Kraken Empire talks about the PS4 version of its epic shoot ’em up game.
The shoot ’em up genre has seen its fair share of thrillers in the past few decades and while many games may never match the likes of Radiant Silvergun or Ikaruga, there are still plenty of stand-out titles in this age. Take Kraken Empire’s Kromaia Omega for example – along with allowing players to fire in a full 360 degree range, the game will also see you exploring ancient ruins, battling giant guardian entities and finding the treasures that dot the world. Originally released on PC in October 2014, Kromaia Omega is a port of the same for PS4 which is now available.
GamingBolt spoke to Kraken Empire general managers Daniel Blasco and Antonio Iglesias about the game, its creation, the lack of an Xbox One release and what PS4 players can look forward to.
"The multiverse of Kromaia is definitely far from being your every day outer space setting! There are giant gods (hence the frequent Shadow Of the Colossus comparisons) and the enemies are closer to biomechanical creatures than spaceships."
Kromaia Omega does quite a few interesting things that we haven’t seen shmup games attempt. What served as the inspiration for its concept and how did you go about refining it?
We always liked the idea of reviving the shoot-‘em-up genre, but didn’t want to use the same approach others have when updating classic genres like this. We don’t think that adding things like 360º movement, physics-based gameplay, adaptive AI or the freedom to explore an open world stop Kromaia Ω being thought of as an arcade shmup or ‘bullet hell’ game, because it’s definitely both!
Certainly, it wasn’t easy to blend all this in one game, especially when it came to translating some mechanics from their original 2D basis to a 3D environment. Since the very early prototypes of Kromaia, player feedback has been the light in the dark through our most difficult moments. We needed to create complex controls and a highly immersive experience, challenging but rewarding when mastered. That way, every time someone says “You guys made Star Fox meet Shadow of the Colossus!” it feels like we kind of succeeded.
How many different ships can players look at unlocking and controlling throughout the game? Could you break down some of the key differences between a few of them and how they affect one’s experience?
There are four vehicles called Armors that unlock as you complete each world, plus the exclusive one found in Kromaia Ω and another special reward for those completing the whole quest. Each armor has different weaponry and as such, tactics to how the enemy hordes and guardian gods are fought, ranging from melee swords and AI probes to railguns and flamethrowers.
Even though each Armor favours a certain approach in combat, it’s up to the player to decide what to do – how you experience Kromaia can be totally unique, since mastering the controls make these different weapons much more flexible than you might think at first glance. You can be defensive with close combat weaponry, be aggressive even with precision devices that have long cooldown periods and so on… it’s your choice.
What can you tell us about the PS4-exclusive armour? Will it be available to PC players at a later date?
The Omega-II Gemini appears as a power-up and adds a ‘Tank’ class Armor to the original line-up. Its plasma cannon and the ability to cast smart drones provide superior firepower when compared to the rest of Armors, but you lose it immediately if you get hit or use a teleport portal. Like all the exclusive content in Kromaia Ω, it’ll only be featured in the PS4 game – however, that won’t stop us from releasing additional updates for the PC version further down the line.
Players will be able to find treasures and solve puzzles in Kromaia Omega, which sounds uncharacteristic of a shmup title. How did you go about balancing the action with these adventure-esque elements?
The multiverse of Kromaia is definitely far from being your every day outer space setting! There are giant gods (hence the frequent Shadow Of the Colossus comparisons) and the enemies are closer to biomechanical creatures than spaceships. The same goes for the story and mythology – stages are full of ancient ruins, temples and mechanical contraptions that have to be either activated or avoided using your own skill. If Link can solve puzzles while having to deal with goblins, there’s no reason you can’t do the same in a super-fast space vehicle…
"Of course, arcade games – the same ones we’re paying homage to! – used to offer less than one hour of content and were often repetitive and predictable after the first playthrough. Like those same arcade shmups, Kromaia is designed to be played in short bursts and serve as your daily adrenaline rush."
Of course, that takes a lot of work to balance the rhythm of both the level and gameplay design. In the end, Kromaia, as a blend, reflects both of us at Kraken Empire in terms of gaming preferences. As we mentioned before, we always want players to play their own way and that’s why Kromaia offers an open world. Some players might prefer to play a level twice: first as a shooter in a world packed with enemies and the second time avoiding enemies to explore the world we’ve created. In the end, it all depends on your own playing style and preferences.
The adaptive AI already felt fairly dangerous in the original release but how have you built upon it in the PS4 release?
Creating a shmup in an open world environment has been interesting from the very beginning and a challenge we gladly accepted, even though we were aware of the risks involved. Throughout development, we always focused on two main gameplay elements: make the controls intuitive enough to allow fluid 360º maneuverability and keeping the game as engaging (and frantic!) as possible.
From the very first prototypes, we realized we were going to need a different and quite complex AI approach to keep the game interesting… and fair. We came up with three pillars to build on: the enemies had to be fair, had to react to the player’s action and had to adapt to their playing style. If enemies are fair, it’s okay for them to get harder and feel as dangerous as needed along the game. If they react to the player actions, they can appear intelligent and offer different challenges while keeping the gameplay interesting at all times. If they adapt to the player’s style, then the player can choose their own pace and difficulty curve, which only increases the feeling of freedom and giving the player the control about its own experience. From there, we just needed to tune the difficulty subtly to keep players both interested and threatened, whatever their skill level.
The PS4 release benefits from all the data the feedback we received from them. Most improvements are related to pace, balance and boss behaviour, but the core AI remains mostly the same. Needless to say, PS4 players can be sure of a just as dangerous experience as PC players have had already…
Kromaia originally released on Steam last year and while praised for its action, it also received criticism for its lack of content. How have you worked on addressing these and other issues for the PS4 release?
As a small indie team, it’s very challenging to create content that’s both high quality and lasts extended periods. We’ve always aimed to offer new and different experiences in strange and unique worlds, so using procedural AI and gameplay allowed us create work that was high quality while keeping the game new and fresh for a long time, even in similar environments. Even with our limitations in manpower, we’re really proud of the results!
The main story in Kromaia takes about ten hours to complete for the average player, which requires the use of different Armors in each of the parallel worlds. It’s difficult… some players think this is too much, others think it’s too short! Ultimately, we wanted to people to experience how different it is to play one world – with its own architecture, setting, enemies, bosses and weapons – with each of the very unique Armors but we understand that, in the end, it’s really tricky to please everyone. We even included a New Game+ mode so that people could replay the game with increased difficulty.
Of course, arcade games – the same ones we’re paying homage to! – used to offer less than one hour of content and were often repetitive and predictable after the first playthrough. Like those same arcade shmups, Kromaia is designed to be played in short bursts and serve as your daily adrenaline rush. The PS4 version adds more content and the additional Armor will add extra variety but it’s the new Co-Op mode that really changes things – playing with a gunner of their choice should help some players get further in the game…
What can you tell us about the new Pure mode and how does it differ from Story and Score Attack?
Pure mode is essentially our take on the old 1CC Bullet Hell challenge – you have to complete a quest similar to the story mode, featuring a length much closer to vintage coin-ops, without dying. Basically, you choose one an Armors and then have to survive just on the shields you are given in the beginning and, if you lose any, restore them by picking special items. There are no save points at all, so you have to finish the whole thing in one go, just like in classic arcade games.
"Currently, we’re working on new gameplay modes – you could call them mini-games – and we plan to release some of them over the next few months."
How was your experience of developing for the PS4? Did you encounter any issues bringing the game over, especially when it came to the controls?
Kromaia was designed from the start to be controlled with keyboard and mouse, any kind of joystick or a combination of both. We even joked sometimes about making online battles between different control systems to end the ‘Mouse vs. Joystick’ aiming argument! Players have found various ways to play with the controls offered – we’ve even seen some players use a combination of WASD and plane joysticks. That said though, many of our testers claim to play better with a PS4 controller than they did on PC. Why? Maybe their skills have improved over time; maybe the port is just that good! In any case, the controls feel just as good as they did on PC, if not better, and that is great for us as developers.
What are your thoughts on the shmup genre for the PS4 especially with games like RESOGUN resonating so much with players?
We think titles like Resogun or Kromaia prove that there’s an audience waiting for shmups to offer new concepts by different means: taking advantage of today’s hardware, creating your own engine (our story) and so on. Those players are definitely real – they’re out there and they want developers like us to look at classic stuff in a different way and take risks which others don’t to create something unique. Thankfully, if you wish for it, someone might actually do it!
Can you tell us a bit about the post-launch content and updates you have planned for the Kromaia Omega?
Kromaia is still our main project and we will work on some updates for as long as we can. Currently, we’re working on new gameplay modes – you could call them mini-games – and we plan to release some of them over the next few months. The updates will be released on Steam as soon as possible, but we’re still considering our options on adding them to the PS4 game, as the porting and approval processes takes time and resources. We will do our best, but we can’t make any promises right now.
Is there a specific reason why the game is not coming over to the Xbox One?
No, none at all. Xbox One is a platform as good as PS4 for a game like Kromaia Ω. We would love to release it on every platform, but we are too small to move that fast. We really hope Xbox One can be the next platform on the list though… but again, no promises.
It was great chatting with you. Do you have any closing words?
It’s always a pleasure to talk with someone interested in our project and its development process. We hope all PS4 owners try Kromaia Ω very soon and enjoy it as much as PC players already have. Thanks a lot!