Zero Ranger interview

Une page assez unique sur le site qui se prête rarement à ce genre d'exercice ! J'ai pu contacter les deux cerveaux derrière ZeroRanger, un shmup incroyable sur Steam et à l'heure où j'écris ces lignes. Ils ont été assez sympas pour prendre le temps de répondre aux questions d'un site qui n'est même pas de leurs langues ! Merci à eux !

Vous retrouverez ainsi plus bas les réponses de "eebro" ou "Eebrozgi" à la programmation / musique et "Ebbo" aux graphismes. Cette interview n'a pas été modifié même pas pour être traduit dans le cas où quelqu'un d'autres aimeraient s'en servir comme source.

Je me suis bien sûr servir de leurs réponses pour écrire l'article sur ZeroRanger que vous pouvez lire ici.


There is quite a big gap between the pitch of FINALBOSS in 2008 and the game release in 2018. Was the game a hobby at the start on the side that became more and more concrete as time went on ? Did you need a job on the side to survive ?

Hobby it was! When the game started out as FINAL BOSS, it was a simpler, less ambitious general STG fangame with references way more direct than in the final product. For example, the minibosses “Arc Adder” and “Artypo” had songs remixed directly from the series they were referencing.
I was able to keep developing on the side of my studies, living off student grants, stray summer jobs and occasional money from my parents. On the final stretch we both lived off of Start-up money granted by the Finnish government for fresh entrepreneurs, until we had the game up on sale.

What was the thing that made you realize you wanted to polish the game to sell it instead of keeping adding free updates on… Was that the plan from the very beginning ?

It was a slow, gradual chance. We received encouraging feedback after each version and people suggested we should try selling the finished game. Steam also became much more open to small developers over the years, which lowered the bar for a commercial release.

One of the most memorable things of ZeroRanger is the way the player keeps gaining weapons as the game progresses. How did that idea come ? From Guxt which add new weapons at each start giving a “somewhat similar” feeling ? From the shonen thematics of the game ? Or because you searched for a way to make the mechanics more accessible ?

I think it had to do with the game’s initial pitch: a ship that was on the way of becoming the FINAL BOSS. Getting an upgrade each stage making you more all-powerful in the journey was a good fit for that theme. The concept was partially inspired by the original Mega Man X title doing a similar thing, where X gradually grows in power as he finds upgrades along the way.

The game is solid from the start and then, the Level Design complexity itself as it went on ( apparition of wall, horizontal scrolling, section that loop on itself Gradius-style… ) but also the staging and story. Was that wanted ? Or is that an effect of you learning to make more and more cool things as you made the game ?

It’s a bit of both. The mechanic of accumulating powerups in each stage was decided right in the beginning, which by nature adds and requires complexity as the game progresses. The game was also designed very chronologically linearly: whatever comes later in the game was also designed later. Though we did go back and touch up on things in the earlier stages as we got better and raised the bar for quality.
Originally, the second set of powerups actually had a weapon called “Trident” instead of the “Lock-on” that’s there today: It shot three shots forward, with the two lateral shots making a 135 degree turn before traveling forward (very directly inspired by Guxt). It got scrapped for serving pretty much no strategic purpose. The charge/lock-on mass destruction weapons worked way better to inform stage design.

Maybe my biggest question but maybe already answered because all the previous ones tend to that one. What I'm curious about is how the state of the current ZeroRanger is a result of how it was made. Did the comments of the early player of FINAL BOSS drastically change the direction of how the levels were made? Was everything planned or each new level was the occasion of some kind of improvisation ?

The first build of FINAL BOSS was very rough and we got some valuable feedback for future direction from it on the System11 shoot ‘em up forums. As we kept building the game, we kept releasing occasional builds to test how the changes worked and gain more said valuable feedback. That being said, I don’t think the game’s direction drastically changed due to those comments, more just polishing things.
The biggest changes during production, while possibly affected by the feedback given, came from either of the developers “growing out” of some aspects of the game. Examples of such are the lack of proper theming/story in the early days, overhauled scoring system, the continue system, contact damage… And so on.

There are a lot of references to other games in ZeroRanger ! It’s a pleasure for an old fan of the genre like me to recognize stuff from other shmup, games or anime; there is even a google doc that tries to find all those references ! But I'm more curious about how the game still has its own identity. By that limited color palette of course but also all those buddhism signs which seems to also be part of your next game. ( That tree is still there for exemple… )
Am I seeing too much (Evengelion had christian iconography just because it’s “cool” after all) or do you have some kind of attachment to it ?

While neither of us is very religious, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of Samsara in buddhism for a long time. Life, death and rebirth, all part of the never ending cycle of suffering… It would be very disingenuous to claim the “coolness” didn’t play a factor when these themes started to seep into the game. In hindsight it should’ve been obvious. Shoot em ups have encapsulated these same dogmas since the genre’s creation, both deliberately and unconsciously. I think a big part of ZR’s identity came from understanding its place in this cycle - what we learned from those who came before us and what we’ll leave behind to those who follow.

I also see that your next game, Void Stranger, is a Sokoban-inspired game which is planned to release in 2023. It’s 5 years less than your production on ZeroRanger. Since you won’t have several releases to adjust the game like in the past, did it change the way the game is made?

ZR’s development already became much more secretive during its tail end once we decided to release the game commercially (after all, we wanted to store some surprises even for the most dedicated fans). In that sense there wasn’t a huge change when compared to Void Stranger’s dev cycle. Fortunately we’ve some dedicated playtesters for both projects, so we aren’t in a complete dark when it comes to player feedback.

Be sure I will be there for your next game ! Void Stranger is also intended to be out on Personally, I totally support that decision and buy my games here as much as possible but still, I'm in the minority. What makes you support for a commercial game?

While Steam is a very convenient platform in many ways, some players still don’t want to deal with it because of its DRM. The primary reason for builds is to give a DRM-free alternative to these players.

Finally, what do you think about the current state of the shoot em up genre ? In my article, I kinda play with the idea that this genre isn’t very profitable so it’s mostly supported by their fans, making a lot of cool indie / doujin games to help perpetuate the genre. Will the genre only last as long as those fans from the 90s/00s exists or are you maybe less pessimistic ?

Arcade centers are the birthplace of shoot ‘em ups and shaped the way the genre has been structured for a very long time. As generations change, less and less people have actually had access to arcades and the culture around them… And this actually includes us, the developers of ZeroRanger as well. ZeroRanger started as a very strictly arcade-pretend game and eventually shifted away from that when we realized it doesn’t need to be.
What it means for the question asked is that I believe shooting games will never die, but it is likely they will change form, to shift away from being “arcade compliant”. Qute’s titles Ginga Force and Natsuki Chronicles with their longer, stage-by-stage structure can be seen as examples of such shift.
Still, I believe games that are structured to be short-and-intense aren’t as niche as some STG fans believe and the evidence is the popularity of roguelites. As long as there are new developers in love with the simple core ideas of shooting/dodging, they will find new ways to make it appealing to themselves and to others.

For a last word, what would be your most recent favorite shmup that comes to your mind ?

I must admit I haven’t followed shmups as closely as I have in the past, so the crown is still held by ESCHATOS. I am also eagerly awaiting to buy the updated version of Cho Ren Sha 68k that has been seen on the Sharp x68k mini console. I hope it comes for PC as well!

Try Eigengrau.

Eebro nous conseille Cho Ren Ka 68k. Un jeu dojin venant du X68000 très marquant pour sa simplicité et sa rapidité. C'est un shmup très percutant.
Eschatos, lui, semble toujours se dérouler dans une scène cinématique folle. Je trouve ces deux jeux exceptionnels et tout deux ont inspiré ZeroRanger !
Je ne connais pas Eigengrau mais ce shmup multidirectionnel carré ( ??? ) semble très original, il faut que je teste ça !