Carnage Heart's handheld return

The obscure mech strategy franchise from Masaki Izuka returns tomorrow in Japan on the Sony PSP; Izuka dishes on the handheld title's new features.

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Longtime strategy fans may recall an obscure title called Carnage Heart by ArtDink, makers of Tail of the Sun, in which players build and customize mechs called Over Kill Engines. Released in 1995 in Japan and then localized for a limited release abroad in 1997, Carnage Heart had a steep learning curve and rudimentary graphics. But brisk sales in Japan encouraged the releases of an updated version, Carnage Heart EZ, and two spin-off sequels under the moniker Zeus: Carnage Heart.

Now ArtDink and publisher Genki are poised to launch another chapter in the esoteric series, this time on the Sony's PlayStation Portable. Web site Mantan Web managed to get a few words with Masaki Izuka--the director of every game in the series since the first title--who spilled the details on Carnage Heart Portable's gameplay, development, and why the franchise is making a comeback.

"Genki asked us to make a new Carnage Heart for the PSP," Izuka said. "This opportunity was a blessing. It was possible only because there were people in Genki who liked the game and pushed for it."

Carnage Heart Portable is "a battle of brains," Izuka said. "Its most distinguishing feature is that you don't control the [Over Kill Engine] yourself. Instead the 'cognitive program' handles the combat"--meaning players can create and compete against ghost AI opponents, as in some recent fighting and racing games. "As long as the design data is there, you can retrieve it using the Internet and hold a match regardless of whether or not it's convenient for your opponent."

The design of the Over Kill Engine in the new game will be familiar to series regulars. "I'm afraid people will think this is a port, but the program and data have all been created from scratch--it is an entirely new game," Izuka said. A lot of new features have been added under the hood, he said.

"I'm satisfied because we were able to implement the bulk of the things we wanted to improve from the last Carnage. We've put a lot of effort into the basics, things like the terrain modeling, physics, the replay save function, and so on. I look forward to seeing how it's received," he said.

"It has always been said this series has a hard learning curve for newcomers," he said, "but we've tried to lower the threshold as much as possible."

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