Crispy Gamer

Samurai Jacked?

In a weird way, the anime "Afro Samurai" was kind of set up like a videogame. After witnessing his father's murder, our titular hero sets out to kill the man who orphaned him and anyone who gets in his way -- which essentially means he has to kill a bunch of increasingly tougher enemies until he gets to the big boss. But while this sounds like the perfect setup for a fighting game, according to the game's senior producer, Namco Bandai's David Robinson, Afro Samurai -- like the anime that inspired it -- is going to be a bit more than you'd expect.

Crispy Gamer: For people who are not familiar with the show, what was "Afro Samurai"?

David Robinson: Afro Samurai is based on the manga by Takashi Okasaki, which was adapted into a five-part TV mini-series on SpikeTV. Afro is one of many characters in the thousand-year story of two sacred headbands: the Number One and the Number Two. According to legend, only the warrior who possesses the Number Two headband has the right to challenge the Number One, and only with the Number One headband in his possession may a man become a god. However in Afro's case he's not interested in godhood, he seeks the Number One because its owner is also the killer of his father.

Crispy Gamer: So what kind of game will it be and how do you play it?

Robinson: Afro Samurai is, at its heart, an action-adventure game with a distinctive look and comic book-style panel system that reinforces its uniqueness among other games in the same genre. The foundation for gameplay is combat, driven by our Dynamic Cutting and Music Inspired Battle systems. We want to give players lots of opportunities to test Afro's powerful moves against all kinds of opponents and obstacles. The worlds were designed to encourage the player to move through them with agility and elegance.

We're trying to create a game through which the player could really begin to understand this tortured soul, burdened with so many issues. We hope that the player will form an emotional attachment to Afro, to care about what he's going through.

Crispy Gamer: What are the Dynamic Cutting and Music Inspired Battle systems? How do they work?

Robinson: The Dynamic Cutting System is a unique system with which we are able to have a character appear cut or dismembered by Afro's sword in any direction without the use of traditional animation of the body parts. In some games, wounds appear in predetermined locations based on the animation programming; in Afro the player can cut an enemy in any direction and the sword will cut them into pieces based on the actual sword placement. This gives the combat in the game a very uncanned, dynamic feel.

The Music Inspired Battle system allows the enemies to change their movement, aggression or artificial intelligence based on the tempo and beat of the music track. Each fight is almost choreographed using hip-hop, giving the combat sequences a cool feel that changes from battle to battle. The system really gives Afro a very unique replayability, as the battles and the animation can vary based on the different music played.

Crispy Gamer: How did you decide that this would be the best kind of game for Afro Samurai?

Robinson: I thought for months about what type of game Afro should be: straight brawler, adventure, etc. But the action-platform genre just seemed to stand out as the best way to show off Afro's moves, artistic styling, and his bad-ass side. Coming from a long history of developing games in the same genre -- Crash Bandicoot, the Soul Reaver franchise, GEX 2 and GEX 3 -- I wanted to explore some of the gameplay we never got to try in those franchises.

Crispy Gamer: Were there any other games that influenced Afro's gameplay?

Robinson: As a team, we looked at a lot of games for inspiration, too many to count: Onimusha, Tomb Raider, Ninja Gaiden, God of War just to name a few. For years I have wanted to create a game that emulated the experiences I had when playing Soul Reaver. It was just a rollercoaster. Its story was amazing for the time, and the technology, with levels that morphed in real-time, has still not been repeated or matched for innovation. It made a huge impression on me.

Early in Afro's genesis I called an old friend, Paul Gardner, who I had worked with in my Crash Bandicoot days. I knew he was an amazing writer and designer, and I needed someone I could trust to really twist up Afro into something cool as a story. After some begging he moved from the United Kingdom to work on the game and we pounded out the basic gameplay archetype together.

Crispy Gamer: Did you ever experiment with a different genre? Afro Samurai Kart Racing could've been funny.

Robinson: No. We were solely focused on our original vision.

Crispy Gamer: Visually speaking, the game looks a lot like the anime. How hard was it to get the game to look like that?

Robinson: Oh man, it definitely had its challenges. But I have been lucky to have such a great team; guys like lead artists Russell Campbell and Bryan Johnston and lead programmer Danny Chan, all of whom worked through months and months of long nights to pull it off.

Crispy Gamer: Was there any thought to not doing that, to instead go for a more naturalistic style?

Robinson: Absolutely. We had plenty of styles that we went through, but they just didn't work out.

Crispy Gamer: How closely does the plot of the game follow the plot of the anime? Does it include any incidents from the as-yet-unaired second season?

Robinson: We tried to hit all the most important scenes in the series we knew the fans would want to play. Beyond that, we tried to strike out on our own and create some interesting new adventures for Afro, to give the game some flavor -- though the game also alludes to some of the events that will unfold in the next season of the anime.

Crispy Gamer: So who came up with those new scenarios? Was it "Afro" creator Takashi Okazaki?

Robinson: After careful consultation with Okazaki-san and the series' creative director, Eric Calderon, our design director Paul Gardner created the story and wrote the script for the game, which includes the new stuff we are introducing.

Crispy Gamer: Who else from the show worked on the game? Did you get the cast into the game?

Robinson: Several people who were involved with the show are reprising their role for the game including Sam Jackson who is the voice of Afro and Ninja Ninja, as well as RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan. RZA produced the music for the series and is our music director, guiding us through the music creation for the game.

Crispy Gamer: Samuel L. Jackson was also an executive producer on the show. How involved was he in the game?

Robinson: Once Sam had a look at the direction we were going with for the game, he was all smiles. He gave us a lot of feedback on his character's persona and liked our version of the game script so much he had our design director sign it, which was a huge boost for all of us.

Crispy Gamer: Does the game introduce any new characters?

Robinson: Yes, we have a few really cool new characters in the game. Gonzo, which owns the rights to the animated series, gave us a lot of feedback early while we were developing the characters and inventing our own. It was very supportive of the development team taking more risks as we created our own characters.

Crispy Gamer: Can you give us an example of some of the new characters?

Robinson: The Corrupt Lord is a very cool new character. He's the brother of Afro's Sword Master. His story is pretty deep and sheds new light on what we already know about Afro. Also, there are a number of smaller characters and enemies who didn't appear in the series that we invented to really spice up some of the levels.

Crispy Gamer: Now did RZA do any new music for the game, or did you just use what he had done for the show?

Robinson: Yes RZA -- who is very cool by the way -- has actually been to our development studio to talk about the design and music. He's been instrumental in helping us to understand how our unique method for using game music could be best exploited. Talking to him about music is very humbling. He is the ambassador of hip-hop.

Crispy Gamer: Are there any plans for any multiplayer modes, either co-op or competitive?

Robinson: There isn't a co-op mode. Afro Samurai will be a single-player game.