Feature Article

Afro Samurai 2: The Making of an Unlikely Sequel

Nothing personal. It's just revenge.

Earlier this year at the Game Developers Conference, I spoke with Redacted Studios president David Robinson about the upcoming Afro Samurai 2. It was a lengthy conversation, in part because I enjoyed the original Afro Samurai (the Howard Drossin-penned and RZA-inspired soundtrack is particularly delightful), and in part because the stories behind Afro Samurai's development and its sequel were too fascinating to pull away from. At one time, Robinson was a rescuer of sorts, a producer who took troubled projects like Afro and Splatterhouse and wove their fraying threads into working entertainment. Now, he's leading a new studio to potential prosperity after successfully lobbying to continue the Afro Samurai story...and after retrieving art assets meant for the original that would have otherwise been ignored, never to be seen and enjoyed by anyone outside of the developers that created them.

I caught up with Robinson again recently to see if sequel was taking shape, and as it turns out, Redacted has ended up rebuilding more than it potentially bargained for. "As an indie developer, with fewer than 10 people on the new game, all asset development comes at a premium, so the thought was that we would be able to use some of the original assets," says Robinson. "But as it turns out, we have literally rebuilt almost all of the game just to make sure it fits in with the next-gen feel. Early on, it seemed that we were going to be able to reuse a lot of the assets, but after working with the Unity 5 engine for a while, we learned that it would be better to raise the bar."

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The catalyst for this change of approach wasn't Afro Samurai at all, but another developer's success with a similar art style. Says Robinson, "When we had a game like Borderlands borrowing from our style and moving it forward, it made us realize that what we created with the first game worked well, so then we just had to upgrade the look since graphics power across all devices has made amazing progress since we first released. Even on the character side, we found we had to re-create or considerably upgrade most of the assets. It makes it easier to have assets to copy, but in the end, it's never as easy as you think it's going to be. Shaders and lighting in next gen have required us to work hard to recapture the amazing cel-shaded look that the first Afro game pioneered."

The visuals aren't the only element to undergo a sea change. The original Afro Samurai allows you to slow the pace and use an analog stick to slice through enemies at any angle. When I first saw the sequel in action, it seemed that the game had removed the skill entirely, relying instead on swordplay styles you can switch between at any time. Targeted slow-motion strikes haven't been removed, however: they have simply been recontextualized in a way that, in Robinson's eyes, should welcome a broader audience.

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I wasn't a fan of Unity before I became an indie. Now, it's literally the oxygen we breathe.

David Robinson

"We changed the game fundamentally to allow more of the fans of the [manga/anime] series to be a part of the new game and every aspect of it," says Robinson. "We took a long hard look at all the consumer and press comments from the first Afro Samurai game to see what we needed to improve. One key message we took away from this was the fact that the game controls were just too 'hardcore' focused. This kind of struck me, since I consider myself a hardcore type gamer. I have lots of friends who just aren't crazy Street Fighter fans, but love Afro. Our biggest challenge therefore was how to make the game controls feel good to the existing gaming fan community while making them a little more accessible to new fans. So we have been developing a system that can satisfy both types of gamers and that at the end of the day will make both sets feel badass as they execute on that final finishing move."

"However," continues Robinson, "We haven't abandoned the slicing systems. Far from it: We've expanded on it and enveloped new ways to exploit it but across a world of new characters and storylines. It's an integral part of the Afro branch of the new styles system. As you get closer to gaining true Afro-ness in your upgrade tree in this game, you will be able to slice just like in the old game."

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As it happens, the original Afro Samurai was originally meant to have multiple combat styles, along with, as Robinson puts it, "a billion other things" that were designed for the game but never made it into the final release. How does this system in Afro Samurai 2 work? According to Robinson, "Each time you take down a new boss or you go through a major story element you'll be able to add that combat chip to your combat wheel, so basically the player learns all these new combat moves and adds it to their combat inventory. All these new character styles and moves can be upgraded, similar to what you'll find in an RPG. This means that the player can add new moves, animations, capabilities, on a per chip basis. For example, the Afro Style, once upgraded, will allow you to perform the old afro slice. The new Kuma style approaches slice in its own way. In each volume, your character will upgrade its combat style until eventually you will be able to do amazing things with all the abilities you've picked up and learnt to master. This will give the game the depth and staying power an episodic game needs. Players will pick up and learn new combat moves as the game progresses until they will see the ultimate version of their characters."

There's a key word above you might have missed: "volume." Afro Samurai 2 will be released in installments, an episodic approach we associate with story-based games like those that Telltale makes, but typically not with hack-and-slash action extravaganzas. But it makes sense when you consider Afro Samurai's manga and anime roots; Why wouldn't an associated game also be serialized? Robinson tells me that this approach allows each episode to have its own feel, while giving the overall arc a clear beginning, middle, and end. "From a franchise perspective we want to engender to the fans that each volume will feel different from the last," says Robinson. "We want them to feel that the ride we take them on will get wilder and wilder each time. We have some pretty cool surprises in store for the fans, and being episodic allows us the flexibility with development to experiment more with some crazy ideas, changing up the flow every few months with fresh content."

Being a small team, we have to pick our battles and pray the middleware providers have their collective shit together.

David Robinson
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All this is being done without the financial backing of a giant publisher like Namco Bandai, though games publisher Versus Evil has partnered with Redacted to bring Afro Samurai 2 to PC and current consoles. Every new idea is a make-or-break moment for the studio, which doesn't have the $10M budget of the original Afro Samurai. Money has not been the only challenge Redacted has faced, however.

"With no large publisher to back the team's technology plan long term, we had to adapt Afro to use [popular game engine] Unity," says Robinson. "And that posed huge challenges. We had to get features and shaders unique to the Afro franchise to work in an engine that simply wasn't cut out for it. In that regard we have found ourselves right back where we started from on the first Afro, developing tech and features on a brand new engine under huge time and budget constraints with no safety net. As far as I know, we are one of the first teams that will be shipping [a] next-gen [game] on Unity 5. It's tough to be the first ones. There are never handrails where you need them, and being a small team, we have to pick our battles and pray the middleware providers have their collective shit together."

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Being episodic allows us the flexibility with development to experiment more with some crazy ideas.

David Robinson

Unity has been the team's saving grace; Afro Samurai 2 is being made by less than a dozen people working on a shoestring budget, so utilizing every potential resource is vital. Says Robinson, "That's where the Unity Store has also been a lifesaver for us. It's cool. We sell some bottles and cans we collected from the neighbor's trash, and boom! We can afford that plugin that saves us three weeks' programmer time we didn't have in the first place. I wasn't a fan of Unity before I became an indie. Now, it's literally the oxygen we breathe. No shit. Pardon my language. Engines make me emotional."

Robinson is an emotional guy in general, actually, clearly excited by his game, his studio, and the partnerships he's created. Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA is again on board as Music Director; American Sniper co-author Jim DeFelice is penning the story. I haven't yet played Afro Samurai 2 myself, save for a few moments of button-mashing at GDC. But when a designer is this enthusiastic, the joy is contagious. "What carries us is the passion for making games and telling stories we think fans want to see, play, and hopefully buy," says Robinson. From almost anyone else, I'd dismiss this statement as typical public-relations-speak. When Robinson says it, I wholeheartedly believe it.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Kevin-V

Kevin VanOrd

Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play bass in Rock Band.
Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume One

Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume One

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Avatar image for Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

Will not sell, looks too cheap even for PS360.

Avatar image for Nakiato
Nakiato

Damn, the comments in here are a bit harsh. I loved the first game. So much so that I watched every episode of the show twice over. So this game isn't for you? Well, doesn't mean you need to shit all over it.

Avatar image for FUNERALHITS
FUNERALHITS

I am so sick of giant targeting reticles that block the animations. stupid. get rid of the target reticle. Bloodborne did it perfectly with a very small reticle.


Avatar image for GregoryBastards
GregoryBastards

oh yes....i want this badly...all underrated games should get sequels.

Also i love episodic games now...i think those are the future of gaming.

Avatar image for gokuKOG
gokuKOG

I dont wanna be color blind by the end of a game. Worst colors for a game ever.

Avatar image for DrunkenPunk800
DrunkenPunk800

I'd rather have a new Splatterhouse, or at the very least, a spiritual successor.

Avatar image for paterk_
Paterk_

I have to stop reading comments on game sites.

Avatar image for Uncle_Rell
Uncle_Rell

Wow this looks like a near end game for ps2.

Avatar image for MJR006
MJR006

Gamespot users hate life. No reason to complain about this

Avatar image for mattress805
mattress805

Loved the first game...one of the few games on the 360 I got 100% achievement score. Really fun game. More fun the second playthru. I'll definitely pick this one up.

Avatar image for Monsterkillah
Monsterkillah

Afro samurai 2 huh...never played the first one...

Avatar image for pgl163
PGL163

Oh wow,it would be a freaking great hit if it was on ps2 back in 2004...

Avatar image for apenlul
apenlul

this game don''t look so verry good

Avatar image for sum_guy09
sum_guy09

I really wanna support this game...first 1 was good, but only for its time. Unfortunately this just looks like more of the same & isn't a very big upgrade. I still like the soundtrack though & its unique style, everything that makes AS what it is. This wasn't the best presentation but its still early in the game so I'll wait & see how it progress.

Avatar image for DanielL5583
DanielL5583

Why are people so uppity about this being a thing...?

"Where are all the good games?" They haven't gone anywhere! Look around a bit, and you'll find one somewhere. And yes, it may be that this game will end up somewhat meh. Does it matter? Not really; there are still a lot of games to play outside of this one. And if it does end up a really good game, then all the better; it adds one more game onto the list of good games.

And what's so wrong with people wanting to make games making games? Especially those who are making them for the love of it? I'm slowly becoming a developer, and honestly, I live on this one philosophy - 'do what you love, not what's asked of you'. It may be that this game will flop. But meh? The guys are doing well making it, and I hope they do well in their future endeavours.

I just fail to see how you guys think it's perfectly OK to say "we didn't ask for this" or "this will be terrible" when it's not even out, won't be for a while, and made by developers who love what they're doing.

Avatar image for Yomigaeru
Yomigaeru

Speaking of Afro Samurai...where is he? Perhaps it's my stanky old wizard eyes, but I only see Jinno and random mooks in those screens.

Avatar image for edwardnygma
EdwardNygma

The first game wasn't good so I will have to pass on this.

Avatar image for nolimittb
nolimittb

"Afro Samurai 2 is being made by less than a dozen people working on a shoestring budget"


Does anyone read anymore? Its clearly not a AAA release! Can't wait, enjoyed the first one.

Avatar image for Strychnine
Strychnine

I passed on the first one, I'll give this one a shot.

Avatar image for xolivierx
xolivierx

stop making bad games and release a quality Tenchu title

Avatar image for vannacut
vannacut

I enjoyed the first one very much, I wish they made it for pc too.

Avatar image for iamdreamfaller
IamDreamfaller

This gameplay is as bad presented as Genji 2 :/ Nothing new and ugly upgrade menu. Don't show a game, people, when it looks like this :/

Avatar image for i-rock-socks
i-rock-socks

Sweet, Afro samurai 1 was awesome

Avatar image for Sl4cka
Sl4cka

tl;dr

Which platform(s) is the sequel coming to and when?

Avatar image for DeusGladiorum
DeusGladiorum

@Sl4cka: They implied PC, PS4, and XBO. Didn't see release date

Avatar image for inmycontrol
InMyConTroL

@DeusGladiorum@Sl4cka: Seems more like a PS2 title, poor graphics.

Avatar image for IanNottinghamX
IanNottinghamX

@inmycontrol@DeusGladiorum@Sl4cka: Its likely they meant to release this on Xbox 360 and Ps3. They are most likely using the same engine. Maybe they will overhaul the graphics before it comes out.

Avatar image for paterk_
Paterk_

@IanNottinghamX@inmycontrol@DeusGladiorum@Sl4cka: They are using Unity 5 (game engine) which was released about a month ago.

Avatar image for IanNottinghamX
IanNottinghamX

@paterk_@IanNottinghamX@inmycontrol@DeusGladiorum@Sl4cka: they probably ported it to unity 5

Avatar image for paterk_
Paterk_

@IanNottinghamX@paterk_@IanNottinghamX@inmycontrol@DeusGladiorum: d00d sic. you sound like a developer. Like... how do you know so much about stuff and shit?

Avatar image for inmycontrol
InMyConTroL

@IanNottinghamX: I don't think so. First impression is always important, those are not premature images. The graphics wont suffer drastic changes, but mechanics will.

Avatar image for xOmniCloudx
xOmniCloudx

Surprised the first game got made and never thought it would get anything ever again. I'm a big fan of Afro Samurai but never expected much of any games. Would love to be proven wrong by this sequel.

Avatar image for racheyrach
RacheyRach

I can't wait for this game to be shipped


Avatar image for idosofacility
idosofacility

God.. people really like to waste effort and money huh!?

where are all the good games gone?

Avatar image for A8ADD0N
A8ADD0N

@idosofacility:


"where are all the good games gone?"


where ares all the english classes be?

Avatar image for Kevin-V
Kevin-V

@idosofacility: There are, literally, thousands and thousands and thousands of games made every year. I promise you that whole bunches of them are, in fact, very good. The answer to your second question is: nowhere.


As for the first question, I would ask one of my own: have you ever made anything? I make a lot of things, personally, some that see the light of day by being published, some that go up on my personal blog or on YouTube, and some that just sit around, doing nothing. In all of those cases, I am glad I spent my time with them. I am proud of the music that I have composed, the articles I have written, and the small creative projects that have brightened my home, my loved ones, and myself. I can't imagine that you have ever made a thing. If you have, you know that there is such joy in creation, and that when you believe in something, the resources you spend--your time, your money, your emotional energy--are never a waste.


Afro Samurai may or may not sell well, and may or may not have a huge audience, but that doesn't mean that it was a waste. The first game brought me a lot of happiness. Personally, I wouldn't call anything that brings me happiness a waste. If you think there are no good games, and think that making a game you believe in and pour a lot of effort into is a waste, then I can only ask: why are you here? It doesn't sound like you like games or have any respect for the people that make them.

Avatar image for DanielL5583
DanielL5583

@Kevin-V@idosofacility: Couldn't have said it any better myself.

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Carpetfluff

Somehow I managed to miss this was a thing until now...and yes please and thank you.

Avatar image for drizzygadget
DrizzyGadget

Best news all day. Loved the first one and can't wait to buy this one.

Avatar image for gamebuyer22
gamebuyer22

The first one was good but somewhat repetitive. Great soundtrack though. Hopefully they get Drossen to compose again. However just hearing that AS2 is episodic makes me have no interest whatsoever. They should do a physical release like RE Revelations 2 but it sounds like they dont have a budget.

Avatar image for A8ADD0N
A8ADD0N

@gamebuyer22:


Why is everyone so averse to supporting episodic games? It makes sense for smaller studios to embrace this approach.

Avatar image for Megavideogamer
Megavideogamer

At least the are giving this series another chance. The industry needs for IP's Afro Samurai is getting a second chance to shine.

Avatar image for deactivated-584419ec3a052

Nice, I had no idea they were making a second one. I got the first one pretty cheap, and while it's not perfect I got plenty of fun out of it.

Avatar image for rasterror
rasterror

Yo Afro!

Avatar image for davillain-
DaVillain-

I own Afro Samurai and the second Animes on Blu-Rays and I enjoy them both, almost share the art style from Samurai Champloo. Sad to say that I miss the first game and it looks like I may never play it now.

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