Live Takes the Series Back to its Multiplayer-Driven Roots
by Louis Bedigian
“Ongoing stat tracking, tournaments, and finals. That sort of vision is the first step we're taking with Xbox Live.”
The term “multiplayer mayhem” could’ve been coined two decades ago when the first Bomberman game was released. Based on the sole concept of blasting your opponent (before he blasts you), Bomberman was an engaging action game that helped start the trend of developing multiplayer-specific titles.
Bomberman Live aims to recapture the original game’s magic on Xbox 360.
“We went with the best features, best gameplay modes, and the best content,” said John Lee, VP of Marketing & PR and QA of Bomberman Live. “We’ve gone back and [acquired] the best gimmicks [from previous Bomberman games]. We have about 16 different types of power-ups or power-downs. We have one where a character is infected with bomberrhea, which is like diarrhea – you have bombs and you can’t stop dropping them. Most of the stuff we have in there was the most requested and adds a lot of gameplay to it. We included the landmines and time bombs and things like that.”
“What you come out with,” he adds, “is Bomberman Live. It’s everything you’d expect from Xbox Live with multiplayer, high-def graphics,” and planned upgrade packs.
How will the customization system work?
John Lee: The customization system has two parts. The first one is that you can pretty much fully customize your character. What we’ve done this time is create a bunch of unique looks for Bomberman. You know, whether he’s wearing a Spartan outfit or a ballerina, a wizard, a punk rocker – you name it, there’s something in here for it.
There are 25 different characters total but we allow you to swap out the headgear, face, and body. The combination lets you create over 10,000 [customized appearances]. So any time you’re playing online, more often than not you’re going to see everyone with a unique look. The whole way it works is that the more you play a certain mode in the game, it unlocks power-up costume balls. You have to be the first person to grab it, and it’s a fun way to start customizing your character.
The other way this game is unique is that just about every power-up gimmick can be put into a unique level. In the past you had very specific power-ups that could only be played in specific levels. This time we have about eight different levels – you can take the gimmicks [into those levels], whether it’s a trapped door or flames or tornadoes, you name it, [and its placement] can be decided by whoever’s setting up the game.
Can you tell us about the multiplayer options?
JL: We definitely were pretty shortsighted when we were working on Bomberman Act Zero, which was a full-fledged console game that launched at retail last year. It didn’t have a multiplayer game in it. You gotta have multiplayer [in a Bomberman game]. This time we are going to support four-player local multiplayer and eight-player on Xbox Live. We found that at that point the speed of the game is still fantastic and frantic enough for players to really get into it.
What’s also beautiful about this game, which hasn’t necessarily happened with other Xbox games, is that you can have two friends at your place against two other buddies in another place [using same-console and Xbox Live multiplayer]. In other words, you can mix it up depending on how many controllers you have at home and play against others across the Internet.
What about the different play modes? Are there different modes within the multiplayer option or is just a free-for-all battle?
JL: There are different play modes as well, though we are still working out the details for that. We have the classic free-for-all. There is team-based play. There are a couple of new gameplay modes we have. One is called Zombie. If you die, you can still kill someone instead of being out of the game. There is also a Paint mode where every time you blow up a bomb the floor is painted a certain color. You’re trying to acquire as much floor space pertaining to your Bomberman color. These gameplay modes are a whole different feel for Bomberman. They add a lot of variety to the game.
How will these color changes affect the appearance of the customized characters?
JL: The way it works is, even if you’re a Spartan, you’re going to be assigned a certain color like red or blue or black. It has to do with what the base color of your Bomberman is. You can pick the base color. From that [the game] will give you whatever color you are in Paint mode.
The arenas are the most important part of any Bomberman game. What arenas will be in this edition?
JL: They’re pretty much all new. They’re all rendered in high-definition, all in 3D. So you can now take multiple viewing angles, like isometric or top-down. You have new arenas like a temple, a ghost town, an ice world, things like that.
How do you think the high-def graphics will change our perception of Bomberman?
JL: Well, if you have 20/20 eyesight it still looks fantastic [laughs]. If you have blurry eyesight I guess it doesn’t matter. I think the biggest difference is that a game like Bomberman, whether it’s played in high-def or low-def, the gameplay remains fantastic. It’s worked the last 20 years and it hasn’t changed much over the years.
In Japan they have competitions that they go on and they master how the character plays down to a pixel (how the character animates and where he’ll be on the screen). It’s life and death to these guys. High-definition adds a lot more to that. It’s a lot more vibrant and colorful. It adds a new element to it. Microsoft has a great strategy with their Xbox Live system. You can take old games and add high-def and it really feels like a fresh coat of paint.
Will those of us playing the game on a low-def TV benefit from the high-res graphics? Does Bomberman Live look better overall because it was developed in high-def?
JL: With a regular screen we had to crop off the sides, so you’re not going to be able to see a lot of [the details present in widescreen]. In terms of the actual look, it does look a lot smoother. Bomberman is entirely in 3D polygons. There’s a real smoothness to the animation, so you’re definitely going to notice that. How it translates to high-definition – I think if you look at any Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game today, it doesn’t look that much better on a regular TV. TVs stay with their older resolution.
Unless you go with HD, you’re not going to be able to see exactly how sharp the game looks. It looks fine without it, but there’s a reason why everyone wants to upgrade to these widescreens.
Will this be an Xbox Live Arcade release?
JL: This is an Xbox Live Arcade game. What we’ve heard from the fans is that they just want a version that they can download. When you think about Bomberman, it’s not the kind of game that lends itself to a full-retail next-gen console retail product unless you’re adding dynamic gameplay.
The way we wanted to design this game was with ongoing level packs and upgrades. Our thought was to launch this at an Xbox Live Arcade price and release additional content over time, you know, for a couple bucks, to let you add upgrades and things of that nature. This is probably the last Bomberman game we’ll make for the Xbox 360 for a long time because it will have a long life on the Xbox Live network.
What kinds of upgrades do you foresee in the future?
JL: The kinds of upgrades we’d love to see are pretty far-reaching. When we initially talked to Microsoft, a lot of them we really couldn’t do because the system, the whole Xbox Live Arcade concept, was really to bring over simple arcade games. We wanted to do something that was much more full-featured and robust. The thought of, for instance, let’s say you pay an entry fee to enter a tournament and all the money is rolled into one gigantic prize. You’d have ongoing stat tracking, tournaments, and then finals.
That sort of vision is the first step we’re taking with Xbox Live. But a lot of these things they aren’t allowing us to do because they wanted to keep the experience very much controlled with a very seamless interface. So what we’re doing is a bit controlled. Our add-on packs are going to cover such things as new levels, characters, arenas, and gimmicks. Perhaps we’ll throw in a level that we’ll use in a tournament.
As we test it out and see how popular this is, there are a lot of interesting upsides that over time we can eventually get everyone on board saying, “We can really open this up.” And build this into a sports league like football or basketball, where you have these huge tournament structures. The possibilities are there. It’s [a matter of] getting everyone to appreciate the bigger vision.
Will there be a specific online ranking system?
JL: There are actually a lot of online ranking systems for us. It’s all about competitive play for Bomberman. So there are probably like 14 different things that we’re tracking at any given time, whether it’s most frags, most frags of the week, most frags of a particular level, etc. The beauty of Bomberman is that it takes about 10 minutes to figure out. Once that light bulb goes off and you get the game, everyone thinks they have a shot at winning the tournament. You’ll have a good mix of people trying to fight for the top spots.
What about the offline modes? Let’s say I get the game and want to practice offline – is there a mode for that?
JL: Yeah, there is a single-player mode. We did not include a quest this time around because no one ever associates Bomberman with a single-player mode. In fact, it’s probably the least requested feature. We’re talking about a game and a brand that pretty much created the party game genre, so we’ve focused on multiplayer this time. The single-player is really designed to play against the computer and AI and set everything up, even have tournaments that way to practice.
Thank you for your time.