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Interview with BC Rearmed Director, Simon ViklundVote Now!

Gearoid Reidy, Tuesday 22-01-2008, 10:28:50

Since Bionic Commando Rearmed was announced last week, the response from fans has been simply overwhelming. The man to whom to send your words of thanks and bundles of cash is the multi-talented Simon Viklund, the Creative Director of Bionic Commando Rearmed. Not content with just creating a remake of a gaming classic and one of the year's most anticipated titles, downloadable or otherwise, Simon is also the Sound Director on the 3D version of Bionic Commando, and we sat down with him for a chance to bask in his genius.

Check back on Thursday for part 2 of this interview on Thursday. To hear more from Simon in the meantime, wrap your ears around the latest file of Top Secret: The Bionic Commando Podcast - this one will have Bionic Commando fans rolling in the aisles.

Q: What are the challenges and rewards of remaking a classic title like this?

Without a doubt, the greatest challenge is to find the balance between picking up and preserving the things about the original that are really worth keeping intact, and the things that really need improvement. We're reviving a title that is buried under layers and layers of nostalgia, and many might claim that the original is perfect - but I say it isn't. However, being such a huge fan of the original myself I too can have a hard time determining what is timelessly cool about the original, and what was only cool in '88 when gaming was fairly new and consumer demands maybe weren't as high as today. In other words, there are aspects of the original that are in dire need of touching-up, but the challenge is polishing these things without endangering the essence of the game.

The original is a great game, and making a remake of an existing game like that is like having a working blueprint product to base your own off of - you get a lot for free that way and that is the reward for remaking a classic. Ironically, the unbeatable nostalgia is also a reward. Should our attempt to appeal to post-PlayStation 1 gamers fail, we always have the trusty old-timers who love the game for what it is.

Q: You are also the sound director on the next-gen Bionic Commando. How did you come to be the director of Bionic Commando Rearmed?

I am a huge, huge fan of the original game. I played it and beat it numerous times back in the day, and it was one of maybe top five old favorites that had me bringing outmy oldNES once a year or so to play and reminisce (the others being Mega Man 3, Punch Out, Blaster Master and Star Tropics). When Capcom came to Grin's office to check it out and ask about our visions for a possible remake, it was literally only months since I had last played Bionic Commando on my NES, unaware that Grin later would be the ones who got the honor of remaking the game! In the beginning of the next-gen project I was always in the meetings even though I was just a "lowly sound designer" because I so represented the die-hard NES fans. When the idea of remaking the original sidescroller came about, I guess I was the natural choice because of that very passion for the original game. The others probably said to each other, "let that Simon do the remake and then maybe we won't have to hear his constant whining about nostalgia and how superior the original is", haha!

Q: Do you have fond memories of the original Bionic Commando? Was it popular in Sweden?

Fond memories, oh yes - but it was pure game mechanics that spoke to me; I didn't get much of the context or the military theme. Since English isn't my native language and we don't start learning English until third grade in Sweden, I had a hard time understanding the dialog in the games I was playing. When playing Bionic Commando, I never understood why sometimes the radio transmissions only said "Ga... ga... ga..." (that's when you have the wrong communicator) and so on. I always completed every area because that seemed to be the sure shot way to get through the entire game. Bionic Commando was huge to me but as far as I'm aware the game didn't get very big in Sweden. When talking to people my age who played the NES when they were little, most can remember Mega Man, but not everyone is familiar with Bionic Commando. "You swing around on this extendable mechanical arm" I say, and they might say that they vaguely recall such a concept... I am, however, myself a living proof that a faithful fan base exists also in Sweden.

Q: What is your favorite part about the original game?

That question can be interpreted several ways. My favorite part of the concept of the game is of course the arm, and the flawless integration of that mechanic in the game. The times you fall down a chasm - for a split second in a situation where you would surely die in any other game (a jump-button can never save you in-mid air when falling to your death - jumping is so overrated!) - and then you save yourself in the last moment by shooting out the bionic arm and grabbing on to a ledge, that is the essence of Bionic Commando! Those are the moments that make an impression on you as a gamer - it's like being Indiana Jones and just barely making it through the sliding stone door, dropping your hat and fetching it just in time.

If the question is about what part of the game's campaign I like the most then I think it's when you step inside the door in the beginning of Area02 and the music changes to a piece that has this echoing melody which fits the environment perfectly (it's like sewer hallways), and the slime blobs come out of the walls - something I've never seen in any other NES game.

Q: How did you approach the strange translations, controversial enemies and exploding heads that fans love so much but which people new to the series might not appreciate?

To make sure no nuance of the language or detail in the story was lost, we went back to the Japanese version and did a completely new, authorized translation of the game. This was done by an internal Capcom translator, so it's as official as it gets. Still, some of the wordings and misspellings in the original game are charming details that we wanted to keep, so we did. It's a tricky balance act, trying to bridge Rearmed between the original game and the next-gen sequel.

Regarding the enemies in the original Japanese version I think no US fan can demand that we should bring those back because that was not the way they experienced the game the first time around anyway. If it was controversial back then, it's even more so now, with the ESRB and such organizations in place - which, I should say, I think is a good thing. The resemblance of a certain historical dictator and his exploding head was by far the hardest part to approach. People want to see it because it's one of the most memorable things from the original game, but the fact is that it would have been censored even back in '88 if only the censor agency of the day had cared to complete the game (they found it too hard and released the game without fully inspecting it) and seen that exploding head. It's pure luck that we got to see the original game as we now know it and have learned to love.

Still, that is how we all learned to love the game so of course we've done our best to please the fans. You must keep in mind though - and I say this to every Bionic Commando fan who will play Rearmed - that censorship is a lot stricter today, so we just pushed it as far as we were allowed.

Q: What did you think was the most important thing that you had the change from the original NES Bionic Commando? And what did you think was the most important thing to get just right?

There are two aspects of the original game that I never really liked. First off, the fact that you can land in an area and have brought the wrong equipment. Rather than finding new communicators and having to choose one of these to bring, I'd like to just find upgrades to one single communicator and only have to bring that one wherever I go. Also, the boss fights weren't that spectacular in the original game - even though the mechanics of the bionic arm are perfect for grand boss fights. You know, ripping the armor plating off the boss to reveal the weak spot, etc. I wanted to fully explore the possibilities of the bionic arm as far as interaction with regular enemies and bosses go. The most important thing to get just right is without a doubt the swing mechanic.

Q: If you could have any bionic body part, what part would that be?

Hm... ears? Being able to eavesdrop on others from a hundred yards away could be pretty cool.

Check back here on Friday Jan 25th when we'll talk to Simon about his favorite games music, the trend of remaking old games and if 2D gaming is dead. In the meantime, check out Simon's skills in the Bionic Music Player by clicking that big orange button on the top left-hand side of the page and choosing "Bionic Commando Rearmed - Area 01" or his range of vocal skills in "Bionic Commando Rearmed - Top Secret Trailer".

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