You have no idea how happy I am to wake up every morning and realize that we're in something of a neo-80s renaissance. We live in a world where neon-soaked cityscapes are popping up everywhere you look, and more and more soundtracks are picking up a distinctively synth styling. Despite the fact that so many pieces of media have devoted themselves to 80s aesthetics, I still find myself a little giddy every time I see a promising neon-soaked throwback pop up on the radar. Katana ZERO is no different. From the moment I saw the first trailer, I was interested, and with a new trailer dropping a month ago, I tracked down developer Tadakuni Amano to discuss time-altering drugs, neo-noir, and more.
TechRaptor: What were your inspirations for Katana ZERO's gameplay and aesthetics?
Tadakuni: Despite being a game developer, I actually play surprisingly few games! As a result, much of my inspiration comes from trying to capture the feeling or aesthetic of the movies I watch. Drive, Oldboy (the Korean one), Sin City, and more recently John Wick, were all useful in finding a good direction for a invincible-yet-human protagonist, and stylistic violence set over a dark, grimy, neon coated setting. However, I've also definitely adapted a few ideas from the rare games I've payed - such as the building cross-sections in Trilby: The Art of Theft (and more recently Gunpoint), and the punchy, satisfying combat of Samurai Gunn. But my main decision for the fast-paced, instant-death gameplay loop of Katana ZERO comes from expanding my old game design tactics (seen in my previous games, Tower of Heaven and Pause Ahead) of very short levels with extremely punishing, instant-death level design, to fit action game. I know a lot of people like to compare Katana ZERO to Hotline Miami too, which is probably an apt comparison, although it wasn't my intention. I did enjoy playing Hotline Miami a lot though, so it's definitely not a bad thing!
TechRaptor: What can you tell me about the world of Katana ZERO?
Tadakuni: The game takes place in a pretty dystopian future, where the government is as corrupt as the gangs, and megacorporations have the majority of the power. The setting is a war-torn, fractured nation, which has been split into several unique districts, each with their own unique cutlures - similar to ethnic boroughs of today's cities. The main character lives in the third district, an especially crime-ridden and grimy place, with neon lights and bright advertisements coating everything in a shiny glow. The main character has little interaction with the outside world apart from his daily psychiatrist visits. As the game progresses, you'll meet a colorful cast of characters who will drive you to discover the truth about your world.
TechRaptor: The website mentions a time-altering drug called Chronos. What is Chronos, and how does it factor into the gameplay?
Tadakuni: Chronos is a big part of both the gameplay and the story! It's a mind-altering drug that allows the main character to accurately predict the future. From a gameplay perspective, this means that when you're playing a level, you're not really fighting through a room of enemies - but rather just planning out a course of action. This means you can focus more on certain moments in your plan to execute more complex maneuvers, which is represented by your ability to slow down time during the planning phase. When you die, it's not really death, but rather you realizing that your planned course of action won't work - so you go back to try something else. When you beat a level, you then see security camera footage of the main character executing your plan. It gets around the narrative problem of meaningless death in video games, where you die, but you can just come back to life magically. It also gives rise to several key plot devices where overuse and withdrawal from the drug causes the character to skip around his own predicted future.
TechRaptor: Judging by the trailers, Katana ZERO's protagonist has more than just his katana and Chronos at his disposal. What other tools and weapons can players expect to use?
Tadakuni: Using items in the environment is an important part of combat. You can throw pots, lamps, knives, etc - as well as smoke bombs, explosives, and other items with varying effects. Sometimes you can also use the environment to your advantage - breaking pipes to fill a room with smoke, crushing enemies with a chandelier, or leading them into a room full of explosive barrels. As the game progresses, the player will also gain access to a few tools that will change up the gameplay, but I'm keeping those secret for now.
TechRaptor: The website also describes Katana ZERO as a "neo-noir" game. What sort of noir elements can we expect to see in Katana ZERO?
Tadakuni: The plot is definitely very noir inspired. It's an anti-hero story (which should be pretty clear, as the main character kills at least fifty people in the trailer alone), with a cast of characters with their own secret agendas. You never know whom you can trust, and there's a lot of intrigue sprinkled throughout the plot. I also use a lot of cinematic noir elements - emphasizing scenes with striking light/shadow contrasts, and careful use of color and scenery.
TechRaptor: At the moment, how long do you expect Katana ZERO to be?
Tadakuni: It's hard to give an estimate, as every time I add a new level it seems to double the length of the game. Ideally, the game to be just long enough that it does everything that it has to do, and doesn't drag on. The main story will be at least several hours long, and there will be a myriad of secrets and bonus features to keep people busy who want to explore every inch of the game.
TechRaptor: Finally, what would you say is the most important thing you've learned during the development of Katana ZERO?
Tadakuni: Finishing a game takes a very very very long time. I'm 4 years into development right now, and the end is finally in sight - but it's been an unbelievably long journey. Staying motivated during such a long time is very difficult, but I've found that logging your hours helps a lot. It seems a little silly to do so when you're self-employed, but being able to look at your hours and see if you've been slacking off or been especially productive is very motivating.
TechRaptor: Thank you for your time.