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Retro Sumus is a small European development team, currently working on new and exciting projects for the PC, Mac, Dreamcast and Saturn. Ameba is one of these titles, and very likely the first to see release. Battle Club Gaming were fortunate enough to speak with writer, designer, and social media manager Carlos Oliveros. We discuss current works and catch up with the latest developments.
Firstly, thank you for taking time out and speaking with us. Sir, very much appreciated. Can you tell us about Retro Sumus, the team is based in Spain yes?
Hello Simon. Thank you for the opportunity.
We are a small and all-over-the-place dev team located in Spain, yes. More specifically, our founding members currently live in Zaragoza (lead programmer Daniel aka Chui), Madrid (3D designer Abel) and Málaga (composer Juanjo, writer / communications guy Carlos, yours truly).
What motivates Retro Sumus? Where do you find inspiration for your titles, is there a philosophy guiding team projects?
Daniel, Abel and I met each other while working or collaborating on Pier Solar for Mega Drive and/or Dreamcast. I guess you could say our first motivation was “hey, this was a great experience, why don’t we try create something of our own?” and so, Retro Sumus came to be. Juanjo joined as soon as I told him about the concept for Ameba as he had never worked on videogames and was really eager to.
Our inspiration comes from very different sources. We all miss the good old arcade gaming we grew up with, but our philosophy is simply going back to game concepts or mechanics we believe could be updated or developed in a new way or just brought back. So, obviously that includes visual novels (Ameba) and on-rails shooters (Xenocider), but also a couple more ideas that we may or may not have in the pipeline. Heh 🙂
Western take on a popular Japanese genre, intrigue and injustice? Can you give us a synopsis, tell us how Ameba came about?
Now that you mention it, I don’t think we’ve actually released any final, official synopsis. Hmmm… Well, Hugo Smirnov is a senior investigating officer from Spanish Policía Nacional. He’s been in charge of the homicides division in Madrid for years. But he’s become obsessed with a bunch of closed cases he feels were connected in some way. While he keeps solving cases on a daily basis thanks to his outstanding powers of observation, he just can’t get those deaths out of his head, as all those completely unrelated people had something very specific in common. Something he knows he can’t possibly prove. For now.
Hey, that doesn’t sound too bad now that I wrote it down, does it?
From what we’ve seen so far, lovely hi-res 2D visuals, strikingly beautiful concept art. I must admit, my initial thoughts were of classic Hollywood noir.
We feel flattered if that’s the case. For Ameba, our influences range from Frank Miller’s Sin City to Kojima’s Policenauts, and more recently from the True Detective TV series to the Steins;Gate games.
How big of a story is planned, can we expect a wonderful interactive tome of heft?
One of our main references, storytelling wise, is precisely the first season of True Detective. So, think approximately 8 hours if things go as planned. There will be plenty of people to talk to (if you choose to do so), and puzzles to solve. Lead programmer Chui thought the game could benefit from the latter and I agree. You’ll see there’s a little bit of Lucasarts’ classic adventure games influence here and there too.
How does a visual novel transition from the heads of authors to a tactile interface. Do you begin with a script, a storyboard?
Let me think. In our case, this went from my rantings with Chui and WaterMelon’s Tulio, to a pitch in both Spanish and English, and later to a longer design brief and character profiles, then to the first couple of sketches, then to recruiting two screenwriters and finishing the script for the demo. From then on, it’s all character profiles, screenplay, and scripts/code.
It is true you folks interviewed police officers? Fantastic attention to detail, surely certain to please.
This is absolutely true. I first talked to a couple officers from the Policía Nacional who were guarding the door for a certain public event I attended to. They explained to me how the Policía Nacional divisions work. So I thought, why not? Shall I try reach my town’s police commissioner? Would he be willing to answer my questions?
So yes, truth is he loved the idea and was really happy to help. This will allow the game to be much more faithful to how Spanish police works, which is different from how British or French or American police works. The same applies to judges or, say, prosecutors.
The team are actively asking people what they’d like to see regarding Kickstarter reward tiers, is this a sign Ameba may see a 2016 crowdfunding campaign?
Not 100% decided yet, but quite possibly yes. In fact, we would have liked to launch such campaign already but the demo hadn’t been finished on time.
What are your favourite reward tier suggestions so far, how can people get involved, where can you be found on social media?
Maybe not exactly favourite, but we we’re glad to see people asking for the same kind of rewards we were willing to offer. An artbook would be great, and we would like Juanjo’s beautiful music to get the “complete OST” treatment as we think those tunes really deserve to be appreciated by themselves. Original (pencil) artwork is also a possibility.
You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and SoundCloud. We would also recommend everyone to register as users on our boards and let us know what they think about our updates. We have been keeping a regular presence on quite a lot of boards anyway, as we want to get as much feedback from potential buyers as possible.
Will Ameba be the first Retro Sumus title released? There is also another game in development, a lovely looking shooter, I assume this is a little further down the road though.
Our plan is to release it first if things go well, yes. Our 3D on-rails shooter Xenocider (a very personal tribute to Space Harrier) is in development as well and it may take a little longer to finish as there’s tons of 3D modelling and testing, and adjusting to the Dreamcast capabilities. It’s a wonderful machine to develop for, but the fact that we’re talking about a 15+ year old platform cannot be ignored!
Cheeky ask, can we twist your arm for more Xenocider details? Are you developing both titles side by side or…
Ask away! Our goal is total transparency, or at least as much transparency as possible. So yeah, both projects are being developed at the same time. Chui is coding both, Juanjo is creating music for both, and I obviously manage our social media profiles to try promote both as well of course… but Abel is creating all the assets for Xenocider while we (screenwriters Daniel Tena and Tomás Pallín with yours truly) write the script for Ameba and all that.
Have you a publisher in mind for both titles, can you say?
We, uhm… have. But we cannot really talk about it yet. Heh 🙂
Revealed via the sublime Dreamcast Junkyard (DreamPod episode 20), Ameba will be heading to the Saturn. Brilliant news!
Yes, it’s a personal challenge for us to create this game with the Saturn in mind as well. Our idea is to release the Saturn version in a classic japanese-style cardboard boxset featuring the game AND our own cartridge. A cartridge to not only surpass the console’s security but to provide the extra memory we will be using for some specific features. It may also contain specific rom data for the game.
We can find dev diaries for these games via the Retro Sumus YouTube channel. Folks can keep up to date with progress, correct?
Yes, thank you for mentioning that. We’ve been trying to keep potential buyers posted about our progress on both projects for a while now. From Xenocider level design to Ameba character profiles to music composition. There’s a new episode of our #DevDiaries coming soon, coincidentally 😉
Throughout development of these games, can you give an example where something has pleasantly surprised you – or perhaps, to date, what achievements are the team most proud of?
Well, Chui has been coding for the DC for about 15 years now and knows the machine inside out so I don’t think there have been any surprises so to speak, but I guess you could say we’re proud of two things: Chui coming up with a custom-made tool that allows us to visualize 3D objects just as they would look when running on real hardware, so we can know for sure how many polygons we can use and such, and then re-design these assets accordingly; and Abel mastering the old ninja technique of low-polygon design, making the most of the very little amount of polygons and textures we can use and still get the enemies looking the way we wanted!
Similarly, any particular difficulties encountered, if so how were these resolved?
I think the main difficulty is designing 3D objects with today’s standards for a 15+ year old platform, as I was saying. Soul Calibur looked great not because it featured so many polygons, but because it knew how, when and where to feature them, and for a very intelligent use of the right textures. And all this was, quite simply, “back in its day”: it was the best that could be done back then. Today we’re used to different tools and techniques. This is overcome by just forcing yourself to be creative and practical and use as few polygons and textures as you can to animate an enemy. Then we put all these assets in motion, check if they look and move properly, and if there’s room (aka memory) for improvement, we go for it.
As for Ameba, I guess the only problem might be adjusting the script to the kind of storytelling and game mechanics that a visual novel allows you to have. But what harm can a little challenge do?
Anyway. We are still in an early stage of development, so those problems and difficulties and possible solutions may still come! Thankfully, it’s not like we are a bunch of teenagers with no real experience who just decided to try create a game 😛
Exciting to see Retro Sumus enjoying overwhelming praise and support, via media / forums / conventions, how important is this feedback to the team?
Oh, we haven’t been overwhelmed yet, so if there’s praise, please don’t refrain yourself 😀
Feedback is key to us! As I said, we appreciate all comments and suggestions and I’m sure the users from Dreamcast-Talk, Sega Saturn UK, Dreamcast-News (French), Dreamcast.es (Spanish) and Nexgam.de (German), to name a few, have come to know that. We don’t like to leave questions unanswered. Being fans and gamers and Kickstarter backers and consumers ourselves, I think we’ve all had enough of that.
Carlos, you’re a gentleman! Thanks again for speaking with BCG. We are very excited for Ameba and Xenocider, we’ll certainly keep updated on all progress.
We hope you guys will like our upcoming updates about #AmebaVN (stands for visual novel) and #Xenocider. Oh yes, that’s an invitation to start using those hashtags 😉