As part of its deal to develop music games for the PS Vita, recently formed South Korean outfit Nurijoy entered into an affiliate relationship with SCEK (Sony Computer Entertainment Korea) earlier this year. By drawing upon the former Pentavision developers’ heritage of developing the DJ Max series, Nurijoy set about creating Superbeat Xonic in tandem with another studio harboring former Pentavision employees – PM Studios. Thus, and with publishing assistance from Acttil, a unique co-producing collaboration was born. Indeed, Michael Yum (CEO of PM Studios and Game Director of Superbeat Xonic) summed up this partnership when he affirmed (via a Press Release) that: “I’m extremely excited to work with my former colleagues and bring what I feel is our spiritual successor to DJ MAX. We’ve been listening to the fans and decided that the Vita was the best platform for our players. I’m also very honored to work with the talented folks at both Nurijoy and Acttil on this new endeavor. With the former DJ MAX developers at both PM Studios and Nurijoy developing what they’re best at and by allowing Acttil to help us bring this game to the market, I feel we can give the players something they can really enjoy”.
Featuring over 50 tracks, Superbeat Xonic is ear-marked to offer a powerful music game experience with Vita-optimised play chart. And with PS TV support also confirmed, the game is certainly shaping up to cement Sony’s Vita as the rhythm game machine of choice this generation, as not only will it be launching at a time when the genre is receiving more mainstream exposure than ever before, but will also be coming out at a time when the market receives games like Guitar Hero Live, Persona 4: Dancing All Night, Deemo, Taiko no Tatsujin, and IA/VT Colorful. As part of this, and to find out a little bit more about the game, I sat down with Michael Yum (Game Director and CEO of PM Studios) and Tyrone Walcott (Publisher and PR representative for Rising Star Games), and got to speak to them about how the game will benefit from this trend in the UK. Enjoy the interview!
Michael Yum, as the developer of Superbeat Xonic, which I guess is the spiritual successor to DJ Max Technica… Given the declining nature of how the Vita is faring, what made you decide to focus on developing Superbeat Xonic for the Vita in today’s market?
Michael Yum – So we started off developing for the PSP and that was actually our first dive into development. And when we first started developing for PSP, there was a lot of piracy for the console, so people told us the same thing, you know, “why are you doing it for the PSP”? But surprisingly in Korea and Japan, it’s still a really popular platform and a lot of people are on the go and we try to emphasize a lot on like HD graphics and at the time the DS just couldn’t handle the things we wanted to do for DJ Max, right? So the PSP worked out and the game did a lot better than what we thought. I think we sold maybe like ten or twenty times more than what we had originally hoped for.
This is DJ Max Technica?
Michael Yum – DJ Max Portable for the PSP actually. So we were developing for something that people had doubts for, but the platform was just the best fit for the game, and it worked out for us. Technica was actually an arcade game at first. At the time there really weren’t too many multi-touch screens. The iPhone hadn’t come out yet, so when we wanted to develop Technica, we knew that we needed to work with technology that wasn’t out there yet. So that’s why we decided to make it an arcade game. Afterwards, when we want to do a new followup to DJ Max, we knew that we needed a touch screen again, but something a little bit more sophisticated, sort of like mobile devices and stuff… So the Vita was pretty much the only platform that could handle the game that we wanted to make.
What about the iPad or the iPhone?
Michael Yum – We like the iPhone and the iPad, and we are developing mobile games for that too, but we really wanted to develop another core game for the gamers, and mobile devices aren’t really capable of doing the stuff that we wanted to do. The file size is 2-3 Gigabytes and nobody wants to download something like that on mobile devices, and they’re more for the mainstream. We just wanted to make something for the DJ Max fans, the Vita and PlayStation fans, and also for rhythm game fans. I don’t think they like to play too much on mobile phones.
You mentioned as to how the file size is around 3 Gigabytes. Will the game be download only, or will it be coming out in the UK as a physical release?
Tyrone Walcott – For UK, we’re going to have physical.
Michael Yum – And digital obviously for UK as well.
Will it be a limited print run?
Tyrone Walcott – We’re in discussions right now. We will be having an exclusive, which we’ll probably sell directly from Rising Star Games. It will come in a special package, and it will come with some really special music themed memorabilia that we will reveal in due course. There is going to be a Special Edition, because that’s what the fans want, and we’re going to try and answer what the fans want.
Mr Yum, I know that the Vita doesn’t have much of a market-share in the UK and the US – the West, basically… what made you confident in thinking that… I mean, I love my Vita and I’m not a skeptic. I wish it did better than the 3DS because I look at the 3DS from a hardware perspective and I’m like “what is this rubbish”? What made you confident in believing that Superbeat Xonic will be successful in the West, especially to the extent that you’ve partnered up with Rising Star Games who are releasing a physical version of the title?
Michael Yum – You know, we’ve always had this thought where if you try to jump in where all the giants are, then you’ll never be able to come out and shine. So if we wanted to make it for PlayStation 4, then Harmonix is there already, and Activision is doing Guitar Hero Live. So like I said, when we did the arcade stuff, we went somewhere where, even with the PSP, there were a lot of gamers that were hungry for content and where we didn’t have too much competition. We just wanted to make something that they’d really enjoy. So we knew that there was a chance that the Vita could hurt us, and we did the same thing for the PSP, and we did the same thing for the arcade, but our goal is just to make the best thing that we can for the platform. At least make the people who do own the platform, and who do want to play the game happy. Then, we can always make follow-ups or successors to it on other platforms. But for now… and I love the Vita too. Everybody who I know who has a Vita loves their Vita, more than any other console actually. So I think we’re okay. We’re not trying to sell millions of copies like Rock Band. We’re just trying to make a good game for the gamers… Vita gamers.
Rising Star Games have a history of partnering with developers that make niche products – for example, Cave. And the thing is that Cave… I mean, regardless of how we look at it, whether the game is good or not, ultimately it’s a business, and you’re in the market of selling. Can I just ask, given that Superbeat Xonic is coming on a machine that has a limited market, how confident are you that Superbeat Xonic will be able recoup its development and publishing costs?
Tyrone Walcott – From Rising Star Games, we always try to cherry pick the best titles that suit what we do. And as Rising Star Games, we know that we’re not going to be competing with those guys… the bigger Triple A Publishers, but we know who we are. We’ve got an identity. Everybody knows what we do. I’m very proud of that, and there’s no point in us hiding away saying we’re going to sell millions of units and then lying to people. We know that there’s a market, especially when it comes to games that don’t really get a chance to get out there. Without publishers like Rising Star Games, you wouldn’t see a Superbeat Xonic, you wouldn’t see a random game that we do release – like La-Mulana Ex for instance – something that you would wish did come out on console. But we try our best to cater to them.
I’m just talking about it from a perspective of production values, because when you mention the PS4, many people think “Whoa, that game has a Triple A budget, or something close to that”. Now, obviously when a game comes out on PS Vita, given the fact that it’s a physical release, given the fact that it’s part of a genre that has limited appeal… I just wanted to know as to how confident both the publisher and the developer are about…
Tyrone Walcott – That’s where we build our community from. We know who our community are. They respond to us [and] we speak to them on a daily basis. Our social media network is a growing network for us and we constantly engage with people. We go to places like MCM where you get people who are really into Asian culture and they embrace it and they’re from and across Europe. And we’re kind of gathering all these people together and showing them what we can get for them. As you said with the Cave titles for instance, people really wanted that stuff, and we answered that question for them. So games like Superbeat Xonic… we’re really, really confident that that market is still available. People want to play those games, we just [have to] get it to them, and then we’ll start seeing a response to that. And it’s quality like this that we try to look for. We don’t ever want to go with something that is sub-par and that’s not really ready. This is a polished game. If you look at it yourself, you’ll see that it’s a visual masterpiece and some of that stuff, it hits on point. Like when you see that kind of arcade style, it’s very hard to put something like that on a handheld. And it’s taken it to the next level.
What sort of marketing tactics will you be using in order to get the word out there for gamers who may be interested in wanting to pick up Superbeat Xonic?
Tyrone Walcott – We are trying to focus more on the music side of things and obviously because of the influences there, we are going to be targeting the DJ Max and actual nightclub [scene] as well. We really want to try and go down that kind of line. We obviously want to go to Eurogamer Expo and get the game to the core gamers. There’s an opportunity here to expand beyond that and reach the 18–30 market, that really are engaged in music up to current trends, and try to market to those guys… try to come from more of an adult side of things. I mean, kids will still try to play it, but I think that there’s a market here for people that have grown up in the arcades and have a Vita and they’re more of a mature kind of gamer and they’re really interested in that kind of sense. And that’s sort of where we’re coming from in this one.
Michael, as a dance based title, what steps have you taken to create and license the kind of music that would be suitable for Superbeat Xonic?
Michael Yum – We just took all the same methods as DJ Max. We hired all the DJs in house and we didn’t want to work with too many licenses. We straight out bought all the tracks. So we master everything in house, we hire all the DJs, all the musicians, and bring them in for this project. I tried to do the licensing stuff before and it’s just too hard to work with. But it doesn’t mean that we won’t license stuff. I’m looking into trying to expand the library beyond what we have. But yeah, we did everything in-house. We’ve never had a problem.
What other markets ae you looking to release Superbeat Xonic in?
Michael Yum – Arc Systems just announced that they’re releasing it in Japan. Sony in Korea is releasing it in Korea. We’re releasing it ourselves in the US, and Rising Star Games in Europe. I think we’ve covered almost…
Tyrone Walcott – Yeah, the globe’s covered now.
How many people would you argue have worked on Superbeat Xonic in total on the developing stuff?
Michael Yum – I would say, without the music, around 13-14 [full time].
How long has the production schedule been?
Michael Yum – 11 months.
When is Superbeat Xonic looking to be released from a worldwide perspective?
Tyrone Walcott – We’re looking for a simultaneous release point.
Michael Yum – We’re looking at a worldwide release…
Tyrone Walcott – Where the 20th October is the planned date. We might move it forward or backward a week, but it’s going to be around that time…
But the game is generally finished?
Tyrone Walcott – Yeah, well, we’re as close to finished as you can get. So, it’s just about the finishing touches really, and polishing some…
Michael Yum – Adding extra stuff.
Tyrone Walcott – That goes back to the tracks that you are talking about and we’re going to be including some extra tracks. But for later on, we will be having tracks coming from different games actually. Mike has worked with other developers…
Michael Yum – We put BlazBlue, Guilty Gear… we’re talking to some other developers, but their soundtracks are in the game.
I know that there are some games on the PSP that haven’t been able to be released on the Sony digital store because of music licensing problems. Have you suffered from any music licensing problems, in terms of getting the track onto the machine, in a different market?
Michael Yum – When we’re licensing [the tracks], we have to tell them that it just wouldn’t be fair for the other publishers if we have it exclusively [for one market]. So we need it worldwide or we can’t license it. So as much as I want it, if I can’t get it, it wouldn’t be fair to everybody so I just won’t license it then.
Tyrone Walcott – It’s better way to work that way anyway because at least you get a consistent message going across as well.
Michael Yum – I wouldn’t want some gamers in certain countries saying “it’s not fair that we don’t have that track”, or something like that. Really, we want the gamers to be really happy. They’re our fans so the last thing that we want is backlash in any way. We don’t want to be biased in terms of specific territory, and our fans are just our fans. It shouldn’t be US fans, UK fans, Asian fans… they’re just our fans.
Even though the game is basically in the final stages of being polished and ready for release, but post-launch, what will you be doing to promote the product? Will you be releasing DLC packs, music tracks, or would you be going over to the next project?
Michael Yum – We are both looking at something else and we do want to keep supporting this game. I am looking into DLC possibilities to extend the life of the game, and we do have a lot of network features… little things that people can update to keep the game going. I think there will be a lot of surprises for people. I’m trying my best to make sure that we’ve answered every fans wishes.
Tyrone Walcott – There is a lot of longevity in the game itself. So as much as you’re playing one track, you can vary the way the track is, interact with the UI… from changing sounds to changing the way that the hit patterns are. So there’s a lot of content that will keep on going. Plus, there are the leader boards as well, so the leader boards will keep people coming back as well.
Michael Yum – There’s a ‘World Tour’ mode… we have a lot of surprises for the fans. A lot of surprises. We’ll keep updating things and new things will happen.
Aside from Supersonic Beat, do you have any plans for future titles?
Michael Yum – We do. But we just can’t announce it yet, but we do.
Would it be following the music genre, or…?
Michael Yum – I would say yes. We have a team dedicated for music games so… as much as we are going to try to do other things, we want to keep trying to cater to our fans, listening to their feedback, and kind of build this brand again.
Can I ask… Superbeat Xonic is a complete different title [even though] it’s obviously a spiritual successor to the DJ Max series. Why did you decide to, as it were, forego the notion of building upon the DJ Max brand name and start out afresh, because you’ve kept everything else constant – such as the Sony affiliation?
Michael Yum – The long story short… the company was bought out. A different company now owns the IP so we can’t use the name anymore. That’s pretty much it…
You’ve worked on DJ Max Technica, DJ Max Portable, and now Superbeat Xonic… am I correct?
Michael Yum – Yes.
What is it about the music genre, or the music rhythm genre that keeps on making you come back to it? There are some developers where they try their hand at one thing, and then they move on to something else. They don’t like to box themselves in. They like to be creatively challenged. What is it about the music genre that makes you keep on wanting to come back to it?
Michael Yum – We actually do make games for other genres and other platforms. Some of the things that might surprise people is that we develop Barbie games for iPhone.
Is that only yourself or is it the developer?
Michael Yum – PM studios. We have Barbie games for iPhone. We’ve tried other mobile games and online games but we have these musicians, and the one thing that they’re good at is making specific types of content. We’re kind of a family, so we can’t just drop everything just so that these guys can do something else or go somewhere else. So we have to somehow keep them afloat so we are always looking for ways to at least keep our music trend going. So as much as we’ll try other things in the future, I think it’s safe to say that we’re also going to be doing music stuff along the way.
Have you looked at other music games that belong to the rhythm action genre – such as the Sega published Project Diva series?
Michael Yum – Project Diva… and then I think there’s even Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Yeah, we look at a lot of those games. We like and are inspired by them. But I think if you look at those games, especially those two, they’re like, story driven or character driven. Our game is more focused on the music and the timing of the beats and stuff…
Will you be looking to maybe incorporate some of their avatars as part of your game’s backdrops or anything like that?
Michael Yum – Yeah, I mean we would love to do stuff like that.
Like licensing that that lady (Hatsune Miku) from Project Diva?
Michael Yum – Yeah, we would love to do stuff like that in future. But we’re small and Sega and Atlas are big, so it’s kind of hard for us to reach out to them, and I don’t know if they’ll trust us or want to work with us. Yeah, we’re open to working with other developers, and we would love to.
Tyrone Walcott – The music genre is coming back and you’re seeing it come back with Rock Band and what Mad Catz are doing. Everybody seems to be so fascinated on how they’re going to re-brand this “thing” that was so popular back in the day and [try to] bring it back to life again. I think we’re at the right stage for it. I think the break was long enough. I think people will still want those types of content. This is the [right] time and having Superbeat Xonic is a perfect fit for the PS Vita handheld. Right now, I think it’s a good time for us, and it’s a good time for a game like this at least.
That’s wonderful… thank you.