One of the biggest indie games at TGS 2019 was La-Mulana, a classic 2D platformer that has been gaining traction due to its supposed Metroidvania style gameplay. We sat down with the director of La-Mulana, Takumi Naramura. In our interview, we talk about his inspirations as a game developer and the beginning of his development team, Nigoro. He gives us insider info on the inspirations behind the smash indie hit, La-Mulana.
The Road to Game Development
“I was really heavily influenced by my love of games as a child,” says Naramura. The down-to-earth developer sits next to me in a La-Mulana t-shirt, bright and energetic despite our early 9 am meeting time. “Although I couldn’t create games at that age, I would write ideas for games in my notebooks. As the internet started to grow, I made more friends and acquaintances. I met programmers who helped me on my path to creating a game. I told them my ideas and they said ‘Why don’t we just make your game?’ That’s how I started.”
These days, numerous universities offer courses and even degrees in game design. However, back in Naramura’s time as a student, no such courses existed in Japan. “I didn’t take any classes in game design. I was an art major studying interactive design and web design.”
Naramura’s professor told his class that interactive design is a system where a user clicks and interacts with the media in order to create an outcome. In that sense, Naramura believes it’s very close to the philosophy of creating games; players engage in actions that lead to certain outcomes.
Naramura had his own thoughts about what makes a great game. “I like games where you are put into a world and given little information. That kind of gaming where you start off with nothing is something I really like. Even if you are put into a world with little info, you can feel that there is a large world within the game. In games with little explanation, you learn on your own or make your own rules as you go along. That’s something I love about such games and try to reflect in my own work.”
Keeping Flash Games Alive
If you take a few minutes to browse Nigoro’s website, you’ll notice that most of Naramura and Nigoro’s titles have been free-to-play flash games. One of the most simple and fun games on their site is Lonely House Moving, which I highly recommend.
“When Nigoro was new, we wanted to get our name out, so we created free flash games for people to enjoy. Lonely House Moving was one of those games. As you know, really retro games like games on the MSX didn’t have a lot of color. However, flash games can have a multitude of color and we like to make our games vibrant.”
One amazing thing about Nigoro’s game library is that every game is remarkably different. “Back then, it was a challenge for us to create different types of games. It was a battle to come up with these ideas. That is why we have so many different genres and types of flash games on our site. One of my favorites is Rose and Camellia. This became one of our most famous games. I really enjoyed creating the scenario and writing the different characters.”
Naramura explains that in 2020, flash player support will be completely discontinued, thus marking the extinction of flash games. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, flash games were incredibly popular due to their simple, quick, and usually free-to-play nature. “When flash player is discontinued, fans will lose the ability to play most of the games we have released. Therefore, we are looking into numerous options to keep these games alive.” Naramura states that Nigoro can hopefully move their flash games onto digital marketplaces in order to preserve them.
Is La-Mulana Digital-Only?
Since all of Nigoro’s games have previously been free-to-play PC flash games, I asked Naramura why they decided to make the jump towards a console game release. “I always thought that one day buying games online and downloading them would become popular,” explains Naramura. “While using credit cards is not so commonplace in Japan yet, I know that in many Western countries it is very common. I wanted to appeal to that market.”
While the game will be available digitally, due to the unexpected popularity of La-Mulana, the company is able to release La-Mulana 1 & 2 physically as well as digitally. “I was pleasantly surprised by this and am happy we can offer a physical copy to our fans.”
What Makes La-Mulana Unique from Castlevania or Metroid?
“Actually, when we started to work on the game, I had never even heard the word ‘Metroidvania’. At that point, I hadn’t even seen Castlevania or Metroid games. So in fact, I didn’t even know La-Mulana was comparable to those games.”
“In actuality, it was heavily influenced by The Maze of Galious. During development was the first time I tried Metroid and Castlevania, to get a reference of those games. However, La-Mulana is very different from them. One of the biggest differences is that in many Metroidvania games you must find an item to proceed to a new area. In La-Mulana you must figure out an archaeological puzzle to proceed.
Naramura’s revelation that La-Mulana was not inspired by Castlevania or Metroid was very interesting and likely comes as a shock to many Metroidvania fans. It just goes to show that as gamers, we often have preconceptions based on our own gaming history that could prove not to be true at all.
Advice for Future Game Developers
Naramura was a very kind and laid back man and was very pleasant to speak to. Nigoro’s wish to preserve their flash games really hits home for me, as a millennial who grew up with flash games.Hopefully, the discontinuation of flash proves not to be a hindrance to Nigoro but a driving force that pushes the developer into more modern game markets.
To end the interview, I ask Naramura his advice for people looking to break into the game industry. He says that while university courses and degrees can help you get the skills you need, what’s more important is the ability to create something creative and to always be drawing inspiration from the things around you.
“Look over there,” Naramura points out the window to the beautiful view of the Chiba skyline and Tokyo Bay. “You see that port or dock in the distance?” In the horizon, we see an oddly curved dock in the shape of a thin crescent moon. “I wonder why that dock is curved in that way? What lies at the end of that dock? Perhaps I could make a game that answers that question.” Naramura’s quirks and creativity have lead to numerous brilliant flash games and of course, La-Mulana which is scheduled to be released in early 2020.
- Release date: Early 2020
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
- Ratings: RP
Be sure to check out Nigoro’s free flash games before support for flash is discontinued! You can view and play their entire flash game library on their website.
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