Well before Double Fine’s adventure game or the Shadowrun Kickstarter, one of the earlier crowdfunded games that caught our attention was Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, based on the famous 1980s anime series that is one of many credited with being part of the movement to popularize anime in America.
In development at German studio, Firehazard, in collaboration with Turrican creator, Manfred Trenz, and his company, Denaris Entertainment Software, the Saber Rider game is a on-rails shooter slated for release on virtually every platform you can think of, from Xbox Live Arcade to 3DS to iPhone. Well, provided Firehazard can find a publisher for the game.
We got in touch with Firehazard managing director, Chris Strauss, to learn a bit more about the game, which was originally announced in September 2010, and if there’s anything going on the publisher front.
The promotional artwork for the game and even the in-game scenes look a lot more serious in tone that the original anime. Is that a deliberate choice, and how will it affect the game?
Chris Strauss, Fire Hazard managing director: Yes, that decision is on purpose because it’s a sort of reboot. We also move away from the anime style a bit to reach a broader audience. To have success with the game we also need to attract people who don’t know the original Saber Rider series or don’t watch anime.
Does the game take place during the course of the original story, or is it a sequel of sorts?
The game takes place mostly during the original story. A sequel makes no sense at this point because many younger people don’t know Saber Rider at all so far.
First, we want to tell all them the original story. If the game is a success, we can think about a sequel but that’s far away.
You’ve chosen to create an on-rails shooter. What do you think this genre allows you to do that will help the game stand out?
Since the original series is from 1987, the plan was always to have classic gameplay in our game. A first-person shooter, for example, wouldn’t fit very well.
With the on-rails route it’s possible for us to re-create events from the original series very closely and we can carry over the original Story best. It offers us a very good way to switch between in game and cut scenes. Because the characters move in a pre-defined way, the player can focus on the story, on the famous characters, on the level content and on his high score.
Footage has shown two kinds of stages so far—an on-rails section where you’re running and gunning, and another section that looks like a fighting game battle against a boss. What other types of play can we hope to see in the final game?
The game will offer 3 kinds of stages. One will be running and gunning, the other one will be riding a vehicle like riding on the robot horse "Steed", driving the "Red Fury" racer or flying the Bronco Buster.
The vehicle stages will follow some sort of on-rails system like Star Fox 64. The third kind of stage is where you have to fight against the Stage End bosses called "Renegades". We’re still experimenting what this will look like at the end because the fights need to look great and carry over the “giant look” you know from the series. Ramrod and the Renegades are 50m high and this need to be reflected in the game.
Which characters will be playable and how will they differ from each other?
The playable characters are Saber Rider, Fireball and Colt. All of them have different weapons, special attacks and their own vehicle.
Have you been able to bring most of the original voice cast back to reprise their roles for the game?
For the German version we have already confirmed the full original cast. Most outside of Germany wouldn’t know this, but the German voice-acting was one of the reasons for the success of the Saber Rider series in the German speaking countries, so we need to include them in the game.
For the English version, however, things are a bit more complicated. We know that the famous Peter Cullen voiced Ramrod, the Episode intros and some other characters as well. We’ll definitely approach Peter Cullen and ask him to reprise his role from the series in the game.
For the other English voice cast, maybe the fans can help us and tell us if they were that good and is it important to have them also in the game.
The music for the original series was one of its most identifiable traits. How are you approaching the music for the new game? Is it remixed versions of the older tracks, or are you using them as-is?
The music of the Saber Rider series is indeed a very important part because it also carries many good memories. In our game we won’t use them as-is, but we approached the famous video game musician, Chris Huelsbeck, to create a soundtrack based upon the original score. For us it is very important that the game score is as good as the original.
We’ve seen prototype screenshots of GBA and Nintendo DS versions of Saber Rider. What can you tell us about those? The GBA version looks like a side-scroller but the DS version looked 3D.
Well, the GBA was almost dead, so the idea was moved over to the DS. It was planned as a side-scroller like Contra III: The Alien Wars on Super NES but with 3D graphics. Unfortunately, the DS wasn’t performing very well with these kind of games. Publishers wanted more casual games like brain trainers, so the project was put on hold.
You’ve got Saber Rider scheduled to release on many, many platforms including consoles, iOS and traditional portable devices like the 3DS. How are you handling them all at once?
The game is developed mostly cross platform with one engine. That way you can offer it on different consoles. Today it is very important to offer a Game to a broad audience otherwise it will fail. For most publishers it is very risky to invest in just one platform.
Our goal is to release the game in 2012, but in the end it’s up to the publisher, and we’re still in need of one. I have a presentation at the end of this month at the Quo Vadis in Berlin. This will be a very good opportunity because publishers, venture capital guys and also sponsors will be there.