When the controls for a game are simple, it means that players can all get to grips with how to play the game very quickly. However, the downside is that there is a risk that once players have got used to the gameplay, it can become monotonous, and it can appear to lack depth.
Yes, you’re right.
How did you manage to avoid that happening?
I became involved as a planner when the project was formally started after its six month prototype period, and this was a problem I had to grapple with.
How much of the game had been completed when you became involved?
At that point, the game was still being developed for the DS, and there were both side scrolling levels and boss battles in place. Only about three levels had been completed, but the ideas that James had come up with were both simple and great fun.
So you thought it was fun, but I suppose you needed to think about how to turn it into a finished product, both in terms of the amount of content in the game, and the depth of the gameplay.
That’s right. We experimented by adding other features in order to make the gameplay more varied.
What kind of features did you add?
The aim of the game is to collect musical notes in sync with the rhythm, and to strike enemies with perfect timing . We added flower-shaped percussion instruments that you can also strike if you so choose, and they’ll make a sound and react when hit.
You just can’t help hitting them all, can you? (laughs)
That’s right. We’ve got all sorts of flower instruments, such as cymbals, triangles and drums . Hitting them in sync with the rhythm is really satisfying.
When you strike the flowers in time with the background music, you’ll add cymbal crashes and percussive sounds, creating a harmony which feels really good.
When we were testing the game during development, we noticed that skilled players would try to hit all of these flowers, deliberately making things more challenging for themselves.
So skilled players can choose to up the difficulty level.
That’s right. This is why we ended up actually putting flower instruments in tricky spots so you’d have to jump to reach them. (laughs)
But players who are less confident in their abilities can still play without worrying about striking all of these. As long as you don’t get hit by enemies and lose all of your hearts, you can keep progressing through the levels. Of course, if you do strike the flowers, you’ll get a higher score.
So by putting those flowers in the game, you’ve made it so you can play at a range of difficulty levels. The game is simple enough to be accessible to everyone, but players who are confident in their skills can also enjoy it. I think in this sense, the game is constructed along the same lines as the Kirby series.
That’s right. One other thing is that the player character, whose name is Tempo, will start off alone, but to add variety to the levels, he’ll meet two allies, each of whom has different controls, and you’ll switch between these characters as you progress. We built on the initial concept in this way, but even so, we felt that there was still a lack of variety in the gameplay. That’s why we decided to include music from a range of different genres.
The use of a variety of genres is something that I think works really effectively. When the tempo of the music changes, you get the impression that you’re suddenly playing a different game.
Yes, that’s right. In the early stages, the music has four beats to the bar , but then you get stages that are rockier, with a faster tempo . Then at other times, we’ll add in music in triple time . With that kind of beat, going dum-dum-dum, dum-dum-dum, the difficulty level increases. By having music with different tempos, we managed to add a lot of variety to the game.
What kinds of things did you consider when selecting songs for the game?
Personally, I’m a fan of techno and hip-hop, but this game has more of a fantasy feel, so it wouldn’t really suit more modern styles of music. That’s why we went for a variety of genres such as classical music, jazz, calypso and marching band themes, as well as some rock music, which just about fit the tone of the game world.
And all of these were original tunes.
That’s right. Another thing we were conscious of was the variation in tone between the types of music. So when you travel to a new world, we thought it was very important to have music that was different in tone and made you feel that things had changed. It wasn’t this way at first, though.
That’s right. We were putting together a ROM for a presentation, and we pulled together a bunch of stages with music in a variety of tempos and put them into a single world. The variety of types of music made that world a lot of fun, but when you get one world like that after another, it all gets a bit...
You don’t really notice the difference between worlds.
Yes, that’s precisely it.
That’s why we decided to give each world its own theme.
Instead of having worlds packed with all manner of stages with different types of music, we made it so each world had its own genre of music, with a classical music world followed by a rock world, then a calypso world. By doing this, it meant that there was a real fresh, new feel when you moved from one world to the next. The team responded to this really positively.
That was the point at which we finally got a clear idea of what the completed game would look like.
Yes, that’s really true. We had created this game with the aim of making it accessible to a broad range of players, but at the same time, we wanted to make something that game fans would enjoy.
So you didn’t want people to go: ‘This isn’t challenging enough for me...’
Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly right! (laughs) And that’s how I came up with the idea of having a 'Speed Mode' . Simply by increasing the tempo, it ups the difficulty level hugely.
Just by upping the tempo, it turns it into a completely different game.
That’s right. When I had a go on it, I thought: ‘Wow! This is fun! This is going to fly!’ Even if you find it quite easy playing the game normally, you’ll get quite a shock when you find that you suddenly can’t clear sections that you thought you could handle. This mode adds a new element that makes you want to try again and again.
Can you access Speed Mode from the start?
No, not at first. The main game has a story, so you will progress through the map one stage at a time. When you clear a whole world map, you’ll go to the stage selection screen and you can choose to play any stage in ‘Speed Mode’. You can play these stages as many times as you like. I’d love to see players who really want to put their skills to the test making use of this feature.
So you’ve made a game that serious gamers can also enjoy.
Yes, I think we’ve made a game that all types of players can enjoy.
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