I would compare EDF 2017 (in the USA) to a cult classic movie—one of those films that is a little too quirky for the mainstream, but manages to amass a diehard following of fanatic fans. The fans know that so many other people would really love it if they just saw it, but for whatever reason—production values, perceived cheesiness, not knowing it even exists, what have you—the film never really gets a widespread general release and doesn’t get viewed by a very big audience.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon (EDF:IA) was our chance to try and make a sequel that would have what it takes to attract a wider audience, while retaining the essence of the original.
When we started on EDF:IA, one of the driving ideas was to Westernize it a bit—make it more accessible to American and European audiences. EDF 2017 was a very Japanese game, which was a big part of its charm. However, it was also a very niche game. I’m not going get into numbers, but 2017 didn’t ship a whole lot of units here in the US. For better or for worse, the game industry is just that, an industry where sales drive everything. I believe we were extremely fortunate to be given a chance to work within the EDF universe and I am really proud of what we accomplished.
One area we felt was pretty ripe for change in EDF was the visuals. While they got the job done and had a certain charm, the graphics and animation in 2017 didn’t do it any favors in the US marketplace. 2017 came along fairly early in the life cycle of the Xbox 360 and definitely lacks much of the visual polish that video game fans of today demand. At the same time, it’s pretty apparent that Sandlot made a lot of the choices they made in order to have huge numbers of huge bugs rampaging all over huge city areas.
I’m going to kind of make a generalization here. I am definitely aware that it doesn’t apply to everyone, but Western gamers, especially when it comes to shooters, prefer more realistic graphics and animations. 2017 is one of those games that a lot of people will look at and dismiss outright—until they play it.
We kept a degree of stylization and exaggeration, but tried to apply a more western sensibility to the visuals in EDF:IA. The degree of detail and realism was definitely limited a bit by the need for online network speed and the number of enemies in the game at a given time. The game had to run smoothly for network play. If the game chugged then network updates couldn’t be transmitted to other players often enough. Also from a development perspective I think we’d have trouble getting a game that chugged as often and severely as 2017 approved by Sony or Microsoft these days. We also managed to improve lighting and general atmosphere of the levels, while adding in as many ambient items and props as possible for the player to destroy.
As far as the character design goes, we definitely felt the protagonist (Storm 1) was due for bit of a makeover if he was going to appeal to Western audiences. Storm 1 was a skinny and not particularly masculine fellow in a gray jumpsuit with weird swivel-hips. Now, you don’t actually play as Storm 1 in EDF:IA, but as an American counterpart of his called Lightning Alpha. Lightning Alpha is a bit more buff and gruff than Storm 1 and has his choice from 4 different powerful armors which give him a wider range of abilities. Class-based shooters, like the Battlefield series and Team Fortress 2, are favorites of a lot of the people on the team and having the increased number of character abilities suits a variety of play styles. The armors also gave me the opportunity to design some fun game mechanics for a more robust team play experience.
We also did a revamp of the upgrade and weapons systems. The random weapons drops in 2017 were cool, but grinding for weapons drops definitely became a necessity and could easily become a source of frustration for lots of folks. Add the fact that each of the four armors in EDF:IA has a completely separate set of weapons into the mix and it could become very frustrating trying to upgrade the weapons for your armor of choice. You can certainly still do a bit of grinding in EDF:IA—the game was designed to be replayed over and over—but the path to the best weapons and armor upgrades is definitely clearer. Armors are upgraded through experience—the more you play with a particular armor, the more you level it up. We wanted to allow for upgrading and progression without clunky points allocation systems or overly complex RPG elements to slow things down too much. You play with an armor, you get kills, and your armor gets better.
To this point, I have really just talked about the things that are different. What we kept—which is probably most important—is the fun and thrill of fighting against overwhelming swarms of huge bugs and robots with terrifically powerful weapons. The core of what makes EDF fun is pretty simple in a lot of ways, but took a lot of time and effort to capture. This game is not the exact same game as 2017, but I think we made a game that stays true to its roots and can bring some new fans to the series. I am personally really excited to see what Sandlot comes up with in their forthcoming EDF game, but until then I’ll be online blasting bugs in EDF: Insect Armageddon. I’ll let you in on a little secret: as a developer, it is a rare thing to even want to see a game again by the time it is finished. I’m not kidding. I am also not kidding when I say that I can’t wait for EDF:IA to hit the shelves so I can grab it and play some more. See ya in New Detroit!
Lead Designer Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon
Vicious Cycle Software
Spencer’s note: If you missed our Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon developer blog series check out these posts!