Anthony Romero: I'd like to take time to thank Simon Strange for speaking with us about his past work and also to discuss his upcoming game Kaiju Combat, which is currently in the funding stage if anyone is interested in following the project or contributing.
Now first, let's start really basic here: how did you get into video games and what made you decide to leap into this as a profession?
Making video games was my first job out of college, and it's been my only professional line of work since. I attended college in the mid 90's, when tech jobs were falling over themselves to hire bright young people, so I never really worried about my future. Just before I graduated, I reconnected with a friend who was making games. I thought to myself "Oh, I'll do that." So I did.
Romero: Was there a particular video game title, growing up or before entering the industry, that you would cite as a strong inspiration behind your development ideals or that really inspired to "take up the torch" and be involved in development yourself?
Strange: Video games were certainly a focus in my youth. I think I have to point to Ultima IV, because that really shaped my idea of what a video game could be about. I liked it so much I actually spent a year (when I was 10 years old!) re-creating the map square by square on a 4' by 4' sheet of graph paper. I have that framed now. As far as my "ideals" for development - those have been much more shaped by the people & experiences I've had over the last 15 years working in the industry than by any specific game. The process of development is very rich & rewarding to me personally - moreso than almost any game.
Romero: You have worked on "giant monster titles" for quite some time now, having past work with both Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee and Rampage: Total Destruction among many others. What drives you back to this genre, and in particular interacting with the fans of the games to the level that you do? It's somewhat rare to see a developer communicate with "a fanbase" to the degree that you do.
Strange I'm a big believer in the notion that people can't fundamentally disagree - they just have trouble communicating. It's hard to hate somebody if you know them, and almost anything that you care to dismiss as "stupid" probably had a long train of thought behind it, if only you were around to appreciate it. So it's natural to me to be very open with the people who want to communicate with me. I actually had to stifle that reflex a great deal when I was working for other studios - because they wanted to control the flow of information.
I understand that desire - but I believe that it's almost always rooted in the fear that your work is inadequate, or deficient in some way. I'm not afraid to make mistakes, and if people can point them out in time for me to correct them - aren't we all better off for it?
As for "why giant mosters over and over" - I think giant monsters give me a chance to work on fighting games, but break some of the assumptions about fighting games that I hate. Specifically, I hate the "speed beats all" mechanics, which promote play in ways which frustrate and undermine your opponent's ability to enjoy the game. Have you ever been creamed by someone in Street Fighter, and felt like you never wanted to play Street Fighter again? I see that all the time, and I want to make sure nobody EVER feels that way about my fighting games. In all of the Godzilla games both players get lots of chances to be awesome, and I like that. I want to do more of that, in fact! Which is why Kaiju Combat is so important to me.
Romero: Of the past Godzilla games, do you have a favorite?
Godzilla: Save the Earth is the one I'm most satisfied with. All of them had their weaknesses, but the weaknesses in Save the Earth are harder for players to see.
Romero: Standard question, do you have a favorite Toho monster movie?
My favorite Toho movie is Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994). I really like the structure of it - several battles where SpaceGodzilla just crushes his opponents, and then a final battle where he finally loses. That's way more fun than just having 1 big battle at the end.
Romero: What about favorite Toho character?
Besides Godzilla, if that happens to be the answer.
Strange: My favorite character is the start of my second favorite film - it's the 2003 Kiryu film Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003). I love that Kiryu is a Godzilla cyborg! With that film Kiryu barely nudged out my old favorite character - Megaguirus.
Romero: Okay, now tell me about Kaiju Combat. How did the idea behind this get started?
I've always wanted to do another Godzilla game, so the idea has been around in different forms for years. Pipeworks actually put together two different pitches about how to go ahead with a new game. Obviously those never went anywhere... But Kaiju Combat specifically came about because Chris Mirjahangir had the idea to connect me with Matt Frank. Those discussions really got me thinking about how to fund and develop a new kaiju title, and the more I thought about it, the more possible it seemed.
Romero: I realize the new game depends a lot on the level of funding that is raised, so also understand these answers to these will vary based on that. That said, how big of a team is behind the project? Can you tell me a bit more about Sunstone Games?
Strange: Sunstone Games started off with just 4 people - but it's grown (and shrunk) a few times since then. All of us at Sunstone Games, myself included, take contract work from other studios (including Pipeworks) from time to time - so our projects tend to take a while to complete. The trade-off is that we get to have complete control over their content, quality & creative direction. Our first product was "Sun Stones" - which we published for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire this past February. The current project at Sunstone Games is actually a board game that is being made in partnership with GameSalute - who are giving demos of their game Kaiju City at G-fest this past weekend. So "Sunstone Games" is the name under which I hire different ex-Pipeworks people on a per-project basis. If we find Kaiju Combat, I'll be able to bring several more onboard on a full-time basis.
Romero: Can you describe a bit more about the Toho angle? Have you approached them with the concept at this stage? If you reach the funding levels you hope to, how involved will they be in the project?
I have been in contact with Toho - they are aware of the project, and we have discussed different options for getting them involved. Their primary concern, which has been true for all of the games I have worked on with them, is that their monsters are handled respectfully, and that the tone of the Toho universe is maintained. They carefully review character models & animations to make sure nobody is doing wild things like ripping off limbs, making the monsters talk, shrinking monsters down to become cuddly pets, etc. I've found them to be very easy to work with, because I've never wanted to push any of those boundaries. I will also say that I am actively looking at alternative funding solutions to get Toho involved sooner rather than later.
Romero: Is the aim only to have Godzilla in the title, or other Toho monsters as well?
When (not if) we get the Toho license, I would want to use all of the characters that were used in Unleashed, plus at least four more (my gut says Hedorah, Monster X, Zilla, and Gabara - but final roster would be up to the fans)
Romero: Funding not depending, what are your hopes for this title in terms of features? Sky's the limits.
The kickstarter page lists most of the cool features we hope to implement eventually - custom story modes that you can build & share with friends, a cinematic mode where you control the camera, and so forth. But honestly what makes Kaiju Combat special isn't the extensive feature set - it's the fact that we start with an established engine and an established mechanic so that we can put most of our effort into quality & content creation. Working on several small releases each year, instead of one massive release, will allow us to experiment more, and gauge what sort of things our fans really want. That's the magic of the project in my mind - it better serves the fans because it grows based on fan input & feedback during development.
Simon Strange has been working in the video game industry since the 1990's. In the early 2000's, he began working with the Godzilla character for the 2002 game Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee.
Strange would go on to make more Godzilla games in the years to come, notably Godzilla: Save the Earth and Godzilla: Unleashed. His lastest project is Kaiju Combat, which is in the funding stages.
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