The increasing importance and role of the download game market is often attributed to development studios based outside of Japan, with a perception that the home of Nintendo and many other prominent industry names is playing catch-up in embracing that segment of the market. There is some justification for this, though the growing popularity of the BitSummit event is proof of the growing market in the country, while there are a small group of developers that have been quietly engaging in the download market for a number of years.
One of these companies is Tom Create. It contributed five games to the popular GO series on DSiWare — including Defence Wars — as well as its most recent release on the 3DS eShop, Escape from Zombie City. The studio has a high profile history with the Gundam series, too, producing a number of titles for Bandai Namco.
Next up from Tom Create is Smash Cat Heroes, which is tentatively penned in for a 17th April release in North America. As the title suggests this is an action game with a feline twist, and looks set to deliver some fast-paced top-down brawling.
Ahead of that release we've been lucky enough to have a chat with Tom Create's Noriyoshi Takagi, who's been at the forefront of the company's extensive portfolio to date. Takagi-san talks a little about Tom Create's development history, its upcoming release and shares his thoughts on the increasing prominence of download games.
First of all, can you introduce yourself and explain your role within Tom Create?
My name is Noriyoshi Takagi and I’m responsible for a number of projects at Tom Create that covers creating and producing video games.
For those that may have seen or played your games but not recognised your company name, can you tell us about your development history to date?
The development team at Tom Create has been going for about 20 years. Starting from the Super Famicom (Super NES) days, the company has created many games in the SD Gundam Generation series (for Bandai Namco) as well as many DSiWare and 3DS Download games such as Defence Wars and more recently Escape From Zombie City. More than 30 games in total.
Will you be continuing with more Gundam games for Bandai Namco?
We’ve been involved with the Gundam series for 20 years and still really enjoy making the games so I hope we can continue to make more games in the series!
You've also contributed to the GO Series on DSiWare, how did you become involved with that?
We had already developed and released several games for DSiWare by ourselves in Japan and were thinking about the US and EU markets when we were approached to team up with the GO Series. It was an exciting project so we were happy to join up with the other companies involved.
As bite-sized, budget titles, did you work to a brief in terms of genre and style for your GO games, or were you given freedom to choose the themes?
We’d already developed and released the GO Series games in Japan as individual games so there wasn’t any brief as such. We joined the GO Series project and contributed 5 games to the series.
Escape from Zombie City was another project that you've produced for the 3DS; what were the primary sources of inspiration for that title?
We took inspiration from a lot of zombie movies and games and then used them in various places throughout the game. As you might expect, the game was lots of fun to make!
Were you happy with the reception, both critically and commercially, to Escape from Zombie City?
I’m always hoping for the best responses to our games, both critically and commercially, so there is room for improvement. Feedback we get from each game is used to make the next game better.
Smash Cat Heroes is next up on the 3DS eShop. Does this game make use of any 3DS-specific features, such as StreetPass, SpotPass, the 3D screen, motion controls and so on?
When we develop a game we’re always looking to see if there are any hardware features that can enhance the game, but in the case Smash Cat Heroes we didn’t think there was anything that would add to the game.
Will there be any form of multiplayer in this title, either local or online?
No, it’s a one player game.
Is DLC a possibility for Smash Cat Heroes?
No plans. There’s already quite a lot in the game!
What's your favourite feature of the game, in terms of what you think will entice gamers to play?
The characters are awesome, combining cute cats with the characteristics of traditional Japanese fighting. Using these characters to slash and bash your way through hordes of enemies is lots of fun!
If we may ask, what was the inspiration to use cats as the main characters?
Firstly, I’m a big cat lover with 2 cats of my own. Cats have lived alongside people since ancient times and have long had a strong bond with humans. I also like reading about the ancient Japan and the Genpei War so I thought it would be interesting to mix the two!
How would you equate the experiences of working of DS and then 3DS for download games, from a technical development standpoint? Was the 3DS easier to work on in terms of the tools and information available?
Developing for Nintendo 3DS was pretty straight forward for us since it has a lot in common with Nintendo DS, plus the technical support from Nintendo was really good.
*With such diversity in your range of games and platforms, how does Nintendo hardware stand-up in terms of ease of development?
We find it very easy to develop games for Nintendo consoles!
What are your views on the current eShop platforms, in terms of their openness to developers and the potential for download-only games to perform well?
We’re in a period of transition, gradually moving from package to download software. Of course the big budget package games are great, but we’re now seeing a lot of games that are made on much smaller budgets with smaller teams. Users realize that games don’t have to be massive in scale to be great games so I expect both big budget and smaller download-only games to coexist.
Can you tell us anything about future projects on Nintendo hardware? Are you planning more games for the eShop platforms?
Last year we only released one game in Japan on eShop but I’m hoping we will release a lot more in the future and are already hard at work on the next game!
Are you optimistic that the eShop platforms will be a valuable platform for your company in years to come?
I think character-based games are important, but we’ll also work on new ideas too. The eShop is somewhere where we definitely want to be involved.
We'd like to thank Takagi-san for his time, and also Tony Byus for arranging the interview.