Spain-based developer Akaoni’s WiiWare debut, Zombie Panic in Wonderland, is a game that has been the subject of many a comparison to Treasure’s revered Sin & Punishment. It’s also a bold experiment for the platform it’s being published on, as the game — albeit on-rails — uses a 3D perspective, as opposed to the majority of quality WiiWare efforts, which tend to be 2D platformers.
Shortly after its reveal, Zombie Panic was signed on by Marvelous Entertainment for publishing in Japan. In this interview with Siliconera, Akaoni founder Jose Manuel Iniguez talks about the game’s comical approach to blending zombies and fairytales, and its critical reception in Japan.
You were originally a producer at Gammick on Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ. How many of the members from the EnjoyUp / Gammick collective are at Akaoni?
Jose Manuel Iniguez, Akaoni founder: Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ is a videogame property of Gammick Entertainment. I am the only one at Akaoni who worked on this game. As the producer of Gammick Entertainment, I was responsible for the game design and artistic coordination of the work. Akaoni is made up of former members of the internal development team of Gammick Entertainment. No one from Akaoni has ever participated in EnjoyUp’s development team.
As I recall, there were plans to release a follow-up to Zombie BBQ — what happened?
Sorry, I’ve never heard of a possible sequel of Zombie BBQ. Anyway, as you know, Zombie BBQ is a video game property of Gammick Entertainment. If there is or was something planned, I guess it is they who will have the information on this topic.
How’d the name “Akaoni” come about?
We intend to create Japanese style games. For the company we wanted a name which would convey this concept. Akaoni means “Red Ogre” in Japanese. Akaoni is a Japanese folk tale character (I love folk tales). The word Akaoni has a positive meaning, too. In parts of Japan, there are temples dedicated to the Red Ogres. I want the company to have the strength of the red ogres to create good games.
Could you tell me a little bit about your team?
Akaoni was founded in January 2009. The company is located in Valencia, but there are also professionals who participate from abroad, especially from Japan. We intend to continue creating high quality downloadable video games. We’re also working on a project of technology for video games to license to third parties.
The inspirations behind Zombie BBQ were Catan and Space Invaders. But with Zombie Panic, you shifted to 3D — what were the inspirations at play there?
In Zombie Panic in Wonderland, mainly I’ve wanted to create a fun game like the old arcade games but with technological spectacle of today. The playability is inspired by the old arcade game; Cabal by TAD Corporation.
Did you anticipate the comparisons to Sin & Punishment when you were drafting up the design documents?
Yes, I think the game system of Sin & Punishment was also inspired by Cabal or Blood Bros.. However, they are very different visually and conceptually. I’m sure the players of Sin & Punishment will also enjoy Zombie Panic in Wonderland.
You’ve got seven playable characters in the game. How are they different from one another?
There are only visual differences between characters. Every character can use any weapon that appears in the game, and destroy everything on the screen.
The music in the trailers sounds very fairytale-like, whereas, obviously, the experience itself is anything but — even though it uses characters from fairytale lore. That creates a very interesting disparity. How’d that idea originally come about?
Folk tales and zombies are two themes that I’ve always particularly liked. For me It is to combine two of my favorite subjects to enjoy both at the same time. Also, I think that when you succeed in blending two things which in principle would never go together, the energy they emit is very powerful, and no one can escape from its charm. (^-^)
The music was created by Joan Martorell in his studio Inspira Musica. Joan is a great musician and composer. For the theme of Momotaro, we also relied on the cooperation of Miki Mori, a Japanese professional opera singer.
And the 2D artwork?
For the artwork, we relied on the cooperation of Bomi. Bomi is a Japanese professional illustrator, with extensive experience in creating manga and video games.
So, Zombie Panic appears to be going for a comical approach as opposed to something that takes itself seriously, like Sin & Punishment. Was there ever a temptation to try and take on a more serious tone?
No, from the beginning, we knew what we wanted to achieve. I like funny stories and to laugh when I play video games. I think the surrealism and humor of Zombie Panic in Wonderland is exactly what makes it interesting and different from others.
Overall, the game looks very Japanese, aesthetically. But under the surface, do you think your design choices were inspired by Japanese game design as well?
Yes. I’ve lived in Japan for about 10 years. I think all my time there has greatly influenced me. Besides, I learnt everything I know about creating video games there, and it shows in my work. Zombie Panic in Wonderland was created with the aim of reaching the Japanese market also. This objective has been achieved because we’ve managed to take the top spot in the WiiWare download rankings, overtaking Megaman 10 and Pokémon. The game has been very well accepted in Japan. There are many users saying on blogs and forums that the game seems to have been completely created in Japan.
What did you have to balance for the co-op aspect of the game? Throwing a multiplayer mode into anything is always a challenge.
We played over and over and also got other people to play in order to polish the playability. The double-player mode as well as the single is great fun. Besides the two game modes (normal and hard), the difficulty adjusts to the level of the players during their play session.
What about focus testing? What kind of feedback did you receive and implement?
At first, the game was too difficult. No one was able to even go out the store of the first stage. We had to bring down the level of difficulty in the first stages so that the game would not be frustrating. However, the last stages of the hard mode are deliriously difficult.
How’d the publishing deal with Marvelous come about?
At a video games conference organized by Nintendo, we were presenting a demo of Zombie Panic in Wonderland. Yoshiro Kimura of Marvelous Entertainment also was there showing Little King’s Story. Kimura was surprised to see a game which looked so Japanese and the long line of people to play it. That night, at the dinner, Kimura told me that he would like to try to publish the game in Japan.
The same week, we reached a publishing agreement. As Louis Lamarre, producer of the World Game Parade, says in an interview on the official website of Marvelous, it was Zombie Panic in Wonderland which led them to create the World Game Parade line, and that is really something about we are proud of.
So, is this an ongoing contract or does it only cover this one game?
Sorry, but I can’t reveal the details about the contract that we made…
Were they surprised to see a Japanese-looking game from a European developer?
Apparently, yes. Louis Lamarre says that they were impressed by a very Japanese looking work, coupled with a concept so surreal and funny.
You’re a self-funded studio. How’s that working out for you?
If you believe in your project, I think that in principle, self-financing is the best option. Partners or investors can end up affecting the final product. Once the studio is set up and demonstrates its capabilities, then it’s a better time to seek financial and marketing support from other companies.
This year-and-a-half of self-financing has been pretty hard and tense, since a failure or even a small success means the end of the studio and we’d be in debt. However, if everything goes well and Zombie Panic in Wonderland also succeeds in Europe and the United States, I’d like that Akaoni continue to remain self-funded, and would also like to open, in parallel, a line of collaboration with companies with common goals.
Any hints as to what’s next, now that Zombie Panic is done?
It’s still too early to give details, but it will probably be another action game. (^u^)
Zombie Panic in Wonderland will be available for WiiWare in Europe on April 9th for 1,000 points Wii Points.