Last week saw the release of Sine Mora, an old school 2.5D shoot-em-up developed by Hungarian studio Digital Reality and Japanese powerhouse Grasshopper Manufacture. The game is an interesting mix, drawing on the expertise of both studios and manifesting itself in a blend of classic gameplay with innovative twists, impressive visuals and an operatic score composed by legendary sound director Akira Yamaoka (credits include the Silent Hill franchise, Shadows of the Damned and the upcoming Suda 51 title Lollipop Chainsaw).
So with the game having just been released to incredibly positive feedback from public and press alike, now seems as good a time as any to catch up with the designers at Digital Reality and chat to them about their efforts to revive a rather overlooked genre.
WC: XBLA has become somewhat of a haven for games and genres that might have otherwise been maligned on the current gen of consoles. Having now finished an old school arcade release, have you met or exceeded your own expectations?
DR: We’re very lucky and very relieved to be able to say that we had no compromises in development. We can now sit back and relax today, knowing happily that we completely achieved everything we wanted to.
WC: With this style of game there come hardcore fans of the genre, terms like ‘bullet hell’ and an expectation of extreme difficulty. As part of the marketing of the game you’ve said that it accommodates both new comers and veterans alike. Was there ever any want to develop solely for one audience or another?
DR: Yes well in the beginning there were definitely a lot of thoughts and words spoken on this very subject – but this being a business we really had to think with as wide an audience as possible in mind. And even though, yes in the beginning it was a marketing gimmick used by the team to get the project green lit, we actually realised in development that by opening the flood gates we would pave the way for other developers to get involved in the shoot-em-up genre. We realised that we could set a new standard and encourage others to innovate in a genre we really love.
WC: Difficulty is obviously a huge factor in a game of this sort. Sine Mora innovates by making time a huge part of gameplay. Slowing down time to avoid projectiles and making sure you destroy enemies to keep time on the clock are both things all players will have to adapt to. That said, how hard is the game on it’s insanity setting?
DR: On it’s hardest difficulty setting the game is probably on par with an easier Cave game.
The Japanese company Cave infamously develop a large number of very difficult shoot-em-ups, some of which have made it to the west on the current generation through XBLA and iOS, whilst most stay exclusive to platforms in Japan. What Sine Mora has on it’s side however is it’s own idiosyncratic style. The narrative is overtly harrowing with talk of genocide and swearing throughout. Though working with Grass Hopper Manufacture, home of Suda 51 and the team behind Killer7, No more Heroes and Shadows of the Damned it’s perhaps no surprise the game has noticeable flair.
WC: The game has a very distinct Diesel Punk style which I understand originated with Digital Reality, though working with Grass Hopper and Akira Yamaoka did you ever feel pressure to live up to them and their hugely memorable style?
DR: Well working with Yamaoka-San exceeded expectation. We gave him a completely free hand in terms of sound and music, and what he delivered was more than we could have hoped for. As for working with Grasshopper Manufacture, at the start of development the team would ask for autographs as they are a studio made up of all the greatest minds in Japanese game development. Though it quickly became an equal partnership and an effective relationship, we soon felt like they were friends and we didn’t feel any pressure.
WC: So the game is already doing extremely well. Do you see this as a green light for other old-school and niche genres to be innovated? If so, do you have anything particular in mind?
DR: Yes totally, it’s a great reassurance and gives us a good path to move ahead with. Obviously we have a few ideas but it’s too early yet to say.
Sine Mora is available now on XBLA for 1200 Microsoft points.
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