dreeps Feature Q&A on the making of the alarm playing game

Jerry on 2015-01-20
Alarm Playing Game dreeps is an independently developed iOS and Nintendo 3DS application inspired by the pixel art and chip music of classic console RPGs.

We caught up with Tokyo-based illustrator Hisanori Hiraoka, programmer Daisuke Watanabe and music composer Kyohei Fujita to hear about the making of dreeps and the objectives of the three-person design team.

Thank you for joining us for this discussion on the making of the dreeps app. How did you come up with the idea for the application?

Illustrator Hisanori Hiraoka: The concept emerged five years ago, at a time when I was putting in long hours at work, from early in the morning to late at night.

I really wanted to play a role-playing game where I could immerse myself in a fantasy world, but I was distracted by my work obligations and didn't have nearly enough free time. If I started an RPG, before long work got busy again, interrupting my progress for several days.

When I resumed my game, I got stuck somehow. Either I'd start deep within a dungeon and couldn't find my way out, or there would be an item I needed to progress and didn't know where to find it. Suddenly I was unable to guide my poor RPG hero on his adventure. Wouldn't it be nice if my game character could make progress alongside me, whether I was at the office, or studying, or doing housework?

When I discussed this concept with Daisuke and he started adding his own ideas to the mix, that was the turning point where dreeps began taking shape. Since he was the one coding the app from scratch, he was in a good position to determine the simplest possible implementation of our core concept.

I think that people who feel like giving dreeps a try will find something of interest in the visual design and background music, whether they are interested in traditional console RPGs, or playing games on their smartphone, or simply want an alarm to wake them up in the morning.

Can you tell me some of your favorite games from previous console eras and what kind of influence they had on you as game creators?

Hiraoka: My first experience with an RPG was playing Dragon Quest II. Seaman surprised me, because it was unlike anything I had ever played before, and made me realize how many different categories games could occupy. Wipeout had an international charm to it that I enjoyed, and also helped me discover techno music, along with the Designers Republic graphic design studio.

Programmer Daisuke Watanabe: Mother 3 and ActRaiser. As a matter of fact, I borrowed a Game Boy Micro from Hisanori to play Mother 3 and cried so much during the ending that my tears left water stains on the casing. Those stories and environments that lend themselves to a sense of adventure were an indirect inspiration to dreeps.

Composer Kyohei Fujita: The ones I loved when I was young were Mega Man, Kirby's Adventure, Secret of Mana and its sequel, Trials of Mana. The latter two particularly had an impact on the music for dreeps, and in terms of more recent games, the soundtrack to Cave Story also served as a source of inspiration.

How did you meet? Do you mostly interact through email or social networking applications?

Watanabe: Hisanori and I were classmates in college, specializing in graphic design. While he's focused on the visuals and I am spearheading the programming, neither of us have a background in music composition. We needed to find someone who could write a music score to capture the spirit of the game world.

It was around this time that my wife introduced me to Kyohei Fujita. She is involved in video production and had interviewed Kyohei for a television program. She was the one who originally determined that his music would be a good fit for dreeps. And she was absolutely right.

During development, we've mostly communicated by email and Skype, occasionally meeting up in person. Toward the latter half of our development process, we began meeting more regularly over video chat. As I mentioned earlier, we each had responsibilities in areas like graphics and coding, but we also benefited from exchanging ideas with each other.

We also felt it was important to give Kyohei a lot of creative freedom to write Fujita-esque music, basically leaving it to him to define the sound for dreeps. There may have been a moment or two where we were a little nit-picky, but he both responded to concerns and completely exceed our expectations.

Seeing as dreeps is not a traditional genre game, were you required to experiment with different approaches to the trailers, in order to integrate in-game visuals together with live action footage?

Watanabe: We started by making a teaser trailer in June of last year. There, we explained the concept of dreeps as an app allowing busy people to explore an RPG, simply by setting an alarm clock. Since the gameplay is altogether unlike most traditional games, our goal was to explain in images how dreeps gameplay unfolds over the course of your day.

Following the completion of development, we made a new trailer including more animated movies, pixel art and characters. While none of us had experience in video production, my wife stepped in to shoot footage for us for both trailers. She even offered to edit the video when we ran into trouble storyboarding the trailer ourselves.

How do you feel gaming has changed with the rise in popularity of smartphone applications?

Hiraoka: The most positive aspect of smartphone gaming in my opinion is that it has exposed all sorts of people to gaming that have never bought a home console and would not have otherwise had the chance to play a computer game. In the past if you were to notice a fashionable young lady enjoying a game while riding on the train, it might strike you as a rather unusual spectacle, but today it's commonplace. dreeps simply would not have existed without smartphone technology, not to mention a market that allows for independent developers to create and publish games by ourselves.

Fujita recently published his first solo album through Bandcamp. How would you describe the difference between writing music for the solo album and music for the dreeps soundtrack?

Fujita: Opus0.1 represented a challenge for me to make something that sounded a little different, but mostly expressed a familiar personal style that had a certain charm to it. My aim for the music for dreeps was to match Hisanori's visual style, the environment of the game world and the overall concept developed in collaboration with Daisuke. I think my attitude of lending support to the development process was what differentiated this project most from the process underlying Opus0.1.

Do you feel that for younger developers there are advantages to making experimental games like dreeps, as opposed to working with more traditional game design concepts?

Watanabe: Yes, and not just for younger developers or game designers. All creative people should be challenging themselves to explore rich new ideas for design. With that idea in mind, they are likely to attract collaborators. Without having received support from a large number of individuals, I'm not sure this project would have seen a release.

Following the release of dreeps, what kinds of projects are you interested in exploring in the future?

Hiraoka: I'd like to focus on projects that excite me. dreeps is the first story set in a world that I have imagined for a long time. To continue the storyline, exploring an earlier era of that world would be an exciting opportunity.

Watanabe: I've had a variety of ideas while coding dreeps. Some of them had to be abandoned with great reluctance and I would love to return to them if dreeps is well received. I would like to continue researching interesting ideas in the attempt to make games and smartphone applications with a personal touch.

Fujita: There are a lot of things I'd like to do, but this year it's looking like I will be writing songs. Whatever form that takes, I'd like it to be an exploration of something new.

Thanks to Anne Ferrero to help with scheduling the Q&A. Read the interview in Japanese on Medium.com. Learn more about dreeps on dreeps.net.