Interview: Studio Koba’s Ed Fornieles

Kickstarter caught our attention this week with Narita Boy, and NerdQ’s Erik Meyer caught up with Studio Koba’s Director Eduardo “Ed” Fornieles. For anyone interested in retro-future 80s pixel games with deep lore and mechanical minions, this game needs to be on the radar.

Erik Meyer: For the uninitiated, describe the creative genesis of Narita Boy and how Studio Koba came together. Describe the Barcelona/Tokyo connection. How have your disparate influences found their way into your work?

Ed Fornieles: Studio Koba was born in Tokyo and grew up in Barcelona. The connection could be a metaphor for my own life; my son, too, is the consequence of mixing Japan and Spain.

Narita Boy is also the consequence of crossing Asia and the West; Narita Boy indirectly has the spirit of Japan, the strange environment that surrounds everything, the subtlety, the spirituality, the moss, even the hotaru, the typical Japanese fireflies. Everything breathes subtly in Japan. At the same time, everything is iconic, Western; think pop culture, the 80s, plot, narrative arcs, etc…

EM: While some of the game’s elements (dual worlds, 80s art, a mysterious creator, a hero vanquishing evil) are not entirely new, the synthesis of 80s technology, landscapes, music, and trichroma mythos produces a fascinating world for players to explore. When you were deciding which elements to include, what were your criteria? What kinds of things have gotten left out or are waiting to be developed?

EF: The first thing I looked for was an internal logic in the universe, a coherence and a solidity that allowed me to build harmonically from the beginning.

When you find the right path and everything fits together, adding new ideas is relatively easy. One thing that helped me was to line the walls of my house in Tokyo with hundreds of concepts and ideas.
At any time I was writing lore about the game, like the Silmarillion for the Lord of the Rings (the genesis, the logic, the legends, the myths, etc.). That lore expanded the horizon and transferred wealth to the universe.

I also think that unconsciously there is a lot of Hinduism and Shintoism, and that I think appeals to a collective imagination and allows more empathy for the player.

There is a lot of material that has still been left out: lore, mechanics, subplots, characters. Also, ideas beyond the bizarre are currently stored in the drawer.

EM: The Stallions feature prominently as bad guys; what do you see as essential for enemies in retro pixel games?

EF: Stallions in retro pixel art should be threatening, boosting the cliché of their archetype. The lower ranks should be simple but threatening. In contrast, the final bosses should be psychologically complex. They transmit fear, and each of them is a unique experience and a challenge.

EM: Game developers tend to have a decidedly different way of working as compared to coders working in industrial or traditional commercial settings. When you add elements to Narita Boy, what does that work flow look like? What quirks do you feel are common in the dev community? I can’t help but notice the wall covered in drawings; how much do you flesh out specific elements before creating assets?

EF: Creating elements and assets in pre-production has no limit. On the contrary, there should be no limits. During the pre-production of the Narita Boy trailer, there was no conceptual limitation. However, all the work was reviewed by our developer. Its task was to limit our creativity so that later we would not have problems in the development phase. We were doing several prototypes in Unity to check that we were well-targeted. At the artistic level, it is best to work with mock-ups to prove that everything looks perfect and then start to implement and create assets to integrate them into Unity.

EM: The symbol on Narita Boy’s chest (it is on many of the game’s inhabitants, as well) invites inquiry; while simple, it stands out as an icon (and as a floppy drive). What are your favorite identifiable images from the 80s, and how do you feel you’re working in that space?

EF: I really like the iconography of the 80s. The logo in particular is the disk slot of the Narita One, but at the same time is the kanji of “half” in Japanese. Suddenly, everything made sense and I realized that I had found a symbol that worked iconographically. And of course, it had to be retro, simple, and powerful.

I’ve been very influenced by logos like Apple, Atari, Nintendo, He-Man, Kodak, etc…

EM: The game trailers mesh natural imagery with technology to create an organic feel; as you combine music, sound effects, sprites, backgrounds, code, and other assets to create mood, what governs your decisions?

EF: Everything has an internal mechanism, an internal logic, and everything is connected. But there are so many overexposed elements and so much unrelated information in the trailer that everything seems somewhat dreamy. Above all, the most important thing is history, an idea that can be summarized in two sentences. The rest is something that emphasizes that idea. Also, the idea to create a unique, odd, artistic experience is there.

EM: The trailer makes some nods to 80s hits like Tron (the scrolling grid) and He-Man (the sword held aloft) to name a few. What do you feel these classics captured, and how does it play into Narita Boy?

EF: Tron is a great inspiration and shares with Narita Boy the initiatory journey to the digital world. Analog FX, grain, design, neon, everything is very inspiring.

With He-Man, Eternia fascinated me, that pop world you wanted to visit. A kind of space Conan. The infantile form of good and evil, the designs of the enemies, the personalities of He-Man’s friends, a woman as the spiritual guide of the planet, and especially Grayskull’s sword, not to mention his power and the respect he felt for her.

EM: Finally, Lionel Pearl makes for an intriguing benefactor; what can we expect in the way of character development in Narita Boy?

EF: Ah! Lionel Pearl will be one of the great mysteries of the game. Also a key piece of the plot. This we will leave for the moment in secret.

If anyone missed it, check out the Narita Boy trailer.

Author: Erik Meyer

Erik edits content, writes articles, conducts interviews, and draws silly things for The NerdQ. He also produces Planning Session, a comic showcasing dev discussions.

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