Much to our delight, G.rev's unique 3DS shooter Kokuga recently launched on the 3DS eShop in both North America and Europe. In between blasting enemy tanks and cursing our own lack of skill, we got the chance to chat with the G.rev CEO Hiroyuki Maruyama about the game's development, the future of the mobile gaming industry and the impact of shooters in general.
Nintendo Life: What games inspired Kokuga?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: I think the game that was the biggest inspiration was Namco’s classic Tank Battalion (later ported to the Famicom under the title Battle City).
Nintendo Life: The majority of Hiroshi Iuchi's and G.rev's previous games were released as arcade cabinets or on home consoles. Why did you decide to release this on a portable platform?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: As you mentioned, up until Kokuga, all of the games G.rev has made was originally released for an arcade system (then later ported to a home console).
However, with Kokuga, the core concept of the game was to create a casual shooter, one that could be enjoyed by multiple players simultaneously. As the 3DS offers Download Play in which 4 people can play using only one copy of the game, we felt that it was the most suitable platform for the project rather than attempting to put out an arcade version first.
Nintendo Life: Why was the 3DS chosen over other platforms such as smartphones, tablets, or the PlayStation Vita?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: We actually started the project building a prototype for the PC. Our initial thoughts on a possible platform were the DS, 3DS, or the PSP. Shortly after the project got rolling, we decided on the 3DS as the 3D option worked surprisingly well with the game. We also saw that people had started to buy the 3DS, so that helped us make the decision as well.
Nintendo Life: Unlike most shooters on the 3DS, Kokuga uses button controls to aim your weapon rather than the touchscreen. Is there a specific reason behind this decision, or is it just a matter of that being the most logical UI for this game?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: Unfortunately, I was not heavily involved in planning the game, so I do not know the actual reason, but I think that the current design was simply the most logical UI as you mentioned.
Nintendo Life: Kokuga is a challenging game, even for shooter fans. How did you strike the correct balance between making it rewarding without making it too frustrating?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: Just by considering the method we used in the stage select map – which gives the player the freedom of selecting the stage in which he or she starts, then unlocks the stages immediately adjacent to the stage when cleared – there is quite a bit of flexibility in terms of the level of difficulty the player will experience in the game. Creating balance for Kokuga was very different from balancing a traditional shooter. To a large degree, we have left it up to the players to determine the difficulty and length of their game experience.
In addition, I think that the way a player uses his or her power up cards will greatly influence their perception of the level of difficulty. That is another means in which, ultimately, the players’ choices weigh heavily on the degree of difficulty they experience in the game.
(Note from translator: There are stages and stage bosses in Kokuga that are clearly more difficult than others, so if a player wants to clear the game, but keep the difficulty low, they can select certain routes before heading into a final stage. If, on the other hand, they want a longer, tougher experience, they would likely want to cover a large amount of the select stage map, perhaps even playing stages more than once before moving to a final stage.)
Nintendo Life: With the advent of smartphones and tablets, it could be argued that gamers are becoming "more casual" and less receptive to difficult titles. Does this concern you as developers?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: Certainly that appears to be a trend, but I believe that there will still be a good number of gamers that prefer and will continue to demand hardcore titles. As we plan to continue challenging that market, the idea of gamers becoming “more casual” is not that great of a concern.
On the contrary, it seems that instead of a market in which different game fans enjoy different games over several genres, the current market is quickly becoming one in which gamers lean toward a small number of specific popular genres. That is more of a concern to me in regards to the future of the game industry.
Nintendo Life: What was the biggest technical challenge you faced during development?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: As I mentioned earlier, multiplayer was a key feature on which we focused. However, as we have previous experience with co-op play in past games, it was not that big of a challenge for the programming team. I would say the biggest technical challenge was adapting the game for Download Play. Since there is a restriction on the size of the file that can be transmitted, it was a challenge getting the game down to within the limit.
Nintendo Life: What aspect of the game are you most proud of?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: I would say there are three things: Kokuga is a shooter that you can play leisurely, it’s a game that carries on the spirit of past classics, and the soundtrack.
Nintendo Life: Some would argue that since the popularity of arcades has diminished, the hardcore shooter genre is going out of fashion, especially in the west. Do you think this perspective has any truth in it?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: I think you could argue that is one factor that resulted in the decline of the hardcore shooter, but it probably is not the only reason. Times (and tastes) have changed, and mainstream games are those typically visually rich in quality – such as movie-like TPS/FPS games. You might say that the decline of the shooter is largely related to the diminishing demand for traditional game-like games.
In this environment, we feel, as a game developer, it is our responsibility to deliver game-like games to consumers that still demand them.
Nintendo Life: Do you have plans for any future releases on the 3DS or Wii U?
Hiroyuki Maruyama: Yes, of course, we plan to do more in the future. We hope you look forward to it.