Steel Battalion, Capcom’s Kinect-controlled follow-up to the infamous Xbox title with the ridiculously bulky $200 controller, was one of the more memorable demos we’ve seen thus far at Tokyo Game Show 2011. Instead of handling a cumbersome controller this time around, players will use hand gestures to control the walking tanks of the game’s postapocalypic world—and literally slap their subordinates into shape if their morale drops too low.
But that’s actually not what struck me about the game’s TGS presentation. No, from my perspective, the iconic image was actually Steel Battalion’s Japanese producers clad in American military fatigues while acting out these gestures—as they explained that their game’s plot revolves around taking back a conquered America from a ruthless, invading China, a fact illustrated by Old Glory’s familiar 50 points of light dwindling down to only eight stars in the game.
Steel Battalion’s developers say their almost cartoonish appeal to American patriotism isn’t specifically designed to appeal to the West—a theme so common at this year’s TGS that it’s frankly hard to believe it isn’t intentional, given the rate at which Japanese developers seem to be dropping the anime aesthetic for Tolkien-esque wizards and grizzled American military men.
“When you sit down and think about it, this is a very strange setting: It’s the future, but all technology is gone,” says producer Tatsuya Kitabayashi. “There are no more microchips, yet technology has changed to the point that you’ve got these bipedal tanks. You’re looking for believability in this world. To do that, we found that hitting on real emotions and real themes that the real world is currently dealing with—and consumers are thinking about—is kind of the way to create a fantasy world that still feels relatable and believable. If you think about Saving Private Ryan and movies like that, the little images that you see—like the American flag—are powerful images, and using them serves as kind of shorthand that’s really helped us create this realistic-feeling crazy world.”
While Kitabayashi admits that they’re aiming for the worldwide market with Steel Battalion, he says that the art style has more to do with their aim for a realistic-looking world than an attempt to abandon their anime-infused roots. “I think it’s fair to say that we wanted to focus on the global market, so obviously, we considered what non-Japanese gamers wanted first and foremost. I mean, it is a Kinect-exclusive Xbox 360 game that we’re making here,” he says. “Having said that, there’s also a tendency to not make believability a high priority in Japanese games. But in this game, what we’re trying to focus on is a believability to the world. Sure, there are these bipedal tanks walking around in a future that looks like the past, but there’s a consistency and a believability to the world that infuses not only the tank design but the characters and the environments. I think that’s probably what you’re noticing—that consistency and believability—which is what you see more often in Western games than Japanese games. That’s what we’re aiming for.”