Interview With Akaoni Studio

Let’s start off by learning a bit about Akaoni Studio. Are you all based in Valencia, and how much videogame industry experience did you have before Zombie Panic in Wonderland? I noticed that your studio makes announcements in Japanese as well as Spanish — have you spent a lot of time in the Land of the Rising Sun?

We have offices in Valencia, Spain, where we make the games, but we also work with Japanese team members — the illustrator and one of the programmers who worked on Zombie Panic in Wonderland, for example. Our team members have a wide range of videogame industry experience, including those who are just getting their start, learning alongside us without having prior industry work experience.

We issue our news in Japanese because that’s where much of our web traffic comes from — the number of Japanese viewers exploded after the great success that the WiiWare version of Zombie Panic in Wonderland had there. I first left for Japan eighteen years ago and I’ve lived there for ten, so the language is no problem.

As someone with experience in both the Japanese and European videogame industries, you must have noticed lots of differences in commercial practices and audience preferences between these markets. What’s the most profound?

I think it’s difficult to reach the Japanese public with videogames made outside Japan. If you’re going to be successful there, everything from the aesthetic presentation to character personalities and the world surrounding them has to be very particular. The Japanese public prefers fantasy, drama, and even surrealism in videogames. The European public, on the other hand, is more open to playing, and more capable of enjoying, great games whether they’re made in Japan, Europe or America.

We make games in a distinctly Japanese style at Akaoni. This seems the most natural way to me thanks to all the time I’ve spent in Japan, and it’s also the flavor imbued in our projects by our illustrator and graphic artists.

You’ve given classes on videogame development at the University of Valencia, right?  Has it been difficult to develop games and teach at the same time, and have you used Akaoni projects to demonstrate some of the concepts to your students?

We’ve given various seminars on videogame development at Spanish universities and we always use our projects as examples to explain things. Honestly, it’s not easy preparing classes because creating videogames leaves you with hardly any time to do anything else. But I think it’s something very important that we have to do. The more people who are instructed well today, the more – and better – games we’ll have to play later, and this prospect makes us very happy.

With respect to Akaoni’s first project, Zombie Panic in Wonderland, what’s the story behind this idea of combining the worlds of Momotaro, Snow White, and The Wizard of Oz, and then stirring in zombies? Was this the result of a crazy brainstorming session with the whole Akaoni team, or did you have this idea in mind long before forming the studio?

I’ve had this idea in mind since my days as a student in Japan. I like to unite concepts that should never be put together in theory, like zombies and characters from popular stories. If you manage the mixture well you can end up with something very attractive, and luckily that’s what happened with Zombie Panic in Wonderland.

Did you have an iOS version of Zombie Panic in Wonderland in mind from the beginning, or did you decide on this after the Wii version debuted? What’s been the most challenging technical aspect of the transition from Wii to iOS?

We weren’t thinking about any other platforms during the creation of the WiiWare version — we already had too much work to do! Once finished, and after the successful release, we wanted to improve it and port it to other platforms. There were many candidates, but in the end we decided on iOS to maximize the number of potential players. That’s where the future looked most promising.

The most difficult thing has been porting all the functionalities of our engine and optimizing them to work on older iDevices. I personally use an iPhone 3G, and it’s really irked me that I haven’t been able to play so many of the interesting games that have been released lately! We figured there are a lot of other people like me out there, so we decided to make an effort with these players specifically in mind.

Looking back, what were some of the weaknesses of the original edition and how do you intend to improve in Plus? Will we see new content, like more levels and weapons?

Above all, the feedback we received from the Japanese audience was that the weakest enemies were too hard to beat. This time around we want to heighten the player’s sense of destructive power for a more entertaining experience. We’ve also added a combo system, online leaderboards, remade and improved all the game’s graphics, and added new levels. Since this platform allows post-release updates, we’re leaving the window open to add more content and functions that the fans want to see.