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Tanukii Studios

Game Info
Go! Go! Kokopolo

DSiWare | Tanukii Studios / Room 4 Games | 1 Player | Out Now

10th August 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

In an industry that is full of safe players, it is so refreshing for me to experience games that aim for something wackier. More than likely, this was the very thought that ran through my mind when Tanukii Studios first revealed Go! Go! Kokopolo for DSiWare. This was a long time ago, mind you, but there was something about the way the game looked that led me to having confidence in this game's success as a new concept. As of tomorrow, Go! Go! Kokopolo will be available for download on the DSi Shop and the eShop, and what better way to get excited for the release than have an interview with the producer behind the game, Keith Webb. Read on to learn more about the inspiration behind this new IP and just how much work went into making this title possible.

Wiiloveit: It’s such a pleasure to catch up with you for this interview! My first question has to do with your team. How many people worked on the game?

Keith: Thanks for getting in touch and taking an interest in the game! In terms of the team size, it was actually very small... only 3 people in total worked on the game! I was the designer, artist and producer on the game, and set up the company Tanukii Studios Limited in order to develop the project. The other 2 guys were from a company called Room 4 Games Limited, and they consisted of Szilard Peteri, the engine programmer who was also involved in the publishing side of things; and Gergo Kiss, the lead gameplay programmer who took on most of the programming responsibilities. 

Both of them did an excellent job, and we all complimented each other well in creating something we are all very proud of. During the process, I also hired a musician and a sound effects guy, who both did a tremendous job, but aside from that, that's everyone!

How did it all start?

I had the idea for "Go! Go! Kokopolo" swimming around in my head for a long time, and really wanted it to be on a handheld. Initially, I had planned to make it for the NeoGeo Pocket, but that was before I'd actually got into the industry so that was out of the question. When the GBA came onto the scene, I started mocking up some sprites in my spare time. I had started working as a pixel artist for a cell phone developer back then, but I later went to work for a bigger company so I left my notions of creating my own games behind. 

When the DS came out, it seemed like a blessing. I was worried 2D sprite-based games were a dying breed, but here was a new handheld that was making them relevant again. So after the company I worked for closed down, I decided to try and get Kokopolo off the ground! Of course there were a few stops and starts along the way, as I was learning all the aspects of setting up a company and working out how to finance it all, but we got there eventually!

So, what is Go! Go! Kokopolo all about?

It's basically a fast-paced, action title, set across 80 stages of pure arcade mayhem! Kokopolo, the hyperactive wildcat, has been rudely woken from his afternoon slumber, by the peaceful forest spirit called Jinbe. It is now up to Kokopolo to deliver a heap of over-the-top revenge on all the peaceful creatures in the forest by luring them into venus fly traps located around the stages.

You lure the creatures, by getting close and scratching at them with your set of sharp claws, shocking the enemies, and turning them angry. They then chase you in a fit of blinding rage until they either catch up with you, or you lure them into a Snap Snap Plant. You can get long chains of enemies if you pay close attention to the level layouts, but you have to look out for hazards along the way, which require quick reflexes to get through unharmed. It sounds quite ridiculous on paper, but it works really well in practice, with a nice balance of slower- and fast-paced gameplay over the same areas for additional depth!

Kokopolo's character was slightly inspired by a psychotic white cat my parents adopted a few years back after it had strayed into our garden. It would try to scratch you then quickly dash away hoping you'd chase it, and looking back that was probably the initial inspiration for the main gameplay mechanic. I guess you can find inspiration anywhere!

While all that is taking place on top, what's taking place on the Touch Screen?

The Touch Screen has a couple of uses. Firstly, it is utilized as a map that shows a slightly larger radius of the level, and directs the players towards the Snap Snap Plant if they get lost. It also doubles up as the stomach of the Snap Snap Plant, so that when the enemies are gobbled up, they appear on the lower screen, ready to be digested. The player can digest them by stopping the spinning enemy portraits at the right time to either get a bonus or a bomb released back into the level for the player to collect or avoid -- basically a gameplay loop between the two screens. 

I think it works really well, in that the player doesn't need to concentrate on two screens at once, and can simply find a safe place and take a second to digest enemies. However, if you want to be an expert and get the best clear times, you can still quickly glance down and digest whilst your character is still running on the top screen. There are a few more uses for the Touch Screen, which I won't go into detail here, but if you get the chance, try jumping Kokopolo into the plant and see what happens! Also, there are unlockable scratch cards hidden in every subsequent level, and the touch screen adds an extra layer of depth to these once you've accessed them.

“Harmonious Forest Revenge” sounds like a plot for a cartoon show. Can you tell us a little bit more about how this relates to the game?

With that subtitle I wanted it to sound like a badly translated Japanese subtitle. In terms of the plot to the
game, it has some relevance in that the world that Kokopolo resides in is very peaceful, until his temper flares up, and
then he takes it out on everyone in a very over-the-top manner. But if there are subsequent Kokopolo games, they will all have new subtitles to differentiate them from each other!

You know, there's something about the look of the game that seems familiar...

Err... I didn’t copy it from anywhere if that’s what your suggesting. (I promise!) Maybe you are referring to my art style? I was the artist responsible for a big retro mash-up image that swept round the internet a few years back. It was called Hyper 8-Bit Memories and includes loads of B and C list retro games characters all interacting in an explosion of 8-bit goodness! In fact some people thought it was official promotional material for Nintendo's Virtual Console for the Wii initially... but it wasn't! Still, a lot of people liked it!

Myself included! Were there any major influences that helped shape the game’s look or concept?

All the old Japanese-esque arcade games, really. I always liked the look and feel of Taito games, and obviously Nintendo's cute and colorful characters, but I wanted to add more of an edge to that. The original inspiration for Kokopolo was that he was to be quite heroic, but I thought, why not make him more the Wario character, with an overinflated sense of revenge. Thus the more mischievous style came from that.

In terms of the gameplay concepts, well that inspiration came from a variety of sources. Initially, it was simply a reverse Pac-Man scenario, whereby you had to get the enemies to chase you as opposed to avoiding them, and then the
conga-line / chain snake-chase mechanic came from there. Back in the day, video game companies were always trying to add a new "gimmick" to the "clear the screen of enemies" games, such as
Bubble Bobble and Door Door, so I wanted to introduce a new way of defeating enemies. Thus the "chase 'em up" genre was born!

What aspect of the game do you think gamers will be most attracted to?

Hopefully, just the core ingredients that make a game fun! Those being the sense of challenge, with the added risk and reward factor. Expert players will be able to pull off some long chains of enemies, but that increases the risk tenfold. Novice players should have fun simply clearing all the levels in their own time (there is no rush) while the time attack challenges will introduce a different skill set whereby you can find the best route around the levels to get the best times. 

Also, the graphics and polish should add to the experience, and the sense of mischief that is abundant in the game. Of course there will be frustration in there (like any game), but hopefully the sense of frantic heart-pounding fun will outweigh that! And furthermore, the game contains quite a few well-placed secrets. In fact I'd be very interested to hear from the first player who finds the "hidden ending!" in the game!

What was it like trying to budget for and financially supporting this project during development?

It was actually really challenging, and to be honest, I'm surprised I managed to pull it off. We had basically the smallest budget possible to make a game of this nature, bearing in mind at least 50% of it had to go on contracts, accountants, insurance, translations, ratings and all the other costs relating to getting approved by Nintendo, rather than the development itself. I personally had to let out all the rooms in my flat (apartment) and sleep on the floor in my living room for the past 2 years to keep myself going financially, so we are really talking bootstraps here. 

It is really difficult to get a bank loan for one of these types of projects, unless you've proved you have the prior success before, and the game didn't have enough "gimmicks" for a major publisher putting up money for it... so it was all done without any safety nets. A few years from now, I'm gonna look back and realize how risky it actually was! Basically we've tried to make a high-quality commercial title on a sub-indie budget...and I think we've achieved that!

Now that the eShop is running, do you expect more of a response from the public?

I think the fact that the 3DS is having a sudden price drop
is a great blessing! The game was originally developed purely to be played on the DSi, and so when the 3DS was announced in the middle of the development cycle, I was initially worried that DSiWare would no longer be relevant. It was a huge relief when Nintendo announced that DSiWare would be a main feature of the 3DS eShop, and give it an extra breath of life. Nintendo has always talked about putting more effort into their downloadable content services, and I read they still aim to make a big push with this, so that is good!

What do you think about this service overall in comparison to the DSi Shop?

When the 3DS eShop update was launched, I had high hopes that the layout would be expansive and intuitive, but on further inspection it did seem to be a bit complicated. Nintendo's description of "pushing" the information about the games out to the consumer are promising, but I still have my concerns about whether
Go! Go! Kokopolo would have enough exposure on the eShop without a big marketing push elsewhere. But I guess that responsibility lies with me! 

That being said, I am immensely proud that we managed to get the game to be released on a Nintendo console. I guess players still need to know what they are looking for to find the title, but the shelf of recommended games seems quite helpful to get the selection of new games across, and the reviewing system is a good idea. I hope that if players like "Go! Go! Kokopolo" they'd be kind enough to give it a few stars, or a favourable review to get it to the recommended shelf. (In fact, even if you hate the game, please give it 5 stars to help me out!)

I know this likely depends on how people respond to your first game, but do you believe Kokopolo has the potential to become a franchise?

I would certainly like it to! I do have several ideas for sequels, spin-offs, etc on various different consoles, but you are right, that really depends on how this one is received. I'd actually really like to do some merchandise for it too, little gashapons based on the characters, small little comic book, that kind of thing.

If Tanukii Studios is able to continue making games, I think the next one wouldn't be Kokopolo-related. I like to think of Kokopolo as Tanukii's Pikmin or Kid Icarus, in that it wouldn't be the main Tanukii brand, but would be still looked upon favourably by fans.

Now, a bit about you! How long have you been in the industry?

I've been in the industry about 8 years now, mainly from the character art and concept art side of things. I've worked with some of the main companies here in the UK, specifically Traveller's Tales Oxford, and also contributed a lot of contract work with companies like Sony, Codemasters, and EA. I basically always wanted to have a crack at getting my own projects off the ground, and getting them all the way to retail, but obviously that's a lot harder when working in a big company, as they need big funding to get projects off the ground. But now with digital distribution and smaller indie teams setting up, it's becoming a lot more possible.

I did some digging and found out you actually worked on Crash Twinsanity. That was actually one of my favourite Crash Bandicoot games! You also assisted with Super Monkey Ball Adventure, a game that wasn’t viewed in high regard at all, but let me just say that I had some fun with it. What roles did you undertake with both these projects and how were the experiences, both during and post-development?

I think you might actually be the first person I've ever heard who said they enjoyed
Super Monkey Ball Adventure, lol. Certainly when we were working on it, back when I was part of Travellers Tales Oxford, we all had doubts as to whether the concept of Monkey Ball and an RPG would work together, and I think our doubts may have been justified. But I wasn't to blame for that, I was just the concept artist / character designer! 

Crash Twinsanity on the other hand was a blast to work on! We all had a lot of fun working on the game, and although it went through a lot of iterations, I think we ended up with something that in hindsight, most of us were proud off. Sure it was buggy as hell, but it had a good feel and a sense of humour about it. The positive fan reaction wasn't actually immediate with Twinsanity, but now there is a lot of discussion about it within the Crash Bandicoot community, and it has built up an almost legendary status after "someone involved in the game" leaked a load of details about all the interesting stuff that was left on the cutting room floor. I wonder who that "someone" could have been...

Do you have any pointers to young start-up developers or gaming enthusiasts who are thinking about getting into the industry?

Yep, absolutely, just go for it! Also, have fun when you are doing it, as it will really show in the end product. A couple of points to consider before you start, however, is make sure you get a good reliable team. I was extremely fortunate to find Room 4 Games as they complimented my abilities perfectly by filling in the gaps of game development that I was less familiar with. We both worked together to figure out all this self publishing and producing malarkey. 

Also be prepared for a project to last a lot longer than you may originally expect. There are other aspects to consider such as getting footage for the ESRB ratings (which can take a while for them to review), getting language translation for the DSiWare store and the eShop, and also any other unforeseen circumstances. 

One thing I can't help you with though is how to prepare yourself for the sales figures side of things, as I have absolutely no idea how this game will sell. I remember thinking once Nintendo had accepted the final game and it had passed submission that all the hard work was over, but now I realize it was only a threshold into another unknown area, the promoting and marketing side of things, which is a whole 'nother ball game!

How did you find working on this platform? Are you interested in developing for it again?

Certainly would. Now that we have been through the process, it would make sense to develop another smaller game or two for
the system. Working within the DSiWare size limitations was a worry at the start, but somehow we managed to cram everything in and it just landed on the dime.
Go! Go! Kokopolo is actually jam-packed with content compared to most DSiWare games. In fact I recently did a full playthrough of the game from start to finish and it took me 9 and a 1/2 hours, and that’s with me being an expert and only dying 3 times. So for your first playthrough expect to get a lot out of it. Fortunately the save system works so that you can take it a level at a time so you can slowly make your way through all 80 stages (or should that read 160 stages? Spoiler alert!). But back to the question, perhaps 3DSWare development will also be a natural evolution as I'm sure many new game ideas could work well with that extra dimension!

How is the future looking to you right now, both for your team and with respect to the direction the industry is moving towards?

I think the industry is going to change again pretty soon. I predict a few of these small indie companies will have major successes and continue to grow into mainstream companies in a few years time, while the bigger companies will see the success of smaller apps and casual titles and shift their focus more towards those. I think, probably, Nintendo will be the only company that stays solidly where it is, as it has a structure that works for it. Other games that are more focused on current trends will die down and be replaced by whatever is in
the current popular culture at that time.

If I'm totally honest, my goal with Tanukii Studios is to build up a fanbase, similar to the Konami's, Treasures and Hudson Soft's of yesteryear -- kind of like how I see WayForward progressing with lots of smallish games with unique characters. At some point in maybe 7 years, I think it would be great if Tanukii had enough game franchises and characters to do a fan-service-esque 2D beat ‘em up, like the Capcom VS series, which pay homage to their previous
titles, and mash them altogether. 

If I get the chance to build up the team, I'd like to tackle a commercial triple A title at some point in the future, and I'm saving some ideas for that so keep an eye out for that. In fact, if you are reading this Q&A sometime in the future (say around 2018) keep an eye out for "Riot Gunheads - Hyper World Injustice Fighters" and "Tanukii VS Tanukii - Endless Heroes Mythology Saga" for your Nintendo Wii3!
Or come and find me sleeping on a park bench if Go! Go! Kokopolo was a massive failure -- though hopefully it won't come to that!

In closing, do you have any final comments to make for our readers?
Basically, I hope you enjoy the game if you get a chance to pick it up. If you're a fan of fast-paced, fun, arcade
action then it was made especially for you! We had a lot of fun creating it, and we are sure you will get an equal
amount of fun playing it. After all, that's what games are for aren't they? Take care everybody, and h
appy scratching!!

Go! Go! Kokopolo
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Keith Webb was talking to KnucklesSonic8
For more information on this title or the developers, click here.

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