Capcom's rather ace hackandslash platformer Maximo vs. Army Of Zin hits the streets this Friday, and despite causing a cup of tea to fly all over the laptop I'm typing on, Tom reckoned it was worthy of a coveted 8/10 in his recent review. Oblivious to the effects of its hard but compelling game, those splendid fellows at Capcom invited us to its swish Hammersmith HQ to interview the game's producer Mark Rogers. Just as well I went armed with the questions and not Tom. Who knows what might have happened...
But unlike most Capcom games, the title comes from one of its US-based Studio 8 production facilities, so we actually got to conduct a decent interview for a change. Better still, Mark Rogers is an ex pat - a veteran of the original Gremlin Graphics crew and lists the legendary Thing On A Spring among his design credits. No wonder they decided to continue the legacy of that mid-80s 8-bit duo Ghosts & Goblins, and it's equally uber-hard sequel Ghouls & Ghosts. We bear the scars even now.
In his six years at Capcom, he's overseen the Maximo series' inception from N64, to Dreamcast, and finally onto the PS2. Clearly proud of the sequel, he wants you to buy it, and implores gamers with any doubts to "just play it". So there.
Kristan Reed: Was it your idea to make Maximo the spiritual continuation of the G&G series?
Mark Rogers: The G&G titles have always been games that I really loved - they were always hard games! - but certain games have a mystique. I thought they were very very good titles, and it was something that Capcom as a whole was not exploring in any other way. I saw that there was a gap and said "hey, could we do it?", and I was amazed when they actually said "yes".
Kristan Reed: Why did you go with the Maximo brand instead of G&G? I doubt many people in their teens would be able to associate the two...
Mark Rogers: No, you're right, but we didn't want something that looked back, or was a homage. We wanted a product that added something different and combined some of the more modern rules about generating product to something with a more classical feel. That was the nub of the idea.
Kristan Reed: But why the name? Where did that come from?
Mark Rogers: Maximo? That came from the head of the studio at the time - a guy called David Siller. He liked it because it sounded like it had a slightly Italian feel to it. Also it had a Max and an X in it - and X is really good in titles... it looks dynamic! (Laughs). We just liked the name.
Kristan Reed: Where did Maximo succeed?
Mark Rogers: Commercially, Maximo did best in the States and in Europe: it did very well. It was very well received in terms of the reviews, and I've never experienced the acclaim that it got and the sales followed - it was very successful.
Kristan Reed: Obviously the sequel is already out elsewhere - how has it performed?
Mark Rogers: It has been received very well in Japan, where it got a Famitsu Gold Star. Life is pretty good! Looking at the pre-sales, it should do well here too.
Kristan Reed: Is the PAL version different in any way?
Mark Rogers: We tweaked a few things - a few items to do with the gameplay, but not so much in terms of saying "this is for the US and European market as opposed to the Japanese market". It was more like we had a little bit more time to work with the game so therefore you naturally just correct a few things or your opinion changes about something and you kind of lob it in!
Kristan Reed: Are there any unlockables - what incentive is there to go back and collect things? Tom's wondering if he should bother going back before finishing off the final boss...
Mark Rogers: Yes there is something around the corner! There are sequences that you can unlock all throughout the product, and it's linked to the mastery of particular levels. We have innocent characters, and these are a big part of Maximo 2. Most heroes just care about themselves - it's all about 'me'. But we wanted a hero that actually had to care about other people within the gameplay itself.
Kristan Reed: What's changed in the combat?
Mark Rogers: The enemy work more as a team than the first one... they will actually work to try and get around you. In the first game, when you blocked you had to be facing the enemies, but the sequel lets you block even if you're not facing them. Essentially you're invulnerable if you block early on, so you can sit down and appreciate the awe and wonder of the graphics!
Kristan Reed: Talking of which, the art lead Sasumo Matsushita has a unique style...
Mark Rogers: Actually Maximo was the first Capcom product he ever worked on. He's also been doing the artwork for a couple of - as yet unreleased - Capcom titles. He's very good - he used to live in London for about three years. A lot of Japanese like London. They read a lot of English literature when they're in education and like to come here. He brings a lot to the product - he's a very creative guy and has a unique style which works really well within the Maximo universe.
Kristan Reed: Is it fair to pigeonhole this as yet another 3D platformer? What makes it different?
Mark Rogers: The type of play you get from Maximo 2 is much more action orientated. It feels good to move the character around, but also to fight. Maximo 2 is a very physical game - it has a lot of feedback, both visual and in terms of the vibration. We put a lot of effort into making the moves feel like they appear on the screen so that you feel more a part of the character itself - we like people to get really involved with it. It's kind of an action combat game, with exploration and some puzzles to work out, but you just enjoy the combat... coming up against a new enemy and working out the best way to defeat it. The combat can be stylish - you can finish off an enemy and then juggle him in the air and smash him up.
Kristan Reed: As a producer, what has your input into the product been?
Mark Rogers: As far as Capcom is concerned, producers have quite a bit of responsibility within the project; it's like a producer/director in the film industry. You're responsible for the overall quality of the product, and its overall direction. If you give a game to two different teams you'll get two different products, and so Maximo is the product of the team it's given to. There are a lot of people that go into making a game. The humorous elements, the combat elements and everything else reflect the nature of the team, and so really it's just a team process. The game is a number of decisions based one on top of the other, and any one of those can take you off in a completely different direction, because other decisions have to be based on that one. It's like a reverse pyramid.
Kristan Reed: This is your second title for Capcom - have you a third in production?
Mark Rogers: Yes, but time will tell is the official line on that one!
Kristan Reed: Are you pigeonholing yourself in one particular genre?
Mark Rogers: No, I think Maximo reflects the personality of me and the team, but it's not the only thing we can do. We don't want to just produce Maximo game until hell freezes over. We like Maximo, but there are other types of game we can explore. Development is an R&D. You try a few things - some things work, some things don't. Maximo kinda clicked... you knew it was ok; you knew it was going to work after we'd got the first playable up and going we had something. From then on it was it was basically to produce the rest of the materials and get it all in, but keep the fun. It has this quirky sense of humour and so you have to be true to the property you've created.
Kristan Reed: Do you admire the creative structure at Capcom?
Mark Rogers: One thing I really like about Capcom is it creates original properties and it's always kind of different. Their R&D structure is set up so you get something quite original. You're not quite sure what you're ever going to get out of Capcom.
Kristan Reed: What is special about this game that would interest Eurogamer readers?
Mark Rogers: It's the feeling that you have when you play the game. You're looking for an enjoyable time, people are looking for entertainment, but they're also looking for something different. When you actually pick up and play Maximo 2, it has a very different feel than people have had before. The combination of the combat and your progression through the game is quite unique - I haven't felt a game like it. We had a lot of fun producing it, and I think that people will have a lot of fun playing it. It's the feel that works. We try and finish the initial part of the game quite quickly and spend a long time refining certain aspects of the game. It's a very refined game.
Kristan Reed: Why did you opt for the linear approach verses a Jak & Daxter-style sprawling no-load world?
Mark Rogers: Maximo has very directed play. With sprawling worlds you have the exploration and that's a benefit, but the way that the game is presented to you can't be controlled as easily. In the Maximo sequel, the gameplay is very carefully choreographed to where the player is in the game. A lot of time and effort has gone into making it so that it can be built up. You don't reach a point where you're just cruising and going through the motions... it brings unique things to the player on an almost constant basis, so if it's not environmental based, it's enemy based... There are new enemies, there are new configurations of the enemy or there's a boss that's been thrown in to liven things up. You progress through it... it's something created for you.
Kristan Reed: Isn't a non-linear progression system less frustrating? Don't you risk losing a player who gets too wound up that they're stuck on one level?
Mark Rogers: We've spent a lot of time trying to get the progression system correct. Y'know, the first one was a difficult game. The second one, we think it still has a lot of challenge, but we've moved that challenge from areas that we think that the player had less experience of, like 3D platforming games. Moving around in 3D was something that I didn't think people had a lot of experience of - at least not when Maximo first came out (two years ago). But gamers are quite experienced in combat in other games, so we've shifted the difficulty from one area to another, which we think is easier for the player to understand.
As far as linear progression goes, there are areas within Maximo that don't work like that. You may have a start and a goal for each of the levels, but there are also lots of other ways of getting to that goal. Also, the way that the game is constructed you never come back to a situation weaker than when you died in it.
Kristan Reed: That was a big problem with the original...
Mark Rogers: That was an old arcade style of working - similar to a lot of old shoot-'em-ups where you'd build up your ship to a point, but be shafted if you lost your ship. There was something in the original game that we tried to use to combat that - the save spots - so that you didn't lose everything, but in Maximo 2 we've taken it even further in that you never come back to a situation weaker and you have that extra energy to move through the game. We've play-tested it a lot - we play-test all our games - and we did a lot to reach the sweet spot on the progression. I would say the best thing for people to do is play the game - get your hands on it and see if you like it, and I'm hoping you will.
Kristan Reed: Are you happy with the critical reaction?
Mark Rogers: Yes, it's been very good indeed.
Kristan Reed: Would you say it's an instantly accessible game?
Mark Rogers: It has reasonably instant appeal. There's a lot of depth to the play that is not initially obvious, but starting to trawl into that depth doesn't take the player long - just as long as they hit a few keys then they're going to get behaviours that they haven't seen before in other games and they're going to start to have fun with it. You could just go through and beat the levels, but then you can go back and beat the levels in a better way and receive mastery. You don't have to save the innocent characters - you can watch with glee as they're getting slaughtered, but if you save them, then other features of the game become apparent. Other things open up - you get rewarded for the diligence that you pay, but you don't get penalised either.
To The Maximo!
Maximo vs. Army of Zin is due out exclusively on PS2 this coming Friday, February 13th. You can read Tom's review of the game here.