One of the things that I really like about Destructoid is the website’s propensity for covering weird and obscure indie games, where the only criteria for their inclusion is whether they resonate with Destructoid’s editorial staff. And so it was that whilst I was browsing their site, I came upon The Game Bakers’ forthcoming Furi game – an in your face boss-themed action game that is unapologetic about wearing its influences wholeheartedly upon its sleeve.
With a neon-coloured art-style that rekindles memories of kitsch 80’s pop, it wasn’t at all surprising to discover that The Game Bakers tries to imbue Furi with the same set of tropes that were so popular during the 80’s gaming era. From the Japanese arcade inspired design principles of yore which set out to provide an action-oriented experience by which the high difficulty could only be overcome by memorising attack patterns as well as by having lightning quick ninja reflexes. And with the main protagonist having a sword, it’s not at all surprising to discover that Afro Samurai creator, Takashi Okazaki, had a hand in character design. And to top this all off, The Game Bakers even sought out the services of famed electro-synth music producer, Carpenter Brut, for the game’s retro futuristic 80’s themed soundtrack.
Furi is looking to be quite an unexpected treat for action fans when it releases later this year. And with Emeric Thoa (Creative Content Director, The Game Bakers) on hand to answer my questions about his game and studio, I really do hope that The Game Bakers’ forthcoming Furi lives up to potential. Enjoy the interview…
What inspired you to work with Afro Samurai creator, Takashi Okazaki, and what language, cultural, and professional barriers did you have to overcome in ensuring that both the French developer The Game Bakers and Japanese manga artist Takashi Okazaki (Japan) were able to operate on the same page?
In order to design a game with only boss fights and where character design was one of the pillars, we wanted to work with one of the best character designers in the world. We are big fans of Okazaki’s character designs and that led us to contact him. We were very lucky that he was interested in the project! The language was not that much of a problem. He speaks English well enough for us to work together, and I have a basic level in Japanese that sometimes helped me understand some details as well. Actually, the approximations in speech or writing were more fun than a real problem.
How did Takashi Okazaki’s visual design creations affect Furi‘s game design? Was his contribution limited to just the Guardian bosses, or did he also have a hand in formulating the game’s levels, stylistic tone and overall gameplay?
His designs had a huge impact on the game. Usually, I would send him a brief about the character, their attitude and gameplay abilities, and when I received a sketch of the boss, Takashi had added so many cool details that I always wanted to review the gameplay and change the game design a little bit to use these ideas and put them in the game. Takashi also helped designing the world and its environment.
It has to be said that the soundtrack to Furi‘s trailer and 10 minute gameplay video is pretty impressive – and this isn’t at all surprising when one realises that Carpenter Brut is the musician responsible. What is the extent of his contribution to Furi‘s soundtrack? Is it just him, or did The Game Bakers collaborate with any other notable music artists for Furi? Will Furi OST be seeing a digital / physical release in future?
Carpenter Brut was onboard on the project from its very beginning and his contribution is therefore incredible. He made several original tracks for the game, but we also collaborated with other well known musicians for the game. We’ll talk about the line-up pretty soon. There will be a soundtrack release as well. We’ll give more details very soon, but believe me it’s only the beginning :-).
Game Bakers’ previous game release history suggests that you were quite comfortable in releasing projects on mobile and Nintendo formats. What made you decide to release Furi on PS4 and PC in this instance, and will you be bringing the game to Nintendo and Microsoft consoles in future?
We thought that this game was a good fit for Sony platforms and chose to focus on PS4 and PC. The game is very Japanese in its design and gameplay and we think the audience that will like it is primarily on these platforms. But I would love to see Furi on other platforms. We are just placing all our efforts on the first two.
Games developed on the Unity engine are notorious for being poorly optimised for consoles. With Sony actively promoting the Unity developed Furi on its website, what steps are you taking to ensure that the game performs as well on consoles as PC?
At the moment, the game is running pretty well on PS4. We have some optimisations planned to ensure the frame-rate will be great – this is required for such a fast-paced game. I don’t think Unity is the problem as a game engine. It’s a matter of choosing a good engine for the design. It’s a game with only two characters on screen, fighting each other. With this concept, we wanted to be able to make the best boss fights, and not have to worry too much about the same technological challenges they have on games like GTA or Assassin’s Creed. Furi is a “gameplay game” first, and Unity is a good engine for that.
You and fellow Game Bakers studio head Audrey Leprince both previously worked in prominent roles at AAA publisher Ubisoft, with you working as Game Director whilst Audrey leprince worked as Senior Producer. What made you decide to give up the big budget lifestyle of working for a major publisher in order to strike it out alone with your own indie studio? What have been the benefits and pitfalls of such a move – not only in terms of creative freedom, amount of resources etc? How feasible would it have been for you to stay on at Ubisoft and convince the publisher to allow you to make passion projects (like Furi) – much like how Far Cry 3‘s Patrick Plourde was able to do so with Child of Light?
We decided to start our own studio with the digital distribution and mobile gaming boom. First, because it was now possible to make games with smaller teams and budgets and also because, yeah… somehow we enjoy the creative freedom. Not that big publishers don’t encourage creativity. They actually do at Ubisoft at least, but because the teams are so big, and the directors so many, you always have to reach some consensus. It’s like a ship where its direction is chosen by fifty people. I wanted to be more in control, be closer to the craftsmanship. I don’t think that’s achievable in a big company, even for games like Child of Light, Valiant Hearts or Grow Home. At one point or another, the Creative Director has to deal with the studio head, the top management, the marketing… If you have a very big influence, like Patrick Plourde or Michel Ancel, you can bend this a lot, but never completely. And I didn’t have the same influence 😉
With your backgrounds in game development tending to favour a realistic portrayal of character styles and animations that made the character heavy and unresponsively laggy, what difficulties have you had in adapting your Euro-centric development approach towards making a game that ultimately favours a more Japanese-centric approach where emphasis is placed on fast paced timing, reflexes and judgement?
Well, that was actually super easy. It’s like you are left handed since you were born, and you use your left hand at home and all the time, except for work. At work, you’re forced to use your right hand for years. And suddenly, this constraint stops and you can use your left hand at work for the first time! This is what happened with Furi. I’ve always played games with Japanese controls and response. Our animator is a big fan of Street Fighter‘s punchiness. Our main programmer is able to do everything but gets what arcade is. It’s actually a simpler way to design, it’s just not trendy. Gameplay and skill is not very trendy, but there are people out there who still like that! ;-). We’ve made Furi for them.
Furi‘s difficulty harks back to an era when games were “easy to learn, hard to master”. With modern videogames tending to favour increasingly complex control systems whilst being neutered in difficulty, with Shigeru Miyamoto recently stating that Nintendo’s forthcoming Star Fox Zero would have an “Invincibility” mode for new players, what difficulties do you envisage in market uptake and player retention when so many people will be initially entranced by Furi‘s uniquely captivating visuals, only to then be turned off by its sheer difficulty?
I strongly believe that, as a game designer, I shouldn’t care at all about these concerns. I believe that games like Demon Soul or Devil May Cry would never have existed if they had been designed with these concerns in mind. Some people out there want gameplay, want skill based challenges and don’t want to have everything simplified. I think that because we are a small team and we are making a somehow niche game, it’s our job to make this game different. It’s our job not to make it “for everyone”. I hope this game won’t please everyone, but for the players who like it, it will be truly outstanding.
Furi looks like it’s an amalgamation of various gameplay styles, where the narrative heavy focus incorporates boss-fight Guardian ruled arenas in which ninja sword fighting takes places alongside bullet hell shoot em up action. What was the inspiration for the project, and what difficulties did you have in ensuring that all of these disparate styles cohesively worked together and where the game was fun?
The game in itself has many inspirations – from games which had super cool boss-fights, like Metal Gear Solid or No More Heroes. But in terms of gameplay, it’s true that there is a shoot em up part and a sword fighting part. The shoot em up part is closer to a dual stick shooter, and the sword fighting… is actually pretty much inspired by Super Punch Out! It’s all about getting warned, dodging or blocking, and then punishing your opponent when he is vulnerable. These two core game mechanics, that are both very deep, allow us to make each boss unique and the game varied all along.
When is Furi being released and what are The Game Bakers’ future plans? Do you have any intention of supporting the game with DLC, or will you be moving across to new projects?
The game is pretty close to being finished and will release in 2016, we have yet to make sure which month! We don’t plan to make any DLC at the moment, but I hope that could happen if the players love the game and actually want more. We are also thinking about new projects as well, some of it action based and some completely different! But it’s way too soon to say more.