If a company has always been known for innovation in the shoot ‘em up market, that’s G.rev. Since the first days, with Border Down and the clever “border system”, their games have always been different from the rest and they have built a reputation among the most hardcore fans of the genre. They’ve recently released their latest work on XBLA, the excellent Strania.
We have had the pleasure to talk with G.rev CEO Hiroyuki Maruyama, designer and producer of several of the company’s games, and also programmer of Taito classics like G-Darius. In the following interview, we talk about the difficulties of being a small company, about the shmup market and why Xbox 360 is the platform of choice, about the price for innovation, about digital distribution to reach the overseas fans, about the Senko no Ronde DUO cancelled DLC, and much more. Also Hiroyuki Maruyama tells us that G.rev had considered a remake of Border Down and Under Defeat and maybe they gave those titles a reconsideration.
gen16: Your first shoot ‘em up as G.rev was Border Down, a game you were decided to run the risk for. Almost 10 years later, how would you describe your trajectory?
G.rev: As a small studio, we feel very blessed to have been able to release several original titles since incorporating in 2000. In that respect, it has been a good 10 years. However, in terms of our growth as a company, unfortunately there are several issues that have prevented our ability to expand and we are still a small company. So we certainly are not satisfied.
One of the biggest problems we are facing at the moment is trying to answer the question, “What are we going to do for the next 10 years?” The current game market, user needs and the general environment has changed so much since we first started. Up until now, we have created games from the stance that they are games we wanted to make. In the future, we may have to adjust our perspective.
gen16: In your first days you codeveloped some titles with other companies, such as Ikaruga (with Treasure), so you could get enough capital and develop your own games. Now something similar has happened with Gulti and Mamoru-kun, in this case being G.rev the company which others have collaborated with. Do you believe that the Japanese industry is “opened” to this kind of collaborations or maybe the “big ones” should help a little more the “newborn” ones?
G.rev: I do not think that there is particularly a conscious effort for this kind of collaboration within the industry as a whole. It isn’t that easy of a business (laughs). However, there were a lot of people who provided their support when we first started out, including Treasure, other studios and individuals, and we cannot forget our indebtedness to them. Among that group is Gulti and we have maintained a good relationship. We felt that if we were able to provide the same kind of support that was given to us, we would have returned a small amount of our obligation to them. Regardless of how other companies are, that is what we believe is the right thing to do.
gen16: In the shoot ‘em up genre seems like everything has already been invented, but in your games you always try to put some concepts that make them look different from the rest. Could we say that your objective is always to try to innovate and offer games with personality? What do you think about the nowadays shoot ‘em up market in Japan?
G.rev: We do try to do things that will be innovative and differentiate our games. We also understand that the result of that effort, conversely, will be that the game will not be “mainstream.” However, we hope that our activities will lead to rejuvenating the (shoot ’em up) market. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to say that we have seen the results that we had hoped for and that the market is moving in a positive direction.
G.rev: Realistically speaking, the digital distribution format is the most effective way to reach fans overseas. We are more than happy to release a game on disc if it is possible, but with economic issues such as the strong yen, it is a difficult situation on the business end. To say that Xbox Live Arcade is “The Last Paradise,” however, would be an exaggeration, as the service has a few problems of its own.
gen16.com: You have recently launched Seisou Kouki Strania for Xbox Live Arcade and The Side Vower DLC. Are there future plans to continue offering extra content for the game?
G.rev: At this point, we do not have plans for additional content, but if sales of the game and the DLC are good, then there is a possibility for something to happen.
gen16: Keeping on with XBLA, taking into account that other developers such as Treasure are relaunching their classic titles in this platform, has the idea of making a remake of Border Down or Under Defeat for XBLA crossed your mind? We’re pretty sure that it would be a big hit with fans.
G.rev: We had considered it in the past, but the timing was not right so we decided to shelf the ideas. Now that we have finished Strania, it would not be strange if we gave those titles some reconsideration (laughs).
gen16: Mamoru-kun wa Norowarete Shimatta has recently been launched for the PlayStation 3, a couple of years later from Xbox 360 version. Could you tell us why it took all this time to be launched for Sony’s console? Is there any chance that it comes out of Japan?
G.rev: Actually, plans for a PS3 iteration to be released immediately after the 360 version never existed to begin with. If anything, we would have preferred to make a sequel, but that did not happen for various reasons. Eventually, Gulti and Cyber Front, the publisher of the PS3 version, suggested to make a PS3 version that, even if it was not a true sequel to the original game, included a new mode. We approved of the proposal, but it’s really a different type of business arrangement. So that is the reason for the time difference between releases. As Cyber Front has rights to the PS3 version, it is up to them whether or not it is sold abroad.
gen16: It’s obvious that the Xbox 360 is the favorite console for Japanese shoot ‘em up developers, being Mamoru-kun the first title of this genre that is launched in physical format in the PS3. Why is that there are so few titles of this genre in the PS3? Are the development costs still being too high?
G.rev: Of course, excessive development costs are one concern, but perhaps the biggest reason is the nature of the market for packaged games for the PS3. It seems that only the games on which a lot of money has been spent in creation, ones that can offer rich content, are the ones that are successful. Certainly we can understand that more casual games can be sold over the PlayStation Network. However, there is nothing casual about the process it takes to get a game distributed on that service. That seems to be another reason for the lack of titles.
gen16: With Senko no Ronde DUO for Xbox 360 you put a lot of effort in the story mode, but finally the DLC side stories were cancelled. Do you think that perhaps it was too risky mixing a game of this genre with a complex story?
G.rev: Explaining this would take a lot of time (laughs). To start, we were incorrect in evaluating the needs of the consumer. Many of the consumers who purchased the game would have found the DLC package that we prepared unnecessary. Another reason – and this is something that is a bit difficult to explain – but we felt that the position of the XBox360 in the domestic market had changed drastically between the time we released Mamoru-kun and Senko no Ronde DUO. I would end up writing a very long report if I tried to go into detail, so I will not expand on it now.
In regards to incorporating a story with a shooting game, I do not think it is particularly a risky move. On the contrary, I would be very interested in hearing what foreign fans think of the stories included in Japanese games.
gen16: No matter how hard they try, western developers seem unable to make adictive shoot ‘em ups. Why do you think that this is a genre almost exclusive for the Japanese companies?
G.rev: No matter how hard they try, Japanese developers seem unable to make addictive FPS & TPS games (laughs).
Perhaps the reason we have an advantage is that shoot ’em ups were so readily available to the developers of my generation even since our childhood.
gen16: Could you tell us something about your future projects? Will you keep on making new shoot ‘em ups?
G.rev: We would love to be able to say, “We are currently preparing a project that will surprise everyone. Please look forward to the details!” However, it is a tough situation, not only for us, but for other studios as well. We are working on something we hope gamers will enjoy, so we will continue to try our best.
gen16: What are your favourite shoot ‘em ups?
G.rev: “Fantasy Zone” and “Xevious” are my all-time favorites. “Metal Black” also holds a special place for me as it was one title that inspired me to join the game industry.
gen16: Thank you for your time. We’ll keep playing Strania and your next projects!
G.rev: Thank you as well. Strania is a tough title with some teeth, so we hope your readers will thoroughly enjoy it until we release our next game.
We would like to thank Hiroyuki Maruyama for his time. Also thanks to Sidney for making this interview possible and for the translation.