Q&A: Chromehounds creator on launch day

Producer Toshifumi Nabeshima talks about the conception, design, and balance aspects of his new Xbox 360 mech shooter.

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From Software producer Toshifumi Nabeshima is making the rounds to promote his new Xbox 360 shooter, Chromehounds. Last week, the developer discussed the online and strategic aspects of the game with Sega. With the game releasing in Japan today, Nabeshima talked about its long road to store shelves with ITmedia.

The game may be finished now, but it was a long road to get there. The original prototype was shown at the Tokyo Game Show 2003, Nabeshima said, when it was called Chromehounds: Age of Arms. That version of the game was originally shelved when From Software determined it did not have the resources to run the required servers and that the development team lacked experience with network games.

While From Software is already known for its Armored Core series of mech shooters, Nabeshima noted some big differences between developing games for that series and Chromehounds. "The Armored Core series has continued for many years, so we always must leave the game's atmosphere intact," he said. "Chromehounds is a first title, so we needn't worry about this. One of the game's attractions is the unrefined looking mecha, which you'd never see in Armored Core. Hounds aren't robots, they're evolved tanks... Overseas, the superhero styled robot that Japanese gamers love is not as popular as mechs that look like weapons of war."

Another difference from Armored Core is Chromehounds' lack of flying mechs. The explanation turns out to be simply a matter of balance. "In a game focused on land war, airborne units would be too strong. [Non-flyers] would be sitting ducks."

Concern over balance notwithstanding, pilots can eject from their destroyed mechs and wander around the map armed only with a light machine gun. "Damage for the machinegun is actually calculated, but if the target is a Hound, this damage always works out to zero," Nabeshima laughed. "Of course, this weapon is effective at defeating infantry."

The ability to wander around on foot is more than just a gimmick, Nabeshima said. "We put this feature in because we didn't want players to experience dead time until the end of the battle if their Hound is destroyed. We originally thought of letting the player float freely around the field in a sort of spectator mode, but that would have the unintended benefit of allowing him/her to search for the enemy's base with impunity."

Nabeshima also touched on the trials and tribulations of developing for network play. "The hard part was finding out which of the things we wanted to achieve could and could not be done with Xbox Live features. Also, each step of development was long. For example, on past hardware, I'd just tell the development staff 'fix this like this' and two or three days later, it would be fixed. Now it's not that simple. I cannot request fixes so lightly, and the balance between quality and scheduling is difficult."

Now that the game is out and online in Japan, the question of additional content is already at the forefront of gamers' minds. Nabeshima remained coy on the subject, saying only that the developers were thinking about it--"just thinking"--and should be able to announce something in the near future.

Nabeshima concluded by summing up his thoughts on the giant robot genre in general. "What's important is being able to express yourself. [This genre] allows [the player] to be narcissistic, but in a good way," Nabeshima said. "The truth is embarrassing, but I feel that the robot action genre expresses a common fantasy that everyone has, deep down."

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