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Please introduce yourself once again.
I am Takumi Naramura from NIGORO. Nominally I am the director of NIGORO, but except from programming, I do graphics design, music, advertising and almost everything. It was also me who rolled down from the dune in the KickStarter promo video. (It was actually just a small mound of sand in the desert. Naramura took a video for crowdfunding)
You participated in the promo all by yourself, didn’t you? (Referring to directing, story board, etc.)
I went to art school in order to study professional design, and learnt the relevant knowledge of video production there. Before entering the game industry, I also worked in film companies. How to say, as a student I didn’t really consider what kind of job to do in the future. Thinking that I was good at painting anyway, so I entered an art University. When I entered the University, I found all sorts of filming equipment there and fiddled with them a bit, which was quite interesting. So I do have the skills to make films.
The connection between La-mulana and the Maze of Galious
Our last interview was three years ago. I didn’t play the Maze of Galious by that time. Let’s hear from Mr. Naramura about the Maze of Galious by this rare opportunity. First shall we talk about your encounter with the Maze of Galious?
In Japan, the most popular console was still FC. Although Japan is known as a big country for games, our parents actually did not play any games, so kids were forbidden to play games in lots of families. FC can only be used to play games, while PC can be used for programming as well. So the parents thought it would be fine to buy a PC. Although the kids were going to play games on it only anyway. Our family bought MSX but apparently FC was more popular and has more games. Amongst all MSX platform games, KONAMI’s game series were most well-made and welcomed among kids. The best of them were the Maze of Galious, a puzzle action game, similar to Metroid or the Legend of Zelda.
What’s the charm of the Maze of Galious?
Now everybody knows what metroidvania is, but at that time, there were no games of this genre. They were basically clearing stages one after one. For MSX players, the Maze of Galious was the first game that you could go wherever you want and challenge the boss as you wish from the start. I think that was fascinating. There is such a vast world in a small cassette, which is really exciting.
But it was actually a ‘one straight road’ game, right?
Yes. You still need to clear stage 1 and stage 2 in order, but the game starts with a huge castle in front of you in which you can explore freely. At the beginning of the game, you can reach stage 1 by walking to the left for two screens. However you can also explore the whole castle and collect all items before challenging stage 1. It was really outstanding compared to all other games at that time.
The Maze of Galious was very characteristic amongst games of that era.
Yes. RPGs like Hydlide, the still-popular Ys series, and the even earlier Dragon Slayer series all have massive fictional universe and high level of freedom. But for Puzzle Action Games, there was none that allows you to jump while moving forward, easy to get proficient and with a mass fictional universe.
Did the game guide mention anything like ‘this is an open-world game’?
Not really. Nowadays many people will think good games don’ need any game guide to play. But back in those old days, there were no such role for games and some of the guides were as thick as bricks. For us reading the game guide was a fun. For FC games, because the size of the package, they couldn’t put in a big size game guide. But computer games all had very large packages with heavy and thick game guides. Many players were keen on reading the game guides. In the game guide for the Maze of Galious, there were explanation for all items, background description and illustration for all characters. There were no such thing as ‘game tutorial’ at that time, so you wouldn’t see dummy instructions like ‘go this way’ or ‘take this item’.
That’s why it gave the players a feeling that they were suddenly exiled to another world, isn’t it?
Yes. The game began with your character appearing in the center of the map, without any instructions. To start the game, I believe most players would not go to stage one directly. Often the situation was, the players went downward and found there was water, and then fell into the water drowned. Or they could encounter an octopus boss they were absolutely unable to defeat at their current level. They scurried around freely and ended up in horrible death. When they restarted they would endeavor to explore further and try to defeat the boss, etc. I think this sort of exploration is most interesting, so we made La-mulana such a game.
The first beta version of La-mulana2 was like this. You will meet a very powerful boss when moving upward.
Exactly, and it was not just the Maze of Galious. The video games at that time didn’t have scrolling display yet. Rather, you must reach the edge of the screen to flick to the next room, and everything in this room will be visible to you. So the initial stage and the dungeon of a later stage will be on the same map. You can meet very powerful enemies when flipping to another screen. This was heart-racingly exciting. We initially made La-mulana a MSX-style game as we wanted. When remaking it, we also wanted to know if there are players who like this style and made the game un-scrolling. But if we made such game now, after all, the vast majority of young players now don’t understand that age, and will complain that La-mulana is not player-friendly, or there’s no tutorial, or they die in the game suddenly. So La-mulana2 added tutorial to make players not so confused at the beginning. But just like you said, at the beginning, you will face an invincible boss as soon as you step upstairs. I think this is the unique feature of La-mulana series.
But there’re instructions on the stone markers as a guidance, which is quite player-friendly.
In the previous one we offer complete freedom to the players, but in this one we specifically added hints such as ‘the enemy is very tough, come back and challenge later’. But our purpose is to allow the people really good at this game to beat the boss at the beginning and jump to later stage straight away.
Talking about side-scrolling games, the old games all have the enemies refreshed when the screen finished flipping. La-mulana has similar mechanism, right?
With today’s technology, La-mulana can have scrolling display like Castlevania. But to explore the unknown and create a sense of horror, the flick-screen display method will better suit La-mulana. Although there will be scrolling graphics in La-mulana2, there will be a trap showing up suddenly when the scrolling finishes, which is more interesting. You cannot experience the same excitement without the flick-screen display.
In the first beta version, once the screen flips to the right, an enemy will come out abruptly. It really feels like the old games.
This mechanism has its unique charm and gives players astonishment. I cherish such mechanism and won’t refuse to use it simply because it’s old-fashioned.
Not because you want to torture more players?
Haha, I didn’t say it. It’s because everyone else says so.
Back to our topic. Do you have any new findings in playing the Maze of Galious again after so many years?
I was indulged in this game when I was a kid, and thought it was perfect. Now I look at it, there are actually quite a lot of absurd things. For example, at one point you have to stand still for about 10 seconds before a platform showing up, which I only knew after reading the game magazines as I remembered. When I got stuck, I would have to wait for next month’s game magazine and read the walkthrough to continue the game. Although I was very happy at that time, but if I did it the same way now, the players will give up when they don’t understand. At the beginning of the Maze of Galious, it was really difficult to figure out the big picture. La-mulana is probably the same. No one knows the purpose of the game at the beginning.
But it created the atmosphere successfully. Due to limited computer performance, it was very difficult for the Maze of Galious to present the overall atmosphere of the world.
Same, I didn’t pay attention to this when I was a kid. Looking at it now, the background of the castle will change at different places of the castle. The blue brick wall, the green pixels which looked like plants, and the red moon. Although the graphic was very simple, but it still gave me the excitement of coming to a new place. Games like the Gaze of Galious, you would want to spend more time on them. But no matter how devoted you are into the game, the size of the game is only between 8KB and 1MB, and the game ends sooner than you expected. So we were expecting longer and more colorful games, and this expectation created La-mulana. So instead of saying that we re-played the Maze of Galious and found the shortcomings of the game, I would rather say it is with today’s technology we can realize our dreams better, and all of this created La-mulana2. This is the type of game that the developer of the Maze of The Galious really wanted to make, perhaps.
I guess they were born at the wrong time.
Computers at that time really couldn’t achieve it. Although I haven’t asked the developers directly, but I can understand that they would want to do so. Now many big game companies are re-making old games, but most of the time they are just making the pictures more colorful. For the developers of those old games, their intention was to make something more superb, but due to the limited performance of the consoles, they had to make some concession. Our game is of a nostalgic style, but was made out of contemplation of these developer’s ideas.
But the Knightmare series actually had many experimental contents. For instance, all three installments are of different game genres. The first one is an STG, the second one is an ARPG, and the third one is an AVG.
Why were the three works with the same chronological storyline made into totally different genre of game? I haven’t been able to figure out even today. MSX players at that time basically had absolute trust in KONAMI, and would buy the new games once released. So they would definitely buy the Knightmare series even just for the reputation. And while playing they would find the parts that linked all three works together in subtle ways, such as the BGMs. La-mulana is a small indie game, but we also want to add some elements in it so that when players start playing the second work, they will find the link between the two works. Games these days usually sell well for the first work, but not very well for the second or third work, which is quite usual. Because if you don’t play the previous work, you wouldn’t understand the plot. So big game companies normally don’t make ‘sequel’ games. Instead they make ‘series’ games. So the players can enjoy the game even without playing the previous ones. But we are still making it because the gaming experience would be more fun if you have played the previous work. For example, if you have played Dragon Quest 2, you will get really excited when playing Dragon Quest 2 which has implemented the map of Dragon Quest 1. These elements can only be experienced in sequel works.
Another thing I noticed when playing the Maze of Galious is that the stone markers and other ordinary gadgets must have quite an influence on La-mulana in regards to the design.
First, in the Maze of Galious, there was an item called Mushi Megane, which is also the tool to read the stone markers in La-mulana. But in the Maze of Galious, the readable stone marker only has the spell casted by the boss. Besides, there was only one stone marker you can investigate amongst so many stone markers, the rest with nothing on them. It was fun but also a waste. Think about it. When you are finally able to investigate the stone markers, the only use for it is to find the saving password. What a shame! So when making La-mulana, I was thinking about ways to use this function more actively. Because when talking about archaeology, the first thing that came to our mind was exploring at the ruins and investigating all sorts of stone markers. All our team members are fond of ruins, so we designed different patterns for every ruin and every stage. Then, in the Maze of Galious there were many meaningless items, such as ripped curtains and banners. Although they had no use in the game whatsoever, but they really attracted your attention. La-mulana was greatly influenced by the Maze of Galious in this sense. The reason why we left message on these items, which didn’t help with clearing the stage, and make them investigate-able is because ‘maybe the producers of the Maze of Galious wanted to do this actually’. With this thought, we provided these items with meaning.
Among all these messages, many are mischievous, which has become part of the game I think.
But the style was quite normal in those old games. The pride of MSX players, Director Hideo Kojima, also started his gaming legend from MSX. He started to add funny plot, word puzzles, etc. into the games, or printed the answers to the puzzles in the inside of the package. This has inspired me a lot. In the past, the games can have lots of hidden information. Even the size of game was restricted, the producers would still endeavor to mischievous. Now with the size of game increased, you can add as many of these plots as you wish, and eventually there seems to be way too many in the games. When producing the game, I paid attention not to make it too serious.
Like gag koma in manga, right?
Yes. For example, manga like Berserk has a Dark Fantasy world, but a very comical elf was joking around on the side all-time. This was influenced by Japanese manga. But regarding game, if the game has a rather dark world, then the color of the game would be constantly dark as well. But La-mulana is definitely influenced by manga in that the shop-keeper in the game will talk nonsense to mess with you. After all the gameplay can be rather long, nothing like a two hours movie. Especially with La-mulana where you can spend dozens of hours on. If the atmosphere is dark all the time, then it wouldn’t be fun when playing. So I just made it fun or foolish when it needs to be by adding some mischief or jokes in.
That’s for tempo adjustment then.
Yes. With such long game playtime, we have to consider all sorts of things.
But some people are just fond of those dark games. Basically we’ve been talking about the Maze of Galious. Is it alright?
We talked about it last time as well, which was indeed about three years ago. In these three years, I have been to many overseas events. I accepted interviews from American journalists as well. At first I talked to them about the Maze of Galious, but then later found out that they actually didn’t know it. In fact even overseas there’s barely anyone knows about the Maze of Galous. Recently I would just say ‘game like Metroid or Zelda!’ I have played neither of these games so it felt like I was lying.
I only knew very recently that the remake of the Maze of Galious actually exists.
You know well.
Have you participated in making that game?
I provided some graphics.
I also looked into it. It was when I stopped using MSX and bought a Macintosh for internet surfing that I knew about this game. It was indeed an overseas work, probably made by European players. The motion of the Maze of Galious on MSX was a little bit slow, and the tempo of the BGM is slower in Japan as well. I think it’s because in Europe the PAL for TV is 50 frames and the tempo of the music is based on this. Regarding the graphics, it was designed as the whole set of graphics being put under a folder so that it could be replaced. When the overseas users were remaking the game, they include several remade graphic sets. But I didn’t like any of them. MSX has only 15 colors, and the colors used by the new game were as if they were all from MSX as well. For example, in real world, stone blocks and stone markers shouldn’t have such color. I think the blocks were colored like that because MSX only had 15 colors. But when the other people were adding such colors to the graphic set, it gave people a strong noisy feeling. The people who made the Maze of Galious was not intending to color the blocks in blue; rather they wanted to draw them like real blocks. But due to the limits on MSX they had to use this color. I don’t think they would use such flashy blue color if it was done today, so I just tried to color it myself. When I was making the graphic set, I basically ignored the color of MSX, and considered the color of real stone and designed by my own style. And instead of using dot chart, I drew a big figure and reduced the size. Now La-mulana is using the same method. In short, you need not just to copy from the retro game, but to understand what the producers were pursuing. Perhaps that was the first thing that I felt.
That is to think more from the perspective of the creators, right?
Yes. Many PC engine games were ported to PlayStation when it came out. But what they really did was to add one more color to the skin shadow color, and made it look horrible. Because there were more colors to be used, people just used a lot of color. But not everyone has good taste or sense.
After all it is hard for players now to like images with such noise in them, and I feel that’s not what they were originally pursuing as well.
Even now big companies are remaking games of FC eras, or converting them into 3D games. But the grassland was in a really bright yellowish-green color, and the trees were standing there alone one by one. The original games were made like this due to the graphic limit of the GameBoy. What they really want is to show a more grown forest. But the remake really built the tree model in that way by placing them on the grassland one by one alone. When you look at that, you would think that was some really bad remake.
That is to think from a more fundamental point.
Interlude: About Mr Naramura’s English
By the way, I said that Mr Naramura’s English was really good before. That is because you participated in this project, and also made presentations overseas.
That’s probably because I translated into Japanese on some translation site. Since it was communication via email, at first I sent them an email saying ‘I am sending some graphics that I made’. Then they replied and asked, ‘we want to make full color. Do you have the materials?’ But I have discarded the materials already! So we just communicated like this. But I really can’t speak English. I just kind of using translation site or translation software.
How about your presentation in Taiwan?
We had a translator. At that time PLAYISM has a staff from Taiwan, and that staff guided us through. I really wanted to be able to speak English though. Even I got 30 minutes to present, in fact I only talked for about 15 minutes, because the translator started to talk, I had to wait quietly. It would be easier if I could talk in English.
I think if you can’t speak English, it’s difficult to just communicate information via translators
There are something like online English schools now, aren’t there? I think that would be a good idea. But for example, Indie game producers like Keiji Inafune or Koji Igarashi couldn’t speak English either. And they said ‘No English is ok’. So I think if they are ok of not being able to speak English, then I should be ok as well.
However I think it’s better to be able to speak English to communicate world-wide.
When going to overseas events and talk with people, I would be able to talk various things if I could speak English. In japan I’m such a talkative person amongst indie game developers, but overseas users may think I’m a reticent person. All because I can’t speak English.
So much about speaking English. Let’s move on to next topic. When did the project of La-mulana2 come out? Can you tell us the details of the situation?
Actually I was planning La-mulana2 when I was remaking La-mulana on WiiWare. In about 2008 or 2009, when I first finished La-mulana, and was about to start as an Indie game, I couldn’t find a way to sell Indie games on consoles. There was no such thing as indie game at that time, or self-publish like today.
Basically it was like doujin game.
But japan only has a small population, and it would be absolutely necessary to sell my games overseas if I wanted to work in gaming industry. I was thinking about this at that time, but I couldn’t find a way to do it. At first it was a company from North America asking me ‘do you want to port La-mulana on WiiWare’. At that time they asked me to have the graphic and style remaining as they were, and ported together with the remake graphics in a whole set. However, since MSX is worse than FC in expressiveness, I thought it’s pointless to keep the scrolling feature of every 8 dots. Not to mention now, even at that time people couldn’t understand, and would say ‘what the hell is with this scrolling’. It would be really troublesome to do so as well today.
It’s so called ‘slowdown issue’, isn’t it?
That’s why we always have the question that ‘isn’t it meaningless to do so?’ Then the company told us to keep the graphics as they were, but to think of other scenario to sell in sets. At that time I have actually had thoughts of other scenarios. So since I was making La-mulana for WiiWare, I have already put some hints in it for La-mulana2. In La-mulana there was a message saying the world would be destroyed in 2012. But when I was making the PC version it was changed to 2015, which was because we were planning to finish La-mulana2 in that year. However we couldn’t make it.
Then just postpone the doom day again!
Either postpone it, or to explain in La-mulana2 that ‘the world did not perish in that year’ after clearing La-mulana. And the hint for La-mulana2 was hidden in the map of La-mulana, for example, the stage of La-mulana2 was shown on the map at the beginning of La-mulana. The name of the ruins called Igurana was secretly written on that map. Normally it is fine to issue sequel work in 2 to 3 years. But for La-mulana there was such a long period of blank, now it’s a little bit hard to explain. I was actually planning to make a sequel game with the same system of the first one but different scenarios. But as I got on with it, I found it unacceptable by calling it sequel 2 without any evolution on the system. Not just for me, but our programmers as well. We don’t want to call it La-mulana2 without anything new. So instead of using the existing system, we prefer making a new one.
But the earliest beta version of La-mulana2 feels completely like the first generation.
Yes. The actual plan was to make the second piece with the first generation’s system. But since we had done the kickstarter and called it La-mulana2, I think it’s not convincing if we don’t make a new one property. I have been thinking about it all the time since 2008, when I decided the scenario.
Have you considered the main character as well?
We talked about it during our meetings as a joke. Would it be more interesting that Dr. Kosugi had a daughter and she becomes the main character of the second work? So we started making the game. But when in the production, the programmer said ‘actually it’s better to have a male main character.’ Well, I am the painter, and it’s more fun to draw females than males. I’ve been thinking of making a girl the main character all time.
Besides the changes of the hero, in fact if you play the latest version of the demo, you will find big changes in the contents of the game as well. For example, the traps and the way our character moves. Were you making those changes for specific thoughts?
Rather than saying that I was doing it consciously, it’s more because that the development environment has changed to Unity now and we had to redo everything, starting from the system. The first demo version of the Kickstarter used the system of our previous work. It was just changing data while the system had been completed. But now we have replaced the whole system as well. Although we released the alpha version via Kickstarter, but the system hasn’t been completed. A fallen rock won’t crush you, and the divine punishment won’t be triggered when whipping some special places. After we had used Unity, we realized that we couldn’t make some of the effects like the previous one. So this alpha version has many aspects unlike La-mulana. But the version we’re working on will have thunder striking the character. Since the previous one was a 2D game, the character won’t be crushed unless the floor and the wall move horizontally. But the current one is developed using Unity, so it can move not only vertically and horizontally, but on the Z axis as well. Anyway if you are stuck, then you are dead. La-mulana2 not only kept the advantage of the previous work, but adjusted the shortcomings as well. Besides, we added new moves as initially planned. But since we are remaking the game using Unity, we will use any new ideas. So it feels that we are deciding while making the game.
I see. That’s the reason why the divine punishment was cancelled.
So, the version that I gave out with Kickstarter was unfinished, and normally game companies won’t release such games. We did that because we want everyone to have a play with the underdevelopment game and listen to their options to find out which part is not right. In fact, when I first made the MSX version of La-mulana as an amateur, I released my unfinished work as well. After all, it takes a long time to make a game, and I would ask everyone to trial play whenever I finish one stage. Moreover, even the game is unfinished, even the game is unfinished, we can still clear it, and spend another year to finish it. Now we are adopting the same method by telling everyone that, ‘I’m making such a game, come and have a look.’ Big companies may dare not to do so, but I think it is ok for indie games. If too many people see this, they may get upset and say ‘it is totally different from the previous one!’ But true La-mulana lovers will definitely play it. ‘Although there’s no divine punishment so far, but the producer will definitely add it here.’ Surely some people will believe this. By the way, we are planning to finish the new system of La-mulana before the Tokyo Game Show, and publish a final beta version. After that we won’t announce any other contents until we finish the whole game.
In the first demo version of La-mulana2, there were many ‘Naramura Style’ designs. But when I actually played the latest demo version, I found that you changed the way the character jumps. I assume you are trying something new in this game as well?
That’s right. Jumping in the previous work really just copied from the Maze of Galious. When jumping vertically you can move freely in the air, but if you jump obliquely then you won’t be able to move to the opposite position. When I watched the walkthrough video, I found that young players totally didn’t get why the jumping is designed this way. But for players who knew this would thought, ‘there were games with such jumping before.’ But now the mainstream is that you can still ‘pull back’ your character after jumping forward. So I think it’s no longer necessary to stick to the way in the Maze of Galious. That’s why in the latest version when you jump forward, you can still pull the character back in the air. It’s not saying that we have to follow the way we did things in old times. It’s just since we are remaking it using Unity, it would be smooth to jump in this way and that’s why we decided to change it.
I see. Also I found a lot of unfinished areas. I can assume some of your personal habits from them, such as that you would create the atmosphere by using the color first. Is it the method you normally use?
It is. Especially La-mulana was aimed at MSX style. Speaking of the games of that era, as the number of colors usable was small, if the colors of the wall and background were not differentiated, it would be difficult to recognize the screen. Besides there were many stages, we have to let the players know where they are the instant when they wrap to the next room. So the colors for each stage must be different, and in La-mulana we used green color for the bricks on purpose, which is impossible in reality of course. I have decided the theme of each stage by different colors for all these dozens of stages, just to make sure the players will have a clear understanding to the stage, including the field they can’t see yet when they are wrapped into the new stage. La-mulana2 also used different colors for the whole area when we were designing the map. The map is just square, but the colors can be different, and that’s been carefully considered by a game designer.
It’ll affect players’ feeling also.
But when the colors change too much, then the game will lose the sense of unity. What do you think of this?
It usually doesn’t go smoothly if you make the game completely following the thoughts in your head. There’re also BGMs, so we have to combine them all. After deciding the color and music for each stage, and completing all stages, we played the game from the beginning and found the strange places. La-mulana’s soundtrack is on sale now, and there’re lots of unused songs, and that’s the reason why we didn’t use them. So when playing the game, we would notice the problems and make adjustment to the graphics or music.
The rooms which connect different stages are quite important as well and I think will strongly influence the tempo of the game. Will you check it regularly during testing?
This was also discussed between the members when we first started making La-mulana. For example, in Castlevania or Metroid, change of stage will happen at the edge of the stage, where players need to enter through the door to the next stage. It takes about one loop of the BGM to go through one stage. But in La-mulana the players can wrap instantly. Also, when entering a new stage, the players will move to another map after only one screen, and the BGM will change a lot. So a member suggested ‘would it be better if the BGM doesn’t change so frequently’ or ‘maybe we can just use one song for the whole’. But I’m after all a person who would like to try various things. La-mulana has a really big map, and the players can easily wrap to escape when they foresee their failure. Without this, perhaps people will hate La-mulana then. When you fall into a trap and realized your death is coming, you can press the pause button and wrap to escape. I think that’s a very characteristic feature. I played lots of Metroid or Castlevania type of games to learn from them and realized this. It’s true that there’re so many types of graphics and music, but I think that is also a feature of La-mulana and I want to keep it. But I will stop if it gets too much.
In Castlevania there are corridors connecting different areas as well as a transition. What do you think of such design?
La-mulana was originally based on the Maze of Galious. If we divide the graphic of MSX by 8 dots, we are actually making a maze in four sections, floor, space, floor and space. But for today’s games, for example the 2D Castlevania, when you are making a corridor, then the whole screen is the corridor. Then it’s going to increase meaningless rooms. Since La-mulana is a ruin exploration game, details are added on the four floors on the same screen. The reason for Castlevania to link different areas with corridor is probably because it needs to load data of the next stage. But by muting the BGM to create a silent environment, and display the room with only a road leading ahead, it has created a very good atmosphere.
It also creates a tension.
Yes. Because it’s designed in such a smart way that people won’t realize it’s for loading the game. But with the processing power of the computers today, there’s no need to worry about loading any more. It can be done instantly. In fact, regarding how to connect different scenes, we have discussed whether to imitate Castlevania or not. Even they’re both waving a whip, but they are different type of games. Castlevania is more of an action game. There are lots of tough mobs on the way, and you can get killed if not careful. In fact our programmer also likes Castlevania very much and wanted to make very tough mobs in La-mulana as well. And I told him it wasn’t a good idea. To solve a mystery, the players need to pass through the same place several times. If the mobs were too strong, people will start to hate it. So I told him, “I don’t mid the boss to be tough, but do make the mobs weak.” After all, when we are referring to good games, we tend to imitate them as well. But it’s also essential to consider the features of our own game. The connection between stages in La-mulana is also very confusing. It looks like the two stages are connected. But as you go, you’ll be teleported to a totally different place, just like a maze. Such structure was used to leave the players an atmosphere of retro games. But after we sold the game and heard back from the players, we found that many people don’t understand this design. So in La-mulana2 we will make adjacent stages physically connected as well.
Apart from using elements such as color and music, is there any other way for La-mulana to touch the feeling of the players?
For normal stage clear type of game, especially games with cinematic stories, the makers will use the pattern of deciding when to make it sad and when to make it funny. It’s comparatively easier to do. But in La-mulana the players can move as they want, so it’s hard to make. If I wanted to show a dramatic story, I will make a game in which the hero clears stages one by one. But La-mulana is on the contrary. Compared with those games, I prefer to plant a trap right after the players has cleared a really difficult stage and are in their great joy. For example, in La-mulana1 after you defeat a boss, things will drop from above your head. I would use such gameplay to control players’ emotions. Also, in recent games tutorials seem to get very important. But when you are playing an action game, the screen suddenly stops and an explanatory note enters in. I really hate that sort of design.
I don’t like such design either.
When the first time I went to the Tokyo Game Show, I went to the booths for game trial play. There was a time limit of five minutes per person, but 3 minutes were spent on tutorials.
Now most games will have a tutorial stage, which doesn’t feel like gaming.
It’s being nice to call it ‘friendly’, but it’s actually boring. For example, in the case of Final Fantasy, for players who have played series 5, 6, 7 and till 10, they are already familiar with the attack and magic of Final Fantasy. But once the new series is released, you are forced to go through the tutorial at beginning, which I don’t really like. Especially, La-mulana is an action game. So if players’ action is interrupted by messages, I think it will ruin their excitement as well. So I’m trying not to stop players’ action unless necessary. So the hints are sent via mail in the game. People who intend to read them can do it themselves, and players who doesn’t want to can just play as it is. I kept in mind not to interrupt the players.
I noticed this when I was playing as well. Also you seem like to have such contrast things in the game.
Regarding this, there are people who understand it and those who hate it. It’s very difficult to make a game that everyone likes. Since I can’t satisfy all people, I’ll just do my best to let those who like my game enjoy it 100 percent.
Speaking of like and dislike, I think there are plenty of contrasting places, not just in the design of the room or the construction of the map. For example, the colossus suddenly shoots beam from its eyes, and the elder flies in from outside of the screen all of a sudden. I find such contrasting places in the game very interesting.
Normally people wouldn’t do that. In fact I didn’t plan for it. It’s all because of the development of Wiiware version took a drastically long period. First I was planning to release within half a year, but that was impossible at all. So I rescheduled the release for one year. But I had already uploaded the PV for our release on Youtube at the very beginning, and had nothing to promote in the second year! Not to mention that I wasn’t sure whether I could release the game by then. For this situation, normally the producers can just keep silent and it would be fine. But I had no choice but to make a lying video on April fool’s day. It was in that video I added the scene that the Elder jumps into the screen to support the pillar. And I thought, what if I REALLY add this scene into the game…
Such a trick!
Normally I don’t think people would do it. But because we only have a small number of people, so we can ‘do it because it is funny’. I guess it’s a feature of small teams.
To be honest I was quite shocked at the beginning. But then I remembered that the Elder is actually a representation of Mr. Naramura and suddenly felt quite relieved.
But honestly, putting such gag at this close to the last stage, normally people wouldn’t do so.
Coming back to the topic of tempo. Would you mind talking about your consideration in designing the map?
At first I didn’t think too much. Rather I just added more to it with my ideas. But when I actually played it I realized issues such as ‘this place is too empty’ or ‘it is boring here’. In fact, the very first version of La-mulana on MSX was reworked, and it took me a long time to be released. As I mentioned before, I made the game with a theme to play old games on a larger volume so that the players can have enough fun from it. But after I actually played it when I completed it, it wasn’t so interesting.
Why is that?
The interest was gone after repeating the same thing for a long time. Well I thought that I’d start all over again by printing out the whole map on paper and writing memos. At then, I checked every room on the map and found quite a lot of places with nothing on them, so I added traps all over these places as well as lightning strikes to get rid of meaningless rooms from the map. It’s a puzzle solving game. If you can solve the puzzles simply by whipping and splashing, then it will become a tedious work. So I changed the way of solving puzzles and told the players that if they don’t use their mind, they will be punished by lightning strikes. This gradually formed the style of La-mulana. I also reviewed the design of the map during the remake. If the route between the start point and the boss of the stage was too long, I would consider changing to a different route, and reconsider the design. It took a long time for the previous work to be ported from MSX to PC. By using the time we can add the good ideas gathered in to the game. However for the second one, I had to consider these questions from the beginning. These questions have been disturbing me since I started developing Wiiware version, or when I thought about the storyline to the second one. From the feedback of La-mulana, I understood what the players hate, and would also print out the map to check my ideas even now.
Stuffing logical information into the game is very hard work.
I agree. Perhaps we can complete La-mulana2 to the extent that the whole game is playable by this year. But to make it a game with many mysteries and puzzles kneaded in like the previous work, we still have a lot of work to do. After that there’re debugging and adjustments to the game, which I believe are very important to the game. If it fails, the game can easily get boring and not fun at all. That’s why I haven’t announced when it can be completed yet.
You’ve been doing these works for the whole year?
Actually I was saying to release in 2015. Also I said to release the Wiiware version in 2009 and it’s been continuously delayed.
Another thing I noticed is that La-mulana always has some special areas and designs that will confuse the players. For example, the symmetric design in the demo version of La-mulana2. Could you please talk about this a little bit?
I would like to think about these things. Of course, Japanese manga and animation have absolutely influenced me, but I’m also really fond of expressing the excitement of revealing a different place. This is also the same as I mentioned just now that I wanted to change all the graphics and music. For instance, an annoying room followed by a flat road, or a secret mystery room waiting after a complicated maze. I used the same method, and designed all these unconsciously.
When I first played the demo of La-mulana2, I suspected there was a trick since the rooms on the left-side and right-side are designed symmetrically.
That wasn’t meant to confuse or kill the players. La-mulana2’s map was designed like this because it has significant meaning in solving the puzzle of the whole game. The idea of 2 was from Northern Europe myth. Isn’t there a world tree in Northern Europe myth? So the entire map is in the shape of a tree. The three stages are the roots of the world tree. I wasn’t planning to confuse the players.
At the time when our Kickstarter was launched, we designed the stage in our first demo, which was so wide that you can go wherever you want. The demo today has reduced the number of rooms and fit wide-screen. Because it gets a little bit too spacious, so we reduced the rooms. Also we are considering the trial play later at the Tokyo Game Show. For first-time players, they can get lost as the rooms are too big. So we only open the upper half area at start. Also the overview will be added while playing. I didn’t really consider these in my previous work. It goes very smoothly with the first four bosses. If you clear each stage in turn, everyone should be able to reach the Bahamut. But after this players will need to go a long way to see the next boss. I think that was a big failure and I’m trying my best to avoid that in this one. My plan is to have boss matches at same interval during the long gameplay. If the interval is too long, I will consider adding in some events. It’s a feature of La-mulana that the players can proceed as they want. Although this time we couldn’t arrange this as planned, I have prepared the boss battle for the players in my own way at least.
I think for players who access La-mulana series for the first time, it’s quite friendly already. Now we have no problem to call it ‘series’.
It is also for such consideration, this time I have made it easy to understand. Unlike the previous one, where the connection between areas were complicated, this one provides a bigger stage, and explains to the players that ‘it is fine to clear this area next’. This will make it easier to understand so that people can challenge the game in a light mood.
Why did Nigoro insist on making retro games
We haven’t asked you so far, but please tell us a little bit about the merits of retro games.
I actually hadn’t played that many games. Compared with other game developers, I’ve only played a small amount of games. That was because when I was young my parents didn’t buy me games often, only about one or two every year. Later when I entered middle school, I didn’t play any games at all. When I became a university student, I started using internet and looked into the old games. They attracted my interest and consequently I went to Akihabara, searched for and bought all sorts of game cartridges. After all, the expressiveness of retro games was quite low. Every game is somewhat insufficient in explanation. It was fun to explore the rules of the games while playing them. Especially when I went to Akihabara to buy games, because there were no game instructions, I couldn’t understand the rule at all, and had to discover the rule by myself, which was really fun. When I was a child, I didn’t understand what kind of game PRG was. I bought an RPG only by the name. Not knowing how to play it, I lent it to my friend’s brother. Later when I went to visit this friend, I found the characters of the game getting stronger. That was the first time I understood what kind of game RPG is, and got the fun of it. Using imagination to supplement the limited expression of the games, and proceeding through exploration, I think that is the fun part of retro games. So when designing La-mulana, we prepared an instruction book with sufficient details which is fun to read. But to start the game and to explore without any information would be definitely also enjoyable. We also used this in game development. These days there are more people claiming that ‘retro games were fun’, but they are more like lavish praise. Boring retro games are abundant as well.
Indeed. But there are people who like that kind of feeling. For example, the game War of Death starts with the character appears suddenly in the middle of the map, leaving the players totally confused with what to do next.
Yes. Although that game looks interesting, but you absolutely don’t know what to do at first. But if you try a few times, you should be able to proceed further.
But I wasn’t able to finish that game. Ran into a bug in the middle.
For kids from my age, we weren’t able to buy whatever new retro game. So even the game might not be that interesting, we would still try to clear it. Even if we couldn’t, we would have enough fun through it, unlike the games now that you have to clear. Like the RPG that I lent to my friend’s brother, I spent two years to clear. This is also one way to enjoy the game, I think.
Amongst KONAMI’s games, is there one that really impressed you?
楢村：小时候基本玩不到街机游戏，因为零花钱比较少，基本不会去干一分钟浪费一百日圆这种事儿，所以街机厅对我来说是禁区，更多玩到的是MSX平台上的KONAMI游戏，要说给我带来巨大冲击的还是《宇宙巡航机》。那时候《宇宙巡航机》的街机版是非常具有革新性、且人气非常高的游戏，而移植到家用机平台上的本作也是非常强力的。When I was a child, I could hardly play arcade games. Because I had very little pocket money, and would rarely spend 100 yen just for 1 minute on arcade games. Since I couldn’t go to the game center, I was playing KONAMI’s games on MSX, and it was Gradius that really shocked me. At that time Gradius on arcade game was very innovative and popular, but the ported one on gaming machine was also amazing.
The gameplay was flawless, and the game world was quite huge.
The game was changed property for each platform. The arcade version had very colorful background, while the MSX version’s background was completely black. This was to make it easier for players to see the game properly. With other manufacturers, when they were porting games from high performance computers to MSX, they just used exactly the same background color, and ended up with an unclear graphic.
Feels like noise all over the screen.
With KONAMI’s games, they would seriously consider these issues. No matter how flashy the original game was, once it was ported to MSX, the background would be made all black. Even as a kid, I could see the duly consideration behind this was to make the game easy to play. In fact, after you played them you would find they were of great quality. Back then I could only buy games at my birthday and Christmas every year, so it would be a hard time if I chose some boring game. But KONAMI’s new games were quality guaranteed. Besides, manufacturers all have their specialized genre, right? For instance, when speaking about Falcom, you will think about RPG. But KONAMI at that time really made all sorts of games, such as shooting game, action game and even mahjong game.
They did make everything. But there were lots of reckless projects as well.
Whatever genre of game, once decided to make it, they are determined to make it good. I like this attitude of theirs.
The quiz of ruins published on the website was fairly interesting. If you had the opportunity, would you try to make a quiz game of the old style?
That was done as part of public relations, but it took too much effort. Because the quiz had too many words, and the localization couldn’t be done. So the publication effort was not going so well.
At last please disclose some latest information of La-mulana2.
We are really in the middle of making it. Again it’s a game with a large quantity of data so it’s quite difficult. But we will make more progress before the Tokyo Game Show in September, and release what we have accomplished so far then and announce the approximate finish time. And thanks to Kichstarter, as I have always been updating our backers. Other than that, I am not in the state of giving out any information at the moment. Maybe after the Tokyo Game Show I will put out the information about that part little by little.
One thing that I really want to ask personally, but will the elder appear again?
Yes, yes! In a random conversation in La-mulana it was mentioned that the ruins can be made into a sightseeing spot and makes lots of money, and the elder really did it. After the ruins collapsed as the doctor cleared them, the elder changed the entrance as a sightseeing spot and became a rich.
Such story setting!
Although it hasn’t too much connection with the story of this game though.
I’d like to hear more about the sequel of the story.
As the story continues, we will have more and more characters and the story might fall apart as well. But it is just sequel 2, so there’s no problem to put some of the previous characters in this one. Nobody will die in the game, so every character is there. Probably.
2016.8 in Osaka
（取材/多魔 摄影/Penance 英文翻译/羊叔）