Here's a trivia question for you (we may have given the answer away in the sub-heading already, but play along with us). What was the first game publicly shown for Sony's PSP?
You'd think it would be Gran Turismo Mobile or WipEout Pure, or even Everybody's Golf. But it wasn't. The first game publicly shown for PSP at last year's GDC in San Francisco was a cartoon platform game from a small local developer best known for its work on over 70 Nintendo GameBoy games. That game was Death, Jr.
Now the PSP has been out in the US and Japan for months and the European launch date is rapidly approaching, but we still haven't seen Death, Jr. on shelves. So we jumped at the chance to chat with the game's senior producer at developer Backbone Entertainment, Chris Charla. We quickly found out that the game isn't the platformer we thought it was and that it's packing the kind of sense of humour that'd make the dead chuckle...
Death, Jr. was actually the first game anyone ever saw on the PSP. That must have been quite an honour...
Chris Charla: Yeah, it was amazing. We know a lot of the guys over at SCEA, we're pretty local and we go out for lunch with them a lot, so when we heard about PSP we were quick to get involved. We got a hold of an emulator really early on, built an early tech demo, and took it to show Sony. We were really just asking them if we were idiots or not, but they liked it so much they asked us to be part of the PSP unveiling at last year's GDC. It was really fun, and that tech demo became Death, Jr. We've been working on it ever since.
Do you think being so connected to the PSP's unveiling has put quite a lot of pressure on you to deliver a great game?
Chris Charla: Yeah, absolutely. It was a huge honour for us to be part of that and a great opportunity to show off the game, but we still want to make sure the finished product is good looking, solid, and fun. So there's lots of pressure there.
When is it due for release?
Chris Charla: In Europe it'll be out for launch, and in the US it'll be available in August.
We assumed that, because it was shown off when the PSP was unveiled, Death, Jr. would have been a US launch title...
Chris Charla: We were shooting to have the game as a launch title but then we decided that we'd rather take the time to have the game where we really wanted it to be.
Okay, introduce us to the premise and characters in Death, Jr.
Chris Charla: The basic plot of the game is that you start out in this museum with Death, Jr. and his creepy friends. You've got Pandora, the little goth girl, Stigmartha, whose hands bleed when she gets nervous, and Steef, who's an armless and legless foetus in a jar. These kids are all at school but, as you can imagine, they're kind of alienated by the other students. So they go on this field trip to the museum and split up from the group to cause some trouble. Pandora finds a box that she really wants to open, so DJ, who has a bit of a crush on her, smashes it open and unleashes hell on Earth. He knows that he should really call his dad, but if he does that he's going to get grounded or sent to military school or whatever. So he decides to sort itself himself.
When we first saw Death Junior it was a tasty-looking hack-n-slash platformer. What's changed?
Chris Charla: Everything. No, I'm kidding, but when we first showed that demo at GDC we were only running off the emulator, so it was nowhere near showing off the power of the full game. Essentially, the idea behind Death Junior is something a lot of guys at the studio have been wanting to make for years: Mario with a gun. That was our design impetus behind the game. So we wanted a game that had lots of shooting and plenty of platforming.