Now this is special. Much is known about our love for the Mega Drive and its homebrews (like Xeno Crisis and Tanglewood) so when a new shmup heads our way we just gotta check it out! “IRENA” reminds us of Thunderforce IV on a hell of a lot of energy drinks. Don’t believe us? Download the demo here. Adrian and Anthony caught up with the guys from White Ninja Studios to find out more…
Your game that’s currently in the early stages of development is called, “IRENA : Genesis Metal Fury”. Can you share with our readers what they can expect from this game?
IRENA: Genesis Metal Fury will be our first game on Mega Drive and we hope it will be well received by players and specialists once the title is available on the market. I am well aware that for our first game, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to surpass or equal the big hits of the time, but I think IRENA should offer a good experience for any shmup and action game enthusiast on Mega Drive.
IRENA’s advantage is that it offers a fast action scene without dead moments with many targets to destroy while offering an attractive graphical rendering. The game will offer a total of seven levels with the possibility of changing routes at key moments, which will give the opportunity to access two different purposes.
As he progresses, the player will be able to upgrade his ship’s main weapon over several levels, allowing him to scan the entire screen as he passes, but at the slightest collision, he will lose some firepower. In delicate moments when death may seem inevitable, it will be possible to use one of the powers available, for example, to use a magnetic shield to temporarily protect the ship or to launch a devastating super attack causing serious damage to enemy units.
We want to offer a game that is both accessible to casual players and difficult enough to satisfy fans of the genre. We have not yet decided how we will balance the level of difficulty, but I think it would be wise to first increase/decrease the resistance of enemies and change their firing rate.
We are also studying the possibility of accessing different game modes, which would significantly increase the overall life of the game. I have a lot of ideas to implement such as bonus mini-games, but it will all depend on how much time we have to work on IRENA.
White Ninja Studio sounds like an interesting game developing establishment. How did it come about and where are you based?
At first, I designed a few prototypes on Mega Drive with SGDK and the beginnings were very difficult, because I was not at all used to working with so many constraints and I didn’t know how the console worked. This is the main reason why I became interested in Mega Drive programming, because I wanted to deepen my technical knowledge in order to improve my game reviews published on my blog dedicated to retro gaming. When you know how a machine works, it is then easier to judge the technical and visual aspect of a game.
By improving one of my prototypes, I ended up getting something that became interesting to present. Afterwards, I met “OHKO”, a very bright pixel artist, who did not hesitate to offer his help to improve the visual aspect of this prototype by providing high quality GFX. By working together, we ended up with a functional prototype that could serve as a basis for designing a real shmup on Mega Drive. I hesitated for a long time before really embarking on this great adventure, because developing a game takes a lot of time, energy, skills and motivation to get to a final product, but the game had far too much potential to remain at the prototype stage. All we needed was a composer to add catchy music and I had the chance to meet “kaot”, a talented artist who knew how to transcribe the atmosphere and style I wanted to give to this shmup.
It is important to know that through this common project, we have all become good friends and it is precisely this fraternity that has enabled us to make possible what we do through White Ninja. I think we are a good and dynamic team and if our first game is a success, I can assure you that it will only be the beginning! We have lots of ideas and concepts that should appeal to Mega Drive fans, but for that, we really need their support to make our projects a reality.
Currently, we are mainly based in Toulouse in the south of France. In fact, we mainly work using the Internet to communicate, because each member of the team is very distant from each other. With jet lag, I often wake up in the morning and my first reflex is to check if new resources to integrate are available (laughs). With White Ninja we really want to produce a large number of quality games for the Mega Drive and we hope to generate enough profits with our first projects to establish ourselves in the long term.
Why the Mega Drive (Genesis)?
At White Ninja, we are all Mega Drive big fans, it’s a really great console that we loved during our childhood. We take a real pleasure to working on it and it gives us the impression of making a childhood dream come true. We could very well have decided to develop games on other popular systems such as the Super Nintendo or NeoGeo, but I am convinced that it’s important for a small studio like ours to focus mainly on a single machine in order to target a specific audience and forge a solid identity even if it means generating less profit on the sales of our games.
Among all the existing consoles, the Mega Drive is the most interesting console for us, particular thanks the SGDK which allows a more “modern” and much more accessible code structure than the ASM. In addition, the Mega Drive is powerful enough to allow us to create many of the 16-bit games we have imagined. We are also very interested in other SEGA consoles and the NeoGeo, but for the moment
we prefer to focus on a single machine in the hope that one day we will be able to take full advantage of its hardware.
I must admit that I don’t like productions that do not use a minimum of a console hardware’s capabilities. In my opinion, when you decide to create a game, it must necessarily match technically and visually with the system you want to develop. If tomorrow we have to port one of our Mega Drive games or create a new game on another console, you can be sure that we will try our best to take advantage of its hardware.
Are you a big fan of the Shinobi titles, and if so, which game in this series is your favourite?
Oh yes! Yes! The Shinobi game series on Mega Drive and the episode released on Saturn, Shin Shinobi Den, are undeniably among my favorite games. Besides, I regularly use the pseudonym thesupershinobi on Internet. I think it’s a great pity that we didn’t have more games of this quality and style on other SEGA consoles. I sometimes imagine what a Super Shinobi 3 would have been on Mega Drive or an exclusive episode on Dreamcast, but unfortunately it will never happen.
It is very difficult for me to make a choice between all these games that I really love, but if I had to keep only one, it would undoubtedly have been Super Shinobi (Revenge of Shinobi), the first of the name that marked me at the time. I remember discovering it on one of these famous cartridges integrating several games including Streets of Rage and Golden Axe. It’s really a classic video game.
What games have helped inspire your work on IRENA : Genesis Metal Fury and do you have a personal favourite shmup?
Mainly Thunder Force III/IV, Aero Blasters, Contra HardCorps and Super Shinobi II (Shinobi 3). These are games that positively influence our work, but we try as much as possible to bring our personal touch to make IRENA a unique game.
I obviously have some shmups that I like more than others including Thunder Force III, Aero Blasters, Robo Aleste on Mega Drive, Layer Section on SEGA Saturn and Under Defeat on Dreamcast. In general I love all shmup especially those where there is a lot of action with a serious atmosphere.
How many hours have been put into IRENA so far? Also, how many team members are contributing to making this game a reality for the Mega Drive/Genesis?
It is always complicated to count all the hours spent developing a game, because for most of us, we work on our free time and at different rates. On the other hand, I can tell you that the project has had a long period of inactivity, because in the meantime I have become a father for the second time (congratulations! – Ed). Although it was a joyful event in my life, it brought a lot of changes in my organization, my free time and the energy I could devote to the project.
Currently, there are mainly four of us working on IRENA, but if I include all the people contributing to the project, that makes a total of six people.
Do you have a rough estimate at this time on when this game will become available to the public?
If we continue to work at this pace, I would say that we could release IRENA in just under a year.
It will be necessary to spend many hours fixing the various bugs and check that the game runs perfectly on Mega Drive whether on PAL or NTSC console. In the meantime, players are able to enjoy our playable demo.
After the release of IRENA for the Mega Drive/Genesis, is there a possibility of seeing it on other retro consoles like the SNES/SFC, Neo-Geo, PC Engine/TG-16 as well?
A port could be considered in the future if there is really a high demand for a specific machine. At White Ninja, we prefer to provide exclusive games on a system rather than multiply the offer. If we were to release IRENA on Neo-Geo or PC Engine, I think it would be through a new episode. On the other hand, it would be really difficult for us to adapt our shmup for Super Nintendo unless we rewrote the engine code in ASM and removed some elements from the screen.
With regard to future titles, what do you and White Ninja Studio have in mind?
After IRENA, we already have several other games planned. First there is “Rage: the revenge of Shingo” which will be a funny and mature beat’em up with an 8-bit look, but which will make the most of the Mega Drive’s capabilities, especially with a large number of frames for each sprite.
There is also PapiRium, another very promising beat’em up which is a parody of Watermelon’s long-awaited game, Paprium! Initially, Studio Vetea was in charge of its development, but the latter preferred to entrust us with the project in order to concentrate on other projects. I am very proud of the trust that Studio Vetea has placed in us and I hope that we will achieve a satisfactory result, because this is a rather complex project to implement.
These are big games that will certainly mobilize us for a long time, although it is almost certain that Rage and PapiRium will use the same engine, which should save us considerable time on their design.
What are your personal favourite consoles and games of all time?
Among my favorite consoles, there is of course the Mega Drive. It is a console that I really appreciated as a child even if I got it very late. I particularly like the Dreamcast which is a great console for its technical specifications, its many sensational arcade games and its ease of developing programs there.
Being a fan of SEGA, it is very difficult for me not to mention also the Saturn which is a real monster to manage 2D. I don’t have much opportunity to play it, because the games are very expensive and I don’t speak Japanese at all, which prevents me from enjoying some titles that have never been released in the West. I usually settle for purely arcade games, but it’s clear that the SEGA Saturn is one of my favorite machines.
As for games, I have a lot of affection for the series of Streets of Rage, Shinobi and Sonic on Mega Drive. Of course, I also like huge games like Thunder Force III/IV, Musha Aleste, Robo Aleste, Eliminate Down, Aero Blaster, TMNT Hyperstone Heist and Final Fight CD.
It is impossible for me not to mention the mythical Shenmue/Shenmue II, Resident Evil Code Veronica, Virtua Fighter 2, Dead or Alive 2, Layer Section, Little Big Adventure, Fade to Black or Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior. These are games that I launch very regularly without feeling the slightest weariness.
If you could be transported into any video game and live there for a day, which game would you choose and why?
One of the most enjoyable games would be Shenmue II for me, which is really wonderful and which I am very passionate about. I think it would take me well over a day to really enjoy it (laughs!). I love his world, his story and the characters in this episode are very engaging. I can easily identify with the main character and I have always dreamed of living this kind of great adventure, especially since it takes place at the end of the 1980s, a period that fascinates me enormously.
What advice do you give for those that want to be involved in the video game industry?
The best advice I can give them is to work hard and never give up even if the making of your game still requires many months or years of development before it is finished. Do not hesitate to surround yourself with reliable people who can help and support you in your project, but above all, aim for realistic objectives.
When you decide to create a game, never forget that it takes a lot of effort and simple concepts can be much more complex than they seem. Whether on a retro or modern console, creating an independent game is never easy, especially since the competition is very fierce. It is therefore essential to think carefully before you start.
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character who would you choose and why?
It would have been Lo Wang from Shadow Warrior who is a really cool and crazy guy. He’s the kind of character with whom I could easily get along and stay for a while and have a drink while joking without any complexity.
Adrian & Anthony
Readers, give yourself a treat and download the IRENA demo! Also, don’t forget to check out Anthony’s official Neo-Geo thread over at Atariage and there’s of course lots of lovely indie/homebrew stuff there too!