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X3F interview: Bionic Commando Rearmed's Ben Judd

Following the announcement of Bionic Commando Rearmed for Xbox Live Arcade, we jumped -- or should we say swung -- at the opportunity to pry more information out of Capcom. Thus, we cornered Ben Judd, Capcom Japan's Producer in charge of the Bionic Commando brand (must have been an easy job for the last 20 years or so) and shot him some questions. We cover a range of topics from the difficulties of making an old game relevant again to the unfortunate business that is offline only co-op. Find the interview after the jump.

Gamers are excited about Bionic Commando Rearmed. In fact, it seems like many gamers are actually more excited about Rearmed than the upcoming retail version. How does the team feel about that? Furthermore, in the off chance Rearmed actually outperforms Bionic Commando, would you consider tuning future iterations towards 2D instead of 3D? Either way, would a direct sequel to Rearmed be out of the question?

The major idea is that Bionic Commando has been in hibernation for 15 plus years. There have been a lot of gamers who have never played the original and unfortunately some of those 8-bit classic titles just don't stand the test of time without a few minor tweaks (save points, animations, colors, etc). Rearmed is first about getting gamers interested in Bionic Commando as a brand. To be 100% honest here, we went into the production of BCR not expecting to make a profit or even if so, not a huge one. This really is fan-service at its best. We've tried to address some of the fan concerns by offering a new classic skin for the player and I stand by the fact that the swing mechanic is truly innovative. Additionally, the stories of the two games are linked. We've done a good job of tying together the somewhat thin story from the original into the 3D game and I think that AFTER people have gotten a chance to see the story from beginning to end they will like what they see. Of course, converting a classic franchise into 3D after 20 years is never an easy task. 3D Castlevania, Metroid Prime, Ninja Gaiden . . . they've all faced challenges when making the leap to 3D. Some made it, others didn't. One of the common comments I see on the net concerning the 3D version is "not every 2D game needs to go 3D". I couldn't agree more with that sentiment. That's why we first worked on getting "swinging" to work in a 3D space. It does. It's better than any other swing mechanic you've played and since Bionic Commando is all about the swing I'm glad we took the plunge into 3D with it. The team is too and hopefully once people get a chance to try it out they will be convinced likewise.

To be honest, even if Rearmed sold fantastically well, everything depends on its big brother. If the 3D BC proves to be a franchise worth continuing, a sequel to BCR would most definitely be something I would pursue in conjunction to a sequel to the 3D version. The brand needs to move forward and unfortunately 2D games just aren't as financially feasible these days (although there are some RARE exceptions to the rule).

Rearmed's area select screen, complete with annoying trucks.

Is Rearmed strictly a remake? We know about new weapons and abilities, but what about levels? Will this be a strict level-by-level remake or will we see new areas?

The levels are about 95% accurate to their originals. However, we have added some "secret" areas which require the player to explore a bit (via the swing mechanic) in order to find them. Think a "2D Metroid with a swing mechanic".

We know that Master D and the Badds are coming back for Rearmed in North America, but what about Japan? Will the Japanese version feature Nazis and Hitler as enemies, as in the original Japanese Bionic Commando?

That's a good question. Rearmed has been titled "Master D's Resurrection Plan" in Japan. We've literally taken the English translation and re-translated that into Japanese to form the base of the game. We needed to make sure we had one unified story and since the current political climate and ratings standards would make releasing the original unedited version in Japan impossible, I think it's the best way to present the game. Trust me, I have pushed VERY VERY hard to keep the game as "pure" as possible but some things are truly out of my hands. It's a dangerous line to walk, but let's see how far we get.

What's the hardest part of bringing a 20-year-old game to the present? Do the original mechanics stand the test of time? What sort of adjustments have been made to reflect all the advances that have been made since 1988?

The fact is that you can't modernize a game without "ruining someone's memories." We all have our own interpretations on what makes something cool, memorable, and special. The longer you let a franchise sit, the more those feelings intensify and the more likely people are to be close-minded about new additions and changes. I'd say if I had it to do all over again, I would probably want to remake one of our titles that has only been off the grid for say 10 years since that's a little less time for nostalgia to set in. Let's say a new Street Fighter game . . . (hehe).

The original mechanics stand the test of time. The deeper we get into the design of Rearmed, I respect the original creators ingenuity even more. The design is extremely impressive. Some of the design changes you can look forward to are save points (amen), more complex AI patterns (enemies realize your presence if you hook onto the platform they are patrolling), and more complex arm abilities. There's plenty more things we can talk about but I think the most interesting thing is how we haven't changed the swing mechanic at all because it was near perfect.

Clearly, this game is copying Spider-Man 2

What about the game's length? The original could be finished within a few hours. Will Rearmed be longer? Will there be reasons for multiple playthroughs? Selectable difficulty levels?

Yes, there will be reasons for multiple playthroughs. There are multiple difficulty levels that affect enemy AI, damage, and even attack patterns. Hidden areas will be in each level so you'll have to really explore different areas to unlock some of the extra content we have in store.

We've learned that co-op is an offline only feature. In the current generation of consoles, online play has become an expected feature. Capcom's other downloadable offerings (Street Fighter II, Puzzle Fighter) have online play. Why keep co-op offline only?

Game design is organic. Often times you find yourself having to add or subtract from the original design as things move forward. Initially Rearmed was going to be a quicker, down-and-dirty remake of the original but as we moved forward the game was really, really fun and started to look incredible. GRIN, of their own accord, tried throwing in a co-op mode and it worked out nicely. Unfortunately at this time the engine was already developed on a single player foundation and we couldn't just slap on some netcode to make it work. So we were faced with two choices: A) keep it in the game and give the users a little additional content (while apologizing for not having online co-op) or B) remove it from the game and pretend it never was in there in the first place so people wouldn't feel like we were lazy with the design. Hopefully, people will be happy that we were willing to incur the ire of some of the fans to offer you a new way to play the game . . . and who knows, if BC ends up being a franchise that is here to stay, my money would be on online co-op being in the sequel for sure.

Are there any modes beyond the campaign and co-op? Perhaps a boss battle mode or time attack?

We'll be revealing more of that in the future. I promise you, Rearmed still has lots of surprises left!

How will Rearmed be distributed on PC? Will it be a Windows Live Arcade title?

We will probably be looking to distribute it through multiple vendors including the usual suspects like Steam.

Have the limitations of Xbox Live Arcade (file size, etc.) affected development for the Playstation Network and PC versions?

To be honest creators are greedy. We always want more! More colors, more filters, more time, and yes . . . more space. That being said, you can still do a lot with the space you have with Xbox Live . . . But if you had more space, you can do more. It's simply a numbers game.

Any last words for all the Bionic Commando fans out there?

Visit the Bionic Commando website from time to time. We want to hear from you fans!

We'd like to thank Ben for his time. For more info on Bionic Commando Rearmed and its big brother, head over to the official website. Of course, we'll be keeping our eye on the game here on the Joystiq network too.

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