More Than Meets the Eye: An Interview with XSEED Games About SENRAN KAGURA SHINOVI VERSUS

SENRAN KAGURA can be its own worst enemy. Considering the effort put into its breast physics, the Tamsoft developed series immediately draws a line between those who are put off by the title, and those who are willing to give it a chance. Neither camp is wrong in their feelings, but I want to do my part to better explain why these games are so enjoyable. SENRAN KAGURA Burst for the 3DS won me over last year, proving that the series is more than fan service, and with SHINOVI VERSUS‘ release for the Vita, I’m expecting yet another terrific brawler.

I took the opportunity to speak with XSEED Games’ Ken Berry and Brittany Avery about the process of bringing SENRAN KAGURA SHINOVI VERSUS to North American Vita owners, and what makes the game so much fun.

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What makes the SENRAN KAGURA series a perfect fit for XSEED Games?

Ken Berry, Executive VP, XSEED Games (KB): I wouldn’t quite call it a “perfect fit” since we were very hesitant to touch the series at first, for obvious reasons, but now that we’re part of the worldwide Marvelous umbrella of companies rather than just licensing titles from an unrelated Japanese IP holder, we have to make an extra effort to bring over as many Marvelous titles as possible.

After seeing the continuing success of the series in Japan, our intention was to release the original SENRAN KAGURA as an eShop-exclusive title and then publish the enhanced Burst physically on 3DS if that succeeded, but the producer Takaki-san was adamant that since Burst was the superior product, that should be the first one released in North America. Some people that were wanting a physical release of Burst may be bummed to hear this, but you have to respect a producer that is so adamant about quality that he wants to make sure people’s first impressions of his product are the best possible. Burst ended up being a success on eShop and we didn’t get as much backlash from mainstream media as we had feared, so we decided to go all in with a physical release of SHINOVI VERSUS.

What appears to be the biggest change from Burst to SHINOVI VERSUS is the step away from side-scrolling brawler into a more arena based one. What does this new approach do to improve upon the 3DS game?

Brittany Avery, Production Coordinator (BA): I feel it helped immerse me into the environment more. I enjoyed the side-scrolling aspect of Burst, but the way it’s set up makes you approach battles from a fixed distance. In SHINOVI VERSUS, you’re the center of the action and can move freely, so there’s a stronger sense of control and varied movement. It adds a whole new level of strategy to battle, too; with twenty playable characters in an environment like this, you now have to take the direction and range of your and your enemies’ attacks into account more often.

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The Spy Who Loved U (Stealth Inc. 2 – Wii U)

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I love Stealth Inc.: A Clone In The Dark. It’s the perfect stealth game, correcting mistakes the genre’s been dealing with for years. As a puzzle game it is flawless, dealing out head scratches that never put you in a fail state (yes you could die, but you couldn’t paint yourself into a corner and be forced to try again). Last year I spoke with Curve Digital about the game, and awarded it as my second favourite Vita game of 2013.

While exclusive to to the Wii U (and obviously not on a handheld), I still had to speak with Curve about their precious puzzle platformer, Stealth Inc. 2. Partnering with my friends at Nintendo World Report, I was able to interview Curve Digital’s Rob Clarke about the sequel, and I hope you enjoy the results.

Check it out right here!

Theatrhythm Interview by Nintendo World Report

My old stomping grounds, Nintendo World Report, was fortunate enough to speak with Theatrhythm’s producer, Ichiro Hazama. In turn, I was fortunate enough to submit a bunch of questions! You can read the interview in its entirety here, and I’ll include a favourite part of mine below. Tell them Tyler sent you!

NWR: How did your relationship with indieszero begin? Why is indieszero a perfect fit for the series?
IH: When I was working in the merchandising department, I had asked indieszero to produce some Final Fantasy-themed trading cards for us. I really got a sense of the care they put into their work, as well as the enthusiasm they have for the title so I asked them to work on Theatrhythm. With that being the biggest reason for working with indieszero, Mr. Suzuki, the president, and I happened to have a working relationship (superior and subordinate) from our previous job. The fact that I fully understood his potential was also a large contributing factor. Even now, I believe asking them to work on this project was the biggest factor to the success of the game.

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Grin & Bare It: An Akiba’s Trip Post-Mortem With XSEED Games’ Tom Lipschultz and Ken Berry

It’s fitting that a brawler like Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed has to fight for your attention. Unfortunately, the concept of stripping vampires naked can give off the wrong impression, which means the folks at XSEED Games have their work cut out for them. While reviews like my own tell of  game that’s far more than its window dressing, the fact is those hurdles remain. I spoke with XSEED Games’ Tom Lipschultz (Localization Specialist) and Ken Berry (Executive VP) about the process of bringing Akiba’s Trip to North America, the difficulties in breaking through perceptions, and what the future holds for the series. Enjoy!

What makes Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed a perfect fit for XSEED Games?

Tom Lipschultz (TL): Well, we pride ourselves on having carved a distinct niche for ourselves over the years, and Akiba’s Trip is a game that seems custom-tailored to that niche. It’s a game for those who are deeply entrenched in Japanese design tropes — for people who know JRPGs and anime like the backs of their hands, and love them dearly, but are fully aware that like everything else in the world, the thing they love is not without its unique faults and its disturbing underbelly. And yet, even that disturbing underbelly has a certain charm all its own.

With a game like Akiba’s Trip, the people localizing it need to be just as much “in on the joke” as the people playing it. And fortunately for players, we’re pretty hardcore nerds here, so we know a thing or two about otaku culture, and we’re not afraid to “let our freak flags fly,” so to speak.

So in a way, I guess you could say Akiba’s Trip is a game about otaku, for otaku, developed by otaku and — ultimately — published by otaku. It’s the perfect storm of nerdery!

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The game’s premise deals with otaku culture and its eccentricities. For those less familiar, is the idea of an “otaku” easily comparable to that of a nerd (a term I use without negativity)? Are there aspects of otaku culture you feel a player should know before starting the game to experience Akiba’s Trip in the way it was envisioned?

TL: An otaku is indeed a nerd (no negativity implied in the term on this end either!), more or less, though otaku are generally thought of as being either more devoted or more obsessed with their chosen fandoms than traditional nerds (depending on your point of view). Stereotypical Otaku are the types of nerds who claim they prefer 2D people to 3D people, or declare their favorite anime character to be their “waifu” (wife), etc. You may recall a news story from a few years back about a man in Japan who legally married his virtual girlfriend, for example — and that’s
pretty much the height of otakudom, right there. Some might call him the ultimate otaku… the “perfect ideal,” of sorts.

We’d like to think most people can pick up and play the game without knowing any of this, though, as Akiba’s Trip does a really good job of explaining what it means to be an otaku and providing countless examples within its diverse cast of characters. All you need to do is go into it with an open mind and an appreciation for the quirky, and you’ll likely find the game’s mixture of satire and reverence (or irreverence) to be both amusing and engaging.

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You were a strong voice in one of the game’s NeoGAF threads, detailing some of the decisions behind the game’s localization. At one point you promised an evaluation of a term the team had come up with (“brotag”) after some criticism from the community. At times like that, how do you decide between a vocal minority and what’s best for the game?

TL: That’s a really good question. No matter what decisions you make during any localization, there will always be those who strongly disagree with them. So if you make your approach known in advance and people start crying foul, it is sometimes tough to decide whether or not to take their opinions to heart or stick to your guns.

In those situations, the best thing to do is to look at the specific reasoning behind those fan objections, and see if they make a good case. And that’s exactly what we did here.

For those unfamiliar with what the question is referring to, the little sister character in Akiba’s Trip regularly calls your main character “Niinii” in the Japanese, which is a variant on the word for “big brother” that directly translates as something like “Brobro.” We decided early on during localization that going with “Brobro” or any other variation on that wouldn’t quite have the same tone in English as it does in Japanese — it would sound a little too saccharine for the character, who’s far more of a “weird/awkward” character than she is “cutesy.”

Our original solution was to use something that, while still cute, was also a little tongue-in-cheek and indicative of her unique brand of strangeness, so we settled on having her call you “Brotag”– short for “brotagonist.”

When I mentioned this on NeoGAF, however, a lot of people were really unhappy with the idea, bringing up that “Brotag” is a nickname often used for the Persona 4 protagonist, or that it calls to mind images of a “bro” character — as in, a frat boy-style heavy-drinking sports nut or something, which is pretty much the polar opposite of what was intended.

And when we discussed this internally, we all pretty much agreed that… yeah, the NeoGAF fans made some very, very good points.

So after discussing the matter further, both on the forums and internally, we settled on the (fan-suggested) “rotating bros” solution — the little sister would use a different “bro” nickname every time “Niinii” came up in the script, ranging from “Brotato” to “Brosen One” to “Brokedown” to — of course — “Brotagonist.” Not only would this fit her quirky personality, but it would also allow for context-appropriate nicknaming, which adds an extra level of quirk to an already quirky character.

So, that’s what we did, and I think the end result pretty much speaks for itself. It really worked well in-game, and gave a lot of extra flavor to the character of Nana, bringing her ever closer to the goofy weirdness conveyed by the original Japanese. Much love to the fans for helping to bring about this change!

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These Are The Daves I Know: An Interview With Jason Cirillo About Woah Dave!

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Woah Dave! is one hell of a name. Hailing from MiniVisions, the game is quick to earn your attention with its puzzling title. Naturally, the thing to do considering the circumstances is find out just what Woah Dave! is. From speaking with the game’s creator, Jason Cirillo, it sounds like your curiosity will pay off.

Cirillo runs MiniVisions, a branch of Choice Provisions (of Bit.Trip fame), that specializes in smaller scale affairs. But despite its size, Woah Dave! aims to be as addictive and enjoyable as the industry’s best.

The game, coming soon for the 3DS and Vita, charges players with racking up a high score in the most hostile environment possible. Controlling the titular Dave, players grab hold of the eggs that fall from the sky, and use them to clear the single screen arena. Their defeat yields coins, which are collected to increase your score (high scores of $1.50 take the place of those in the hundreds of millions, a preferable approach in my eyes). What initially seems simple quickly becomes chaos as the eggs that once served to aid you crack open to birth the enemies inside. The landscape is littered with foes, but if you’re quick enough the beasts before you may pave the way to fame and fortune.

I was lucky to have the chance to pick Jason Cirillo’s brain on the matter of Whoa Dave!. Enjoy!

I’d like to start off with the significance of a studio’s name, but in your case, maybe I can learn of two. What’s the origin and meaning of both Robotube and MiniVisions?

Jason Cirillo: Robotube was something I came up with in 1999 when times were quite different. There were few online games, there wasn’t even YouTube. I started this weird little website that had games on it I had developed, and wanted to come up with a strange, unique URL. The internet, being so different and still in its infancy, was this thing I saw as a new sort of smart television. So I called it Robotube. Like a robot television. MiniVisions is the new name, and is born from the “visions” part of Choice Provisions. Since our little division makes the smaller games that come from our quirkiest of ideas, the name MiniVisions seemed to fit.

At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to be a game developer?

JC: I think when I was probably about 7 or 8 I really started going to arcades, and had just gotten a ColecoVision. I still have notebooks that have sketches of games that I thought up around that time, as well as drawings of games I saw in arcades to help me catalog the games I had seen. My grandparents got a Commodore 64 around then, too, and I learned BASIC and made some weird little games with that. I think I’ve probably wanted to make video games nearly most of my life. I’ve always just enjoyed making things.

How did Whoa Dave! come to be? Is it one of those old game ideas you had written about in one of your arcade notebooks?

JC: Actually, my son got a 3DS not long ago, and I downloaded a few old NES games on there to give him a little intro to the origins of Mario. He got really into the original Mario Bros., and we would play together. I realized the simple joys of these little single-screen platformers and wondered how I might design something a game like that, but make it super bonkers and crazy. I think I started working on Dave shortly after that.

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Nice To Miku: An Interview With SEGA’s Sam Mullen About All Things Project DIVA

With a love that has culminated in me amassing an army of self proclaimed Broject Divas, I figured it was due time to talk to SEGA about Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA f (known as DIVA F on the PlayStation 3). I was put in touch with Sam Mullen, who served as producer on Project DIVA f (as well as Binary Domain and Rhythm Thief, favourites of mine), and we were able to talk about bringing the series to North America and Europe for the first time, the importance of hair bows, and why Miku is not a Sailor Moon wannabe.

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When you consider the company’s commitment to focus on successful brands, and the “massive labour of love” comments made by SEGA’s Ethan Einhorn, it’s clear that PDf was a difficult project to bring to North America. What exactly needed to be done in the lead-up to its release?

Sam Mullen: As you might know from any review of Project DIVA F/f, the Hatsune Miku phenomenon is not something that’s immediately obvious. And what I mean by that is it requires a lot of background and explanation. For our Western divisions, something like Miku is not an IP that was on everyone’s radars. To many people, she was just another incarnation of Sailor Moon, pigtails and all. Just another anime character on another Japanese game. Some people had the impression that Miku was basically doing covers of existing J-pop songs, so a lot of misconceptions like that had to be dispelled. So a lot of the lead up to the release was simply doing internal informational campaigns, informing our people what makes Miku compelling, and explaining that Project DIVA isn’t just a J-pop video game. Building that understanding and mindshare was one of the big challenges for this title.

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