Interviews: Bplus - Bit Man!!

We chat about Bplus' Japanese debut: the evolution from Bit Boy!! to Bit Man!!

Bplus games seem to be the Marmite of WiiWare, invoking strong feelings of love or disdain from gamers in our forums, but whichever side of the fence you're on, you have to be impressed that they've been selected as one of the first participants in Marvelous Entertainment's World Game Parade. Once we heard the news we simply had to ask Bplus CEO and Art Director Bernd Geiblinger how this partnership came about and what it took to localise their latest WiiWare game, Bit Boy!! for the Japanese market.

NL: Well it must be quite an exciting time for you since the announcement of Marvelous publishing Bit Man!! in Japan as part of the World Game Parade - how did this relationship come about?

Bernd: It was early summer 2009. One sunny day, we surprisingly got a letter from Yasuhiro Wada-san. He wrote that he visited Europe and that he tried Bit Boy!! which was released here around the same time. He was very excited about the game itself but sad that this innovative concept was not available in Japan. He came up with the idea to make a World Game Parade and looked for other fresh game concepts that could be interesting for the curious Japanese market.

In August 2009 we had a meeting on GamesCom in Cologne where we talked about some details and started into the partnership with a handshake.

NL: Overseas distribution - even in the download space - sounds a bit tricky. Had you looked into getting any of your games published in Japan previously? If so, how far did you get?

Bernd: To be honest, we initially didn't plan to release any of our games in Japan. To adjust a game to such a different market, one has to invest much time. We wanted to release some more games in Europe and the Americas before looking for a publisher in Japan that would assist us to make our games fit the market, but when Mr. Wada asked us to localise Bit Boy!! for Marvelous, we just couldn't say no - would you?

NL: What's involved in localising a game for the Japanese market?

Bernd: It is not easy to localise a game for a market that is so different. The fact that they speak a language we cannot read made us doubtful at first, but the localisation team of Marvelous was always promptly on the spot so we had no problems in the end.

The fact that Kubi looks so cute made many things easier because everything in Japan has to be extremely 'kawaii'. Since the name was changed, we also had to rework all logos to make them say "Bit Man!!". Additionally, we adjusted some objects and created others completely new to present the Japanese gamers with familiar elements. We really put a lot of effort into making our Japanese debut as good as possible.

Besides all the obvious things, we had to reprogramme many things on the system level. System messages had to be completely in Japanese, that's why we had to rewrite all of the loading procedures to Japanese text. Even the age rating (CERO) had to be programmed.

One of the bigger things was the font. Since the game was meant for western markets only, we had to implement all the Japanese characters first. In Bit Boy!!, we used a retro-style pixel font that we designed after the classic Game Boy font, so we had to create Japanese characters that would match that style. It was a challenge for our graphics artists to make hiragana and katakana characters that would look pixellated and retro even at higher resolutions.

NL: With regards to Bit Man!!, why was the name changed from Bit Boy!! and have any other changes been made to the game for the Japanese release?

Bernd: Bit Man!!, or as it is internally called “Bit Boy!! 1.5,“ is really different to the original Bit Boy!!. The marketing team at Marvelous asked for the name change, telling us that the suffix 'MAN' would be much stronger in Japan. Subsequently, we decided that it's time to let Kubi grow up so the game has grown in terms of graphics, sound, gameplay and overall presentation.

The music and sound effects now perfectly fit to each bit-generation, there are more levels and new gameplay elements. Levels are now divided into two phases and feature a special gameplay surprise that is different in each bit-generation. Some things are really Japanese now like a cubed melon, dancing hills with eyes, robots and much more. Finally, the 128-BIT generation got a complete reworking with all-new music and new graphics and now pays a little homage to Super Mario Galaxy with every single level having its own special design.

The difficulty is now lower and additionally the gamer starts with more lives and attacks. For real hardcore gamers we included a new MASTER MODE. The overall playtime has grown from about 1 hour in Bit Boy!! to the over 6 hours you need to completely play through Bit Man!!.

NL: Since Bit Man!! is so different from Bit Boy!! are there any plans to release it outside of Japan?

Bernd: As always, we listen to what our fans want. If there will be enough positive buzz for Bit Man!! we will definitely think about releasing it – or an even more advanced version – in the Western territories. For now there are no specific plans to bring a direct successor for Bit Boy!! to WiiWare. Should this happen, fans of the retro-dungeon-maze genre could still get both games, because Bit Man!! is a completely different gaming experience.

NL: We haven't heard anything about Vektor Tank for a while. Have any new development milestones been reached?

Bernd: Users that visit our forums from time to time ( http://forums.Bplus.at ) know that there has been a change in the overall look of Vektor Tank. Many older players and players who are open-minded to new styles endorsed the graphical style of Vektor Tank. On the other hand, flat-shaded polygons put off younger players and were put down simply as 'badly made graphics' by them.

First, we thought about giving the game a photo-realistic look because we wanted to attract as many gamers as possible, but when entering the world of Vektor Tank again, we just didn't want to abandon this 'Tron'-style feeling of a virtual world inside of a computer. We put much thought into how we could make the graphics more attractive and rework every single one of the hundreds of objects so that the graphics look more polished without losing the vector feeling.

Even if we cannot announce anything new at this time and are a little bit off-schedule because of "Bit Boy!!" and "Bit Man!!", you can rest assured the project is still alive and besides the graphics it will also deliver a completely new feeling and gaming experience.

NL: Are there future plans with Marvelous or any other projects you can tease our readers about?

Bernd: Marvelous Entertainment is not the only publisher we are in discussions with. Luckily, there are more publishers with people on top that are committed to the fact that new, fresh and innovative game experiences will enrich the video game market and define the future. And that's exactly what Bplus is doing and will continue to do.

At this time, we are not in a position to announce anything new, but the one thing we can tell you is that most of our game projects do have graphics.

NL: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions and again, congratulations on getting Bit Boy/Man!! published in Japan.

Bernd: Thank you Sean. Many thanks to all our fans for your continued great support. We will do our best to surprise you with a new Bplus game as soon as possible - please do not forget our already released WiiWare titles: Niki – Rock 'n' Ball and PLÄTTCHEN – twist 'n' paint and visit our forums at http://forums.Bplus.at where we are always open to new ideas and constructive feedback. Thank you very much for the interview.

Bit Man!! is expected to be available for download in the Japanese Wii Shop by the end of March for 500 Points