Xbox 360

On Designing Death By Cube



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Death by Cube is one of Square Enix’s most “out there” games. It’s an Xbox Live-only twin stick shooter where you blast cubes that explode into puddles of red oil. The mind behind Death by Cube is Yousuke Shiokawa, who worked as a planner on Kingdom Hearts II.


In this interview, Shiokawa discusses elements that inspired Death by Cube, how he chose a team to develop the game, and if the blotches of red stuff is blood or not.


How did you come up with the idea for Death by Cube?


Yosuke Shiokawa, Lead Designer & Director: I love the shooting game called Heavy Weapon, and I was deeply impressed by that title as a game developer when I first played it. I also felt frustrated at the same time. But there was no time for me to be frustrated, and I began to think that it could be possible to create the high-dimensional action game that will have both a feeling of déjà vu and novelty by integrating my accumulated 3D action game know-how from other titles such as Kingdom Hearts into this category! And then, when I came across that possibility, the core mechanics of Death by Cube were mostly solidified.


Death by Cube is a catchy title. How did you come up with it?


Since this title was developed mainly targeting the US market, I thought it best to benefit from the person who knows the market. I asked our localization team to choose the title of the game, and it was born jokingly during some random conversation. I heard that people thought the title was absolutely hilarious when it first came up, but I didn’t really see the humor in it. So I’m really glad that I asked them.


Why did you choose Premium Agency to develop the game?


Since the title has such a high action aspect, from my experiences of developing the Kingdom Hearts series, I felt I would need highly capable staff for this title. However, many of our in-house staff was already working on other titles, and it was difficult to collect the required head-count.


Afterwards, I searched for studios with experience developing action games for Xbox LIVE Arcade in Japan, but they didn’t quite fit, and I continued to search for a long time, even exploring overseas studios. We ended up asking Premium Agency ultimately because of the passion they had for the project. The development team was composed of mainly young staff who had less action game experience, but had great flexibility, so I believe it turned out to be a great collaboration.




There are a lot of twin stick shooters on the market now. How is Death by Cube different from say Geometry Wars?


I understand that there are many twin-stick shooters in the market. We leveraged this situation and ventured to go with the same controls for our title. This is because we didn’t want users to be overwhelmed by the game controls. I think it is a good thing that people feel the game is similar to the other twin-stick shooters. We developed the underlying fun element of the game based on “real time strategy.” Each level has rules and how to set up “strategies” for achieving each norm…we designed this game to make sure these parts would be fun. For the game mechanics side, we aimed to provide the excitement of the “battle tactics” by including a multifunctional button system that can activate two actions (DASH and SHIELD) as well as the dynamic scenes with exchanged gunfire. I just explained it tediously, but I would say it’s easy to understand the game if you would think of it as “Geometry Wars with deeper and extended gameplay.”


What kind of attacks does the robot have?


As you know, the robot shoots toward the direction that player pushes the Right Stick. This is the basic gameplay. By powering up during each level, three different kinds of shots will be added; the homing shot, the rear-attack shot and the side-attack shot. And also, there is an attack where the robot temporarily swings around a huge laser sword. However, since these additional attacks are automatically shot, the player does not have to worry about controls other than pushing the Right Stick.


Can you tell us about the robot design?


There is a grand worldview and emotional background story for these robots, and it will take a long time to explain. LEO, the only robot that is left behind in the world, is the protagonist of the game, and his real name is “037 Model,” the model number of the product. His body has a nested structure with many layers and it’s protecting the main body in the deepest layer. While he possesses some advanced technology, he also has some primitive technology, such as oil being its fuel for movement.


By the way, “Robotron: 2084” has been cited as a connection to the robot setting sometimes, and I appreciate that some users feel the essence of that great title in this one.




The minimalist graphic style stands out too. What inspired it?


This is actually a kind of the challenge we posed on our selves, as we aimed to create a game that “works” even if it is entirely symbol-based (like how NES games were).  I wanted to present to the world that there is no proportional relationship between the root of the fun and the graphical assets, thus we pared and directed to the “simple” style despite the concerns and oppositions of others. I was just igniting to cut and cut, so the art team had to step in to solve my irrational demands, and they really did a good job. You’ve never heard of a game wherein a massive amount of “cubes” are attacking, right?




Is the red "goo" left by cubes supposed to symbolize blood?


In order to bring the quality of the game higher as an action title, we had to create some unusual reactions. The robots’ fuel is the oil, so the oil comes out if they are defeated. However, the oil comes out at a frightening pace here. And it’s that simple. There’s no way a decent, level-headed adult would think  “cubes and robots bleed,” right?

Siliconera Staff
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