Ever wanted to see Nobuo Uematsu, the legendary soundtrack composer for the Final Fantasy games? Our friends and partners at Dragonfish Films caught him at a Q&A session at Otakon 2011. He was only at the convention for a single day, and this is one of his rare public appearances in America. And now you can watch it. Check it out!
A few years ago, when I was employed with a video game magazine, one of my more enjoyable duties was meeting and making contacts with new upcoming artists. I would wander the artist alley at different conventions, in search of hot new talent and talk to them about artwork and possibly doing some commissions for the publications I worked for. Yeah, it was a fun gig, and I made a lot of great friends with some of awesome artists.
One year, Anime Expo 2008, I came across an artist who, in addition to some amazing artwork, had a laptop on his table. Running on the laptop looked to be a 2D hand drawn fighting game and a cute girl with some sort of monstrous parasite on her head instead of hair. The game was Skull Girls and the creator/artist was Alex Ahad. Intrigued, I began asking questions about the game, the characters, the art style, all of which Alex was more than willing to answer. I liked the game and art so much I bought his sketchbooks to show to my publisher. This led to Skull Girls being featured in Girls of Gaming Volume 6, two years before it would be officially picked up to be published and scheduled for release on PSN and Xbox Live.
In Skull Girls, the action takes place in the fictional Canopy Kingdom where players, as one of the stunningly gorgeous yet lethal female characters, vie (I.E. kick each other’s butts. It is a fighting game after all) for a mysterious artifact known as the Skull Heart. The Skull Heart has the power to grant wishes, but at a terrible cost. If the person who obtains the artifact isn’t a pure soul, along with their wish they will be transformed into a frightening monster.
At this years Anime Expo, I caught up with Alex, no longer in artist alley but on the actual Anime Expo convention floor proper, along with an official Skull Girls booth. We discussed the soon to be completion of his masterwork opus, the journey it took to get to this point, and what may lie ahead.
Daniel C.: Ok, to start off, what was the inspiration behind Skull Girls.
Alex Ahad: Well, if you are talking about the character direction itself, I think I’ve always been a fan of these types of characters. The cast of Skull Girls was initially just a bunch of character designs I had piled up over time as it’s just something I enjoy doing during my free time anyway. Particularly, creating monster girl type characters. They’re kind of badass and cute, but also have a dark vicious side to them. So I had enough characters with this kind of motif to them, that I compiled them into a hypothetical cast. I met Mike (Zaimont) later on and he had a game engine but no characters, so we were able to meet up and make this thing happen.
DC: That’s really great. For years now, I’ve spoke with you at conventions, usually in artist alley where you would be set up with a single laptop running an earlier version of the game, and now you are in the Anime Expo exhibit hall proper with a great set-up, PS3s, and multiple screens. When you found out after all these years that Skull Girls was actually gonna happen and be done, what was your feeling?
AA: Even to this day, it still feels kind of surreal when I think about it. In the office I hear people saying character names like Parasoul or Cerabella, talking about them in the context of trying to figure something out as a crazy team effort, and it’s mind-blowing. It was a long process of pitching the game to different people, so I’ve been getting use to the notion of dedicating an increasing amount of time to the game, but it’s still surreal knowing that we have an office and that I’m doing this full time. It’s pretty exciting, but also sometimes it’s also beyond my comprehension.
AA: This is my day job! And it’s still like my night job too! (laughs) It’s pretty much my everything right now. It consumes my time all day.
DC: Fantastic! So you said you have piles of character designs. How many characters will be in the final release of the game?
AA: There is gonna be an initial release of a roster. I think I’m officially allowed to say about 8 characters, but the general plan is to have DLC to add on later because there are plenty of characters designed. Ideally we will get to them.
DC: Or secret characters that will unlock after you do certain things?
AA: I don’t know if I can go into that, but there are things like that in mind.
DC: I’ve seen you talk a bit about some of the inside jokes in the game such as Kuribo’s Shoe from Super Mario Brother 3. Any hints for other Easter eggs we may see in the game?
AA: Well, a lot of the color palettes for the characters are references also. Like for Filia’s alternate color, it was intentionally a play on Hatsune Miku’s colors. Other characters like Peacock and Cerebella have a few of these as well. As you go to other characters you will see random references in the color palettes or in the lines that they say. I guess the most references you will see will probably be with Peacock, because she is kind of a joke character and has a sense of humor. It kind of fits with her personality. So probably the most with her, but you’ll see references with other characters too.
DC: I was actually going to ask if Filia’s teal color palette was supposed to look like Hatsune Miku…
AA: Oh yeah, it totally is. That’s on purpose.
DC: So this is getting pretty big. And you’ve been nominated for some awards already.
AA: Yeah, we got nominated for a lot of “Best Fighting Game” awards after E3 and I think we got “Best in Show” from Shonen Jump which is pretty amazing. So I guess we are award-winning now. It’s kinda cool. (laughs)
DC: The game itself, will it be a disc release or fully downloadable?
AA: It is a downloadable game. The initial game is downloadable and then the DLC is obviously also downloadable. So it’s all online. No disc at this point.
DC: Before the interview started I saw that there was a cosplayer here actually dressed like Filia. How does it feel to see your creation that you have been drawing for years walking around on the Anime Expo floor?
AA: Oh man, it’s just mind-blowing to see people cosplaying as my characters! I always wondered if… I mean I wasn’t sure if this character could be physically possible, but then the cosplayers find a way to make it actually happen. Like with the teeth or the hair… it really is just mind-blowing. I don’t know if I’ll ever get use to seeing that. In a good way obviously. It’s just like wow. It’s so cool.
DC: How freaked out would you be if you saw someone walking around as Peacock or Cerebella, with all the intricacies of those costumes.
AA: Oh yeah, that’s another one that I wouldn’t think would be possible. I would like to see someone take on that challenge. I like to see things that I wouldn’t think would be possible as cosplay being done, so secretly I’m hoping to see these. Almost just from an engineering standpoint to see how they would do Peacock’s arms or even just her face and getting that across.
DC: The art for Skull Girls is all your designs. How long does it take to go from the first sketches of a character to the final animation we see on screen?
AA: Well the idea itself is relatively fast because it’s just like a key frame, however when it comes to executing the full process, that takes a huge team effort to fully animate something. I would try to animate as many of them as I can, but to be realistic I have to be sure to spread my time evenly managing the general art direction of the game. Especially these days. But particularly with Filia I ended up doing a bunch of them because that was when I was doing this during my free time before the game was picked up. So a lot of Filia’s stuff I was involved with, but even then I was contacting people to help me. So it’s a real team effort when it comes to the animation. But your question was how long does it take. It’s weird to estimate, because we work on different characters simultaneously, but I would say it takes two to three months generously to make a single character. While other characters would be finishing up, I would be working on the preparation of the next character, those key frames I was talking about. So ideally it’s staggered in a way that keeps it flowing. But from start to finish, two to three months per character.
AA: Yeah, so it’s kind of a tight schedule that we are on and we have to get that worked out in an efficient manner.
DC: Is there a firm release date for the game?
AA: It’s more of a tentative date. It’s slated for later this year, but it’s still kind of loose. We can’t pin a definitive date on it yet, because there are still a lot of things we are figuring out and a lot of stuff to build on.
DC: When the game comes out and sells like gangbusters, obviously there will probably be a sequel, but my question is do you have any ambitions to try something other than a fighting game, like say a RPG or a platformer?
AA: I would definitely love to explore other genres of games. Like for example Metroidvania (an adventure platforming game in the vein of Metroid or Castlevania) is one of my favorite genres, so I’d like to try a game like that or maybe give shot to a Beat’em Up. There are tons of ideas we toss around in the office all the time of the different game genres we would like to explore, because we are all pretty experienced and passionate gamers. We definitely have a preference when it comes to what type of genres we would like to try. I’ve heard stuff like Tactically RPG or Metroidvania, which is one I vouch for, or Beat’em Ups and many more. Reverge collectively has a couple other projects that they have under development, but for me personally I would love to try a few different genres in the future too.
DC: Ok, well that’s it! Thank you so much for speaking with us today.
AA: Cool! Thank you!
Alex was also nice enough to contribute a couple original sketches of Filia for our article. Thanks Alex!!
Skull Girls releases later this year for PS3 and XBOX360. For more details visit the official website at http://www.skullgirls.com/
Publisher: Autumn Games
Studio: Reverge Labs
Genre: 2D Fighting
When people think about Anime Expo, they think of fans cavorting in cosplay, anime music videos and searching the dealer room for that super rare figurine they need to complete their collection. But Anime Expo is also a place for anime and game companies to show off hot titles and exciting new releases to their core demographic. This year Perfect World Entertainment was showing off Rusty Hearts, their new anime inspired online dungeon crawler that is releasing later this year. Anime Diet had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with the game’s producer, Mark Hill and discuss what exactly about Rusty Hearts will appeal to anime and online game fans alike.
Daniel C. – Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. Tell us a little bit about Rusty Hearts and your history with the game.
Mark Hill – Sure, Rusty Hearts is being developed by a Korean studio called Stairway Games. It started back in spring of 2008, so it’s been in development for a long time and you really see that when you play the game. It has a very high level of polish, with a lot of gameplay and a lot of options which are very cool. I started as the producer when Perfect World decided to bring it to North America audiences because we feel it is a game that they will really appreciate.
DC – So the game has quite a bit of supernatural element to it, with vampires and witches. Tell us a bit about the plot.
MH – The game has its own lore and a whole entire story built for it. It’s based around this ongoing battle between vampires, humans, and half-vampires. Years ago humans and vampires were able to live separately but harmoniously. And there were some people that kinda got together and spawned this hybrid half human/half vampire that was shunned by both sides. The hybrids never really found a place. Along came this guy named Lord Vlad. He’s the leader of the vampires, and he decides to eradicate the world of both the humans and half-vampires alike. In the first war, he was defeated and locked away in this castle. Now it’s 50 years latter, he has had a chance to rebuild his army and he decides to try to and rid the world of these lesser races once and for all. The main character of the game is Frantz, he’s the leader of this group and he’s actually a half-vampire/half human. After he became a vampire he bit one person, and he felt so terrible about it that he kept that persons blood sealed inside of him to curb his thirst for blood. Because he is a half human/half vampire he has made it his mission to take on Lord Vlad and stop him.
DC – The games look has some heavy anime influence and I read that some of the inspiration for the style of the game came from such titles as Full Metal Alchemist. Besides the design, what else about this game do you feel will appeal to the anime fandom?
MH – I would say the story lines of all three characters. They all have their own unique stories and their own way of how they came into this world and how they became apart of this battle. Frantz has his own story. The girl, Angela, is an apprentice witch who joins up with Frantz. The third character, Tude, has his own very mysterious back story and we really haven’t got a lot of information on him. He’s a very mysterious guy. And in anime it’s all about the story and the quality of the story. So outside of just the gameplay, there is this fully realized 3D world that players will be able to explore, talk to NPCs (Non-Playable Characters), and they are able to progress and develop a huge story which I think the anime crowd is really going to enjoy.
DC – Rusty Hearts has cut scenes between the action. Are these cut scene CG or 2D Animated?
MH – The cut scenes in the game are fully animated, fully voiced cut scenes. This is where the main story will progress, and those show up at the main turning points of the story. There are shorter cut-scenes within dungeons that introduce bosses, or show a path or an item and things like that, but the main story cut scenes are fully animated and they look really good.
MH – Most of the challenges had to do with connection to the game and having high enough PC specifications to run it. Luckily, the cell shaded style does not require very high PC requirements. So, people who don’t have the ultimate PC gaming rig will be able to play it just fine. We play it on our work laptops. I play it on my computer at home which is definitely not like a big PC gaming rig, and it runs just fine. It’s not a huge client download, so if this is your first time downloading a PC game, you’ll find the whole process really easy and it will run very smoothly.
DC – When the game is released, will it be USA only and will USA players be playing and exploring alongside players in other countries?
MH – We have the rights to North America. We are working on expanding that because we want to bring the game to as many people as possible, but at the moment our rights are for North America only. But there is a very good chance it will go beyond that, into Europe and possibly even beyond that. However to answer your question further, players on say Korean servers are not going to be connecting with people on North American servers. It’s two different games.
DC – Now, a lot of anime fans are interested in collecting. Collectible card games and things like that. I heard there is a collectible aspect to this game, or a card aspect?
MH – Yes, in the dungeons, it is all about loot. If anyone has played like old Diablo style games, you know that you go through dungeons and you defeat the enemies and they drop loot and gear. There are tons and tons of things to collect and hold in your inventory, and you have a lot of inventory space. You have a personal warehouse in your room, which is your personal area in the game. So you are always collecting things, and you can take these collectibles to NPC’s in the game and they can craft you a new item or new gear. There are also what are called loot cards, which is what I think you may be referring too. As you go through the dungeon there are bronze, silver and gold loot cards, and there is a little mini-game at the end of each dungeon which will allow you to get some really good gear. If you collect enough loot cards, you’ll have a higher chance you get that good piece of gear during the mini-game. But yeah, the game is all about collectibles and customization. There are hundreds of different costume combinations. and full body suits. The game is really tongue and cheek and kind of humorous, so there are some really funky costumes and fully customizable characters.
DC – Yeah, I saw someone behind me playing in an Octopus costume!
MH – Yeah, the octopus is great! So there is this sea creatures costume set and all three of the character have their own sea creature. Angela is an octopus, Frantz is a shark, and Tude is a carp. It’s pretty funny!
DC – That is pretty cool. So this is a PC game, but I see some of the people behind me playing with game pads…
MH – Right, I’m glad you saw that. Because it is a PC game, the default controls are keyboard. They are really unique keyboard controls hat are built for fast gameplay. However, the game has been optimized for any PC gamepad. So if you have an Xbox360, you can plug your controller into it. Same goes for your PS3 or Logitech controller. You will be able to plug those in and play the game. The thing about this style of game is it is very console style with fast combat where you kick ass and bash some enemies. So we wanted to bring the console crowd into it, so we made it optimized for controllers also.
DC – Is there any plan to bring the game to consoles?
MH – There will possibly be plans, but at this moment we are not really talking about that right now. We are concentrating on getting the PC version out, but we are always looking for ways to expand to new audiences. We will see what the future holds.
DC – Now the game will be free to play. What in your opinion is the importance of free to play?
MH – Free to play games really give players the chance the experience the entire game. Not just a demo, not just a few minutes or one level. The entire game without have to pay a single cent. Other free to play games have been criticized for what some people call “pay to win” where people who do pay money have greater advantages. However in Rusty Hearts it’s very co-op. So if you do buy something, it’s not only going to help you but it will also help your team. That being said, most of the purchasable items are costumes. So if you want to pay to outfit your character exactly how you want them to look or give them a little boost, you are more than welcome to do that, however you don’t have to pay anything. Most of the cash out items are available just through in game play. So really you would just be paying for the convenience of having it now, as opposed to spending a little more time in the game and getting it later. For example, in the cash-op you can buy some hit-point and magic-point potions that will keep you alive a little longer. You can also just play the game in pvp mode, get pvp points and trade those in game to get those same potions. So whether you want to pay or not, you have the whole world open to you.
DC – So you have the three character announced right now, with more to come. Will those new characters be available when the game is released or will they be DLC content?
MH – All three character we have seen will be available right away. There will be future DLC that will introduce new content, quests, possibly characters, possibly different modes and things like that. So we have a whole stream of DLC coming out. No one is ever going to be bored with the game, there will be so much to do. Even when the game does release, there is a ton of content. If you do get to the theoretical level cap or you beat all the dungeons, there is still the pvp and the social aspects of the game that you can do. There is a never-ending amount of things to do in the game.
DC – Ok, well that is all my questions. Thank you very much for speaking with us.
MH – No problem, thank you for your time!
Rusty Hearts releases in September of this year, but the closed beta begins on July 27th. For more details on the closed beta visit the official website at http://rustyhearts.perfectworld.com.
Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment
Studio: Stairway Games
Genre: Online Multiplayer/Anime Style Hack’n Slash Dungeon Crawler
Why am I talking about this game on this website? Well, as I wrote previously, Final Fantasy VII played a large role in getting me into the anime scene. The JRPG, especially the Final Fantasy series, is an integral part of otakudom. Plus, I’ve been waiting for this game for months and haven’t been excited to play something for a long time. So I felt it was appropriate to write about this, the first new FF on a new platform, and see how the first few hours stack up thus far.
This article is, by the way, spoiler-free. Enjoy!
Japanese gamer NGD reviewed an earlier version, suggesting that parts were loud, flashy, or outright ugly, especially during BREAK mode, but admitting that overall it was “surprisingly good” despite these shortcomings.
As a demo, the game contains only three stages and an incomplete third boss fight.
Anime fandom didn’t lead me to JRPGs. JRPGs led me to anime, a little more than 10 years ago around this time.
Game publisher MangaGamer announced Soul Link CGs would be removed, leading to cries of hypocrisy over their initial plans to produce an “uncensored” version.
A total of 6 CGs from the game will be removed due to having an arguably underage looking character naked.
Comments so far have been unilaterally negative:
“I fear Mangagamer intends to take the censorship even further than JAST.”
“Decisions such as [this] will cause your fanbase to turn against you.”
“It’s taken a good 2 years (or more) and tons of bad translations and delays for Manga Gamer to establish the reputation that they have right now and virtually overnight, with the announcement of “censorship” it’s on the brink of shattering.”
Several countries view attempts to sexualize underage persons with alarm, and Anime Diet has previously reported on efforts in the United Kingdom and the Philippines to ban all works that portray minors in a sexual context. It is unclear what laws, if any, would be applicable in the United States, where such works are legal, provided no actual children were used in their making. Still, the official MangaGamer website prominently features a young girl as its welcoming image, indicating the company intends to court loli eroge buyers.
MangaGamer is better known in some circles for its upcoming release of Higurashi no Naku Kokoro ni, scheduled December 15th.
The Japan Times Online had an interesting article regarding the attendance and aftermath reaction of this year’s Tokyo Game Show (TGS). I’ll let you guys familiarize yourselves with the article before I share my thoughts on it.
All done? Cool.
So basically the article points out that attendance dropped by almost 10 thousand people from last years show. Additionally, the article describes there were no big announcements, no console reveals, or surprise “mega” game disclosures, which in some people’s eyes means it was a “lackluster” show.
Simply, there were no announcements because everything had already been announced at previous trade shows (such as E3), and those products aren’t out yet, such as Project Natal or that Sony motion wand thingy. And most of the big game companies either have their name game already revealed, planned and dated such as with FFXIII, or they had a game already come out earlier this year, making it a little to soon to announce the next sequel in the chain, such as with the Metal Gear franchise. Still for a big trade shows like TGS, the big guns would usually have an ace hidden up their sleeve to surprise everyone right? So why not this year?
Because of the attendance drop and the lack of new products, some people like Mega Man creator Kenji Inafune, made statements to the extent that “The Japanese game industry is dead.” Is this true? Personally I don’t think so. I don’t think that any of this is surprising during a world wide recession. Less expendable cash means less people able to attend trade shows. The recession may even play a factor in why some of the big products and games (that are still a looooooong ways from being finished) were announced earlier this year instead of holding off till TGS in late September. They needed to reassure the stockholders by showing them early in a tough year, “Hey! Look at this spiffy new toy we are working on! It’s going to make you a mint!”
On the first TGS public day this year, attendance was 62,138 people. 62,138 bodies squeezed together and stepping on each other’s feet in a crowded convention hall! That’s nothing to sneeze at (and probably a bit painfully to boot). E3 this year only hosted about 41,000 people. So is the Japanese game industry dead? I don’t think so. It’s just a bad year. If attendance drops that much again next year, then I think we have something to worry about.
How do you like your Touhou?
Fans of the definitive danmaku (bullet hell) game by ZUN have been working Touhou characters in everywhere. For all their efforts, however, ExitJMouse may have trumped them. He used Moemon – a reworking of Pokemon with loli monsters – to create his very own stable of Touhou girls!
Alteil is a web-based CCG whose claim to fame is that many famous mangaka were commissioned to draw the images. It bills itself as “Japan’s #1 online card game” and is designed for the grown-up gamer who has a life and doesn’t want to spend more than 10 minutes per game on average.
Blue Dragon Plus, a strategy RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics for the Nintendo DS, turns out to be a pretty easy-to-learn and engaging game so far. It avoids some of the pitfalls I encountered with FF Tactics and proves to be a good way to pass the time.
My, my…my first real article in a month, and it’s a game review of all things. This isn’t just any game, though–it’s a very anime-ish game, featuring Hirano Aya no less as the main girl, and it offers a blend of story, music, and sensible gameplay that has me enthralled like I haven’t been since the old Final Fantasy games.