Gameside Interviews
PostPosted: Sat Dec 29, 2012 3:52 am 

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They were planing to release sine mora at arcades? Oh dear.
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 Post subject: Re: Jamestown and Sine Mora - Shooting Gameside Interviews
PostPosted: Sat Dec 29, 2012 4:01 am 

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Cool to see the Jamestown guys got an interview in the magazine. The game definitely is probably the best western shmup I've played, outside of maybe Defender!
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 Post subject: Re: Jamestown and Sine Mora - Shooting Gameside Interviews
PostPosted: Sat Dec 29, 2012 9:25 am 

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Thank you Blackoak. Still prefer Japanese STG's.
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