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By Spencer . January 23, 2009 . 2:00pm
When I think of Afro Samurai the first things that come into mind are Samuel Jackson and ultraviolence. I’m not a fan of excessive gore, but Gonzo’s unusually high production values kept me glued to the short series.
Before Afro Samurai aired on Spike TV Namco Bandai thought it would make a great game. Unlike their other anime based games Afro Samurai is being developed in house at Namco Bandai Games America and will be the first game published under their Surge label. To find out more about Afro Samurai and what it does differently from other action games we spoke to Justin Pease (Programmer / Designer), Daryle Tumacder (Designer), and Patrick ‘Caso’ Santiago (Designer/ Graphic Artist) the development team at Surge.
Who is developing Afro Samurai? Is it being made in house at Namco Bandai Games America?
Yes. It is being created in-house at Santa Clara, CA under Namco Bandai’s Surge brand. The Afro team is a dedicated group of individuals dead-set on producing great games through fresh new ideas.
How did Namco Bandai acquire Afro Samurai license?
A producer at Namco Bandai brought in a teaser trailer of the Afro Samurai anime well before it was in full production. It was an impressive montage of a fresh new character performing incredible samurai feats. Many of us that saw it immediately said, “This would make a great game.” Talks between Namco Bandai and Gonzo soon followed.
The anime series was a story about revenge. What is the story like in the video game and how does it expand on the manga/anime?
We stayed true to Afro’s character and to his determination in finding his father’s killer.
Okazaki allowed our script writer and the team in general to be creative in our own retelling of the story. People will notice that the manga, the anime and the game all have different versions of Afro’s story. Due to the game’s length, however, one can argue, that the games goes deeper into the story and into the personalities of the many characters than Afro Samurai’s other inceptions.
Are any characters from Afro Samurai: Resurrection going to debut in the game?
The characters in the original series and the manga are the ones most represented in the game. Afro Samurai: Resurrection was produced well after our team had started creating the game.
What was the most difficult part about translating the anime series into 3D?
Staying faithful to a world represented first in a 2D medium such as manga or anime is always a challenge. The first hurdle is the look. Several programmers and artists worked tirelessly to develop and create the hand drawn look the game has.
When I played Afro Samurai there was a move where Afro could slice enemies into pieces while everything was in slow motion. Where did the idea for focus slices come from?
One of our engine’s standout features is its ability to dynamically slice character models. We were looking for a way to put it to good use, and the Perfect Slice mechanic fit the bill perfectly.
It was an original idea, seen initially in a dream, by one of our designers and further developed as a way to bring the precision and immediacy of first-person shooter games into a world of close-range sword combat. Our designers, programmers and artists all teamed up to develop it into what it is today, and we’re proud of the result. The ability to slice any enemy in half (or more pieces) and choose exactly where to slice them is an incredibly satisfying skill to master. It really makes playing the game a different experience. Remember these three simple steps: hold, aim, release.
What other stylish techniques does Afro have in battle?
Well first of all, Afro is a samurai, so of course has he has various ways of attacking with his katana. In addition to the Slice mode, Afro can sometimes enter an Overfocus mode, where the screen goes black-and-white, everything slows down except for Afro, and he becomes god-like with the ability to cut through enemies like butter. Besides that, he incorporates some unconventional (for a samurai) ways of attacking such as kicking enemies or hitting them with his scabbard. His kick combos are beautifully brutal.
We also reward players that pay attention to defense: If Afro can time a block perfectly he will stun most enemies. When they’re stunned, in addition to his normal arsenal of deadly attacks, Afro can also pounce on that enemy and try to perform one-hit kills like slicing their head off, stabbing them through the forehead, stomping their face into the ground, or throwing them off a cliff. From kicks, scabbard hits, pounces, and of course his katana, Afro has a wide range of abilities for taking care of his enemies and we feel players are going to have a ton of fun. Everything that Afro does to attack is lethal and we wanted to make sure players get a sense of that power. From the air to the ground, from head to toe, he is one bad ass mofo.
How does Afro learn new moves?
Afro’s move set grows through experience points, which are awarded for each killed foe. Specific slices such as head shots, vertical slices between the eyes, and counter slices give the player more experience than any other types of kills. A “valid hand” in the Body Part Poker mini-game rewards the player with an enormous amount of experience as well, especially a good hand such as a “straight flush” (slice off one head, one pair of arms, and one pair of legs). This mini-game is only available in specific situations.
The ‘Father’s Legacy’ moves are a set of special skills that are not achieved through experience alone, but rather by collecting ‘mementos’. Each ‘memento’ is represented by flocks of crows, five sets of which can be found in each main level. When you collect all five you’ll acquire a new skill which depends on the level you’re in. Like any other skill, you can see instructions for performing them and examples of these moves by visiting the Skills Menu. If you look closely, you’ll see that the Father’s Legacy skills are being performed by Afro’s father.
I recall music plays a role with enemy spawns. How did you create this system?
This system is called MIB (Music Inspired By). Essentially, this system allows game designers to place markers on music waveforms and then make scripted events that match up with the markers in the music, thus creating movement and events that are synched to the beat.
Is there going to be any downloadable content for Afro Samurai in the future?
We currently don’t have plans for downloadable content at this time.
Are you using the voice actors from the series like Samuel Jackson?
All the favorites from the series are in the game: Samuel Jackson, Ron Pearlman, Kelly Hu, and Phil LaMarr as well as some great talent exclusive to the game such as John Di Maggio, Lexi Jourden, Morgan Sheppard, and Yuri Lowenthal.
What was it like working with Jackson in the studio?
Sam Jackson is the perfect voiceover actor. He is fun to work with, professional, and creative. He loved the script but also took advantage of the freedom to improvise. A more in-depth diary of the voice recording sessions can be found here.
Images courtesy of Namco Bandai.