Tag Archives: Star Fox

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Dylan Cuthbert: From X to Q

I’m thrilled to start off 2022 with a special interview article which has been some time in the making. Dylan Cuthbert is one of the most storied developers to have come out of Britain. Born in London and having grown up in Hawarden in Wales, Dylan began his developmental career working at Argonaut software in 1988, where he most notably worked on the game X. Argonaut went on to collaborate with Nintendo on the release of the first Star Fox game; a title whereby Dylan was among the lead programmers for. After having also worked on the programming of Star Fox 2 before its cancellation and subsequent release many years later on the SNES Classic console, Dylan then went on to work at Sony America where he worked on a further number of games; most notably Blasto.

 

In 2001, Dylan then founded the development company Q Games based in Tokyo, where has continued to oversee the development of a number of critically acclaimed games, such as those in the PixelJunk series, Nom Nom Galaxy, X-Scape, and The Tomorrow Children. In addition, Q Games have also collaborated with Nintendo on the release of games such as Star Fox 64 3D and Star Fox Command. Last year, Q Games also celebrated its 20th anniversary and has since re-acquired the developmental rights to The Tomorrow Children has announced a re-launch of the game in the near future.

I was lucky enough to be able to get in touch with Dylan and ask him a few questions regarding the future of Q-Games, his time at Argonaut, Nintendo, and Sony America, and what’s next for him and his company as a development outfit. Here’s what Dylan had to say about his career so far:

 

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What games would you play as a child and how would they go on to influence you as a developer?

The first game I played as a kid was probably Pong, I was maybe 6 years old and my Uncle, who was a teenager at the time, had just got one for Christmas. We played it and I was hooked, it was just so much fun! Once I got a ZX Spectrum I’d play any game I could get my hands on and had memorable times with games like Pyjamarama, Monty On The Run, Gyroscope, Lotus Esprit, Fat Worm Blows a Sparky, Exolon, Bugaboo the Flea, Southern Belle, Underwurlde, Tir Na Nog, and then a little later on, 3d games which influenced me enormously such as Tau Ceti, Academy, and Micronaut One by Pete Cooke.

 

What are your fondest memories of working at Argonaut Games and for Jez San?

I think probably the best memory was of course visiting Kyoto in 1990 with Jez and his girlfriend at the time. It was just the three of us and Tony Harman from Nintendo of America, pitching our 3d games and technology, which of course turned into a pitch for a 3d graphics chip.

 

What was it like working on Star Fox with some of the biggest names in Nintendo such as Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi?

Mind-blowing eventually, but at first, I’d never heard of any of them. Nintendo just wasn’t a big thing in the UK, and I’d never even played Mario Bros when I first visited Nintendo! The first Nintendo game I ever played was F-Zero because they gave us a prototype cart and a pre-release SNES to take home with us and it was awesome!

I worked for a few years with Yokoi’s group and I always enjoyed talking with him, he was kind of like a stern but friendly uncle. He even gave me a daily expense budget to buy and try all the Japanese candy I could get my hands on after he saw me with a pile of crazy sweets I’d found in the local supermarket.

 

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If you feel comfortable talking about this, I wanted to ask you about your relationship with, and the subsequent tragic passing of Gunpei Yokoi. Obviously, the man is and forever will be a legend within the industry and he influenced everyone around him at Nintendo in a positive way. After having worked with him, what was he to you as a person and how did you deal with losing such a figure you had in your life, who you had a working relationship with, and someone who I’d imagine influenced your career in such a special way as well?

Well, he was more of a boss, than someone I worked with directly, but I always thought he was a pretty cool guy and one who was willing to take lots of risks and innovation. My memories are of him sitting at his desk in the main room (he didn’t have a private office), leaning back and play-testing Yoshi’s Cookie running on a GameBoy projected onto a tv. That idea was one of his babies. Also, one day he showed me a simple prototype of the Virtua Boy before Nintendo licensed the tech. It wasn’t 3d at that point, and the demos running on it were obviously weren’t Nintendo’s but it was interesting. Afterward, he asked me what I thought and I was brutally honest, pointing out the screen was just too small to see clearly and was dark. I hope that’s not why he turned the display’s colors to red!

 

Of course, you programmed Blasto when you moved to Sony, but what was it like to make the transition from developing for Nintendo to developing for Sony?

That was a huge transitional change in my life because I also moved to California. Well, I was young, so I took it in my stride but I found I really enjoyed living in the Bay Area, it was a comfortable life. Sony was much more corporate, they had HR and office staff who would buy you anything you asked for, and catalogs of CDs you could order free music from each month, etc. Nothing like Nintendo at all. It was a lot of fun, and I met many people who I consider great friends even now over 25 years on.

 

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How satisfied have you and the developers of Q Games been with what reception has been received for your games overall?

The reception has been very good over the years, and of course, not all games can be hits, but each game we’ve made has found a set of core fans, and that’s really important for us. We are always working hard to make our games even better, so I don’t think we’ve ever sat on our laurels and thought to ourselves “well… that one was perfect!”. We just keep trying to think up more interesting stuff to try.

 

What game or IP are you most proud of having worked on throughout your time at Q Games?

The PixelJunk series in general, and The Tomorrow Children, oh and Star Fox, and Digidrive, and Dead Hungry on VR and…. well yes, all of them!

 

Most recently, The Tomorrow Children IP was reacquired by Q Games from Sony and you guys plan to revamp and re-introduce it to a new audience. But what’s next for Q Games afterward?

We always have several irons in the fire, so watch this space. We are continuing to work on other games while we prepare The Tomorrow Children for its re-launch.

 

Do you have any advice for any aspiring developers who may be reading this interview?

Always strive to innovate, and don’t be afraid to take big chances. Sometimes the best gameplay is discovered because of a lucky little mistake. When that happens, run with it and see what happens. Don’t over-schedule yourself and every day simply play your own game and think what could be added to make it feel better.

 

Is there anything else you like to add at all?

When you’re young you can work incredibly fast, so get your head down and plow through your ideas. Iterate as much as you can, and don’t accept second-best. As you get older, like me, the speed of the work slows down but the experience of all those experiments and ideas from your youth kick in to give you a much deeper intuition than you would have otherwise. Oh, and play LOTS of different games, not just one genre. Force yourself to play games in genres you wouldn’t normally choose. You’ll enjoy them and they will give you inspiration!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dylan and Q-Games’ Jake Campbell for taking the time out to organize this interview and to wish everyone at Q-Games the best of luck with the relaunch of The Tomorrow Children as well as the future of the company.

 

This article is also respectfully dedicated to the memory of Stewart Gilray. Stewart started his developmental career as a freelance programmer, working for the likes of Hewson Consultants, Psygnosis, EA, Bullfrog Studios, and Argonaut Software. He later went on to founder Just Add Water, where he worked on such games as Gravity Crash, I Am Bread, and Lumo as well as several games in the Oddworld series. Earlier this year, Stewart tragically passed away due to Coronavirus. He was survived by his wife and two children. Throughout the industry, Stewart was held in extremely high esteem after having spent decades within the industry working on so many beloved titles, and tributes to him came pouring in upon his passing. I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to Stewart’s friends and family and to echo his wife’s plea to anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to go and do it.

Stewart Gilray: 1970 – 2022

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Star Fox Guard (Wii U)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EPD & Platinum Games

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director(s) – Yugo Hayashi & Teruaki Konishi

Producer(s) – Tadashi Sugiyama & Atsushi Inaba

PEGI – 7

 

Developed alongside the long-anticipated Star Fox Zero with the working title Project Guard initially attached to it, Star Fox Guard is a tower defense game that much to my surprise received mixed reviews from critics upon release. Stephen Totilo of Kotaku, on the other hand, hailed the game as one of Nintendo’s most distinct titles in a long time, and I would agree with him; not only is this one of the best entries in the Star Fox series in my opinion, but it is certainly also one of the best games on the Wii U, and very much worth investing a great deal of time in.

 

Graphics – 7/10

Critics have described this game’s visuals as bland, and in my opinion, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a fair amount of variety in enemy and boss design in particular, as well as stage design, with the game taking place on several planets and locations synonymous with the series, and featured in Star Fox Zero. Whilst it’s easy to criticize the game for recycling the graphics and conceptual design of an already existing title, there are still many visual elements that make it stand out from the former, and do well enough to outweigh what elements have been re-used.

 

Gameplay – 8/10

The concept of the game is to defend each base featured in each level from robots looking to invade and destroy them. The player must utilize a series of camera turrets positioned around the base to destroy the enemies before they reach the center of the base. There are over 100 missions to complete, as well as the added facility to create customized levels and share them online with other players. I personally found it to be an extremely enjoyable and experience, as well as a challenging one without it being too inaccessible. There is also an RPG element to it in the form of leveling up and unlocking new weapons and items to help along the way, which gives it that much more replay value and always works well in conjunction with a tower defense game.

 

Controls – 10/10

Amidst some critic’s concerns over the somewhat sketchy control scheme of Star Fox Zero, the controls in Star Fox Guard are seamless. Despite the fact that numerous different buttons can be used to shoot, the way in which the motion controls work is extremely well-executed and makes for some of the most fun that can be had with the Wii U’s GamePad. I can’t help but think that if this game had been a launch title, the Wii U would have had a much more successful launch period than what it did. It does a better job of showcasing the potential appeal of the console than many other games released before it.

 

Originality – 7/10

As I alluded to, I agree with Stephen Totilo on his view that this is one of Nintendo’s most unique titles in recent years. It’s reminiscent of something that may have been found in Nintendo Land, which in my opinion, and many other critic’s opinions, is a game that deserves more credit than both the initials and current commercial success of the Wii U would seem to suggest. Arguably this game is better than Star Fox Zero, but although I can’t yet make that assessment for myself, I certainly found it to be an immensely unique and fun game.

 

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Overall, Star Fox Guard is a distinct, challenging, and enjoyable gaming experience; certainly one of the better of which to have been released since the Wii U’s launch. With the Wii U likely being phased out soon by the NX’s launch next year, this game is on the fast track to becoming a hidden gem, and it deserves a lot more recognition than that in my opinion.

Score

32/40

8/10 (Very Good)

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Star Fox (Super Nintendo)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EAD & Argonaut Software

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Katsuya Eguchi

Producer – Shigeru Miyamoto

PEGI – 3

 

Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takaya Imamura, Star Fox, or Starwing as it was known in Europe due to copyright issues, Star Fox launched yet another successful Nintendo franchise, with the game receiving commercial and critical acclaim upon release, including an award for best shooter of 1993 by Electronic Gaming Monthly. As a kid, I thought much less of this game, but after revisiting it a few times over the last few years, my opinion of it has improved vastly, and I consider it a must-have for anyone who may own a Super Nintendo.

 

Graphics – 8/10

The first Super Nintendo cartridge to make use of the revolutionary Super FX chip, Star Fox was the first 3D video game I ever laid eyes on, and as a kid, it at least captivated me in this respect. As I alluded to earlier, I would also go on to learn about the various references to Japanese folklore that are present within this game. The four main characters are based on four well-known Japanese stories, which I wrote about in greater depth in a previous article.

 

Gameplay – 9/10

The objective of the game is simply to get from A to B like many others, but it plays out much more differently from the archetypical 2D platforming games that took precedent at that time. It was a rail-shooting game, which required players to fly through a multitude of different dangers and obstacles, shooting down as many enemies as possible to accumulate as high a score as they possibly could. Though it took me too much time to realize what a positive change from the norm it was for the longest time, I would eventually come back to it frequently after religiously playing its sequel; Lylat Wars.

 

Controls – 9/10

Though there isn’t anything wrong with the game’s control scheme in the conventional sense, what weighs it down significantly is the extremely slow frame rate, since that the Super FX chip was inside the cartridge, the console still had difficulty running it. Giving it about the same frame rate as Bubsy 3D; though the controls of that game were far more annoying, and harder to get to grips with. It all depended largely on how much was on the screen, and how much graphical information the console had to process at any one time, which was usually a lot.

 

Lifespan – 7/10

Though one playthrough can take up to an hour tops, multiple playthroughs can present multiple challenges, since the game is actually non-linear to a certain extent. Players have the option of changing course depending on their preference of difficulty, giving the game a fair bit of replayability, making it last slightly longer than what the average was at that time.

 

Storyline – 7/10

The story of the game follows the members of the Star Fox team, Fox, Peppy, Slippy, and Falco on their mission to free the Lylat System from the Venomian army, and their leader Andross. Though the basic structure of the story was extremely typical of most other video game stories at the time, it was, of course, kept fresh by the conceptual design of the scenery, style, and design of the characters themselves, as well as their dialogue-driven displays of personality throughout. These principles would be carried on and further developed in further games, but it was in this era where it will have stood out most, I think; especially as the idea was extremely new at the time.

 

Originality – 8/10

Most of everything about this game is original, from the conceptual design to the gameplay to the graphical rendering techniques to the basic story structure. It was a shining example of Nintendo wanting to extensively innovate as they did throughout the third and fourth generations of gaming, which would go on to inspire the creation of many different games in the future, leaving behind a long legacy that would be renewed by the likes of Star Fox Zero and Star Fox Guard.

 

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In summation, Star Fox is undoubtedly one of the greatest games on the Super Nintendo, and I would highly recommend it. Though I believe the sequel would improve on this to a massive extent, it served as more than a mere template for greater things to come.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)