Japanese indie developer Takumi Naramura isn't shy about expressing his intentions. Within the first minute of the La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter video, he boldly states, "I feel [the] evolution of 2D games stopped some time after 3D games became mainstream."
While 2D games have witnessed a recent resurgence due to the spread of smartphones and the continued dominance of the 3DS, the spirit of Naramura's message is clear: They don't make 'em like they used to. And, 2D or not, few modern games offer anything remotely similar to what's found in La Mulana, a crushingly difficult puzzle-platformer developed by Naramura as a love letter to the MSX games of his youth.
Nearly 10 years after its original release, Naramura is ready to make a sequel with the help of fan funding and feedback, and I sat down with PLAYISM's Joshua Weatherford to talk about La Mulana 2 and the virtues of using Kickstarter for Japanese indie development.
While Naramura didn't originally plan on developing a follow up to La-Mulana after the official remake, a trip to GDC (Game Developers Conference) quickly changed his mind. "Naramura... saw a lot of people with successful Kickstarters—a lot of people who never made games before," says Weatherford. "He had a lot of people coming up to him, asking about La-Mulana sequels... When he came back, he asked us if it was a good idea to do La-Mulana 2 instead of doing another project, and we said, 'Well, yeah. A lot of people know La-Mulana but they might not know your name at this point.' They saw the potential with Kickstarter for this kind of game, and decided to go for it even though they were originally against it."
For the three-person team at Asterizm, making La-Mulana 2 stands as an extremely practical choice. Thanks to the recent remake of their first game, Asterizm has a set of tools ready for the sequel, and they're also relying on fan feedback gained from e-mails, forums, Let's Plays and live streams.
Weatherford explains: "[Naramura] would see a lot of people finding an exploit for a boss, and he would change that boss so the exploit would be impossible. And with the Kickstarter, we're going to be doing a bunch of reward levels where fans can take part in the development. "
Those who followed the development of the original La-Mulana remake know the game went through several years of development hell, starting in 2007, and ending in 2011 with its release on WiiWare—long after the platform had lost its relevance. Luckily, the Windows port proved much more popular, and eventually found a larger audience thanks to digital distribution outlets like Steam. Keeping this in mind, I asked Weatherford if Kickstarter was necessary for La-Mulana 2's development, or just a valuable tool to measure demand.
"It really just comes down to the developer's situation," says Weatherford. "I think that they've obviously sold a lot of copies of La-Mulana... [but] their development costs were much higher than expected, so even with the good sales on Steam, they're probably just making their money back. Honestly, [La-Mulana 2] probably will not get made if the Kickstarter isn't successful at this point."
Though it's planned to arrive 10 years after the first game, don't expect too many modern concessions from La-Mulana 2. This time around, the sequel will offer a widescreen mode, but the game itself will still feature the same variety of brain-bursting puzzles and deadly traps seen in the original. But Naramura is doing his best to alleviate some of the unnecessary player frustration found in the first game, as Weatherford explains:
"They're definitely going to keep the things that make La-Mulana La-Mulana: the mind-bending puzzles, the crazy bosses, the extreme difficulty... [Naramura's] said he's going to try—even if they're going to be incredibly hard puzzles, he wants them to be more intuitive. And just more hints, more keys and clues. One thing he's talked about a lot are those moments when you do a puzzle and you should be really happy, but it unlocks something, and you have no idea where it is. And you're like "Oh god.' He just wants something simple indicating 'this unlocked here...' He definitely wants to bring down the barrier of entry a little bit, but it's still going to be mind-bendingly hard."