Playism Q&A Part 3: ‘Giraffe and Annika’ developer atelier mimina
From the character designer behind Elite Beat Agents and Gitaroo Man comes a heartwarming new adventure game!
Playism is a multi-faceted game distribution company that does it all including publishing, marketing, localization, and debugging. They’ve been involved with the international release of many notable indie titles including Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, La Mulana 2, 2064: Read Only Memories, VA-11 Hall-A, Half Minute Hero, and more.
Despite the cancellation of GDC 2020, we had the opportunity to chat with various developers that have partnered with Playism. This includes Giraffe and Annika developer atelier mimina, founded by the character designer (Atsushi Saito) behind cult classic rhythm games like Elite Beat Agents and Gitaroo Man.
Special thanks to Ryan Tantum of Stride PR for coordinating the interviews. Banner created by darkelisadraws.
Why did you decide to create your own gaming studio, atelier mimina?
For the purpose of creating Giraffe and Annika. I began developing it as a kind of hobby project but after exhibiting it at a game event I was approached by publishers. So I decided to start my own company and focus on the project. If I had continued developing the title in my free time we would probably still be two years away from launch.
Giraffe and Annika is quite a change from the previous games you’ve worked on, both mechanically and stylistically. How did you come up with the concept?
I have always wanted to develop an adventure game with a heavy emphasis on storytelling, however, at my previous company, I never had the opportunity to do so. Instead of waiting, I decided to start developing one by myself.
Instead of having a purely adventure only game, I thought by adding gameplay mechanics that I had previous experience with would improve the game, so I added rhythm game aspects.
It was my first time writing a story for a game too but these past few years I had been drawing manga as a hobby so I worked that into development as well. I am very happy with the way it adds to the Giraffe and Annika.
Was it a difficult transition going from working on smaller-scale mobile and rhythm games to a full 3D adventure game?
I had experienced 3D game development on titles such as Gitaroo Man and the Xbox 360 title Black Eyed Peas Experience so it wasn’t that difficult, but as I had spent the last 10 years working as a 2D artist mainly, it was a lengthy process updating my knowledge with the latest PBR based 3D rendering techniques. However, using UE4 I realized that game development technology had come on leaps and bounds compared to back in the day and was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to use. I feel very fortunate as a first time 3D adventure game developer that I have such great tools to use.
How does Giraffe and Annika stand apart from other adventure games on the market?
・A sense of warmth in the in-game world.
・The map contains many things that can be inspected. Along with personal commentary from Annika.
・The day-night cycle creates a beautiful evershifting scene with music to accompany different times of the day. Also, certain puzzles depend on the time to solve.
Which character was the most interesting or challenging for you to design and why?
The most fun character for me was Annika, mainly as she has a bright personality. I thoroughly enjoyed illustrating her manga scenes.
The most challenging was Lilly as she goes through many outfits throughout the game and eventually her character becomes much older which required even more work. However, I am happy she shaped up to be a great character and that I put the work in.
What aspect are you most excited for players to experience?
The gentle relaxing atmosphere of the Island and the bittersweet storyline.
How did you establish the game’s balance between adventure and rhythm game? The game seems to skew heavily towards the adventure aspect.
So the main gameplay involves exploration and adventure, the rhythm game mechanics are more like a bonus feature.
I enjoy story-heavy rhythm games such as Parappa the Rapper, Space Channel 5, and Gitaroo Man so I wanted to add in rhythm game mechanics to add to the story. As an adventure game, I could have made it so that you talk to the boss and that’s it, but by adding a rhythm game boss fight it really intertwines the music with the story and makes it more impactful in my opinion.
What are some aspects of the game you would change or improve if you had more development time?
There have been reports of users getting motion sickness so I would like to fix that.
I originally wanted the final stage to be the opposite, you would control Giraffe and go and save a captured Annika. I think that might have made for a more impactful ending…
The world has a very detailed, lived-in look. It gives the game a tremendous sense of warmth and charm. Was this a point of emphasis for the team?
I was able to nail down the story and character design early on in development. I wanted to build a world that was a worthy stage for those things and so spent a lot of time on the map. A lot of reviews comment on the fact it looks like something from a picture book. This is not something I aimed for but as I added things to bring out the character of Annika it naturally became that way over time.
Who’s the primary audience for Giraffe and Annika?
Players who are looking for relaxing gameplay and those who enjoy heartwarming and cute characters.
What are your favorite scenarios from the Elite Beat Agents / Ouendan series?
I like all of them so it is difficult for me to single them out, but from Ouendan, I guess the exam study episode and also the one with the potter (I must admit it served in part as inspiration for the character Hillfred). From Elite Beat Agents, I would say Babysitter Jane and Weather Lady Sophie.
I wasn’t responsible for writing the scenarios themselves but I did attend every single meeting and we all put in some hard work to get them completed, it brings back some nostalgic memories.
Gitaroo Man is a cult classic in the United States. If it were up to you, would U-1 and company ever return?
As the rights are held by Koei and as just a designer who worked on the project I can’t really say anything about it, I do think that I would like to see a brand new title from the series.
Especially as Gitaroo Man had a unique rhythm game system unseen in other titles and there hasn’t really been a title that has followed in its footsteps. It seems a waste for it to end with just a one-off.
What are some of your favorite video games?
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Mother 2, Journey, Space Channel 5, Grandia, and OutRun.
Of all the characters you’ve designed in your career, do you have a favorite?
So what’s next for atelier mimina? Do you plan to focus more on original titles and would you be open to doing a follow up to Giraffe and Annika?
As Giraffe and Annika came to a pretty clean ending I don’t think I will be doing a sequel anytime soon.
I am currently planning to make a Juvenile SF Adventure game. Set in space with sci-fi + shounen/shoujo adventure + romance.
The game will share a lot of the mechanics and the manga style of Giraffe and Annika.
Giraffe and Annika is available on Steamand is coming soon to PlayStation 4 and Switch courtesy of NIS America.