Interview: Microforum - Kyotokei and the Future of the eShop

We take the new horizontal shmup head-on

We love when something a little out of the ordinary pops up on WiiWare, and one such game is Kyotokei, an original horizontal shoot-em-up that recently launched in North America and garnered an impressive 7/10 in our Kyotokei review. Our own Corbie Dillard and Zach Kaplan sat down with Giovanni Simotti, CTO of developer/publisher Microforum, to discuss the release as well as the company's possible 3DS plans and Nintendo's online shops in general.

Nintendo Life: Can you tell us a little bit about Kyotokei's gameplay?

Giovanni Simotti: Kyotokei is an horizontal shooter that has its roots in the classic arcade tradition – you start with a limited amount of continues, a friend can join you anytime, there's a three letter high-score", etc. It's like having a classic arcade machine inside your home – a new, unpublished one, not a revamped or emulated, only for five bucks.

NL: With the shoot 'em up genre not exactly lighting up the sales charts in recent years, why the decision to develop one for WiiWare?

GS: The WiiWare service hosts a lot of classic titles, from the VC games to remake games like Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, Gradius ReBirth, Star Soldier R, Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, Contra ReBirth, etc. It has a solid base of old-school gamers, which have been playing videogames for more than a quarter of century and like to try something retro-new. Obviously these players look for quality – they know what they want and they know how to discover it, looking for dedicated forums, review websites, etc.

NL: There are obviously quite a few Ikaruga influences in the gameplay, but what other titles influenced you when it came to developing Kyotokei?

GS: Inspiration mostly came from arcade and console shooters. I'm talking about Treasure and Cave games, but also less known "sagas" like Cotton or Tengai. Other inspiring shooters might be ThunderForce III, ThunderForce IV, Musha Aleste, Gunhead, Super Star Soldier... these five masterpieces are some of the games I love the most, so there are probably traces of them in Kyotokei.

NL: We found the control scheme itself rather uncomplicated and intuitive. Was there a concerted effort to keep things simple and easy in order to make it more mass-appealing?

GS: Today there are games that use all the buttons of a PS3 or Xbox 360 controller, only to perform actions that are just slightly different... I'm thinking about FPS for instance, or sport games. The many buttons problem is one reason why casual gamers have shied away from PS3 and Xbox, choosing the Wii, DS or iPhone as their platforms of choice. Think about Kinect and Move, these are afterthought patches to regain a lost market.

Personally I hate having unnecessary complications in the control scheme. In the early 90s a "complex" game had three action buttons, a simple one had only two, and you could do an amazing number of things with them. A retro gamer thinks the same too... unless they are playing Street Fighter of course... and Kyotokei is dedicated to them... and to their Classic Controller, GameCube controller or Joystick!

NL: Kyotokei runs rather high rate of speed yet has a very high frame rate. Was it difficult to balance the visuals you wanted to include while still making sure the frame rate stayed smooth?

GS: One of Kyotokei's goals was to give an ultra-smooth experience to the player. The rule was to add things as long the 60 fps were rock-solid. Luckily the Wii is really overpowered if your goal is to create a 2D shooter, so we have managed to create 3D effects and really complex and varied parallax backgrounds without sacrificing even a single frame.

NL: Kyotokei features some of the most bizarre bosses we've seen in a shoot 'em up. How did you guys come up with this wild cast?

GS: The boss designs come from weeks of "think and rethink". All the bosses have three phases, and I wanted to make sure the player would be somehow surprised by all of them, not only with a different attack pattern but also with a strange and unexpected behaviour... for an example, take a look at the boss from the third stage.

NL: Was it difficult to include five full levels and still stay under the WiiWare file size limitation?

GS: We wanted to be sure that Kyotokei was as small as possible, but without recycling background and bosses, so we have studied clever design solutions to keep textures as small as possible while keeping a certain degree of variety.

NL: Why the decision to not feature online leaderboards?

GS: We had a lot of internal discussion about it... in the end, we thought that the online leaderboards would have compromised the arcade experience, especially removing the classic three-letter high-score name, along with the possibility of entering an high-score without interrupting the other player.

NL: Any plans for another shoot 'em up in the future?

GS: Not yet, but I'd definitely like that. Shoot 'em ups are a very fun and exciting genre, they deserve a second youth!

NL: Does Microforum have any plans to work on 3DS?

GS: A lot of people have expressed very interesting opinions about a 3DS version of our latest, Kyotokei and 3D Pixel Racing. I think we should take them very seriously.

NL: How do you feel about your experience overall with Nintendo's online shops?

GS: Our experience is positive. If you compare Nintendo's shops to PSN and XBLA, they have a more open approach to the developers, giving them a lot more creative freedom and allowing them to keep costs to a bare minimum – two things we appreciate a lot! It's an interesting compromise between a hermetically closed platform and a too-much-developer-friendly platform like the AppStore, where sometimes quality can hardly emerge without some serious luck... or some serious marketing effort!

NL: Nintendo has stated that it plans to work hard to make their 3DS and Wii U eShops up to par. What are some things you think the company should focus on or change?

GS: The Wii Shop can obviously be better – one of the worst things of it is that the user has to transverse a lot of screens before reaching something interesting, and when they do so they can only read a textual description and watch a couple of (very small) screenshots. On the Xbox Marketplace, even indie games have four hi-res screenshots that can be seen full-screen. On the Wii Shop, if you want to see something more about your next purchase, you need to read the Online Manual of the game, hoping that the developers have put a large screenshot in it.

Also, I think that a game on a downloadable shop should have a mandatory trial version, firstly to reach new potential customers... "Let me try this one too!" Second, to expand the number of people using the service... "If there's free content, let me take a look." Third, to increase the general trust of people in the service... "I know I won't buy crappy games." Furthermore, a modern online shop needs to have a rating system driven by the players. This will allow quality production to emerge.

NL: Is there anything you'd like to tell our readers in closing?

GS: I hope you'll enjoy our latest efforts, Kyotokei and 3D Pixel Racing. Thank you very much for supporting us!

We at Nintendo Life thank Giovanni for taking the time to answer our questions.