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Space Channel 5 VR’s Mineko Okamura Believes the Franchise’s Time Has Come

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The Space Channel 5 series has made its return with Space Channel 5 VR: Kinda Funky News Flash! We asked Mineko Okamura, CEO of Grounding and Space Channel 5 VR‘s producer, about how the project came together and what the franchise means in 2020.

Graham Russell, Siliconera: How much of the original team re-formed to make Space Channel 5 VR?

Mineko Okamura, Grounding Inc.: We had many of the original team members come on board, including Takumi Yoshinaga from Sega who was in charge of the world of previous titles. We also have the original sound team, story designer, character designer, motion actors, and some voice actors. I was the assistant producer on the second game of the series as well.

The music game genre has transformed many, many times since the last Space Channel 5 entry was developed. How do you feel the franchise fits in today? How does its appeal extend beyond nostalgia?

Space Channel 5 has always been unique since its release. Despite being a music game, there is no timing bar, which you commonly find in music games. Its story elements gives it a similar feeling to musicals. I believe that kind of newness and uniqueness still offers novelty after almost 20 years.

Specifically in Space Channel 5 VR, the VR element makes the players physically move. Their movements are the game inputs, which is fused with music, and that comes together to create a unique fun that’s independent of nostalgia. For example, the movement for the lyric “Power” requires you to physically raise a clenched fist.

We used to feel that musical-like elements were mainly limited to fans who liked musicals, but we now see a love of musicals in the general audience thanks to the success of movies like La La Land. We actually found that many people played the demo and said, “the world has finally caught up to Space Channel 5. It doesn’t feel outdated. It’s rather perfect right now.”

Space Channel 5 VR interview

Through its projects, Grounding as a company has shown an eagerness to experiment with medium and controls, whether it’s motion or cardboard. How do you decide what platform is right for a given game?

As a company, we strive to offer our customers new and challenging experiences, and we see a great potential in mixed reality and virtual reality. VR hardware is still rapidly evolving, but we believe it’s important to build expertise for the future by getting a head start on designing and building on these platforms.

Notably, Space Channel 5 isn’t the first Dreamcast music game franchise to be revived in VR, but unlike Rez, it was never really primarily about immersion and overloading the senses, so the conversion is perhaps less obvious. How does being in VR make Space Channel 5 a better game?

If you play Space Channel 5 VR: Kinda Funky News Flash!, you get to join a musical and live in the world of SC5 as Ulala’s sidekick. This is a very strangely real experience you can only get with VR. People say they can imagine what it’s like in VR, but when they actually try it, the experience always exceeds their expectations. It’s hard to explain. You have to trust me and try it for yourself.

During development of Space Channel 5 VR, you made a public plea for help getting in touch with original Ulala voice actor Apollo Smile. Obviously it didn’t completely work out to bring her back, as Cherami Leigh is stepping into the role for this release. What was that process like, and what were you looking for in a replacement that led you to Leigh?

The community was so helpful, and we really appreciate everyone for their support. It took us a while, but we were able to contact Apollo Smile. We tried very hard, but unfortunately, we couldn’t convince her to come back onboard. So we talked with Sega and decided to ask Cherami to voice Ulala. We thought her catchy and positive voice would work well with Ulala’s personality and we are very happy with her take on Ulala in 2020.

Mineko Okamura interview

What new element of Space Channel 5 VR are you most excited for players to experience? Why?

I would say striking a pose is a really fun, new element. There’s the classic Space Channel 5 motions, like “Up Right Left Down Chu!,” and now you can increase audience ratings by striking a pose. Poses come in Kinda Funky (and sometimes Funny) variations. So watching someone play SC5VR is a lot of fun! We thought this game was great for exercise as well, so we added a feature that measures calories burned during gameplay with help from the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise. Take a little time every day to play this game and maintain your health, and save the universe while you’re at it!

Thanks to Mineko Okamura for taking the time to answer our queries! Space Channel 5 VR: Kinda Funky News Flash! is out for the PlayStation VR in all regions. It’s “coming soon” on other VR platforms.

Graham Russell
Graham Russell 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 as a Contributing Editor in February 2020. When he’s not writing about games, he’s a graphic designer, web developer, card/board game designer and editor.