— Hello and thank you for your time doing the interview!
Hi! Thanks for having us!
— Please tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Antti, also known as Ebbo. I tinker with game design and draw most of graphics for the game.
Working alongside me is Eero aka eebrozgi, who is responsible for all the heavy lift programming, game design and also composes the music.
With our powers combined, we become… System Erasure.
— What is System Erasure?
Just the two of us, making video games, plain and simple.
— How was it that you decided to develop a game?
It all started over a decade ago at a Finnish Nintendo forum both us of resided at the time. I was working on a completely unrelated forum fangame (that also happened to be a shoot’em up) with another person. That project didn’t really go anywhere but somehow it caught Eero’s attention and he ended up contacting me: “Hey how about we make a video game?”
Without putting too much thought into it, I just quickly drew few sprites and sent them to Eero with a response: “How about something like this?”
That’s how the very first idea of ZeroRanger – or FINAL BOSS, as how it was known back then – came to be.
— Was the idea for a shmup already clear from the beginning?
Only two things were clear to us from the very beginning: 1) we wanted to make a vertically scrolling 2D shoot’em up and 2) this was not going to be a danmaku, since we felt like just about every new shmup coming out was a danmaku. Everything else around that we’d figure out as the development went along.
— What are your inspirations for ZeroRanger?
Arguably the biggest influence at the beginning of the development was a freeware shoot’em up Guxt by Cave Story developer Pixel. Both of us played that game extensively and its simple gameplay and charms truly left an impression on us. The limited colour palette of ZeroRanger was directly inspired by Guxt as well.
Other huge sources of inspiration include Ikaruga, Cho Ren Sha 68K, Eschatos, Flame Zapper Kotsujin, Gunstar Heroes… We’d be here all day if we were to list everything!
— Are you a fan of the genre? What games do you play yourself?
It’d save to say we are, although we’re pretty omnivorous when it comes to playing games. Both of us share some bias towards 2D action titles but as long as the game manages to catch our interest in one way or another, we don’t really care what genre it might fall into.
— Graphics are stunning, it even made me put Truxton PCB in my cab, as ZeroRanger reminded me so much to back in the days!
Thank you for your kind words! Although when I look at any of the Toaplan shoot’em ups and compare their spritework to our game, the difference in quality seems insurmountable. I can only hope my art will one day reach the same heights they were able to achieve
— Did you create all the graphics yourselves and were there many iterations?
Yes, there were a lot of iterations over the years. I’m sure if you were to dig up some of the early versions and compare them to the final game, you’d be shocked how bad the game used to look. At the beginning I really didn’t have any kind of understanding how to create pixel art or any art for that matter… It was a learning experience, to say the least.
— Level design is quite diverse, particularly the cylindrical structure with the snake around it was really cool. How did you come up with those level ideas?
Many level design setpieces, such as this one, we’d usually just come up with on the spot. Often these segments were inspired by other games, such as the unorthodox horizontal scrolling of the screen during certain stages; a concept we lifted straight from Gradius series.
This kind of creative madness permeated the whole project for better and worse. Right before release I came up with an idea how the very last phase of the final boss should work. I proposed this concept to Eero but he said it wouldn’t be possible before release… And then he went and did it anyway! Absolute madman.
— Cutscenes really add the story to the experience, could you elaborate how these came about?
There were, however, a few scenes I felt could be accentuated by a short cutscene… So I’d draw them, show them to Eero without any warning and ask him to include them. Somehow it all came together in the end.
— The music in the game is really good, did you make it yourself? And what about the effect/voice samples?
Besides two commissioned tracks, all music was composed by Eero. Sound effects were done by using programs such as Sfxr, Bfxr and Audacity, as well as free sound libraries. Female announcer voice samples were graciously provided by KanaChi.
— Admittedly I haven’t been able to 1CC’d the game yet, how many levels does the final game have?
Four stages in total. Last one can be quite an ordeal, so we hope you’re well prepared!
— Could you tell more about the difficulty levels?
Besides difficulty adjustments, these modes will include some gameplay changes… You’ll have to wait and see for yourself.
— You seem to have spend quite some effort on scoring/strategy, could you tell what can be expected?
While we do recognize the fact that scoring systems are often a huge part of what makes shoot’em ups so replayable for lots of people, scoring never was THE priority for us while developing ZeroRanger. It was A priority but ultimately we wanted to focus our efforts on other things. As it’s now, scoring system was built to further encourage the use of all the different weapons player gains during their adventure.
That being said, we were fortunate enough to have some determined testers who pushed the game’s score potential way further than we could’ve ever imagined. Their feedback was extremely valuable for fine tuning and fixing the most glaring problems with the scoring system.
— How useful/crucial were the playable demos you released in-between for development?
Extremely! Not only were we able to gather lots of feedback, it also helped to boost our morale in the long run, given how after each update the reception only got better over the years.
We shudder to think how the game would’ve ended up if we hadn’t released those early demos… Thanks to everyone who tested the game throughout the years, it was a huge help!
— Now that you officially released, were the initial sales as you would hoped for?
While it’s not certainly a million seller, the sales so far have been within our expectations. What truly surprised us was the overwhelmingly positive reception from the players all over the world, which has made all the hard work completely worth it.
— CAVE had covered the game in their channel, how cool is that?
— Will it be on other platforms than PC, perhaps eXa Arcadia platform or Console?
Currently we can’t make any promises but it should probably go without saying we would love to make ZeroRanger available for other platforms in the future. So keep your fingers crossed for now.
— Any plans on DLC or upgrades?
Besides previously mentioned Easy and Hard mode, we’re currently implementing better gamepad control support for the game. We’ve also plans for adding online leaderboards, among with a plethora of other QoL improvements in the future updates. We’re far from done!
Thank you for your time and looking forward to a next episode/new game!