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The Eccentric World of Naruto

Interview by Gregg Dolberg

It's Friday afternoon and the school is loud. There's no doubt about it, there are a lot more people here. I'm here in the small commons waiting for Sasha Koruga, leader of the Naruto 3D project, to answer some questions for me. Admittedly, I don't know a lot about the project or the series. Of course, before writing my questions, I did some research. I learned that Naruto is a fairly popular anime based on, you guessed it, ninjas.

Ah, ninjas.

Representing both the good and bad of games since their inception.

Sasha Koruga, avid ninja fan, is aiming to take advantage of the particularly unique style of ninja presented by Naruto in a 3D tactical game. UAT doesn't see a lot of projects like this one, so I'm eager to find out more about it. Sasha arrives and, to my disappointment, is neither flipping out nor cutting off heads. Still, he seems like a good guy and I'm glad for the chance to talk with him.

I've looked up some information about the Naruto world, and it's pretty eccentric. Is there any particular reason that you chose to make a game based on this story? What appeals to you about this world?

Most people like ninjas, and there hasn't been an American game because no one has the license yet. There's a huge fan base for it, but for some reason no one in the USA has stepped up. Personally, I guess I've been a fan for about 2 years. I like that the series is always growing. American shows do a season, then take a break, so that you end up with maybe twenty episodes a year. Naruto, though, has a new episode every week almost without fail.

Have you been the team leader for this project from the start? What did it take to get it all organized? How big is your team?

We don't have much of a leader; we're pretty equal and share our ideas. The people who do the art and such are also taking part in the design process. Personally, I'm usually taking care of the programming, but I also try to make sure that everyone is staying on target and getting their work done.

It's been running about a year; this is the second semester of it. The first semester didn't go so well because it was our first time (meaning that we weren't all that organized). We only met twice a week and pretty much worked on our own things, but this time we're much more efficient. Now we meet three times a week and make sure we go over everything and that everyone is staying on track. Our team is about ten people, and at any given meeting we have about eight people show up. That's pretty good, and means we're able to stay in frequent enough contact to get the work done and keep everyone in the loop.

What kind of work went in to getting this group organized and getting the project on its feet?

It took about one semester to get everything together. I had to do a lot of advertising to build a team, which was a lot easier at the time. Back then you could just put up your fliers and wait to be contacted but now they're paying a lot more attention to what fliers go up and where.

I've heard that your game is going to be a role-playing game. RPGs are notoriously long. How many hours of gameplay do you expect to have when you're done?

It's really more of a tactical game than an RPG. We're going for a multiplayer route, so the gameplay is as long as players want it to be. Plus this way it's easier to test. Players can gain level by fighting each other. Every 10 levels, they may move up in rank, but a certain task is required to do so, just like in the Naruto anime.

UAT doesn't see a lot of tactics-based projects. Are there any challenges you've found that you think are unique to tactical games?

Nothing comes to mind, but most of the other projects aren't from scratch- they're using an engine. There aren't a lot of TACTICS engines out there, so we have to start from scratch. We take a lot of our inspiration from the 2D Japanese game Disagaea: Hour of Darkness, because they expanded the genre with new elements. Like them, we are also coming up with new and exciting gameplay elements for the player.

Naruto is a story about ninjas, but pirates are clearly cooler. What is your opinion on this matter?

Pirates (expletive deleted).

Are there any specific things about this project that make you really proud?

The fact that it's built from scratch with DirectX, and the engine is completely original. Additionally, the fact that it's 3D makes it stand out.

With your project being 3D, did you find difficulty in mimicking the anime style?

It's as anime as we can get it in a 3D medium. We didn't want to do the cell-shading anime style, like Zelda: Wind Waker. The style isn't really holding us up, though. Animation, especially for a 3D character, is the hardest part. We haven't found a great animator yet, but we're just trying to get the mechanics worked out. Most of the animations aren't done.