NIS America is bringing Birthdays the Beginning to the West and this game takes players back to the beginning of life on Earth. With help from an alien who can make mountains rise and dig down to the planet’s core you can see life evolve from plankton to mammals. Siliconera spoke with Yasuhiro Wada, the luminary designer behind Harvest Moon to talk about his latest creation.
Wada-san you’ve made creative games where you build a world like the Harvest Moon / Story of Seasons series. How do you come up with new video game ideas?
Yasuhiro Wada, Director: [Laughs] That is a difficult question. The biggest idea I have is a bit different, when a new game is created, players think this game might be similar to another game. As a creator, I want to create a completely new game so players see something brand new.
What did you want to do differently with Birthdays that you couldn’t do with your other titles?
I wanted to create a game that allows players to change the planet. There are similar games like SimEarth or SimCity that came out in the past, but I think consumers would stray away from them because they are complex and hard to play. For Birthdays the Beginning, one of the concepts was a strong simulation game, but to make it easy for any casual gamer to play right away.
How did Toybox partner with Arc System Works to create Birthdays the Beginning?
Mr. Kanazawa was originally working with Arc System Works and I had an opportunity to meet with them and have dinner from time to time. On one of those nights, Mr. Kidooka (President of Arc System Works) asked would you like to create something for us and I has always had an idea about creating a game like this. Mr. Kidooka said, "OK let’s try this out."
My interpretation of the meeting is Arc System Works is famous for fighting games, but if Mr. Kidooka can have me make a completely different game it could expand the scope of games they can publish. I don’t know if this is true, it’s just my feeling. [Laughs]
In Birthdays the Beginning you create different kinds of characters depending on the temperature and if you make a tall mountain you can quickly create a cold area. Why did you use height as a mechanic?
One of the biggest factors in the game is temperature and the reason I chose height is it is really easy for anyone to realize that you visualize when you’re in the mountains it is cold. When you’re close to sea level and desert areas are hot. It’s very easy to visualize.
How do these items work in the game?
When a new player picks up the game, they want humans and dinosaurs to coexist in the same world. Items can be used to make this happen. Items are a way to support a player’s imagination. If you look at completion rate in this game, if you don’t use items you get rated higher. You aren’t required to use items in the game. One of the most important concepts for this game is to give players the most flexibility as possible. By adding items, I think we were able to make this possible.
Birthdays shows life from dinosaurs to humans. What are some of your favorite organisms in the game?
I questioned why I was here in this world and I wanted to represent in this game how from nothing human life was created. When you start the game you start with absolutely nothing, but as you play the game you see the history of Earth. You see all of these organisms that lead up to humans. There are 300 species, I’m not saying it is a small number, but I would have like to put over 1,000 species in the game.
My favorite animal is the predecessor to humans, Ardipithecus, the branch between monkeys and humans. Baragwanathia is my favorite because one of the staff members at NIS America had a really hard time pronouncing the word at the beginning. [Laughs] Baragwanathia is the base of most of the plant life in the game, so it is like the mother of plant life. After the Baragwanathia is created it gives green life to the world. Even when you start playing the game until you get the Baragwanathia you don’t see much color – gray maybe a little blue – then you start seeing the green color expanding and I really like seeing the visualization of plants expanding in the game.
At the beginning of the game do players have single-celled organisms?
There is one kind of single celled organism in the game, plankton. These aren’t really visualized, but when you start the game you get plant plankton and animal plankton. From there you get the first visualized creature, the Stromatolite. There is a food chain aspect to the game. Plant plankton is at the bottom of the food chain. After plant plankton is created, animal plankton appear and eat those. That is the first stage of the food chain people can interact with in the game. That being said, it isn’t something players will focus on. It is an idea in the game, but it’s more of a system or function that being a major part of the game.
Can dinosaurs eat people in Birthdays?
[Laughs] Animals eating each other isn’t visualized in the game, but the carnivores dinosaurs will eat herbivore dinosaurs. What you will see is herbivores will go extinct if the carnivores eat all of them and then the carnivores will go extinct. For now, dinosaurs don’t eat humans for many different reasons. [Laughs] But, that is something we will consider in future iterations of the game.
What interested you about the evolution and the history of Earth to create Birthdays: The Beginning?
I have always been fascinated with outer space and evolution. When I was younger I read the Origin of Species from Darwin which was the basis for the game. The development team and I used a vast library of books that elaborated on Darwin’s theory of evolution.
There is one character in Birthdays that isn’t in evolution books, the alien you control. Can you tell us about him?
The alien is more of a facilitator of how the game was designed. I wanted to keep the game as simple as possible and to do that I wanted to create an action aspect to the game. The alien flies around and you move this character to raise and lower the land. The alien allows us to have an action based simulation game. That’s a game system explanation, but from a story aspect the alien also teaches you why you have to create this world from nothing. I’m going to keep this part a secret for now. [Laughs]
What are some interesting worlds the development team built while playing Birthdays the Beginning?
During Tokyo Game Show, there was a person from Arc System Works who was recreating Japan by making different parts of the country into the game. I found this fascinating and different landmarks like Mt. Fuji were made too! The creator even had details like using an item to add snow to Mt. Fuji.
Birthdays the Beginning is coming to PlayStation 4 and also Steam too. What are your plans for the PC version? Have you thought about supporting mods?
PC is a great platform. One of the biggest features of Steam is there are users from all over the world that have easy access to the game. The PC version will have three control schemes: mouse-only, mouse plus keyboard and controller mode. Mods are a fun idea that I might implement in the future. From an engine standpoint it’s hard adding mods into this game may break the simulation aspect, but it is something I am interested in.
You mentioned "Beginnings" is a subtitle. Do you plan for Birthdays to be a series for Toybox with future installments?
I have tons of ideas for Birthdays, which is why the title is Birthdays the Beginning. This is something I want to expand on in the future.