When WiiWare launched in Japan a single title constructed in North America was part of the lineup. Saku Saku Panic, better known as Critter Round-Up, was developed by Los Angeles based Epicenter Studios and published by Konami.
Since Critter Round-Up is the only WiiWare game developed in the USA and already out in the world, I thought it would be neat to speak to Konami and Epicenter Studios about their title. In this interview we pulled together James Wong, Associate Producer / Konami, Nathaniel McClure, Chief Executive Officer / Epicenter Studios and Bryan Jury, Chief Creative Officer / Epicenter Studios together to discuss the animal fencing game and Konami’s future WiiWare projects.
Where did the idea for Critter Round-Up come from?
Brian Jury, Chief Creative Officer, Epicenter Studios: Like most studios, we regularly get together to discuss new game ideas. During one particular session, the idea of using classical game concepts as a foundation for new gameplay came up, and I had been thinking about titles such as QIX way more than is probably healthy. I knew there was a new game in there somewhere; I just couldn’t put all the pieces together. Then the method to get all the mechanics to work together literally came to me in a dream. I woke up, wrote it down, presented it to the team, and bingo! Instant game development magic!
How long has the game been in development?
James Wong, Associate Producer, Konami: Critter Round-Up was developed quickly, in about three months. The game went from a barebones prototype to a fun, lighthearted game in a really short amount of time.
BJ: Part of the reason we were successfully able to get a game finished that quickly is by using licensed technology our team was already familiar with. We ended up using the Vicious Engine, which allowed us to get up and running the very quickly. It also allowed us to prototype new ideas or game modes rather painlessly, which really helped us to “follow the fun”.
What was the biggest challenge preparing a launch title for WiiWare in Japan? Did you have a good idea about the other titles in development and your competitor's prices?
JW: The biggest challenges to us were the deadlines. Epicenter really pulled through in developing the game on a tight and changing schedule. As far as other games on the platform, we weren’t aware of other launch titles’ prices until they were revealed in official announcements online.
BJ: While we did check out the competition to see what everyone else was doing, we really just took what guidelines we knew about and ran with our idea. We didn’t necessarily set out to just make a WiiWare game, we set out to make a good game that happened to fit nicely within the WiiWare space. We originally aimed to be finished in mid-February, with any extra time considered a bonus. Turns out we ended up having an extra couple weeks, which is something every developer loves to hear!
Critter Round-Up has some cute scenes where animals chase the man when the stage switches, but it's never clear why he is traveling to different continents and fencing animals into groups. What is his motive and who is this master of taxonomy?
JW: He is a man. A man driven by his desire to.. corral?
BJ: This is something we debated since day one….what’s the story behind the FenceMan (yeah, we never did get a clever name for him)? We brought in a couple of experienced writers to help give us a narrative, and I have to say there were some crazy ideas thrown our way, including preventing a global critter genocide complete with biblical references! In the end, we told Nathaniel to just make the cutscenes cute.
Can you share some tips with our readers on how to clear the adventure mode?
BJ: One thing we’ve been pleasantly surprised by is how different players approach the game in different ways. There seems to be several styles that can all be successful. Personally, I like to be a bit more methodical, fencing off the critters one by one if need be. Then before I finish the level, I’ll break and reconnect a few fences to combine critters, increasing my score. One trick is to just learn the characteristics of each critter as they are all different yet consistent. For example, some will only detect the player within a certain radius in front of them while others will only get spooked if the player sneaks up from behind.
What about some strategies for co-op play?
JW: When corralling the more aggressive critters, it doesn’t hurt for at least one other person to act as bait ;)
BJ: The “buddy system” works very well James, as long as the bait knows just how fast those crocs can move! If you can coordinate your fence building with other players, you can really get those critters captured quickly by each starting a different side of the corral at the same time and meeting up in the middle.
Other than being in English, does Critter Round-Up have any differences or new features not found in Saku Saku Animal Panic?
JW: The English, North American release of Critter Round-Up mirrors Saku Saku Animal Panic which was released in Japan. Since the game is already full of fun challenges and mini-games, the releases are only different by name.
Will Critter Round-Up be a North American launch title for WiiWare? How much will it cost?
JW: We’re working with Nintendo on being part of the launch lineup. Critter Round-Up will be available for 1,000 Wii Points and we’re on schedule for launch.
Konami has quite a history with music games, which is why I'm interested in Crescendo. Can you tell us anything more about it? Will it have downloadable songs?
JW: The game is in pre-production so details are not yet available. We’re putting thought into downloadable songs.
Nathaniel McClure, Chief Executive Officer, Epicenter Studios: The only thing we can really say about the game is that Crescendo is going to provide the user with a very unique musical experience. We are very excited about what it could potentially do for the music game genre and the WiiWare platform.
Fresco Beach sounds out of the ordinary. How can we build sandcastles with the Wii remote? What are some of the dangers on the beach?
JW: Fresco Beach is also in pre-production, so it’s a little early to provide details. We really want to make full use of the Wii Remote (for instance, we want players to shape objects and pick up sand in fun ways when they build their castles). Dangers on the beach? We’ve got a lot of interesting ideas we’d like to implement, too.
So far Konami has been using WiiWare to introduce new franchises. Are there any plans to bring Konami staples like Metal Gear, Castlevania or Silent Hill onto WiiWare?
JW: Everyone wants to know I’m sure, but I can’t speak for everyone on this one. Anything’s possible… but that really depends on the geniuses behind those great games.
Images courtesy of Konami.