Klonoa 2 – 2001 Developer Interviews

Klonoa 2 - 2001 Developer Interviews

These two vintage Klonoa 2 interviews were originally featured in The Playstation and Namco Games magazines, shortly after the game's Japanese release in March 2001. Producer and director Tsuyoshi Kobayashi and art director Yoshihiko Arai discuss their approach to making a sequel, their design and development process, and new additions like the jump-assist feature and action buttons.

Tsuyoshi Kobayashi - Producer

—When did the plans for Klonoa 2 get off the ground?

Kobayashi: After finishing the original PS1 game, we started working on a Wonderswan version, but we also worked on Klonoa 2 at the same time. Initially, we were planning to make Klonoa 2 for the PS1. But while we were developing it the PS2 came out, so when we finished the Wonderswan port we decided it would probably be better to move Klonoa 2 to the PS2. The game really took shape once we started folding in gameplay elements that took advantage of the PS2's capabilities.

—Did you talk about changing up any of the essential elements of Klonoa for this sequel?

Kobayashi: At first, yeah, there were a lot of things we talked about updating. We thought having a true 3D space that you can rotate might be good. But the way I see Klonoa, it's fundamentally a welcoming, approachable game with simple controls, and I wanted that aspect to be front and center. So we decided to retain that and find new things to entice players by using the upgraded hardware: better presentation and visuals, full polygon graphics, and more robust camerawork. Of course we are planning to surprise players with effects that only the PS2 can do and impressive camerawork.

—I suppose there's a fear that if you include too many gameplay ideas, the controls will become too unwieldy.

Kobayashi: Yeah, that's a concern. I think the visuals look cooler when the screen is slightly tilted off-axis. It's really just about deciding where to draw the line, how far to go. The artists sometimes have ideas for all these flashy cool angles, close-ups of Klonoa and the like, but if we do all that it can harm the gameplay. That's not to say I've rejected every new idea: we've carefully filtered out the ones that work and kept the game controls simple and fun.

Tsuyoshi Kobayashi (2001)

—The character of Klonoa seems a bit more adult this time.

Kobayashi: Yeah. One of the complaints we received over the last game was that we had over-ornamented Klonoa. When you looked at his silhouette it looked confusing because his design was too busy. So we wanted to streamline his design, and create a character whose unique features made you say, "Ah, yeah, that's Klonoa right there." The fact that he looks a little more adult now was part of that. By making him a little taller, it made it easier to animate him as a polygon character.

We had the artists create a variety of alternate designs for Klonoa along our way to finalizing his design. And the reason we've only showed his face in our recent magazine promotions is that we want to make him more recognizable to players. "That's Klonoa!" Finally, we experimented with so many different tweaks to his design… so many, in fact, that we might have been accused of looking for problems!

—There's so many background graphics in Klonoa 2, as well. Does that imply there were a lot of rejected ideas as well...?

Kobayashi: For the backgrounds, we had a team who was solely responsible for them, but I think there were many designs that ultimately didn't get adopted. For some maps, they looked good but they needed revisions to address some gameplay issue, like it being unclear where Klonoa was standing. In terms of our overall process for Klonoa 2's maps, the first thing we did was decide on a general image for every stage, leaving the graphic designers to work out the details. Initially the level designers would map out the basic path for Klonoa to walk on, then they had the artists flesh everything out… that was challenging because the artists couldn't move forward until the other stuff had been finished.

Various design iterations for Klonoa's character in Klonoa 2. The ones on the left were originally colored, and you can see those color variations here.

—So you got a conceptual idea of the stage design first, then set to work on the background graphics.

Kobayashi: We decided on what I guess I'd call the overall flow of the game. How many stages in total, how it will progress, that kind of stuff. After that, we had very in-depth meetings with the team leads over the concrete details, and the planners develop a general image of the stage design, and then we build the levels out to a point where Klonoa can actually walk through them.

Once that's done, the planners get everyone together in front of the TV and while moving Klonoa around in real-time, they explain what they want to do with camera angles and other specific gameplay ideas. This stage will be upside down… this scene here is key so let's put a lot of effort into it… that kind of stuff. We have many meetings like that, getting into the nitty-gritty, and each time the graphics designers flesh things out a little more. The background design is directly linked to the difficulty of the game, and we update it and adjust that continuously throughout this process: it's something we take very seriously.

—How many people are actually working on the development team then?

Kobayashi: Well, the other day we had a little celebration for the end of the development, and I think there were about 50 people there.

—It must be challenging to manage that many people. (laughs)

Kobayashi: Yeah… it is. (laughs) I think if the team gets any larger it'll be impossible. I mean, I guess the last Klonoa game had a pretty big team too. Everyone has their "thing" they're passionate about, and I suppose I try to let them pursue that as much as possible. When everyone is fired up and passionate about what they're doing, that's when they make a good game. At the same time I also have to rein them in and be able to say "NO" about certain things, too. (laughs)

—It seems like you're very satisfied about how Klonoa 2 came out.

Kobayashi: I am, yeah. Fully satisfied. Of course, if we'd had a little more time, there's more we could have done, but the staff pushed themselves to the limit already… I know they wanted to have a versus mode, and lots more besides, but it'd never end if we don't draw the line somewhere.

—What would the versus mode have looked like?

Kobayashi: It would have involved letting the player control Popka a bit more. But the current support mode with Popka pretty much nails what we wanted to do. There were proposals to have a bit more variation, but the important point, we felt, was that for the player controlling Popka, and for what the game requires, it would be kind of pointless to make those controls more complex. The idea of Popka is to experience the joy of helping out your ally, in that capacity, you see.

Concept art for the stages ("Visions") in Klonoa 2.

—When I had a chance to play the in-development version and try the support mode, the person I was playing with kept deliberately jumping at the wrong timing and forcing me to jump. (laughs)

Kobayashi: Yeah, we figured there would be some of that too. But what we were really thinking about for the support system, was the situation, for example, where you have a daughter and father playing together. It often happens where the child will say, "I can't do this part, Dad, do it for me!" But then the parent does it and the child just sits there watching, completely uninvolved. With the support mode, the Dad can play as Popka and simply help out, but they both get to experience the fun of doing it together. Also, everyone has someone in their life who normally doesn't play video games at all… but sometimes you really want them to just try it out, you know? We hope support mode will be helpful in those situations.

—I imagine another important factor was the fact that the original Klonoa gained the attention of so many female fans.

Kobayashi: Yeah. Many people were of the opinion that the action in Klonoa was difficult, so we wanted to offer what assistance we could to those people, and Klonoa 2 is actually full of those accomodations. The ability to select stages, to return to areas you've played through once, the support mode… that was a huge design goal for us, to make sure that people who aren't very good at action games could still have fun. I think Klonoa 2 is a game that any person of any skill level can play through to the end. And for highly-skilled gamers, I hope collecting all the items will be a fun challenge.

I think we did all we could do for this game, so I hope you give it a try. Please send your opinions and thoughts to Namco—they're the fuel and motivation for our next project.

Klonoa 2 - 2001 Developer Interview

originally featured in Namco Games magazine

Tsuyoshi Kobayashi - Project Director
Yoshihiko Arai - Art Director

—What was the development theme for Klonoa 2 when the project started?

Kobayashi: The theme for the last game was "dramatic", and with the new PS2 hardware, naturally we talked about how we could use its power to make the sequel even more dramatic. For the action gameplay too, we want more dramatic camera angles—an action game filled with surprises around even every corner. That was our starting point for the development.

—The first Klonoa had a somewhat light-hearted, warm atmosphere. I get the impression that, for the sequel, you're adding a "thrilling" quality to that base...?

Kobayashi: Our image for the first stage of Klonoa was light-hearted and warm as you say. But we think that for PS2 users, they would find that a bit lacking if that's all we did. That's why Klonoa 2 begins right away with a stormy ocean stage—we've pushed that "spectacle" feeling to the fore. That isn't to say that we've abandoned the mood of the first game, of course. We want to maintain what was good about Klonoa but power it up, so to speak.

Yoshihiko Arai (L) and Tsuyoshi Kobayashi (R)

Arai: When I visited Europe earlier, i did a bit of market research, and there were a lot of players who said that they decide what games to buy after playing a demo disc. That's why we thought Klonoa 2 should start with a bang, something to hook players in. The power of the PS2 allows us to create these audacious, spectacular scenes, and that's the ambitious spirit in which the development started: "whatever we want to do, let's try it!" From there we settled on four kingdoms for Lunatea, and then created matching characters for those kingdoms. Basically the kingdoms came first, then we made the characters.

Kobayashi: We put a lot of effort into the first stage this time. It took a long time to make too. We figured that first 30 minutes of gameplay is what really grabs the players.

—Do you think making a sequel is hard?

Kobayashi: I don't think it makes a major difference. There are some things that are easier to do, and some that aren't. There's this feeling that you have to surpass the first game, but there's also a sense that players are already on-board with what you're trying to do. So overall I don't really feel any major pressure from it being a sequel.

Arai: Being on the PS2 also made us want to surpass the first game. We've switched from 2D to 3D graphics to make it nice and visually distinct. I'd actually say, more than being hard, we had a lot of fun making Klonoa 2.

Kobayashi: Well I personally approached this development like we were trying to out-do the first Klonoa. (laughs)

Arai: The story of the first Klonoa wraps up neatly, so we did struggle with how to follow that up. Should we dig deeper into the original story, or do something that flips everything on its head?

—The story in the first Klonoa was regarded as something of a tearjerker.

Arai: Well, I'd say Klonoa 2 goes in the same general direction, but approaches it from a different vector. We're really looking forward to hearing feedback from players after they finish it.

A comparison of character models across the various Klonoa games (courtesy of klonoa@blog). As Kobayashi mentions above, Klonoa's design for Lunatea's Veil has been notably simplified from the somewhat busier design of the original PS1 game.

—The graphics in Klonoa 2 have a very fresh, new look to them... although they're 3D, the characters don't have that typical "polygon" look to them. It's kind of unique, isn't it?

Kobayashi: That was something we were very conscious about from the beginning. We didn't want the typical glossy, pre-rendered look that a lot of CG graphics tend to have. So our team experimented with a lot of different techniques early on. We used a technique called toon shading (cel shading), but on its own, it makes the lighting look kind of weak. So we decided to retain the outlines for the characters, aiming for a kind of midway between CG and anime. I think it turned out to be a big success.

Arai: If you just use cel shading alone, it takes a ton of polygons to render a single character, and that impact will be felt in other aspects of the game. For Klonoa the backgrounds and stages make up a huge part of the overall world and atmosphere, so we can't afford to sell them short like that. So we decided to first draw an outline around the characters to give them a sense of weight and heft, and pull their overall design together. I think we succeeded in making the graphics feel unified.

Kobayashi: It wasn't the easiest path though. (laughs) Our current method had an awful lot of restrictions that we had to dance around. (laughs)

Arai: Early on in the development we were stuffing the game with all kinds of things, which made adjusting and balancing everything very difficult later on. Each Klonoa game we've made has coincided with a change in hardware, too, so we're always fumbling around in the beginning. "Oh, we can do this, and this, and this… What about this?" Our ambitions just kept expanding. The shift from 2D to 3D gave us much more freedom with the camera angles, which probably contributed to that too.

Kobayashi: Well, that is one Klonoa 2's selling points. (laughs)

—With regard to Klonoa 2's dynamic camerawork, were there any things that inspired or influenced you?

Kobayashi: Situationally, yeah, there were a number of camera angle and shot references we had in mind, but they didn't really translate into the game in a playable way, so we didn't use them. We actually took a lot of care on that point. All the camerawork was adjusted and tweaked in real-time, while testplaying through the game.

Arai: There were requests with the graphics team, like "Do a close-up here so we can see his expression." The team argued over some very minor points too. I recall that in the last game, there was a feeling of not wanting to do close-ups.

Kobayashi: Yeah. Well, it was 2D after all.

Arai: Yeah, in that sense I think you can really say that Klonoa 2 accomplishes all the things we didn't (or couldn't) do last time.

Popka's voice actress, Wasabi Mizuta. As Kobayashi explains, Popka was designed to help facilitate co-op play between players of different skill levels.

—In the last game, the stage order was fixed, but this time players can freely select where to go. Why did you change that?

Kobayashi: My fundamental, deepest policy for Klonoa, is that it should be a game that anyone can play. In action games there is always a stark divide between good and bad players, and in the first game, we got stuck on that point. We wanted to do remedy that, so we let players repeat stages as much as they liked to get things they missed, and added multiple routes.

—Was Popka's jump support also part of that?

Kobayashi: Yeah. I had the image in my head of a girl playing the game and her father helping her, or a girlfriend that doesn't play games much being helped out by her boyfriend. Our aim was to bring in those people who normally just sit back and watch. For that, we didn't feel a typical 2P co-op mode was sufficient. For example, when parents are playing with their kids, and there's a hard part, the kid will usually say "Dad, do this part for me!" And then the child is just a passive spectator. With our system in Klonoa 2, the Dad can give just a little help. It's still the daughter who is advancing through the game.

—What was the intention behind the inclusion of the L1 and L2 "Action Buttons"?

Kobayashi: We've prepared a number of dramatic scenes this time, like the scene where you're shot out of a cannon, and we wanted to give players something interactive to do there. In that sense, given our overall concept for Klonoa 2, I think it was inevitable that we add a system like this. Also, for skilled players, once they've gotten used to the system, we're hoping they'll use the action buttons more freely and develop their own uniquely expressive, "cool" playstyle. We added systems like this so that you would feel a greater sense of identification with Klonoa.

Arai: It's one of the ways we have to encourage players to psychologically project themselves onto the character. Mascot and character games are fun for what they are, but if possible I'd like players to empathize and identify with Klonoa. That concept—that Klonoa is a projection of the player—was in the last game, too.

—Thank you for your time today.

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