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Interview: Gundam Evolution Game Producer Kazuya Maruyama and Battle Director Ryota Hogaki

by Darius Washington,

At Anime Expo 2022, we were invited to meet the creators of the upcoming game Gundam Evolution, which will be released on PC and various consoles for free this year. There have been many video games related to the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, from emulations of film and TV works like Char's Counterattack and Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam, to hack-n-slash action fests like Dynasty Warriors Gundam. The new Gundam Evolution game will go in a new direction that hadn't been tried before, as producer Kazuya Maruyama and battle director Ryota Hogaki from Bandai Namco Online elaborated.

Hello to you both. Could you please introduce yourselves to the readers?

Kazuya Maruyama: I am a general manager at Bandai Namco Online, in charge of the Gundam Evolution game.

Ryota Hogaki: I am the battle director for Gundam Evolution. I balance out the characters and apps for the game.

How did you get into game programming?

Maruyama: Neither of us work on the game hands-on. I was the assistant producer for various titles before being given this one as head producer who determines if something is needed, if we need to hire more tech people, and do more promo work.

Hogaki: I was a new at grad at Bandai Namco Online and came to work on different projects before Gundam Evolution. As battle director I see to everything in the game related to how characters work. Maps are balanced for the players. I make sure everything works.

You kept a blog about the developments of your game. What has been the biggest takeaway as you look back at how far you've come in making it? What have been the biggest challenges?

Maruyama: Contrary to past Gundam games, this one is created for an international market, not Japan primarily. North America, Asia, EU, whoever. It's the first ever, more expansive with a larger scale. It's made for non-Gundam fans and Gundam fans alike. So we needed to balance the appeal to both.

Hogaki: When making a first-person shooter, animating skills is always hard from a game design perspective. When a player hits a target we have to make it feel like it should. We have to make sure the player feels the impact and hears the sounds well.

You hosted a Closed Network Tests where people could play your game. What feedback stood out to you the most?

Maruyama: We had console testing recently. We're still analyzing feedback from that. We learned some things from PC testing.

Hogaki: Two things stood out. First we needed to work on character balance. This was the first time we had a large number of players. We extrapolated data and found, for example, sometimes a character could be really good and dominate against beginners but not do as well against higher ranking characters. We go through the data with planners and the analysis team to make sure the game is balanced when it comes out. Second, in-game communication was lacking. It can be played as a 6v6 game. Players themselves have developed different ways to communicate but our game only has one way to communicate. One thing commonly noted was that a location pin was not in the PC version. Fans asked for this afterward.

What is the appeal for a solo gamer to try a 6v6 game?

Maruyama: In other shooters similar to this game, the role aspect causes a solo player to be assigned to certain roles usually. Like in fantasy games a player is assigned as a healer, shield carrier, warrior, etc. If you have too many of a type of character things could go wrong in combat and it's not as competitive or fun. This game you can play with any mobile suit or any character you want with no restrictions.

Did you chose specific Gundam characters or shows to emulate?

Maruyama: In most Gundam games, the most popular character gets chosen usually. We have a very different concept here. Mobile suits are very specialized. They have unique characteristics. We didn't strictly choose the most popular characters for this game.

What were your favorite Gundam designs and characters when you were growing up?

Maruyama: Five year-old me watched [the original] Mobile Suit Gundam. My favorite suit was the Gouf. I really liked Ranba Ral.

Hogaki: I grew up in elementary school watching shows like Gundam Seed. The Strike Freedom Gundam suit was the most memorable in my childhood. As to characters, I liked Stella or Luna Maria.

Gundam Evolution comes out this year. As we bring things to a close, what are some things that you want fans to look forward to most from this game?

Maruyama: Gundam Evolution will be free to play. It's a multi-platform game for different regions and all ages. It'll be a very skill-based, team-based game. I'm hoping to have fans get better at FPS games.

Hogaki: I have similar thoughts to Maruyama-san. I'm hoping fans want to play with friends and fall asleep playing this game and wake up with it. In competitive spirit I want people to play a lot against each other.

Thank you for your time, gentlemen.

Disclosure: Bandai Namco Filmworks Inc. (Sunrise) is a non-controlling, minority shareholder in Anime News Network Inc.

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