Interview: Hudson producer Peter Dassenko

Bonk and King Drool
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Bonk and King Drool

As a producer at Hudson, Peter Dassenko's job is to oversee development, from concept all the way to completion. His current workload has him managing two projects - making the long dormant Bonk relevant again and creating a successful follow-up to 2007's Bomberman Live. The end result is Bonk: Brink of Extinction and Bomberman Live Battlefest. In an interview that OXG conducted back at E3, Mr. Dassenko discussed the development process, how Hudson made sure that both games stayed true to what made their predecessors popular, and what was added and changed to give gamers a reason to come back for more. Here is what he had to say -

Let's start with Bonk.

It's been a while for Bonk. It's been a number of years. This is the first one in full 3D. We spent a lot of time working on getting the model right because it's always tricky - when you're going from 2D to 3D - to really represent the character. His emotions and facial expressions become different when he's in 3D.

You said 3D...

Yeah. Everything is rendered in 3D, so when you see Bonk, there's depth to [him]. It's still a [2D] platformer, but it's rendered in 3D.

So, the basic techniques of Bonk are still there - the headbutting and spinning in the air. [We spent a lot of time] getting the physics and gravity just right for that. Then what we did was add powers. For instance, what we're showing [on the floor] is ice - you can freeze your enemies. They'll turn into an ice cube and then you can either bonk them or you can use them as a platform to get to other areas. So to that end there's different puzzles that you can [solve] with your different power-ups. There's a fire power-up where you'll have to shoot fireballs at something. There's an ice one. Bonk's head changes each time he has a power-up. For instance, [with the bubble one], his head looks like a bar of soap. He can blow bubbles and then jump on them to get up to different areas.

Bonk: Brink of Extinction - ice power-up
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Bonk: Brink of Extinction - ice power-up

Do you still get the power-ups from plants?

You collect them as you progress through the game. So it's not something that you necessarily earn. It's just that as you progress through the game we introduce new power-ups to survive. [By] the third world, you've got a number of them at your disposal. I don't want to tell you how many because some of them haven't been announced.

And you can just switch between them?

Yeah, with the two bumper buttons.

You don't have to reacquire them after you die?

No. The game is set up like Mario 3 in that once you've unlocked a level, you can go back to that world and play it again. So, as you're playing through it, you'll notice signs that have little power-up icons on them and you'll find that you can't get to them initially. Once you get the power-ups, you can go back.

How does local co-op work?

Two people can play through it at the same time. It's designed to be able to be beaten with one player, but there are certain things that [you can only do with two].

People can jump in and out. It's not like a lobby system - you can be playing online by yourself and somebody [can join] your game.

Can you talk about some of the bosses?

We have three bosses. The first one is named Colonel Clinker, and [you can defeat him] by throwing fish at him. I'll leave it at that.

The second one is a classic - King Drool. He was the main boss in the first Bonk. You're actually fighting him on a circular platform. You can run around him and he'll throw bombs at you which you'll then have to bonk back at him.

King Drool

For the third one you're all the way in the center of the earth. There's this big robot that's in a pool of liquid hot magma. You have to defeat him in pieces, and as each piece falls off the lava will advance. You have to stay ahead of the lava and defeat him at the same time. Some of the boss battles are horizontal. The final battle is a vertical battle going up. So, there's definitely variation.

How much input did the original owners have?

Bonk is owned by a company called Red, which is also a Japanese company. Initially, our biggest concern was getting Bonk to look like Bonk - like what everybody involved in the process thought Bonk should look like in 3D. So we had numerous iterations of that character. We [send the latest version] to Japan and they review it and make changes. We worked closely with them, because it is really their IP. It's their character. So everything is a close collaboration. I kind of lead the process, but certainly with input from both the [Japanese and American companies].

Tell us about the controls. How are they different? How are they the same?

He does have a double-jump which he didn't have in the original. That allowed us to play with the levels a little more.

We looked at the original Bonk - when he headbutts in the air as he's falling down. I don't want to call it simple, but it was as intuitive as sitting down and playing the game and then making ours feel as close to that as possible. We went through a lot of iterations in collaboration with Japan to get it to feel like the original spin. You've got different animation speeds and just a different way of viewing him on the screen when he's in 3D. It took a while, but I think we have that mechanic down.

So Bonk controls pretty much like he did in the original?

Outside of the double jump, yes.

Lets do Bomberman. How is it different from the previous games?

At its core, Bomberman is [a game that has you] running around blowing people up. That's a mechanic that works really well, and you don't want to mess with that because that's kind of what Bomberman is. What's different is all the levels have new... we call them gimmicks - things that go on in each level. For example, there's one on a pirate ship where the [playfield] tilts back and forth and as it tilts your bombs and your power-ups slide.

Bomberman Live Battlefest - Pirate Ship
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Bomberman Live Battlefest - Pirate Ship

Is that unique to this game?

Yes. Then it comes down to play modes. We added teams. We had a lot of feedback after the first game from fans wanting a team mode in there. There's an eight person max in the game, so there could be up to four on four teams.

There's capture the flag. It works like a first-person shooter where you have a flag on either side of the map. You have to run over there and grab it [and then] get it back to your base.

Bomberman Live Battlefest - capture the flag
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Bomberman Live Battlefest - capture the flag

There's one called capture the crown where there's a crown in the middle of the arena and whoever controls it - whoever is wearing it the longest - wins the match. As soon as you get bombed, you lose it and someone else can pick it up.

Are you slower if you're wearing it?

No, you just become a target. So, bombing other people in the capture the crown game doesn't matter. You can bomb them but it's not going to benefit you. You just want to go after the guy with the crown.

There's VIP mode where you have to escort somebody with a floating VIP overhead. Again - killing the people around him doesn't matter. You just gotta go after that guy.

And there's a mode called bankroll where you purchase your power-ups ahead of time, and based on how well you do in the game, you get more money to buy power-ups. Some people will win just because they're the last person alive. Some will accidentally kill themselves, or there'll be a double death and you'll just end up winning. Well... In bankroll, if you don't do a lot of damage or kill people, it doesn't matter if you win - you're still going to be stuck with lower-level power-ups. It's kind of like Counterstrike - the more you shoot people, the more money you get.

Bomberman Live Battlefest - bankroll
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Bomberman Live Battlefest - bankroll

I think I actually might like that mode...

It's fun. You definitely play with a different strategy. It makes people more aggressive.

Is this mode going to be online?

Yes, everything is online. There's single player insofar as you can play it locally with AI or with three other people. It's just arenas - there's no story mode. The AI has been completely redone. It's a lot smarter now. They use power-ups. Hard AI is actually very hard.

Oh - avatars. You can play as your Xbox avatar in the game. However your avatar is customized on the dashboard, it'll show up in the game. So, there will be a mixture of avatars and Bombermen online.

How come the newer games never use the dinosaurs that were in Saturn Bomberman?

There's no easy answer. The way it's set up right now, it's just not possible with the game engine we're using right now.

Is this a feature that is requested by a lot of people?

Yeah. I think that will continue to be a request. If nothing else, we have heard that request loud and clear. It's just, technology-wise, it wasn't feasible for this version. But we are well aware of that desire. We are listening!

Saturn Bomberman

Were there any guidelines or things that the Japanese branch specifically didn't want in Battlefest?

I don't know if it's anything that they didn't want, but there is a rather large Excel spreadsheet that explains all the rules for how a Bomberman game needs to operate that we adhere to very strictly.

[There] needs to be continuity in all the games. They all feel the same. So when you're playing a Bomberman game, you know it's a Bomberman game based on how it feels. Like, when you have a bomb that explodes, fire should expand at a certain rate. For hard blocks, while they may look like squares on the screen, the geometry is actually cut a little in the corners. The corners are a little bit rounded so you get a more fluid feel when you're snaking in-between the hard blocks. So if you ever play an imposter on the Internet, like a Flash game, I guarantee that it won't feel the same as a Bomberman game because there are a lot of subtle things. [People that are] just playing, they go "oh yeah, it feels like a Bomberman game." But there's a lot of thought that goes into it. It's very important that we adhere to that - keep it feeling like it should.

Was it the same for Bonk?

There wasn't as much extensive documentation on how it should play, because in Bomberman's case it's kind of easier to quantify. It's set up like a grid, so then you can say, well... "fire has to do this," and "this power-up has to do this," and "you have to be invincible for this amount of time when you die," etc. For Bonk, it was more about maintaining the personality and the look of the character. Bomberman is certainly more technical in implementation.

Is Bonk supposed to be a nice guy?

Yeah. He's a friendly caveman.

What is the release date for these?

They're both set for release in the Fall. Summer of Arcade happens over the next two months, so some time after that. They're both in QA right now.

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