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[Interview] Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World dev on how the game came to be, decision to remake Monster World IV, series’ future, more

Posted on March 21, 2021 by (@NE_Brian) in Interviews, Switch

Ahead of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World’s upcoming release, director Ryuichi Nishizawa was kind enough to answer some of our questions as part of a new interview. Nishizawa talked about the game’s origins including how long it’s been in the works, why the team decided to remake Monster World IV, and more. Nishizawa also spoke more generally and commented about what could come in the future.

You can find our full Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World developer discussion below.

Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World came as a bit of a surprise when it was announced last year. How did the project first get off the ground?

We were fortunate enough to meet with Studio Artdink, a company that wanted to expand their business to overseas markets, and even more fortunate to have someone there who is a big fan of the Monster World series. We were able to start this project very quickly.

Of course, the sales success of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, which had already been released, was also a big help. The Wonder Boy series is becoming more and more famous worldwide, so we think this is a good opportunity to solidify our position as a classic action game IP.

What was it about the original Monster World IV that led the team to pursue a remake?

The first proposal I made was to remake one of the four titles in the Monster World series. There was some discussion about doing III, but IV had more prominent characters, and more importantly, the participation of Ozora-san, who drew the original character, was attractive to us, so we decided to develop IV.

What’s it like having the original Westone team involved with the project after so many years?

I worked with Kurihara-san and Ozora-san on a smartphone game that we released in 2016, so we weren’t separated for too long! I hadn’t seen Sakamoto-san for a long time, maybe for ten years? We met up at BitSummit in Kyoto in May 2019, and discussed the musical direction of this project. After that, I also contacted Watanabe-san, who composed the original music via Facebook, to let him know that the development of the remake version would begin. I think it’s great that we can start interacting with each other again in this way, starting from a work we made in the past. It’s an ideal reunion. I have a feeling that a heartwarming episode will be born in the near future (laughs).

How long has the game been in development?

June 2019 – January 2021, in a total of 20 months. I was invited to devcom and went to Cologne, Germany when development just began. I had a chance to have dinner with Philipp from FDG and Fabien from Game Atelier, and when I showed them the prototype screenshot of the game that I had on my iPhone, they were surprised to see it like “Wow, 3D!”. I was going to exhibit at GDC in San Francisco in March 2020, but GDC was cancelled due to the coronavirus, and my visit to the US was also cancelled. After that, a state of emergency was declared in Japan, and we had to continue development under extraordinary circumstances. Game development is a team effort, but as long as we have the internet, we don’t have any trouble communicating and it doesn’t have a big impact on the progress of our work. Compared to other industries that deal with goods, I felt that this was a very blessed environment.

We’ve heard that new modes/features will be included in Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World. What sort of additions can fans expect?

One of the big changes is the ability to revisit dungeons that have been cleared once. In the original game, once you cleared a dungeon, you couldn’t go back to get the Life Drops that you missed. Many people on the Internet complained about this, so we made it so that you can revisit the dungeon as many times as you want. We also reviewed the save method, and changed it from the “save point method” that limits where you can save to the “save anywhere method”. I decided that since I wanted the game to be played casually, it would be better to use the “save anywhere method”, which allows players to save at their own pace.

We’ve also improved many other aspects of the game, so I hope you’ll discover what we’ve changed as you play.

Has the gameplay been refined or updated in any way compared to the original?

Of course, every part of it has been updated. When I started this project, I decided on the following development policy. That is “we will optimize the contents of the game without changing the specifications of the original”. What I mean here is to keep the elements that make up the game, such as the adventure stages, enemy characters, Asha’s actions, items and equipment, and the people of the city, but to arrange the design and functions of these elements in a modern way.

In addition, the operating environment is different between the original game and this one, so it is necessary to accept this difference. The size of the display screen is different, and the function of the input device, controller, is different. The performance of the hardware is also overwhelmingly different, so we had to decide how to arrange the game while being aware of these differences, and this is the process of optimization. In fact, the most difficult part of the development process was how to optimize the different controllers. Analog input devices don’t have good compatibility with platform actions that require such a control feel. We had a lot of trouble finding a goal. For example, we were still debating at the end of development whether or not the shield control was the best way to go. It was a lot more difficult than I thought to come to terms with the latest game platforms.

Can you talk about the new art style and the direction was ultimately chosen? Was there any consideration given to pursuing more of a 2D look rather than a 3D/2.5D style?

This story is getting a little long (laughs).

I decided to use 3D for characters, backgrounds, and other visual resources long before I started this project. The main reason for this was that when I was working on the game’s art and graphics (LookDev), there was a higher probability that I would be able to produce higher quality work in 3D. Of course, it would be possible to explain logically why, but the main reason was that I had an intuitive conviction at first that 3D was definitely better. I don’t like to explain it because it sounds like an afterthought, but I’ll try my best (laughs).

As you know, 3D video resources are created through four processes: modeling, applying materials, lighting, and projecting with a camera. This “separation of processes” is very important. Moreover, the processes other than modeling can be changed in real time while the game is running, which is an advantage. On the other hand, 2D video resources are created by professional designers who painstakingly draw lines, paint colors, and in some cases add special effects using image tools. This process is repeated carefully and painstakingly. In other words, not only the shape and color of 2D images, but also the lighting and camera are left up to the designer, and the designer’s ability is directly reflected in the quality of the image. Even if the director wants to lighten the color of the background for a test, he has to ask the designer to correct it. The director just wants to experiment a little, but it costs time and money. In contrast, with 3D, as long as the model and materials are prepared by the designer, the lighting and camera can be freely controlled by the director. You can create the images you want through trial and error at your own hand. You see how the degree of creative freedom is overwhelmingly different?

There is another reason why we chose to use 3D. During the development of this game, we were asked why we didn’t use a 2D art style like in Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. The answer is simple: that art style is not possible without three, or even five, great artists like Lizardcube’s Ben. Good 2D graphics can only be achieved with good 2D artists, and unfortunately we didn’t have Ben on our team (laughs).

Another thing is that 2D games have a unique UX (user experience) that cannot be expressed in 3D games. The fact that the images are in 2D is completely different from the fact that the game experience is in 2D. As you can see, this title uses 3D for the visuals, but the gameplay feeling is strongly like 2D. A quick glance at the game screen is like a so-called “2.5D” style game, but unlike the usual 2.5D, it is a new attempt to take advantage of the 3D space more aggressively. This is one of the answers to the question, “How can we express the user experience unique to 2D games in 3D field?” Maybe you cannot understand just by looking at it. So, please play and experience. We hope that you will be able to experience the new possibilities of 2D platform action in a 3D field.

It’s been a few months since Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World was announced. Have any particular improvements or changes been implemented since the initial reveal?

There are many (laughs). Since we released some screenshots, we have received a variety of opinions from all over the world. We looked through each of them, picked out the ones that we should consider, and discussed them. As a result, we actually improved a number of things. For example, the painting of Leo und Praprill at the back of the Palace was added at this time, in response to requests for a memorial element to tie in with the Monster World series.

One of the most common requests was for Asha’s movement, which must have looked really bad in the first trailer (laughs). The impressions of Asha’s movements were different from the original, her face was too young, and her motions were not sharp enough, etc. The lack of sharpness in the motions was an opinion shared by the development team, and since it is a fundamental part of an action game, we actively improved it.

We were worried about how to respond to the suggestion that the impression was different from the original. In some cases, people supplemented the image in their brains with something more than what was represented by the Mega Drive pixel art, and compared it to that image and said it was different. Each person’s image of Asha is a little different. As a result, we thought it would be most correct to match the image by Ozora-san, who drew the original picture, so we added corrections while checking with her for details that could not be discerned from the dot pictures.

We’ve been seeing a lot of remakes for the Wonder Boy games over the past few years. Do you feel like there’s room to expand the series with an entirely new entry?

Since this IP has received so much attention from so many people, I think it is possible. How successful will this project be? That will be one benchmark of it. Of course, I’d like to see it sell well and lead to the next one.

Since we are planning and developing this game as a remake of the original, we intentionally avoided making any changes or additions that would take away from the impression of the original, because we wanted to strongly emphasize the concept of developing a 2D platform game in a 3D field. Nevertheless, many ideas come to mind when developing a game. This time I decided not to implement those ideas, but I’m excited to use them in my next game.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with those that are looking forward to Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World?

While meeting the expectations of fans who loved the original Mega Drive version of MW4, we also aimed to be accepted by new fans who are interested in Asha’s adventures. We have thought about “What is the ideal remake?” a lot and we made this game as a result. It can also be said that this work proposes a new style of platform action game that utilizes 3D field. I hope it will be a symbolic example of something new being born from something old.

So, please try Asha and Pepelogoo’s adventure. Even if you know the story, the climax of the cinematic demo will make you cry. It made me cry. Experience it for yourself.

Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is slated for April 22 in Japan. Those in North America and Europe can expect the game on Switch sometime in Q2 2021.

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