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Interview: Q-Games and Nintendo on X-Scape


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Dylan Cuthbert's Q-Games has returned to the world of X, a Game Boy game designed by Nintendo and Cuthbert's Argonaut Software. Q-Games and Nintendo have created X-Scape, a DSiWare sequel to the 3D space tank game (coincidentally, "3D Space Tank" is the Australian title for X-Scape).

Shortly before the announcement of the DSiWare title's May 31 release date, we spoke to Cuthbert, along with Assistant Director Kazushi Maeta and Kazuyuki Gofuku, in charge of Development Coordination for the title at Nintendo, about resurrecting the old franchise, the freedom of downloadable software, and, yes, the secret "Totaka's Song" first heard in X.

Gallery: X-Scape (DSiWare) | 10 Photos

Joystiq: What prompted a return to X? It's been a while.

Dylan Cuthbert: The reason we returned to X is basically that it's just something I wanted to revisit. It was the first game I made with Nintendo and I wanted to come back and revisit all those ideas I had when I made the original game; try and reenvisage it on the DS.

Was there something about the DSiWare platform that fit well with the game?

Kazuyuki Gofuku: X-Scape has a really unique visual style; there will be those that like it and those that aren't so fond of it. A title like this as a packaged title would be tough, and what DSiWare allows as a downloadable platform is -- it's still a small market, but the people who are purchasing games there really like games, so with a platform like DSiWare, they could pursue a challenge like X-Scape.

A platform like DSiWare really does let us experiment more.

Cuthbert: When you're making a game which has such a stark visual design or has an esoteric bite to what you're making, then there is a lot of risk in releasing that kind of game as a packaged game, because you're aiming for a particular segment of the market, you know, the segment that really likes those sort of old-school, retro-style, 3D games. A platform like DSiWare really does let us experiment more with that kind of game. I think at that point you can see a wide range of titles on DSiWare as well, compared to a packaged game which tends to be a little more focused on mass appeal. We can make games that don't have to appeal to quite everyone.

Speaking of games with unique visual identities, all of your DSiWare games have had a unique aesthetic and sort of simple gameplay systems. One of them was Digidrive, a remake of a Bit Generations game, now an Art Style game. Why are games like X-Scape and Starship Defense not Art Style games? What's the distinction?

Gofuku: The Art Style games focus on a fusion of visual and sound. So, from a development perspective, Art Style games start with the visual and sound in mind. On the other hand, Q-Games really focus on the game system. So it wouldn't necessarily be appropriate to go out of the way to force a visual or a sound element onto the particular game system that they have in mind.

Is it in your mind to give your games a Q-Games identity? They're presented as Nintendo games, but is there some kind of Q-Games stamp you put on them?

Cuthbert: There's no conscious effort to do that, but obviously, the same people are making the games, and so, naturally, I think some kind of identity does go into the game. That question should be for the people who've played the games, I suppose. Do they sense some sort of Q-Games identity in the games? And if they do, that's a great thing. But it's not something we consciously do -- we just make the games we want to make, and they end up like that (laughs).

Do you have any concern about the longevity of a DSiWare game, considering that it's a download -- if people get new DSes, as they tend to do every year, is there a concern that because they won't be able to transfer them, about the lifespan?

Gofuku: I personally don't know about new hardware. The primary consideration is enjoyment from the user. I absolutely don't have any idea about it.

If you had a DSi, and you bought the games and then you bought a DSi XL, and basically, the game couldn't come with you. Is that a concern as far as creating an artificial lifespan for the game?

From a development perspective, Art Style games start with the visual and sound in mind. On the other hand, Q-Games really focus on the game system.

Gofuku: Of course those are some concerns that are being heard, but it's an issue to be handled by people in higher positions. With that in mind, it's not something that we can comment on.

Cuthbert: We don't really feel it's an issue for us in terms of creating an artificial lifespan. We just make games; we don't worry about that kind of thing so much.

Something I've wondered about personally: Why do most DSiWare games have a different name in the US than in Europe?

Gofuku: It's basically down to trademark and copyright issues.

Cuthbert: The sheer amount of titles being released on DSiWare, getting the same name across all territories must be a really difficult task. I think that's the main reason. For example, Q-Games does the PixelJunk series, and what we did there was we just prefixed all the games with "PixelJunk" and registered "PixelJunk" across the entire world. Because if you have to register names across all the territories, it's just such a really difficult task to get the same name.

The Game Boy version of X was one of the first games to have the secret tune from Kazumi Totaka in it. Does X-Scape also feature this secret song?

Gofuku: I think it will live up to players' expectations.

Cuthbert: Totaka-san's debut game was the original X, it was the first game he was involved in at Nintendo. He was lumped in with me back in the day. It was the first game I made as well. For both of us, it was a very important game. We actually went and asked Totaka-san directly -- he's working in a different department now, he works for Miyamoto's group, EAD, and we did a very special collaboration especially for X-Scape. He did an incredible job with all the music and the sound, and it's just a really cool -- the whole sound system is amazing.

Was that original Easter egg something that you knew about beforehand, or was it a surprise for you too?

Cuthbert: It was a surprise for me as well. Have you listened to the Totaka theme in all the other games that he's made?

Yes, there have been a few compilations.

When you hear the music and sound in X-Scape, your mind will be blown.

Cuthbert: When you hear the music and sound in X-Scape, your mind will be blown. It's incredible what he's done. The whole thing's been scored like a movie. It's a very retro sound, very synthesizer-based, and it's amazing the effort he put in to reinvent the music from the original X.

Was that process concurrent with game development? Or did one inspire the other?

Kazushi Maeta: Mr. Totaka is a well-grounded individual. He made lots of visits to Q-Games, and we had lots of long meetings where he put a lot of attention and care into asking about the game and understanding the themes, and clearly, the music benefited from that. As music would be added to the game, the staff at Q-Games were constantly impressed by the effect that it had on the game. I was very impressed that music in games could achieve such greatness.

Cuthbert: I think it was a really good learning experience, not just from the music side of things, but just the meticulous way he went through the game second by second, layering the music and scoring the music precisely the way the game plays. I think it's going to be quite a rare masterpiece. I could start the game and just leave it on the title screen for the music. It's incredible. It really evokes something when you hear it.

Most of us in the US and Europe won't have played X. Is there going to be some way of communicating the history of the game? Will X-Scape connect to the original?

Gofuku: We've included flashback scenes, so that people who didn't play the Japanese X can not only get the feeling for the story, but we've also worked it into the overall story, so that provides a better understanding of the overall picture between the two games.

Cuthbert: We put a lot of effort into educating the player about the story. When we were making the game, we put it in for an initial test with Mario Club, the testing group at NCL, and a couple of people in the testing group had played the original X, but most of the people in the testing group were either too young to remember or didn't play it back in the day. Some of the things that came back -- of course, we knew the story so well -- they didn't understand why this person was doing this or what influence or what effect it had on the story. We used that, and added more and more information so the players could understand the backstory more.

I think the end result is a very full game, which has a feeling of deep history to it.

And I think the end result of that is a very full game, which has a feeling of deep history to it, so even if you haven't played the original game it's like ... with Star Wars Episode IV, for example, you have the previous story scrolling up the screen, and it kind of sets the backing for the entire movie. It's kind of similar to that, with X-Scape. There's a lot of background information, but you don't have to take it all in at one go. We slowly teach the user more and more about what's actually happened, the historical events and things like that.

We have twenty planets in the game and each planet has its own history and population and backstory to it, and we tried to put all that into the game. This game has the most text of any game that I've made. I think the translators over at Nintendo of America did a remarkable job keeping up with us (laughs).

To open it up: is there anything you'd like to say to the American DSi audience?

Gofuku: It's a DSiWare title with ten-plus main missions, thirty-plus subquests -- we really built the game out so that each planet is unique, each planet has new objects. As a player proceeds from planet to planet, they're always getting new information, so a player who really likes to dig into games ... we expect that that type of player will be able to get a lot of satisfaction from it.

Cuthbert: This game is for people who really love the idea of a space adventure. I think that's the key: if you want to go on a space adventure, this is the game for you. It has so much stuff in it.

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