July 18, 2019
Travis Strikes Again represents a love letter to modern indie games
Developed by a core team of roughly 13 people, Travis Strikes Again is inspired by small studios doing big things, and feels like a love letter to indie games. To see how Grasshopper Manufacture brought the title to life, we interviewed Goichi Suda, perhaps better known as Suda51. The legendary director explains how his current mood can affect the game's fourth-wall-breaking humor, elaborates on what indie games inspired him for the project, and talks about infusing multiple genres together into a Travis Touchdown-starring game that features an entirely different camera perspective and feel from past No More Heroes predecessors. Thanks for your time. Would you say it's important for players to have played the first two No More Heroes games to enjoy Travis Strikes Again?
No. Players don’t need to worry. Even without playing No More Heroes 1 and 2, you can still fully enjoy the game.
Most of Travis Strikes Again features a top-down isometric view, which differs from the previous entries’ third-person perspective. What inspired Grasshopper Manufacture to go with this new direction?
I was heavily influenced by a lot of indie games and indie creators. Instead of going for a really large-scale product, I wanted to move towards the sort of scale and studio vibe that was prevalent back when we were making games during the Super Nintendo and original PlayStation days. I also wanted to try something outside of the “official” numbered series, so I decided to go with the arcade-style top-down view for Travis Strikes Again.
Travis Strikes Again features a unique concept with Travis being sucked into a video game console, where he has to make his way through different mini-games. What inspired this premise?
I designed it to feel like Travis was swimming through a world full of launch titles on an unreleased game console, the Death Drive, where the specs gradually come together. With the top-down view, I thought a lot about how to switch back and forth between worlds while playing the game, and gradually got the idea of having a gamer, Travis, cross over into the game world for a games-within-a-game adventure.
The game has been praised for its introspective, irreverent, and funny dialogue that often breaks the fourth wall. Can you delve into what went into the writing process and the creation of the story for Travis Strikes Again?
Typically, I go home, eat, take a bath, watch some of my favorite TV shows, and then late at night, once I’ve unwound and the world has gone to bed, I turn on my PC and throw on my favorite music and dive into the world of writing. Sometimes I come up with a scenario that fits perfectly with the plot, but sometimes I end up arriving at a totally different story than what had originally been plotting out. Everything I write is left up to my mood and how I feel at the time.
With several retro-inspired mini-games, Travis Strikes Again seems like a love letter to ‘90s and indie games, especially with there being so many collectible indie game shirts. What titles had a big influence on the game?
The game that influenced me the most was Hotline Miami. The guys at Dennaton Games are friends of mine and are two of the game creators I respect the most. Ever since meeting them, I grew deeply interested in indie games, and they’ve really provided me with a lot of stimulation.
With a wide range of mini-games that has Travis fighting, platforming, racing, and solving puzzles, can you discuss how you decided which gameplay mechanics and genres to infuse into the game?
Part of it comes down to a sort of [balance between] the budget and the schedule. I also consulted with the staff many times before making decisions. The Grasshopper development team did an awesome job realizing and implementing all kinds of difficult and nigh-impossible stuff that I requested.
The sheer amount of energy in the studio is a crystallization of the team’s hard work, and I really appreciate all that they’ve accomplished.
Travis Strikes Again features easy-to-grasp combat that offers a layer of hidden depth with additional skills you can acquire along the way. Can you talk about your approach to designing combat?
The main combat loop was constructed mainly by our lead programmer [Toru] Hironaka, and the reins of game design were taken on by our director, [Ren] Yamazaki. My role was creating the rhythm that gets the player immersed in the game world as quickly as possible. I tried my best to step into the shoes of the player to work out and adjust things such as button placement, enhancements, the eloquence of effects, stuff like that. I would try and address anything that could get in the way of creating immersion.
The game has very inventive boss battles, some of which feature multiple phases that force players to rethink their approach. Can you talk about your design philosophy in creating them?
Most of this stuff was all done single-handedly by our lead programmer Hironaka, who’s basically the world champion of boss fight specialists. We use the term “Hironakasm” around the office, and all the finely calculated beauty of the boss fights created by Hironaka have been stuffed into the programming.
The phase-changing thing is basically like a compulsion at this point.
How big was the team working on the game?
We have about thirteen people in-house at Grasshopper Manufacture, and we outsource some of the work such as art assets and animation. We also had things like musical composition and the opening movies for each game-within-the-game done by a variety of external people.
What was the biggest challenge developing the game?
Developing on the Switch, with its new hardware. I feel that its features and console-specific functions make for some really unique gameplay.
Does the studio have any favorite UE4 tools or features?
The mesh LOD generation feature was amazingly useful. Since you’re able to immediately create several levels of LOD and check various performance levels after importing a mesh, I feel like it really helped shave off a lot of time.
Did the studio use visual-scripting system Blueprints in any way?
We used it for a number of things, such as general level design construction, enemy placement, event scene construction, and more.
Was it helpful to have access to UE4’s source code?
Because we were able to tweak the source code directly, we were able to do things like add in features not found within UE4 and implement functions and bug fixes from newer versions within the older version we were using.
Is there anything you would like fans of No More Heroes to know about the game?
Travis Strikes Again was created and developed in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the NMH series, as well as the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Grasshopper Manufacture. We included a lot of surprises and collaborations as a kind of thank-you message to all of our fans.
At the same time, we put together the team that represents the third iteration of Grasshopper, and fostered the kind of team energy we’d need to enter into this new era while working on TSA. As a game, it was a big milestone for us, and it also serves as a branching point to the next era as well.
Thanks again for your time. Where can people learn more about Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes?
They can visit https://tsanmh.com/.