There is no denying that the landscape video game industry has changed dramatically in recent years, with up-start indie games wielding enough collective might to slay even the largest of giants. However even in this refreshing change of guard there seems to be a disappointing similarity in much of the indie content that is being created. For all the lack of restraints and creative freedom this new breed of development brings, it seems more and more indie developers are sticking to a thin slice of game design; the retro platformer.
While the retro-platformer revival is movement I’d much rather see occur than perhaps the stale first-person-shooter craze we saw not long ago; variety is the spice of life. You can imagine my joy then when it was announced that Argentinian indie developer OPQAM was set to revive a long forgotten genre that didn’t involve jumping. Project Root is intent on bringing gamers back to an age when the term SHMUP didn’t just refer to the Japanese top-down shooters like R-Type, but also the Western isometric variety most commonly displayed in the Electronic Arts Strike series from the 90’s.
The games announcement seemingly came out of nowhere but it has clearly created a buzz among fans of the long-dormant genre, and I set out to find out more about the mysteriously named studio with the ambiguously named game. Fortunate for me OPQAM Co-Founder Pablo Testa was willing to speak to me all the way from his home in Argentina about the exciting Project Root.
Brian Sharon: Project Root has been described as an evolution of the SHMUP genre, in your own words could you describe exactly what sets the game apart from its peers?
Pablo Testa: The free camera system lets the player go where they want, for example you can take (on) first the tanks, then later the missiles turrets or go for all of them at once; also you can plan where attack first. With dual fire, ground and air, also you can select what enemies to attack first
As you mentioned the free-roaming camera is a rather novel mechanic considering the genre. How does giving players full control of the games’ camera improve the experience?
PT: Because we can place hidden objects in the game to search or destroy. We mix classic shoot’em up (mechanics) with some exploration and if you explore more you get rewards for you ship via rank and weapons. Also like I explained before you can take your own pace and order of attack, for example you need to destroy 4 objectives, the order is up to you. Also we have levels that are similar to a dungeons, where the radar is go off and you need to go to the other side of the labyrinth.
As much as Project Root innovates it seems as though the design is influenced from some games in the past, especially the “Strike” series from Electronic Arts. What were some games you drew inspiration from when creating Project Root?
PT: Like you said the Strike series of EA, R-Type, Gradius, Zanac, Nemesis, Xevious, Salamander, Alexay, Ray Storm, there is a big list of games. Our first game Dark Rage (which we) developed in 1996 is similar to R-Type
I mentioned in my preview for the game that unlike many vehicular combat games Project Root has a pretty elaborate plot that includes rather contemporary topics like corporate mistrust. Why was having a story important for you as developers?
PT: The story is important to drive the player into the game, but the story is not intrusive in the gameplay. Players get an introduction at the start of the level and the dialogues (that don’t stop the gameplay) tell the player the story, and the objectives of the game. We chose not stop the gameplay to get a smooth experience, (there is) no need to stop play. We tried to make a deeper story (by) pausing the gameplay but we don’t like it a all, (it) is an action game, not an adventure.
Four characters have been revealed to appear in Project Root, could you elaborate on their roles they play in the game?
PT : Lance and Synch are the heroes of the game, they work before for the corporatiion. When they discover the real intentions of the corporation they go into the rebel side. Demetrio, is the master mind of the corporation, he the last man you need to fight. Nicholas in one his many soldiers, we plan add some more characters in the dark side. Also we have some side charcters that show only in some missions
OPQAM Co-founder Santiago Videla and yourself have had a long and successful history in the industry, what was the catalyst that sparked the move to making your own game and becoming indie developers?
PT: We always loved making games. Like I said before, our first game Dark Rage is make in ’96 (and) there im the programmer too, and Santiago did the graphics in 2d (pixel art). We (started to) play games as children do some little games in the school and started doing game as a hobby, we push each others limits. When you have a good companion (it) is good because you raise your bar, and you can raise his bar too. I belive making games is in our blood
Kickstarter has become a resourceful tool for many indie developers and for you as well. What opportunities do crowd-funding campaigns afford developers aside from obvious increase in capital?
PT : For us, (it) lets us make a better game, with our resources alone we can’t do all (that) we dream. For example getting more people doing art and helping us with the levels, contracting professional audio guys, getting proper voice acting. Give the player a good quality product, that is hard for us alone without the money support.
Many people associate video game development with a few key areas of the world and Argentina may not necessarily be among them. Could you enlighten us about the status of the Argentinian game scene?
PT: The Argentinan scene is very active these days, we have many studios working in indie game, working as outsourcers, and many people working from the homes; doing, art, code, etc..Every year the scene is growing with ADVA the argentinian game organizaction and in Novemeber we have the EVA (Exposicion de VideoJuegos de Argentina). Argentina can get success as indie developers, I think we (to) need mture a little more to create a AAA games.
Both your Studio and your game are named rather mysteriously, what is the story behind the titles OPQAM and Project Root?
PT: OPQAM (are) the keys (that) people used to play on the ZX Spectrum in the 80’s, when a game these days ask you to redefine the keyboard and you don’t have a joystick the default player choise is O (for) left, P (for) right, Q (for) up, A (for) down, and M to fire. The game is called Project Root, because we want (to) go back to the roots,of the gameplay when anyone can play a game right away without tutorials or any kind of explanation. You can succeed or not in the game, but you understand the mechanics in a few moments.
If fans want to get involved with Project Roots various campaigns, where should they look to?
PT: They can support us in Kickstarter and Steam (Greenlight). We get some cool feedback like “add 2 player co-op” that we are looking into. Also we plan to release a public demo to get feedback about features, controls, and difficulty. Then (we) can propose some changes (like) new weapons, etc, that we are glad to implement if fit in the game. We a open to change, we use an iterative development approach, nothing is writing in stone. People can reach us on our Facebook page, the web site, or email. I will be there for (all of) them.