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Cave Story remake announced for 3DS

It's official: Cave Story, the 2D indie darling that started life as a free PC game in 2004, is headed to the 3DS this summer. And not as a downloadable, depth-of-field-enabled version of itself, either – Cave Story 3D, announced today by publisher NIS America, will be a full-fledged remake of the original, with new content, character designs and fully 3D visuals. To get the full story, GR editors Mikel Reparaz and Brett Elston were privileged to sit down with Cave Story's creator, Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya (who developed the original by himself, and whose website features lots of cool, free stuff), and its producer/music director Tyrone Rodriguez,totalkabout Cave Story, the 3DS and what exactlydrives a man to spend five years creating a massive,retro-styled adventure.

Above, from left: NIS America producer/interpreter Jack Niida, Tyrone Rodriguez, Daisuke Amaya, GR Senior Editor Mikel Reparaz and GR Executive Editor Brett Elston

GR: What exactly is going to be different in Cave Story 3D?

Daisuke Amaya: The difference between the original Cave Story and Cave Story 3D is going to be the environments are going to be in full 3D, but we will keep the original style of the game, which is a 2D scrolling action game.

GR: So it’ll be 2D gameplay, but the character models and levels are now polygons?

Tyrone Rodriguez: Right, yeah. We’ve gone to a level of detail that probably is unheard of compared to what we did for the original WiiWare version. And now, as you said, you’ll see characters are fully 3D. The main character’s really cute – he’s got a scarf, he’s got this really great hat, and we’ve modeled him, along with the accompanying cast, as well as the enemies. The weapons are in full 3D, all the items, everything you see in the world has this level of depth that you’ll be able to really utilize with the 3DS’s stereoscopics.

Above: The first screenshot of Cave Story's starting area

GR: Is this primarily based off the WiiWare version of the game, or is there added content, or any differences that you can talk about yet?

TR: Primarily, this is based off of the original game. In a way, it’s almost like a true 3D remake from scratch. So we’ve added a couple of things that Daisuke and I have gone over, as far as some secrets and some Easter eggs that are going to make some of the original fans really happy, and it’ll also add some longevity for the game for anybody who’s playing it, and sees these grand new areas that we’re adding, as well.

GR: How closely has Daisuke been involved in creating the new version? Have you been very hands-on, or have you been more of a consultant?

DA: When I’m working on Cave Story 3D, many of the concept designs, characters and things like that will be pitched over to me. And I’ll go over it and direct the overall game development process. And then if there’s something I’d like to add, like a character design or something new, I’ll actually draw it out by myself and pitch it back over to the team.

Above: Concept art for the new design of Quote, Cave Story's hero

GR: Are you surprised by the difference of the process from when it was almost all your project, and now you’re supervising it as Cave Story has grown and gained popularity? How has that process changed for you?

DA: It’s completely different from what I used to be doing, creating my own Cave Story. Now I’m working with a big team, so the process is completely different. Before, I was able to sort of draw it out, create on my own, and then go back and forth between trial and error. But now it’s a little different, so I have to sort of rely on everybody, the entire team, on how to create this game, how to design it. Especially for character design – I need to rely on the actual designer for how to create these new characters. And the process is a lot different, but it’s rewarding because I can approach it in a different way, and think about how I can extract the full potential out from the designers. And that’s one of the exciting parts…

GR: Collaborating?

DA: Exactly. What’s really fun about both the Wii version and this latest 3DS version is being able to work with other designers and people. Before, I was working on everything alone, and it’s pretty lonely out there, doing all the computer programming and everything.

Above: Concept art of the redesigned starting area

Above: The original 2D starting area

GR: Yeah, if it’s all on your shoulders…

DA: Exactly. And now that I’m able to work with this team, I’m having a lot more fun with it.

GR: Are you still able to find time for your own projects, or are you sidelining them while you work on Cave Story 3DS (and, presumably, other Nicalis projects)?

DA: Since I’ve been able to work with Nicalis, I’ve got a little more time on the side. So I am working on a project, an original new game, but nothing’s really done or prepared yet. So I can’t announce it yet, but as time goes by, I’ll slowly release it on my web page.

Above: An artsy fact sheet for Cave Story 3D

TR: For the music… it’s a pretty big undertaking. I think when fans associate with Cave Story, a big part of it is the music. Without giving any spoilers for new fans, you think of a level, and you hear music in it – Daisuke and I were actually talking about this on the way here – music can really spawn memories, for good or for bad. You hear a song, and it’s not just a song, but it’s what you remember about it. So we’re very cautious about what we’re doing.

We’re going to be announcing who we’re using, it’s a very good composer, for the 3DS version. But we’ll be announcing that at a later time. And what we’re doing is similar to what we do with Daisuke for the artwork, and for the design, and for the creation. We go back and forth. The composer will initially create a new remix of one of the original tunes, we’ll get it, we’ll take a look at it. I’ll initially vet some of it, so if I think, “oh, Daisuke’s probably not going to like this, or he’s going to want to change this,” I’ll give him some feedback, and what we’ll end up doing is, we’ll get two versions of a song over to Daisuke, and say “which one do you like? Here’s the original one he did, here’s the feedback I gave him, and here’s the remix.”

Above: Concept art of a Life Capsule

Daisuke’s very specific about how he sees the music. He composed all of it originally, so I want to make sure that… if he’s happy with the new music, I’m pretty sure that the fans are going to be happy. Because it’ll have his stamp of approval, but it’ll also have his personality imbued into the music.

GR: The sound quality of the original is very evocative of the exact style of some of the best moments of the 8-bit period. Are you going to be trying to retain any of that 8-bit flair, or are we going to hear more modern instruments to go with the new look?

TR: We actually gave it a shot, a couple of sort-of proof-of-concepts when we were initially doing the music, to see if we could go orchestral, or if we could go really modern. And it sounds OK. But I think, really, for Cave Story, and for what people are expecting, and for the type of game it is, even though we’re going for 3D, we need to make sure that we have that sense of 8-bitness, even though it’s a little bit more modern. So once you start to hear some of the tunes, I think you’ll realize that it definitely feels like it’s falling into place. Daisuke’s gone over some of the music, so maybe he wants to chime in on what he thinks about the music so far.

Above: Concept art for Cave Story's heroine, Curly Brace

DA: I feel that, for a videogame, half the game is basically the music. So music is a very important factor for the game itself. For the original Cave Story, I was creating music for it, but I didn’t want to use instruments that I don’t know how to use. Instruments that I know how to use, I’ll incorporate and try to make music out of it, and try to make it as simple as possible so that it’ll match the game. And for Cave Story 3D, obviously the older 8-bit music probably won’t match as well, so I’m asking the team to build upon the original and then create the new music for me. That’s what’s going on right now.

What’s really tough is, unlike drawing pictures – which is easier to adjust and fix – music is a lot tougher, because when you adjust a certain part of the song, you have to arrange the rest of the music and make it balance. But asking the composer to change that is a really tough process, because it’s not like a picture, you can’t visually see it. You have to go back and forth…

Above: Concept art for the redesigned Mimiga Village area

Above: The original Mimiga Village area

GR: It seems like the sort of thing where if you pull one thread the whole thing starts to unravel, and now you have to start over again.

DA: Exactly. That’s the toughest part right now.

GR: If this does well, do you see yourself working on handheld ports for your other games, like Ikachan and Guxt, down the road?

DA: Right now, I’m just thinking about Cave Story, so it’s hard to say. But if I can make something interesting and fun, I’d love to work on a different port as well.

GR: How do you feel about how much popularity Cave Story has gained over the years? It was kind of a slow burn, because the PC game was several years ago, and then it’s slowly grown more and more over the years. Did you have any idea it would resonate with people so much, that everyone would go “that is just like a new-old game that maintains all the charm and all the things we love, and it’s not nostalgia, it’s just really good?” Are you surprised by how much it took off, or were you just like, “I made this game, here you go, have fun with it?”

DA: I’m really surprised and excited. When I was making the original Cave Story, I was very lonely making the game, but I was always imagining people being happy playing my game that took me forever to create. As it spread out onto Wii and DS, I wasn’t expecting it to be so big. When I was originally making it, I was gearing it toward the Japanese hardcore gamer audience, and once it went worldwide, I really was surprised to see that western gamers embraced Cave Story. That was just astonishing for me. Everything is just a continuous surprise for me, because it’s moving onto the 3DS platform, and I wasn’t expecting that at all. Every day is a totally new surprise to me.

Above: Concept art for Igor, the mutated Mimiga

GR: I was first introduced to Cave Story late last year, and within the first 10 minutes, I loved it immediately. It just got that old feel right.

DA: Do you like classic, retro-style games?

GR: Oh, absolutely. It reminded me right away of Metroid and Blaster Master, and things like that.

DA: Thank you for liking the game. What’s really surprising for me is that, when I was getting fan letters from various users, I realized the game isn’t just for older generations like me – it’s also being embraced by younger video gamers out there. That was one of the biggest surprises I had this time. When it comes out for the 3DS, it’s going to be open to wider audiences, and hopefully those new gamers will like Cave Story.

Above: Concept art for Misery, one of Cave Story's villains

GR: The DSiWare version… well, it was DSiWare, whereas this is going to be a boxed retail copy. Is this the first time it’s been at retail?

TR: Right, yeah. This’ll be the first time that you’ll be able to purchase it as a physical item.

GR: I’ve read that Daisuke is a big fan of Super Metroid. Are there any more recent games that you like to play? What other games are you a fan of, and is there anything you’ve looked at in the last five or 10 years and said, “Oh, I want to do something sort of like that,” or “that’s a good idea?” Anything you’ve drawn inspiration from?

DA: I like Silent Hill. The reasoning behind that is, I’m always afraid of playing scary, horror-type games, but now I’m able to play the game with my wife at my side. I feel like Silent Hill especially, it’s a scary horror game, but at the same time it has an artistic aspect to it, like a horror-art feel. I have another favorite game recently – in Japanese it’s called Chikyuu Boueigun…

GR: Is that Earth Defense Force?

Above: Earth Defense Force 2017

DA: Yeah, with the giant bugs. There’s a mode in the game that allows it to simplify the controls . And by using this feature, even a beginner, someone who hasn’t played an action game before, can easily pick it up and play the game. That’s one thing I thought was really neat about it. At the same time, there’s this other feature, a co-op mode, and that’s one of the highlights of it. Videogames are fun to play alone, but at the end, being able to play with other people is just so much more fun.

GR: It adds a continuously renewing feel to it; a good two-player game can kind of last forever, as opposed to a game that’s over after 60 hours…

DA: Cave Story’s a single-player game, but what helped it to spread so quickly was the internet. By using the internet, Cave Story – the art, and things like that – people started talking it over and chatting, and that multi-person aspect of it really helped Cave Story spread out so wide and quickly.

Above: More Igor concept art

GR: Cave Story’s a pretty huge game, especially for one person to create everything. How did you decide to start on a project of that scope by yourself? Was it just something that started small and became big?

DA: Because I was creating Cave Story by myself, it was a little different from how a regular game is built. What happened with the original is, I started off with this blank, black screen. And I had the character just standing there, moving around, jumping around, doing various things. The most fun part of creating a videogame is when you first create something that’s moving around, and you’re able to control it. And then once you get that, you start to visualize what to add, like “I want to add this thing here, and this here, and the background there.” They slowly built upon each other. So for the original Cave Story, I didn’t necessarily have a big plan to build on, but started from something small and added to it.

I’m both the creator and the tester of the game, so I’m playing, testing out the game, and if I don’t feel that the gamer, or the player, is going to be satisfied with the stages, I’ll go back and add even more to it. Once I realized I had this big, grand game, the story part was basically putting it together, adjusting it to make a little more sense than what I had originally. So again, it’s just adjusting at the very end, when I realized I had the whole world setting there. But you can only do this if you’re making the game by yourself. If you have a team, that’s not going to work.

Above: Concept art of Igor's ID badge

GR: Bringing it back around to Cave Story 3D, do you think there’s a lot of possibility there? Do you like what the 3D does for the game?

DA: On the 3DS, there’s a great possibility for action games, especially these jumping around, action-type games like Mario, and things like that. But because there’s that sense of depth, players will be able to visually experience the distance. Like, before, it’s a simple “hit the button to jump across,” but now you’ll be able to hold down the button for a certain length to be able to jump a certain distance with the depth. And the visual difference is probably going to be a big plus for future action games.

Above: Concept art of the Polar Star, Quote's pistol

GR: Now that Cave Story has been/is beingported to three different platforms, is there any interest in or intent to make a sequel down the road?

DA: The original Cave Story took me five years to create, and the testers that were playing the game, they wanted to have something even more difficult than the original stages. So I created the Hell stage, and put so much effort into it that I basically said, “all right, this is the grand finale for Cave Story for now.” And then I wanted to create a few other games on the side, which I was able to in the past few years. So I’m satisfied with that. It’s now been 10 years since the original Cave Story came out, so I’m now thinking that maybe it’s time to start thinking about a sequel for Cave Story. There’s a very, very good chance we’ll see a sequel.

Feb 10, 2011

Mikel Reparaz
Mikel Reparaz
After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.