Image courtesy of Kanata Lab

34EVERLAST represents a composer's journey deep into game development

Mike Williams |
March 14, 2023
Syohei Ogami is the founder and representative of Kanata Lab. Ogami has more than a decade of experience working chiefly in song composition. He started developing games in Unreal Engine three years ago.
34EVERLAST feels like a music video come to life. The colorful neon trails that streak out from the protagonist as they tear across a landscape. Whole cities fracture and fall as our hero fights a giant mechanical beast, in time to a pulse-pounding, operatic soundtrack. The world of 34EVERLAST lives in the intersection between three parallel worlds that the player is tasked to save. The game is highly replayable, offering 30 different endings, and the game can be completed in as little as 10 minutes.

When you see it in motion, it makes sense that 34EVERLAST was developed by composer Syohei Ogami of Kanata Lab. Ogami made the transition from musician to first-time developer in 2020, building his experience using Unreal Engine. His initial effort was enough to catch the eye of the Indie Game Incubator and receive an Epic MegaGrant. 34EVERLAST is still in development, planned for an eventual release on PC, PS4, PS5, and Xbox Series X.

We spoke with Ogami about his transition from music to game development, what inspired 34EVERLAST, and how Unreal Engine made developing his first game fun.
 

What can you tell us about Kanata Lab?

Syohei Ogami, representative at Kanata Lab:
We were established about ten years ago as a musical composition group that made use of Vocaloid technology. We started developing games three years back.

Considering you previously focused on musical composition. How did you get into video game development?

Syohei:
I’d always liked game soundtracks, and I created a lot of my compositions with those in mind. I had the idea in 2020 that my next album would be a soundtrack for an imaginary game. As work on it progressed, I figured the album may as well include a bonus consisting of a simple game featuring my songs. That’s how the whole game development thing started.

What is 34EVERLAST about?

Syohei:
It’s built on the concept of “ultra concentrated entertainment for the working adult.” A game that’s just the right size to be there for a working adult, one that’ll give them a huge sense of accomplishment and thrills.

A single playthrough may be short, but the level design and game systems change depending on the player’s in-game discoveries and decisions, so you’ll find new surprises every time you play.

Plus, while the boss battles are chiefly powerful, high-speed, suspenseful affairs, players who aren’t great at action games will still find plenty of other ways to beat the baddies.
Image courtesy of Kanata Lab
What inspired you to create 34EVERLAST?

Syohei:
I was familiar and comfortable with games from a young age, but once I became a full-fledged adult, my daily work schedule made it hard for me to play major releases, like AAA titles, from start to finish. More often than not, I’d buy the major releases I’d been looking forward to and leave them unopened, or start them up and pretty immediately stop playing, never making it all the way through. I had this growing pile of games that was getting to be a problem.

I thought that if I were going to take the leap into game development, I’d make a game that even busy working folks like me would want to play, one that would give them that feeling of accomplishment you get from making it to the very end. Then I started working on 34EVERLAST.

In promotional materials, you explain that 34EVERLAST is a game players can complete in as little as 10 minutes. Can you talk about the significance of this and how the team iterated on this design?

Syohei:
There’s no end to all the fun diversions surrounding us these days. Unfortunately, we have a limited time to actually enjoy them all.

For people to choose my game out of all the entertainment options vying for every tiniest free moment, I figured we’d really need to change the shape of games as we know it. So I set a goal of being able to complete the game in as little as 10 minutes, resolving to give players the greatest possible sense of fulfillment in that time. I think there’s great possibility in 34EVERLAST’s goal of being a compact AAA-style game.

Now, that’s all well and good, but the biggest reason behind all of it is that I wanted to play that kind of game myself.
Image courtesy of Kanata Lab
Does 34EVERLAST have any influences?

Syohei:
Tons of them. The battle system was influenced by the NieR and Dark Souls series along with Metal Gear Rising, to name a few, while the game concept itself found inspiration in Gungrave on the PlayStation 2.

The graphics were heavily inspired by various films, most especially those directed by Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan. Zack Snyder’s Justice League and Inception were particularly influential.

Can you share your approach to world and level design?

Syohei:
I love movies. I think this game shares a characteristic with movies, one of providing a rich experience over a short period of time. That’s why I included plenty of my favorite cinematic direction, camerawork, and art in the level design.

Also, having each stage made up of three acts—like a movie plot—and designed with the plot points in mind gives the gameplay pacing, so it’s continuously providing interest and excitement.

You assert the game will deliver exhilarating action with intuitive controls. Can you talk about how you designed the game’s combat system?

Syohei:
First of all, a complicated battle system needs a long tutorial to explain it, which doesn’t fit with 34EVERLAST’s concept of enjoyment in a short amount of time. Instead, I designed a battle system with the simplest controls possible, so you could play with very little information. (Incidentally, I never read the manuals and I skip the tutorials whenever I play games myself...)

Next, by making the button layout similar to existing action games, anyone who’s played some action games can grasp the controls right away. To get that “exhilarating action,” we implemented warp attacks that would reduce the time it takes to get in close to the boss, a task which would otherwise disrupt the battle’s rhythm—all while holding onto this sense of flashy, high-speed battles. That’s how we made it possible to shorten that distance to the boss in the blink of an eye while still moving fast, successfully keeping this hardcore battle situation going.
Image courtesy of Kanata Lab
Playing with time is also a key part of 34EVERLAST, as the player can slow time down to attack or dodge, but these actions come at the cost of the overall time you have left in each world. Where did the concept for this system come from?

Syohei:
The idea of taking risks to interfere with the flow of time is the most important concept story-wise, and we’ve implemented that as part of the gameplay.

In most games, time-control abilities—bullet time and the like—affect the flow of time for everything, including the player. In 34EVERLAST, though, the player alone is unaffected and can move and attack at their usual speed. The maneuvering involved in knowing how to use this extremely powerful and dangerous ability fulfills the role of providing tension and conflict, both in the gameplay and in the story.

With a unique action puzzle system, the actions the player makes in one world affects their path through the other worlds, like if you make it rain in one world, a desert in another will become a forest. Can you talk about how that system works and how it enhances the action gameplay?

Syohei:
This game takes place in three parallel worlds stacked on top of one another. Each one has a completely different aesthetic, but they’re closely connected at their roots—and that’s an extremely crucial point when it comes to understanding the story. We implemented the action puzzles to introduce that key set-up into the gameplay and communicate it to the player.

The stages have many actors that change shape in response to the player’s actions; the actors can change their state over time, too. Having everything act like a switch that affects another world lets us express these three parallel worlds that are all tangled together.

Loss of interest is the enemy of every short game with repeated gameplay. I’m looking to boost immersion and keep players interested by preparing an environment that can meet the player’s expectations, a world where the player’s discoveries and decisions bring change after change to the in-game scenery.
Image courtesy of Kanata Lab
You have 30 different potential endings, but one true ending. How have you designed the game to potentially guide players who want to eventually reach that true ending?

Syohei:
In order to guide players to the true ending, I think it’s important to tell the game’s fascinating story in fragments to pique the player’s interest in what will happen next. The entire game, then, is designed around making that happen. After each route’s ending, players can be rewarded with more plot being deciphered or hints toward unlocking another ending route. Currently, we’re planning on implementing a flowchart that lets the player see what routes they’ve taken and identify the branching points.

Are there any unique ways in which Kanata Lab's musical background has impacted 34EVERLAST's development?

Syohei:
Music occupies an extremely crucial position among all the elements that make up a game, but I feel like it tends to take a backseat in action games. As someone who’d worked primarily in music composition, I really wanted to do something about that.

With 34EVERLAST, we start with a concept that puts music front and center—a music video that you control—and implement level design and direction that works hand-in-hand with the soundtrack.

Composer Levereve and vocalist Emi Evans, who sang songs from NieR Replicant and NieR:Automata, are creating the main song for the game, 3VERL4ST. Levereve is also doing the rest of the music for 34EVERLAST. As a musician, how has it been collaborating with others on the music for your game?

Syohei:
I’ve been friendly with Levereve’s representative, JP, since my musical-composition days—we even produced an album together. At first, I’d planned on producing all of 34EVERLAST’s songs myself, but game development ate up my time. Instead, I asked my most respected and trusted colleague, Levereve, to take the reins.

The songs Levereve composes consistently surpass my expectations. I’m very happy with their work. I’m also truly grateful to Emi Evans for her outstanding vocals. Everyone at SCARLET MOON has been so accommodating. I’d really like to work with them again.

Some tracks are still unreleased. I’m incredibly excited to have other artists put such a beautiful shine on this world I’ve created.
Image courtesy of Kanata Lab
What did it mean for 34EVERLAST to receive an Epic MegaGrant?

Syohei:
I never thought I’d win such a thing, so I was thrilled—and it gave me a big boost of self-confidence at the same time. It also sparked this sense of responsibility, a drive to make the final version of 34EVERLAST even better. I’ll do my best!

What made Unreal Engine a good choice for 34EVERLAST?

Syohei:
You know, when I started developing games, I had zero programming experience. Unreal Engine, with its fantastic Blueprints scripting system that lets the user program visually, was the best and most appropriate game engine for someone like me. I got to experience Unreal Engine’s gorgeous graphics right away, too, even in the initial stages of development. I think it did a great job making development fun, which helped me keep going.

34EVERLAST features very vibrant VFX. Did you leverage Niagara for it?

Syohei:
Thank you for saying so. Yes, I purchased assets from the Unreal Engine Marketplace and tweaked them to best fit my game, or followed tutorials to make and implement new assets from scratch. I owe a lot to Niagara.
Image courtesy of Kanata Lab
As a new, solo developer, did you have any favorite Unreal Engine tools or features?

Syohei:
As I mentioned earlier, the Blueprints system has to be my favorite. You can visually see what portion of the program is running, even during play. It’s like I was using this game called Blueprint to develop my own game. How fun is that?

Thanks for your time, where can people learn more about 34EVERLAST?

Syohei:
I post the latest news, development progress updates, and the like on Twitter. Check out YouTube, and our official website for videos and other info, too.

Wait till you hear all the big announcements we’ll be making this year and next. Thanks for all your support!

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