Rudy Lavaux, Retro Editor at Cubed3: Can you perhaps start out by introducing yourself, as well as your development team? How did the Nigoro adventure begin? How long have you been making games? Where does the Nigoro name come from?
Takumi Naramura, Director of Nigoro: It all began with starting up game creation with companions who gathered on my MSX website. We first introduced the original version of LA-MULANA on the website, and it was received well. After that, we thought we would make it our purpose to create games, and started as NIGORO. We have been making games for more than 10 years with the same members. NIGORO means 256 in Japanese (2=NI 5=GO 6=RO), so the 8-bit taste is our theme.
Rudy: How did the development of the original "LA-MULANA" for PC start? Where did the idea for such a game come from? Were a lot of people involved in the development of that game?
Naramura-san: Before making LA-MULANA, we made a shooting game. Therefore, we talked about creating a different genre of game. Since we three loved Konami's MSX games, we decided to make something like "The Maze of Galious" (ガリウスの迷宮).
Rudy: Pretty much any player who tried LA-MULANA agrees to say that it is a very hard game. Are you perhaps a great fan of difficult games yourself? As you were developing the game, weren't you afraid that perhaps a too high difficulty level might scare away some potential players?
Naramura-san: When I was young, my parents didn't give me game consoles, and instead they gave me a PC. That is the reason why I grew up being used to the difficulty of PC games. I have no awareness of making tough games, though. I think nowadays mainstream games have user-friendly architecture that anybody can play, but I do understand it is fun to overcome high difficulty settings. In particular, the central part of the fun of LA-MULANA is to solve puzzles on your own. Also, I have confidence about the level of fun included!
Rudy: When playing LA-MULANA, some similarities to other well-known video game series can be felt. On the whole the adventure reminds of Indiana Jones, of course. From a western player's perspective, the inventory that builds up as the game progresses reminds of The Legend of Zelda (ゼルダの伝説), the hero wielding a whip reminds of Castlevania (悪魔城ドラキュラ), etc... But what were YOUR sources of inspiration as you were creating the game (video game or non video game ones)?
Naramura-san: As I mentioned, the base inspiration of LA-MULANA is "The Maze of Galious." When we started creating the game, we needed to think about the background. We agreed to make a "ruin exploration game" and then naturally it was decided that the hero had to be an archaeologist. It was obviously influenced by the Indiana Jones! When we were children, we watched it on TV intently. I am the person in charge of game design, but I did play only PC games. Therefore, LA-MULANA is influenced by Japanese retro PC games such as HYDLIDE (ハイドライド), XANADU (ザナドゥ) and Romancia (ロマンシア).
Rudy: When did the idea of porting it to a video game console arise? What drove you to choose the Wii and WiiWare above all the other download platforms out there?
Naramura-san: When we started as NIGORO, we were seeking a way of using download distribution. However, we had no connection with the game industry. The entry barrier was high for us, and we had no choice. At that time, we got an offer to release LA-MULANA on WiiWare, and jumped on the chance. We also had high expectations for the download service that Nintendo started.
Rudy: The remake sports some very detailed graphics, showing loads of statues and decorating elements from different cultures and origins. What were your sources of inspiration for creating all those details? Are perhaps some of them recreations of existing historical works?
Naramura-san: Since LA-MULANA's background is "the beginning of all civilisation", I decided to design each area by blending various civilisations. However, when I made the original version, I couldn't express it through retro graphics, and also I didn't set up the background in enough detail. When we started to do the remake, I properly redefined the backgrounds not to look too bad compared to modern games. I laid out each area by combining designs of existing ruins. It is a concept to make players think "This is the root of ruins all over the world."
Rudy: As you were discussing the WiiWare port, was there ever any desire to tone down the difficulty to try to appeal to as many players as possible? If that's the case, how much of the game did you change in the end to make it easier?
Naramura-san: We discussed something like that while we were developing, but if we made puzzles easy -- restricting routes or reducing dangerous spots -- this game would be a boring game where players repeat monotonous work. However, we modified it so that it was easy to play and players can understand what to do and how to do things in the game without lowering the difficulty because in the original version there is less explanation and, thus, it proved to be troublesome in its operation.
Rudy: What difficulties did you encounter when developing the game for WiiWare. Was the file size constraint of WiiWare releases a big handicap when you were working on it?
Naramura-san: We suffered from various specifications and restrictions because it's our first time to develop a game for a consumer game machine. At the early stages, we found out it was not possible to include all the data we had planned with a certain graphics resolution. Therefore, I had to lower the resolution and resize the graphics to 320 by 240. Also, we cut out unused programme libraries and were careful not to increase the number of tones and sound effects until the end of the development. As a result, the file size is almost at the WiiWare's limit.
Rudy: The game encountered some problems when it came to get it localised for Western WiiWare markets. Can you perhaps clarify for us what the problems were that prevented the game from becoming available to western Wii owners?
Naramura-san: We had to deal differently with Japan, North America and Europe. I knew that ratings were different depending on areas and PAL is required for Europe. Therefore, we made it easy to switch regions. A problem was the matter of download content. It was approved in Japan, but it wasn't in North America. Then, the modification that we did for North America caused another problem in Europe. We had difficulties to iron out all of those issues.
Rudy: Are you allowed to comment on how the process of getting a game approved for a WiiWare release in Japan differs from its counterparts for the North American and European markets?
Naramura-san: I can't say exactly what happened, but we couldn't get the download content approved even nearly one year after releasing it in Japan. Finally, we had no choice but to omit it. On this point, it would be nice if the approval processes are unified, such as in the App Store and on Steam.
Rudy: Do you have any plans to make another game similar to LA-MULANA, or even perhaps a sequel if the reception it gets is good enough?
Naramura-san: Like LA-MULANA, the best thing I do is to create a type of game where players explore huge world. I'd like to do it, but it is quite tough to make the something the same scale as LA-MULANA. Even if we got a high evaluation, I don't want to make it into a series easily. In the case that we do make a sequel, it should be a continuous story and world. However, the LA-MULANA ruin is collapsed. Is there any way I can make such a sequel??
Rudy: How have you been finding the response of the western audience to your game so far? Has the response been very different in and outside of your homeland?
Naramura-san: Mainly, I knew that from the search results on Google and e-mails from fans. Now I also hear their voices from Twitter. I manage to read English but I'm afraid that I can't understand what they say in Italian or Spanish. However, I see painful screams even if it isn't English! Japanese fans whom beat the game earlier than the others sympathise with the screams from overseas!
Rudy: What advice would you give to a player who struggles with the difficulty of your game? Are there any special secret tricks or techniques you would like to teach them?
Naramura-san: Do not to be in a hurry. This is a game where you solve puzzles by clues. If you miss a clue in a hurry, you have to look around for the missing clue aimlessly. It is going to be quite painful because the game has a wide spread map. No puzzles without clues. The messages of the tablets are not only clues. Sometimes, a clue is related to changes in the backgrounds and they apply to the way of solving puzzles.
Rudy: By the way, is there absolutely no way to reverse the curse that makes the game harder after you read the forbidden tablet a second time in the Temple of the Sun??
Naramura-san: *NOTE: It is not "Temple of the Sun." it is "the Mausoleum of the Giants."
No, there is no way. As I mentioned, you notice enemies are increased if you carefully see the atmosphere of ruins. You must be careless as an archaeologist if you save the game in that condition. There might be a way to deactivate it normally, but LA-MULANA is not that kind of game. We make games as an indie game developer, so we don't have to be restricted by the expectations of consumers.
Rudy: As stated on your website, the people at Nigoro grew up on playing retro games. Would you share with us what your personal favourite retro games are, and which ones you did "grow up" with?
Naramura-san: Two of the programmers have played lots of games, but I haven't. Thanks to them, there are various actions and various movements of enemies included. I don't play games much because I wasn't given games. Instead of that, I read many game magazines and imagined with pleasure "what is this game like?" Therefore, I have lots of knowledge because of it.
Rudy: Nigoro's philosophy seems to be about developing "new" retro games. Would you ever consider developing a big project with HD polygon graphics, or do you truly prefer to stick to your strengths and continue developing 2D games like you've done so far?
Naramura-san: That's a good question. We can't handle big projects since we are making games with only three members. I think 2D games' evolution was stopped after 3D games became mainstream. I think 2D games still have a possibility to evolve, and have an enjoyable element that is different from 3D games. Therefore, your expression, "developing new retro games," is right on target. Our target is 2D games' evolution.
Rudy: What can we expect next from Nigoro, here in Europe (or in the west in general, for that matter)? Are any of your projects on the way to any Nintendo console? Whether you have any or not, what do you think of the 3DS and Wii U as systems to develop for? Could we see LA-MULANA on the 3DS eShop as well?
Naramura-san: We are going to concentrate on creating PC games for a while because it was very tough work for us to release the game on a consumer game machine. To release for consoles is an opportunity for many people to play our games. We hope to keep going if we can, but we don't have many resources to port our games to consoles. We are happy to deal with someone who ports and publishes our games, though! I am so attracted to 3DS, Wii U and XBLA, indeed.
Rudy: Lastly, a philosophical question: What are 'video games' to you?
Naramura-san: It is kill-time amusement, same as with toys. I don't think it's art, though -- but there is the pride of persons who create toys. I know the best amusement makes people happy, so I have the pride and want to keep creating these digital toys.
Rudy: Thank you for your answers. Any final word you would like to address to your western fans?
Naramura-san: There are many barriers for distributing indie games from Japan successfully. We expect that Japanese indie games are spreading to more people by the people who love our games. For the sake of that, we are going to keep creating games. Please look forward to it!