Brownie (noun) – in folklore these helpful and hardworking elves do chores at night. Brownie Brown’s name is derived from these mythological creatures.
Before Brownie Brown opened its doors in June 2000 Shinichi Kameoka worked at Square on the Mana series. The studio’s core staff were also part of the Legend of Mana team. However, Brownie Brown isn’t part of Square Enix. The two companies collaborated on projects like Sword of Mana, but Brownie Brown is wholly owned by Nintendo. “When it comes to relations, Nintendo is to Brownie Brown as a parent is to a child,” Kameoka explains. “Without Nintendo, there would be no Brownie Brown. If our game-making origins have us in a parent-child relation with Nintendo, then I guess we’re in a teacher-student relation with Square Enix. They are both incredible companies and it would be presumptuous to call them our equal partners.”
Now President of Brownie Brown Kameoka shares the origins of the studio, “When I was starting the company, I didn’t do it with some grand design or purpose in mind I just felt that creating Brownie Brown would be the best way to setup an effective environment for making games.” Brownie Brown’s first game was Magical Vacation, a sprite art Game Boy Advance RPG only released in Japan. “We still work with good old 2D, but we don’t feel like it’s outdated. We believe that methods of expression in 2D are limitless, and we still want to continue refining our 2D techniques.” About twenty five people are part of the Brownie Brown team not including any employed external staff. For Nintendo DS projects like Blue Dragon Plus they have two production lines, on average.
One of Brownie Brown’s tasks with Blue Dragon Plus was transitioning the gameplay. Instead of being a traditional RPG in the vein of Dragon Quest, Blue Dragon Plus plays more like a real time strategy game with RPG elements. “Personally, on the creative side, I didn’t think there was much of a separation in terms of Blue Dragon Plus being an RPG or a simulation game. We wanted to create a system that makes full use of the DS input device, and tried to add that feeling of tension that is present in real-time online games – the result being the form that the game took.”
Prior to developing Blue Dragon Plus Brownie Brown made Heroes of Mana for Square Enix. Both games have roots in the real time strategy genre, but Blue Dragon Plus does not utilize the previous game’s engine. “Internally we made a totally separate product from scratch, but the know-how from the previous title and the ease in establishing a schedule were both key,” Kameoka clarifies. “We took the complicated, difficult-to-learn system from the last game, and wanted to make it really simple.”
Between shadow battles Blue Dragon Plus tells its story with the help of animated videos. Around a half an hour of cutscenes are sprinkled in the game, which Kameoka tells us was Sakaguchi’s suggestion. “It was Sakaguchi’s idea to include the movies, and FeelPlus did all the movie editing for us. We are incredibly grateful to FeelPlus for creating such a large amount of quality movies for us on such a tight schedule. And the cost is just a side issue as long as the customers are happy with the product – that’s the most important thing.”
But what about new Blue Dragon customers? The series started off as an Xbox 360 game and the universe was further developed through manga, trading cards, and an anime. Can someone without any previous exposure to Blue Dragon start with Blue Dragon Plus? “Yes, I think so,” Kameoka replies. “Based on the way it was made, I think it could be a game that ends up having an incredibly broad appeal. The idea of monsters taking form from shadows is a setting that’s very easy to understand, even just by seeing it on screen. But more than anything else, I think it’s just amazing how Akira Toriyama’s artwork can cross oceans and be loved by people all around the world.”
After Blue Dragon Plus is finished Kameoka is considering developing a title for the Wii. “We’re optimistic about it and looking into it.” If such a game is completed it will be the first console game for Brownie Brown. “We’re still a company in development, so we’ve been able to absorb a great deal of experience, and it all means a lot to me.”
Images courtesy of Ignition Entertainment.