Making The Game You Want to Play: A Talk With Pharaoh Rebirth+’s Kurobon
Kurobon, developer of Pharaoh Rebirth+, has been developing games off and on for almost twenty years. In that time, he’s learned that different players want different things from games. Even he wants something that he couldn’t find elsewhere, and part of that desire for a specific kind of action game is what birthed Pharaoh Rebirth+.
Siliconera spoke with Kurobon about his years of development experience, his ideas behind the challenge and story of the game, and how he managed to make a bunny such a powerful protagonist.
You have been making games for many years. Can you tell us how long you’ve been at it and a little something about all of the other games you’ve made?
I started making games since 1998, so I’ve been at it for 18 years so far. At first I was making games to submit them to magazines, but in 2002 I released a game called Return of Egypt on the internet and it won awards. That game was the predecessor for Pharaoh Rebirth, the game I recently released.
I used to like making gory games, but since 2004 I changed my direction to make games acceptable for wider audiences. That change of direction led to the Mogura (means Mole) series, and its first title was Mogura Reverse, a shoot-em-up. I made some more games starring moles as well.
I took a break from game creation in 2005 and founded a 3D Graphics company, but in 2014 I returned to game development and released Action Mogura, submitting it to a game development contest held in Japan. Action Mogura received 5 awards in that contest, and that achievement lead me to start developing Pharaoh Rebirth.
You often make action games starring cute animal heroes. What makes you stick to these kinds of characters? What draws you to make the kinds of games you make?
I would say they are able to do some things that humans cannot, and make it easy to show expressions, so I often use animals for characters. But I’m not sure if I’ll be using animals in my next game. Those characters could be robots or humans. I am not sticking with animals for characters, really.
How long did it take you to develop Pharaoh Rebirth+? Why make a game about a bunny explorer fighting in Egypt?
It took me a year. You may think that’s short, but I would have finished it in 6 months if I weren’t occupied with other work. I usually develop games in very short duration like that.
As for the bunny explorer, it’s inspired by Studio Ghibli’s movie Porco Rosso. He’s a human, but a curse has turned him into an animal. Such little details can express the characters’ past, making them more interesting.
What was it about the Metroidvania/Action-Adventure style of game that drew you in? What was it that interested you, as a developer?
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night inspired me the most. There have been many Metroidvania–style games before, but SotN stands out among them with its atmosphere.
I like to enjoy the story in action games, and I wanted to create a story-heavy Metroidvania game. So, I thought of the creation of Pharaoh Rebirth as making the best Metroidvania game that I would really want to play.
You created many unique combat abilities for the rabbit main character. How did you come up with your ideas on how to make a bunny into an effective warrior?
It began with a rabbit scribbling one of my subordinates drew. The ears of that rabbit seemed flexible, but made of some durable materials. When I asked her about it, she said that the ballpoint pen she used wasn’t really suited for drawing. That’s how I came up with a character who fights with a pair of flexible ears.
The game uses some odd choices of weapons and abilities. How did you create these for the game and make them fit in with the rabbit’s visual style?
When I make weapons (both main and sub), I take extra care to make them really unique. I want there to be as few weapons as possible, and try to avoid making ones that are too similar. The weapons I do create have unique functions or abilities that are exclusive to them, making them very effective in certain gameplay situations.
Let’s take the Machine Gun for example: it bounces off of surfaces and walls, making it powerful in enclosed rooms, but other weapons work better in open areas.
Even the normal attacks have pros and cons. Air attacks have wide range for little damage, while ground attacks do more damage for limited range. I made sure to intentionally give every attacks strong points and weak points.
The ideas for Jonathan’s ear abilities(turn into chains, glider, propeller, etc) came from the T-1000 of Terminator 2. His ears are normally as soft as his skin, but he can change their shapes and hardness depending on the situation he’s in.
I put a lot of efforts on things like the glider-morphing animation – I drew the animation first, then I converted it into pixels.
Pharaoh Rebirth+ varies up the action/exploration formula using some vehicular stages and puzzles. What prompted you to add these various stages and activities to the game?
I want people to play the game as if they are watching a movie. Good movies and excellent classical music have a variety of scenes, so I thought it’d be better to provide various stages and activities to keep players entertained. That’s why the game has so much variety in action, giving players intense battles, funny dialogue, vehicular action, and puzzles.
Pharaoh Rebirth+ has many varied items for players to collect that will make the main character much more powerful. Why include so many power-ups? What do you feel they added to the game?
In old action games, players improve their skills in order to beat the game, rather than upgrading their characters. Player skills have their limit, though, and many gamers today usually quit playing before trying to improve their skills. It can’t be helped that not everyone excels at action games.
I want people to play the game to the end, so I gave the character upgrades through various items. That way, players who aren’t good at gaming can upgrade the character to progress the game. If they are confident with their skills, they can just progress the story without using those items.
Pharaoh Rebirth+ is not very challenging unless players choose high difficulty levels. Why did you choose to make the game easier?
I personally like difficult games, but there are players who can’t make it through and I think the number of such players is increasing lately. As for Pharaoh Rebirth+‘s difficulty, I wanted people to enjoy its story to the end, even if it requires me to lower the difficulty.
The game plays like an action game, but also has complex story like an adventure game. If players want action, they can skip conversations. If they just want to enjoy stories, they can choose Easy difficulty. That’s the reason I implemented difficulty levels, as everyone has their own ways to enjoy games.