At IAAPA 2014, I was discussing the event with another attendee who stated he would like to see an interview with the designers of Bandai Namco’s Star Wars Battle Pod. It was a great idea – it has been a while since we have done an interview so why not. I tried to find out who to talk to at the show but with such a large team that is working on the game, it was best left to handle after the event.
As such I was able to get a hold of Kazushi Imoto, the Lead Producer for the game and have everything translated. My sincere thanks to him and Sam Ven for the assistance; Mr. Ven who is with Bandai Namco Amusements America also adds some information below.
* * *
Arcade Heroes(AH) : Tell me a little bit about yourself and your involvement with arcade game development.
Mr. Imoto (KI): I joined BANDAI NAMCO Games 10 years ago and was part of the development team on some flight shooting games on the console side(AH Editor Note: That would be Ace Combat: Assault Horizon per IMDB). 3 years ago, I moved to the arcade game department and created a shooting game and served as the Development Director. I am the Lead Producer for Star Wars Battle Pod.
AH: What led to the decision to do a new Star Wars game for arcades?
KI: The dome screen technology is something we’ve continued to develop for a long time and we’ve always wanted to create a game related to Star Wars. We’ve had a good relationship with Disney Japan over the past few years and decided to make a presentation about a Star Wars arcade game using the dome screen technology. They became very interested in the concept and we began to explore it further.
Sam Ven (SV): We all love Star Wars and always wanted to do another game for the arcades. Star Wars has always been a very exciting license but a very difficult one to obtain. When Disney acquired the Star Wars franchise, we initiated discussions with Disney because we’ve had a good relationship with them in the past.
AH: Why was the dome screen technology picked for this particular game?
KI: Because the dome screen is currently the best technology available to realize our lifelong dream of “Immersing in the Star Wars Universe“.
SV: We are very proud of the dome screen technology and its capabilities and we feel that this is the perfect use for a new Star Wars arcade game.
AH: How long has Star Wars Battle Pod been in development?
KI: For about two years.
AH: How large is the development team for this game?
KI: About 60 – 70 people worked on it.
AH: What advantages did using Unreal Engine 4 offer over development on other game engines or an in-house developed engine?
KI: The game actually uses Unreal Engine 3. There was a bit of confusion and miscommunication. Having worked with UE3 before, it was an easy choice for all in the development team to quickly create high quality assets. It reduced the time spent on adjusting the player/enemy flight path, giving us more time to focus on game quality.
AH: What was the level design process like?
KI: The first thing we did was to create a “Mission Brief” and discuss the objectives with LucasFilm. The next steps would be to create and locate assets and then review what player can expect in each level and make improvements. Also, create player-friendly input functions and game designs similar to those of a shooting game. Finally, put all aspects together and continue to improve quality and adjust balance of game and staging.
AH: How involved was Lucasfilm in the development of the game?
KI: Lucasfilm gave us a great deal of advice and checked on the level design, vehicle design, and even had input on the cabinet design. They were involved throughout the whole development process.
SV: LucasFilm was very involved in the development of the game (I had the great opportunity to visit them in San Francisco during the process). They made changes and suggestions all throughout the development process. Obviously, they had to approve the Vader’s Revenge stage.
AH: Was there ever any plans to include scenarios from the Prequels into this game?
KI: No, we planned to create this game based on Episode 4-6 from beginning to end because we thought this trilogy had the strongest impression from both fans and casual players.
AH: It’s probably better that way. 😉 How did the team come up with the idea for the Vader’s Revenge level? How was that developed after it was decided to create a new story?
We threw some ideas around about creating a new storyline and an idea came up about playing as Darth Vader. We brainstormed possible scenarios and eventually decided that a good story to follow would be the time right after the Death Star was blown up. Lucasfilm was interested in the idea at the moment we submitted it and the original story “Vader’s Revenge” was created. Vader’s Revenge is more difficult than any other stage and player needs more skill because we wanted this stage to be special.
AH: As a sidenote, the first time I played the game at IAAPA, I attempted that level and my skill was definitely not up to snuff yet. The other levels I managed just fine.
What would you say sets this apart from other Star Wars arcade games like Sega’s old Star Wars Trilogy Arcade from the 90s?
KI: I would say the main difference from the other games is the immersion into the Star Wars world and the ability to feel like you are sitting in the vehicles. To experience the classic Star Wars battles in this way has never been realized by any other SW game.
AH: What sort of options can the operators adjust on the game?
KI: Aside from the obvious adjustments (volume, coin, etc.), operators can determine the amount of damage a player’s vehicle can receive before ending the game.
AH: Are there any easter eggs or secrets players should be on the look-out for? Any hints on how to find them?
KI: When you complete all of the stages, players are rewarded with a special screen. Complete all of the stages and find out.
AH: What type of hardware does this game run on?
KI: Full HD Projector with custom designed lens projects image output from in-house developed main board. Also, there are 5.1ch surround speakers, a vibrating joystick, and an air blast fan to give players the sense of speed.
(Note: I did follow up about the main board specs, whether it was one of Namco’s PC-variants or one of their PlayStation variants, but I wasn’t able to get that answer at this time. When I find that out, I will update this post)
AH: What do you hope players get out of this game that they won’t experience with other arcade games?
KI: We want Star Wars fans to truly feel like they are in those memorable battle scenes. We want casual players to experience something new and maybe be more interested in the Star Wars movie.
AH: What is your favorite mission for Star Wars Battle Pod and why?
KI: I love all missions but I like “DEATH STAR 2” the best if I had to choose one. Hyper Space Jumping at the begining of the stage excites me. Also, I like the powerful presence of the DEATH STAR 2 and it’s exhilarating when I run through the narrow core at high speed.
AH: What is your favorite Star Wars movie? Your favorite Star Wars character?
KI: I like Episode 6 the best because both the story and battle scenes have a tremendous impact. My favorite character is R2-D2.
AH: Where Namco’s Starblade Operation Blue Planet played a role in the development of the dome screen with the cancelled ORBS project, could Starblade return to the arcade soon using the Mach Storm/Star Wars Battle Pod type cabinet?
KI: STAR WARS BATTLE POD is a lifelong dream that has been realized. Other project which couldn’t hit the market unfortunately also might return to the arcade if there is much demand. We will do our best to live up to your expectation!!
And that’s a wrap. Again, my thanks for Mr. Imoto and Mr. Ven for taking the time to get back to me on all of this. Star Wars Battle Pod is launching in March 2015 for arcades around the world so keep an eye out for it!
Hi there, great interview. Just wondering whether you’ve found out any details on the hardware type the game runs on?
It is called System ES3+, pretty much the same PC-based hardware that they have Mario Kart DX running on 🙂