The story of how Motohiro Kawashima (the composer of Streets of Rage 3) ended up working on Oh, Deer! is an uplifting one. Kawashima worked at a production house for a number of years and wasn’t really credited for his work. He had fans, but he didn’t know who they were, nor did they know who he was.
One of those fans is Brandon Sheffield, the director of Necrosoft Games, who ended up working with Kawashima almost by accident. Sheffield initially went to congratulate Yuzo Koshiro, the founder of Ancient Corp. (where Kawashima worked), on the Streets of Rage 3 soundtrack as he presumed it was he who had done it. But it wasn’t, and Koshiro pointed Sheffield to Kawashima, and that’s how the two ended up meeting.
How things unfolded from there was outlined to Siliconera by Sheffield and Kawashima as you’ll be able to read in the interview below. Kawashima details how he had to explore his own personal style of music when composing for Oh, Deer!, and Sheffield happily describes what he likes about Kawashima’s music and how he helped the musician understand his own music better.
We’re here to talk about Oh Deer! It’s a game about driving to your grandmother’s house in a station wagon. What was the initial spark that got the project going – was it the tight driving game design you’ve mentioned before, or something else?
Brandon Sheffield, director: The initial idea, like most of the things I personally come up with, started with a joke. A friend was chatting with me online, saying “you know those signs that say ‘deer next 5 miles,” “yeah,” reply. “Wouldn’t it be funny if when you saw that, the road just totally flooded with deer? Someone should make a game about that.” “Yeah,” I reply.
So I saw this opportunity to make something really silly, but also to investigate a genre I really enjoy – the arcade driving game. Once I found the right person to really make it snappy (the Oh, Deer! Alpha programmer Decinoge), he made it feel mechanically extremely solid. So we had a hook and a mechanic.
With his own games, Decinoge usually starts with a genre he wants to explore, or a concept he wants to poke. With me, it’s usually a silly whim that I quickly marry to a mechanic. If whim and mechanic don’t meet, the game doesn’t work.
Let’s talk more about tight driving game design. Which games would you hold up as great examples of this? Are there are any components that you have learned make for particularly satisfying driving in games?
Well, I love Outrun 2. We played a lot of Outrun 2, Outrun Coast 2 Coast, and all the permutations of that game, chasing the proper drift mechanics. We even spoke with Sumo Digital about their experience porting the original arcade game. One of the interesting things we discovered is that Outrun 2 only uses three types of curves, three specific angles (which I won’t give away since it was told in confidence). Previously I had been trying to make tracks with a wider variety of angles, but limiting them actually made the game feel much better.
Another solid thing to have is camera tilt. You’ll notice that in most pseudo 3D games, the camera keeps you on an even plane. But when you’re drifting and the camera tilts, you really feel that motion subconsciously. It helps a bunch. And field of view can change your sense of speed. The lower the “camera” is to the ground, the faster the game feels. We had to split the difference between making the game feel fast, and letting you see the deer, and what’s coming next.
But overall, the main thing was Decinoge trying and trying again to make the drifting feel snappy, and he got it, in my opinion. We had to work a lot on what speed you need to enter and exit drifts, whether you have to press buttons to continue a drift around two opposite facing corners (you do), and all that sort of thing, but we think we got to something pretty satisfying.
You can run over deer in Oh Deer! but this is not a requirement and is more of a choice. Why let the player make that choice rather than make the decision for them? Do you prefer to drive through the deer or avoid them?
Well, you don’t get to see it much now, but in the future, hitting or avoiding deer is what will make you choose your path through the tracks, much like Outrun‘s left or right choices. You choose that by hitting or avoiding deer. In the final game, once we’re able to finish it, this is what will happen: Hit 80% or more, and you go down the dark path. The assets will get all bloody and creepy and disturbing. Avoid 80% or more, and you go down the light path. Assets get fluffy and happy and weird in a different way. See our forum thread for a taste of that.
If you hit about as many as you avoid, that’s the neutral path. In the alpha, the neutral path is all you see (though the claws in stage 4 are from the dark assets). However! If you play the game as I suggested above, the music will change to match the dark or light path!As for me, when I’m playing solo, I prefer to avoid the deer. When I’m demoing it, I prefer to hit them, because, well, it certainly creates a bit of a reaction in the player!
Currently, Oh Deer! is available as an alpha. What more is yet to be added to the game before you consider it to be finished?
Aside from the above-mentioned paths, for which almost none of the assets have yet been created, we want to put in upgrades for the car, online leaderboards, and possibly an endless/survival mode, as well as ghost racing, if we can swing it.
For the music in Oh Deer! you specifically wanted to work with Streets of Rage 3 composer Motohiro Kawashima. Why him in particular? And how did you get him on board?
The soundtrack for Streets of Rage 3 is totally underrated. It’s one of my favorite game soundtracks, and it was totally ahead of its time. Electronic music is now starting to sound like what Kawashima did back then. Just check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S0UG6auhzs, or this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofmHCsZMMjw, and if you’re ready for the hard stuff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo2zGky1Jhw
I got him on board simply by asking! I went to congratulate Yuzo Koshiro on the music for Streets of Rage 3, but then he informed me that it was Kawashima who had done it. I basically said to Kawashima, “your music is awesome, let’s work together some day.” And he said “let’s do it right now!” So we did. He’s done a fantastic job, and I really hope he gets to be in many more games to come. His style is unique, even 20 years later, I really love his work.
From what Brandon has said, it seems that you’ve not been asked to be a lead composer on a game since Streets of Rage 3. Is that right and, if so, do you have any idea as to why that might be? How did you feel when Brandon asked you to work on Oh Deer! as the composer?
Motohiro Kawashima, composer: Well, I was a contract employee of Yuzo Koshiro’s company, Ancient, so that’s just the kind of position it was. Basically it was a situation where I’d do the work that was given to me as it came. That said, for the games I worked on between then and now, such as Zork1, Vatlva, Eye of the Beholder, and Fox Junction, I was asked to create an atmosphere, and a sound image when the games were in preproduction. And I put a lot of songs into each of those games, so you could basically say I was the lead on those as well. I think Yuzo Koshiro would say the same.
And of course it was quite exciting when I got the request from Brandon. It was especially gratifying to have someone ask me to make music in “my own style.” Of course, I don’t exactly know what “my own style” is! [Brandon’s note: He asked me a lot of questions about why I liked his music, and this is why! He didn’t know what it was about that style that people were feeling. I told him the aggressive glitchiness of a title like Cycle 1, the almost Detroit techno-esque dancefloor blast of Dub Slash (both from Streets of Rage 3), these were the things I was looking for. I wanted the raw power that that music has.]
How would you describe the soundtrack you wrote for Oh Deer!? What kind of energy or feelings were you aiming to capture in the music?
Motohiro Kawashima: Using Brandon’s prompt, “your own style,” I tried to think about how my music matched my production techniques, and to really reflect myself. This was absolutely the first time I’d ever had to do something like this. Brandon told me that Oh, Deer! simply wouldn’t exist without my music. In a way, that made me feel like I could just pull anything out, and it’d work. But exactly what was it that was good about my work? That troubled me. I figured I’d just make demos, and ask Brandon what he thought. I guessed that since he asked me to make “my own style” of music, he’d be able to help sort it out.
There are three types of stage here, Dark, Light, and Neutral. So as I was making these tracks, I was thinking – what’s Dark? What’s Light? What’s Neutral? I wasn’t sure… I had to figure it out as I went. But over time, I started to realize, maybe Dark represents the aggressive style of my personality. The Light is the happy part of me. The Neutral is…. Well, I still don’t know what that one is! But basically what you’re listening to is all the energy that comes from inside of me. This was another first. While I was making this stuff, it didn’t feel like I was making game music, it felt like me. It was incredibly fun.
[Brandon’s note: With the first couple demos, I was briefly worried he wasn’t going to find his groove again. When he did Streets of Rage 3, he programmed the music. This was all made in Reason, a totally different method of production. The first two or three demos didn’t really grab me. But over time, I felt more and more of that Kawashima vibe in there, and the music started getting better and better. He really found himself in this music, and you can hear that, I think. I’ve heard each of these tracks more than a hundred times each, and I never get tired of them.]
Previously when talking about Oh Deer!’s funding you implied that Sony took a risk on you and didn’t expect the money back. Is that right? If so, is that a special case, or do you know if Sony funds smaller projects like this with any regularity?
Brandon Sheffield: This was a special case for the ramping up of PlayStation Mobile… which tells you how long ago we started this. We had to put it by the wayside for about a year, even. But back to the Sony thing, yes, they took a risk on us and a few other smaller devs, because they needed games quick for PSM. Microsoft did the same for us for Windows Phone through a program called AppCampus, which is now unfortunately closed.
Essentially, Sony took a gamble that we’d make them a bit of money, and get them a few more users. I think that with Oh, Deer! we’ve gotten them a few new PSM users, but… well, it’s a bit of a too little, too late story on our part. Sorry Sony!! And thanks!
Why do you want Oh Deer! to be the last game released on PlayStation Mobile? Has Sony officially told you that it is the last release on the platform yet?
Well, I didn’t want it to be, but I didn’t shy away from it either. Sony will neither confirm nor deny that we’re the very last, but so far nobody has disputed the claim, and we submitted it to the PSM backend hours before it closed, so… I reckon we are. But yeah, we had the option of not finishing the game, and just working on a larger version for the future, or putting this out essentially as a promo. We look at it like PlayStation Early Access. We put out this incomplete thing, and are asking players to tell us what they think (which they can do on our forum https://forum.necrosoftgames.com/), and if we can get a publisher to fund the full version, we’ll try to incorporate some of that into what we’re doing.
We’ve already had folks help us track down bugs! Also, we wanted to release this for Kawashima. He kept asking when this thing was coming out – he basically finished all his work something like 9 months ago, and here we were without a finished game. And then there are the Vita fans, a really strong community of people who like weird games on their handhelds. We had to do it for them, too!