Last year, we interviewed Kentaro Hisai, producer of the Spectrobes series with Disney Interactive Studios. That particular interview focused on Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals, the DS sequel to the franchise debut. It was also conducted via email.
This year, at E3 2009, we got to meet up with Hisai-san in person. After some hands-on time with the new game Spectrobes: Origins, we held a formal, one-on-one interview. This Wii title shows vast improvement on the series' gameplay (particularly combat), and we learned a lot about the newest title in the series. The following text details what we learned in our interview with Kentaro Hisai.
RPGFan: What was the single greatest difficulty for the development team taking the Spectrobes series from the DS to the Wii?
Kentaro Hisai: Spectrobes is a game about two human characters (Rallen and Jeena) who fight alongside these giant Spectrobes creatures. When developing for the Wii, we really wanted to properly create the situation properly, where you were fighting as both the human and the Spectrobes creature simultaneously. We went back and forth with this concept on the DS version, and it was difficult to properly execute it on the DS. So we put a strong focus on this for the Wii. This was a central focus point for me. Making the battle system feel the way we'd always imagined it was very difficult, and it was the primary challenge for developing the game for the Wii. But we're satisfied with the results.
Jeena is ready for action.
RPGFan: Why did you decide to add Jeena as a playable, combat-ready character? With the exception of some puzzle sequences in Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals (DS), Jeena was unplayable. What impetus led to you adding her to the Wii version of the game?
Excavation had to be totally revamped for the Wii.
Kentaro Hisai: Having Jeena as a fully playable character is something we'd wanted to do all along. A variety of restraints (technical/memory restraints, deadlines) held us back from doing it for both of the DS games. Also, many people have made requests to play as Jeena: not just kids, but also our internal developers wanted it. Moving to the Wii hardware, we had the ability to add Jeena, and we've noticed that people playing test versions of the game tend to choose Jeena to play, and so I believe we've made a good decision by adding her to Spectrobes: Origins as a playable character.
RPGFan: Will Jeena use all of the same weaponry as Rallen, or will she have her own unique combat scheme?
Kentaro Hisai: Overall, both characters use the same weapons. In fact, as you level with one character, and then switch to the other character, the leveling carries over for both characters. We've also designed one unique weapon for each character that can be unlocked via limited edition cards, similar to the cards that were released with previous Spectrobes games.
RPGFan: The DS games had music composed by Masahiko Kimura. Will Kimura be returning for the Wii version?
Kentaro Hisai: We have a different composer this time. It's actually the company "T's Music," which has several composers in it.
RPGFan: Let's talk about the excavation system. With the DS games, being able to physically put the stylus on the screen to excavate made the gameplay very natural. With the Wii, having the distance from the screen, isn't that going to create problems? I can just imagine children trying to put their Wiimote up to the television screen while trying to excavate. What has the development team done to overcome this obstacle? And, do you worry that this change in gaming dynamic will make it more difficult for younger gamers to do the excavations?
Kentaro Hisai: There was a lot of concern with this problem, and it took a lot of work to figure out how to make this work. The primary tool in the Wii version's excavation, the hammer, requires you swinging the hammer towards the screen. Without any force feedback, it's still a challenge to make this work. But we tried to think, what will the player imagine happening? The game's visual reaction to a light versus a hard swinging of the hammer is really fine-tuned. We feel like we got to a point with the Wii hardware that it's as immersive as possible with the current technology.
RPGFan: Based on what we saw in the demo show floor, the combat system is a big departure from the DS games, which had battles take place on a separate "encounter" map. Now, battle is real-time and enemies spawn out of thin air to fight you. It feels a lot like Kingdom Hearts. Will the whole game play out like this? And what else can you tell us about combat in Spectrobes: Origins?
Kentaro Hisai: Spectrobes: Origins has seamless battles throughout the entire game. Standard enemies randomly spawn in the environment, but some of our boss fights have the enemy standing out in the distance, so you can know to run towards that boss enemy, or to run away if you're not prepared.
RPGFan: In Spectrobes: Origins, the control system is interesting, in that you primarily use button input to control the human character, and motion sensor input to control the Spectrobes. Was there ever any talk of reversing this setup or having an entirely different control scheme?
Kentaro Hisai: We tried quite a variety of control schemes throughout the game's development. After a variety of iterations, we started toying with the idea: since you have one control in each hand, we could make one hand (the nunchuck) control the human character primarily, and the other hand (the Wiimote) control the Spectrobes. Very late in development, we implemented two different control schemes for testers to try out, and we eventually decided that Rallen and Jeena's attack, rather than making it a trigger button on the nunchuck, worked better as the "A" button on the Wiimote. Many people accept this as the primary "go-to" or "action" button, so even though Rallen and Jeena's movement is done with the Nunchuck, they attack with "A," and the Spectrobes function almost entirely through motion sensors on the Wiimote.
RPGFan: The Spectrobes franchise has definitely been marketed towards a younger audience: children and young teens. However, it seems that people playing it on the show floor, who are all adults, enjoy the style of the combat. What are you doing to make sure that, even as you target a "youth" market, you don't ostracize adults who might think "oh, this is too cheesy for me to play!"? Is this game viably marketable to gamers in their 20s or 30s, or perhaps to the parents of children playing the game?
Kentaro Hisai: As a game creator, and being an adult, but still remembering what it's like to be a kid... everyone who's making the game is making a game that we can all enjoy. As for tuning the level of the difficulty, we want it to be at a level where any adult can play the game and feel satisfied and fulfilled with the game's challenge. Of course, we also put in lots of hints and helpful elements to help younger players get through the game. Much of our effort goes into finding a balance between a "family-friendly" story (no concerns about any mature, super-dark content) and a story that is still interesting to an adult, and still keeping the gameplay challenging. Also, I would love to see a parent playing the game and then "coaching" their child through parts of the game they don't understand.
RPGFan: Any possibility for additional/downloadable content for the Wii game, or perhaps a separate game using the WiiWare service?
Thumbs up! And yes, my red eyes do match Rallen's. I'm just trying to be cool like that.
Kentaro Hisai: We have nothing official to announce. But one idea that we've played with is taking the excavation system, or another aspect of the game, and building a smaller game entirely on one gameplay aspect and releasing it as downloadable content. Again, this isn't an announcement, just an idea we've had.
RPGFan: The DS Spectrobes games had these CG "Webisodes" put up on the Spectrobes official website. I assume this was done partially because there were space limitations on the DS. So, will you continue to do these Webisodes for Spectrobes: Origins, or can we expect to see more cinematic work within the game, since you're now working on a platform with less memory limitation?
Kentaro Hisai: There are a lot more cut scenes in the game, and lots of voice acting as well. So we don't plan on doing the multiple Webisodes, but there will be some new content up on the game's official site as we come closer to release date.
RPGFan: Is this the best game you've ever made?
Kentaro Hisai: Yes!
RPGFan: What are the plans for the future of the Spectrobes series?
Kentaro Hisai: I have lots of ideas and places I'd like to take the franchise. We have plenty of material for future games. What we'll do now, as we've done in the past, is wait until this new game gets into players' hands and receive feedback. As we hear back from the fans about what they've enjoyed and where they'd like to see the franchise go in the future, we'll mix those ideas with the ones our staff have already come up with.
RPGFan: One last question. Have you had the chance to check out the other games on the show floor here at E3? Are you impressed or inspired by the other games and companies out here today? Also, what are your general impressions of E3 this year?
Kentaro Hisai: Compared to the last two years of E3, this is how it should be. I'm a fan of the show, and I'm glad it's back to its full form. This gives an opportunity for everyone else to go around and see what everyone else is working on. It drives us to be more competitive. I always go over to the Square Enix booth. I've always felt like there's an internal "rivalry" between us, even though we've worked with them as well (Kingdom Hearts series).
Spectrobes: Origins will be released in Fall 2009. We thank Kentaro Hisai, Tim Fitzrandolph (who provided translation), and everyone at Disney Interactive Studios for taking the time during the extremely busy E3 show to talk to us.