Sine Mora [Interview] – Making bullet-hell mainstream

23 Mar 2012  by   Paul Younger
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There’s no two ways about it, old-school shooters are just not as popular as they used to be. The days of Ikaruga, Radiant Silvergun and R-Type are behind. Shooter now means Call of Duty, Halo and Battlefield. Ask most fans of those games which is their favourite side-scrolling shooter and they’ll look at you blank in the face, “what’s a side-scrolling shooter?”
Sigh.
Hopefully, Sine Mora will change all that. Recently released via Xbox Live Arcade, the collaboration between Hungary’s Digital Reality and Japan’s Grasshopper Manufacture is a joy to behold. You can read more of us singing its praises in our full review, here.
For now, though, you can listen to the game’s creative director, Theo Reiker, talk about the game’s history, design and influences. 
IncGamers: What is it that attracts you to the side-scrolling shooter genre?
Theo Reiker: We love those games, basically. Plus, we’ve had thirty years of playing them so it’s a genre that comes naturally to us.
The difficult thing is that there have been so many ‘bullet-hell’ shooters that there’s little room for improvement. We wanted to create something that isn’t just a copy of what comes before and something that improves the genre as a whole.
IG: Did you design the whole game around the time manipulation mechanic?
TR: Yeah, that we an idea that was there from the beginning and the entire game revolved around that and everything had to work when players were using it. Also, we wanted to bring this genre back to a wider audience because that’s the way these games are going to grow and improve in the future.

IG: Do you the time mechanics will help players new to the genre?
TR: Part of helping the game reach a wider audience was the inclusion of an energy bar that lets you take more than a single hit. If you punish players to much than your audience tends to be small. By tying the energy bar into the time limit we found a way of letting you take more than one hit in most situations.
When it comes to the hardcore fans, those that get completely hooked on the game will play without using the time mechanics because they limit the high scores that you might achieve.
 IG: How does your AI work? Are bullet quantities and paths random or pre-designed?
TR: One of the things that some games in the genre do is follow a random pattern for the way enemies shoot bullets, which means you never had a fair chance to learn the pattern and set new high scores. That’s one of the reason some other side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups include an energy bar that lets you take multiple hits.
In those random games, each time you play will either get lucky or unlucky with the path of the bullets. With Sine Mora, everything is as fair as possible with no random bullets. This is a purely skill based game, there’s nothing random here.
So, it is possible to complete the game without taking a single. Well, the QA guys can do it at least [laughs].

IG: Where did the steam punk visual approach come from? It reminds me a bit of Steel Empire from back in the Mega Drive days…
TR: We love Steel Empire, but we didn’t really base our designs on that. Sine Mora’s visuals were more based on Ikaruga which has had a massive impact on the team.
IG: What about the review scores? Have you expected them to be so high?
TR: No, not at all. When you spend so much time so close to a game and for so long you tend to lose any sense of objectivity. Sometimes you feel as though you’re on to something amazing but it’s incredible to be getting this kind of feedback. 
See our Sine Mora review.

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