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Interview: Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness’ Cool Action, Hot Tracks

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gotta protectors cart of darkness interview

Ancient’s Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness launches in the West later this week. Siliconera asked the crew behind the game about it: developer Makoto “Karu_gamo” Wada, localization pro Brian Gray, 8-4’s John Ricciardi and Ancient boss and composer Yuzo Koshiro.

Graham Russell, Siliconera: We have to start with this one: it’s been years since the game launched in Japan. What took so long? [laughs] Explain yourself!

John Ricciardi, 8-4: Well, you see, we just had so much fun naming those 948 parody NES carts, and since each one took about a half a day to perfect. If you take that number, divide by 365, carry the one…

No, just kidding! Part of it was the pandemic eating into our scheduling plans a bit, and part of it was just trying to find the best timing possible to give the game a chance at success. As I’m sure you know, the localized 3DS version of Gotta Protectors was very much well-loved, but being a digital-only 3DS release confined to just North America, it didn’t really have a chance to properly shine.

By the time we were ready to release the Switch game last year, it was edging a bit too close to Q4 for us to feel comfortable, so we decided to wait until early 2022. Then it was just a matter of aligning schedules with Limited Run, since from the beginning we wanted to offer a physical version as well as digital for fans of the series.

gotta protectors cart of darkness interview

What’s the design idea behind letting players rotate through a squad of three characters? Why make that change?

Makoto Wada, Ancient: In the previous game, Gotta Protectors, we added the ability to change your character mid-map. Doing so made us realize how much that opened up the game in terms of strategy. On top of that, since this entry features even more playable characters to choose from, we decided to give players the ability to select a team of three from the get-go.

The train track allows for the same-screen gameplay of the first game with the larger maps of the second. Was that the driving force behind this idea? Were there other inspirations or reasons? (Do you just like trains?)

Wada: When we started work on this game, we had actually done so with the intention of porting the Xbox 360 version. However, as development continued, things began to change. Before we knew it, it had turned into a completely different beast.

The first thing we decided was that four players should be able to play together on one Switch. To that end, instead of allowing any one player to wander freely around the battlefield on their own, we aimed to design it such that battles would be resolved within the boundaries of a single screen. But battling over and over again in the same space would get tiring, so we thought it might be more fun if the battlefield was constantly on the move.

That said, since four players can play simultaneously, there needed to be a clear objective that would keep everyone from getting separated. That’s when we thought of having the castle itself move on a railway track as a way of combining all these elements.

ancient yuzo koshiro makoto wada karu_gamo interview

We can’t say the Gotta Protectors 3DS localization was safe — it certainly wasn’t — but it definitely feels like you’ve amped up the tone and personality in Cart of Darkness. How did you approach the feel for this one?

Brian Gray, translator: By being ready to be silly! Not much has changed since the last time. This is still a weird little world where everybody knows they’re in a video game. The script and characters were already loaded with personality in Japanese, so honestly, we just did our best to stay out of the way with the translation.

We did put a ton of work into the art, though! The obvious stuff you can already see in the announcement trailer — the NES cart in place of a Famicom cart, for example — but there’s lots more to find as you play. We lucked out, because Wada-san is a mad genius who can make gorgeous pixel art in his sleep. We’re really excited about how well that stuff came together.

Oh! And this time around, we sprung for an English voice track featuring Erica Lindbeck. The Japanese audio is included too, but if you play in English you may find a few bonus… surprises? I don’t want to spoil it.

gotta protectors cart of darkness interview

The game includes a ton of collectible cartridges, each with a whimsical name. What was the localization process like for these? Which were your favorites?

Gray: Once we decided we were including the NES library and not the Famicom library, we basically had to tear it all down and start over again.

Every cart you collect can be equipped and leveled up. You get one stat for collecting the cart, and a second “secret” stat for leveling the cart up. The secret stat is tied to some notable quality of the game. So for example, if you find the “Spacetroid” game and level it up, you’ll unlock the “JUSTIN BAILEY” stat. We even tried to make the cart labels the same color as the games they were parodying. There are 948 of these, by the way!

We didn’t want to break the game balance, so even through the cart system is rebuilt from the ground up, we took careful pains to make sure the way you unlock the carts and the overall stat distribution is exactly the same as the Japanese version.

But… if you think you’ll be able to find all the carts just by looking at a Japanese wiki? Well… we did do a sneaky thing.

I have a ton of favorite carts, but I don’t want to spoil them. I played a lot of “Spike Biter’s Sock-Out!!” and “Zebra Gaiden II: Dark Stripes at Dawn” when I was kid.

Ricciardi: It took us a while to lock down all the cart names, but we had a blast doing it. We commissioned made-up NES-style box art for a bunch of them, too! In fact, 12 of our favorites are included in the Limited Run Collector’s Edition in trading card form. We’re thinking about interesting ways to share some of the others with the public, so stay tuned for that.

What was the hardest thing in the game to localize? How did you handle it?

Gray: Other than the carts? Well, there are three songs with singable lyrics this time instead of two. And a system that auto-generates fake names and cities. And the art is still tile-based, so we had to squeeze menu text into the usual tiny spaces.

Also, whenever you unlock a cart, you unlock the hint text for that cart so you can find its cart brethren in the same stage. Checking all that stuff was weeks of fun!

8-4 john ricciardi brian gray interview protect me knight

Could we see the first two games brought back or preserved in some way? Both released on download services with limited or no access these days.

Wada: We’ve thought ourselves about how we’d like to bring back the first two games in some way.

As far as the first game, Protect Me Knight, goes though? That game was written in C# using XNA Framework. I hate to admit it, but that was the first code I’d written as a programmer, so it’s honestly a bit of a mess. Because of that, I think porting it to a modern system would be tough.

As I mentioned earlier, we had originally planned on making Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness a port of Protect Me Knight, but among other things, with the situation being what it was, we ended up developing it by just referencing the source instead of actually running it on the same code. And then before we knew it, it had become a completely different game.

Regarding the second title for Nintendo 3DS? Since that system has two screens (including a touch screen), we would have to remake a large part of the game to make it work on one screen. Fortunately, though, the game doesn’t make much use of features like stereoscopic 3D or the touch screen. If we were to ignore the old-school “Famicom-ness” that comes with the second screen, it would be possible to make it work on PC. But I’m not sure removing those elements would make fans very happy.

We’re on the lookout for an avenue that will make everyone happy, so please hang in there for now!

gotta protectors cart of darkness interview

The Cart of Darkness DLC adds a lot of variations of the game’s soundtrack, each built using the specs of a different retro console. What inspired that? And which is your personal favorite?

Yuzo Koshiro, Ancient: There honestly wasn’t any one particular inspiration for the idea. I really just started it on a whim. I had previously played around with arranging my own music using FM synthesizers and SNES samples on Twitter, so if I had to attribute it to something, I’d say it came from that. Every console has its own unique sound and the emotional attachment that comes with it, so I hope you’ll enjoy the differences between each sound chip!

Cart of Darkness is packed with little secrets to find. Any chance you could point us toward one of its harder-to-find objectives?

Gray: Hmm… there is a mighty code guarded by the portrait of the ancient master where the rolling staff lies. But we probably shouldn’t talk about that.

Thanks to the whole crew for answering our queries! Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness launches April 14, 2022 on Nintendo Switch. In addition to an eShop release, a physical cartridge is on the way from Limited Run Games.

Disclosure: A member of the Siliconera staff contributed to the production of the physical edition of the game. That staff member is in no way involved with the writing or publication of this article.

Graham Russell
Graham Russell, Siliconera's Managing Editor, has been writing about games for various sites and publications since 2007. He’s a fan of streamlined strategy games, local multiplayer and upbeat aesthetics. He joined Siliconera in February 2020. When he’s not writing about games, he’s a graphic designer, web developer, card/board game designer and editor.