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FreeFall 3050 AD - An Interview With Tony Takoushi from TAKS

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FreeFall drops onto
NUON December 2000

[NUON-Dome] - We're here with Tony Takoushi, lead producer and developer of TAKS' FreeFall 3050 AD for NUON-enhanced DVD players. Tony, thanks for the opportunity to do this interview for NUON-Dome.

[Tony Takoushi] - No problem. It's good to see more sites hooking up and supporting NUON.

[N-D] - Tell us about yourself (your background, how you got into game development, etc).

[TT] - I started way back in 1979 when I bought a Commodore PET for 679 (around $1700). It had 8K ram and a small keyboard with cassette deck! I left chartered accountancy in 1983 to do a couple of review books for PAN (reviewing 2,500 games for Commodore VIC 20/64 and Spectrum). I wrote for most computer mags from 1982 through to 1987 (CVG/PCG/BigK/a US mag with Ed Semrad as editor/French mag etc etc). I broke the first reviews of PC Engine (Turbografx in the US)/Megadrive/Neo Geo in Europe.

I soon got to the point where playing the same old tired and derived games was not enough and I wanted to code so I bought Rodney Zaks Programming the 6502 and made it happen for 3.5 years..

I built up a crazy game collection over the last 21 years (around 14,000) and most game systems.

I coded assembler for 3.5 years doing 3 titles across 5 formats (with support from Jeff/Paul Woakes and a little from Tony Crowther) in the mid-eighties.

I chowed down with Jeff many times, stocking up on food and locking the door and playing games for 2 or 3 days in his place in Wales, at his parents place..

We used to have some brilliant sessions (MSX penguin land/Mario on NES/Sons son 2 on PC engine......)

I joined Sega in 1988 working from Home but as they grew (from 31 employees to 160 odd when I left in 1991) I came in-house in 1991.

I was European Product manager and had a real blast for 3 years travelling the world helping build the company :)

I left in 1994 and Joined Philips Media (but don't hold that against me).

I then worked in directly in development for a few years before deciding that I could do it better and produce world class, original, commercial games.. so I set up TAKS on March 16th 1999 to do Freefall.

PHEW!

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These rings refill your
health F-Zero style
[N-D] - For those who aren't in-the-know, let everyone know what FreeFall 3050 AD is all about.

[TT] - Basically you are a future cop and mankind has gone to live in the sky (visit the website to see the detailed newspaper page with the story, it's kinda fun) and you have to protect nice old folk from the perils of living miles up in the sky!

You play it in Freefall and as a game mechanic there is nothing quite like it. Most people pick it up and are lost in seconds...BUT after playing a few times it really grabs you..it is so fresh and it has that simple just one more go to the gameplay that keeps you coming back for more.

We added extra features and modes to help novices (like auto airbrakes that decelerate you if you go too fast). There are 4 comprehensive training missions that really ease you into the cameras and gameplay. When you have played them I promise you will be itching to dive into the game proper..

There are 4 missions, each with different objectives and gameplay.

One of my faves is mission 3 which is inspired by the mothership stage in R-Type. Imagine destroying the big 2D mothership in R-Type but now moving around it in 3D destroying it in Freefall, what a B-L-A-S-T!!

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Welcome to FreeFall 3050 AD
[N-D] - It's a rare occasion these days to see a videogame that comes to market based on a completely original concept. Where did you come up with the idea for FreeFall and was there a certain inspiration to its theme?

[TT] - I got a Nintendo 64 shipped from Japan with Marios and Pilotwings. I liked pilot from the SNES days and when I finished Mario I played Pilotwings all the way through.

I then thought wouldn't it be cool if you could play an arcade shooter in Freefall rather than a flying sim..and the core premise of FF was born.

I decided when I set up the studio that it would be to do truly original product not the bullshit, 'innovative, genre defying' marketing babblespeak you hear about all the time.

To me 'original' means exactly that..gameplay and cameras NOT SEEN in ANY other video game on any format for the last 21 years..

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Airborne Traffic Congestion
[N-D] - What are your thoughts on NUON as a platform for videogames? Were there challenges to developing on a platform that has a completely different architecture than other, more common video game consoles?

[TT] - NUON can play some pretty decent games. It is no secret that the NUON chip was not designed to do solely videogames.It is an added bonus for people buying a DVD player and to this extent it is a very nice bonus.

As with any new platform there are many and often very painful challenges developing on new silicon.

To VM Labs credit they commissioned FF and have seen it through to completion. This is something to be commended as they have realized it is about added value to the platform.

If you look at other platforms like PS2 there isn't 1 title I want to play on that system right now (I was going to get RR5 but it looks like more of the same).

[N-D] - Have you used any or all of the third party NUON controllers (available soon from Hot Products, Inc) and if so, which perform best with FreeFall and other games? What difference will Analog control make for FreeFall?

[TT] - I have played with the pack-in joypad and this is very basic but functional. I had an early prototype of the HPI analogue stick and this is better as it offers analogue and D-pad but it is early days to comment on it as to quality of build or robustness :) FF is best suited to analogue sticks, I am currently testing it with the Joypad and it works fine but to enjoy it at its best you should go for an analogue controller (I will personally go for theanaloguee stick launched in January).

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Landing Pad Layout
[N-D] - Do you see NUON becoming successful in market penetration?

[TT] - I see no reason why it shouldn't succeed. They have good OEM partners and the technology is cheap and can permeate to mass market.

[N-D] - While the low MSRP of NUON software ($29.99) is no doubt attractive to consumers, how attractive (or discouraging) is it to developers? Does the low price point cut into developer's profits?

[TT] - No, not at all.

Royalties are based on the wholesale price to distributors, NOT what they then sell it at.

[N-D] - I've noticed from message board posts that you are good mates with Jeff "Yak" Minter (VLM, T3K) - was he instrumental in getting you and TAKS involved with NUON development, or did FreeFall come to NUON on other terms?

[TT] - I showed Jeff the FF design a while back and he liked it. I have always admired Jeff's work and he is the nicest guy I have ever met in the industry period.

He cares about what he does and it shows in his work..it takes real guts to go your own way and make it happen and he has been doing that for 20 years now.. I think that says it all about the man and what he has achieved..

Jeff gave me a vote of confidence at the outset with FF with VM Labs that helped it get commissioned..Joe Sousa, FF producer at VM Labs championed the title and this helped too.

It is extremely rare that you find people who know product that can make a difference to getting it to market place :)

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Our Protagonist (Wallpaper)
[N-D] - What are your thoughts on the latest game platforms from a developer standpoint? Is PS2 really as difficult to program as has been rumored? What about Xbox and Gamecube? Any thoughts on Indrema?

[TT] - PS2 sounds awkward and it will take time for them to get to grips, but that's true for any system.. Dreamcast is good in that it is DX based and not too involved. Gamecube sounds promising too :) I haven't looked at Indrema to date but anything new that opens the choice has to be a good thing.

[N-D] - So where does TAKS go from here? We've heard rumors of a game called Morphing Machines - can you explain this game and is there any chance of it coming to NUON?

[TT] - We are working on a driving game called Morphin' Machines that is coming along beautifully.

The tools and engine are blowing me away week to week..everything about it breaks the mould of driving games that have gone before or that are in development right now.

I am creating a driving game that is beyond my W-I-L-D-E-S-T dreams and after 21 years of playing games it takes a hell of a lot to do that and get me excited..

People have said that I must be mad making a driving game for X-Box or PS2 etc as they are flooded with them.

Why should I be scared?? The people should be scared are those that have produced more 'me too' product with pretty eye candy and no content or innovation.

MM truly redefines the driving experience.

TAKS will not be producing any more NUON titles, but you never know what the future brings..

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If you don't check out FreeFall,
HammerHead will have YOUR head
[N-D] - So there aren't any plans at all for future NUON development from TAKS? Perhaps something aside from Morphing Machines that hasn't been announced?

[TT] - I have one other project for NUON that has been reviewed very positively at VM Labs BUT it would not be considered until probably late next year at the earliest.

I find pinball pretty boring so I have redefined the experience with 'Pinball Toons', it is unlike anything you have seen on pinball before so watch this space..

[N-D] - Pinball Toons is especially interesting for NUON fans. What else can you tell us about it? Will it definitely be developed for NUON, and has programming begun yet or is it still in the design stages?

[TT] - Toons is under wraps until I get a commission for it, there is a lot of very original gameplay in it and it crosses the pinball fanatic and ordinary gamer desires very well. I can see a very good version of it being done on Nuon and at present the design doc is finished and there is a rendered flyby of soem of the gameplay that has blown away the few people that have seen it..

For more insight into the development of FreeFall, check out the development background and notes.

Check out this awesome FreeFall Wallpaper! Use it to spruce up your desktop.
Once the image loads, right-click on the picture and select "Set as Wallpaper"

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