The term "cult developer" doesn't come up in conversation often. There are only a handful of developers with the kind of small but fiercely loyal following that you see from independent bands and movies. Treasure has long been the textbook case, with their defiantly quirky games, and rabidly defensive fan base, but recently the small arcade developer G.rev has had fans salivating for their next release, putting them high on the list of hot independent developers to watch.
A tiny band of only five people (they have since swelled to eight), the crew that would form G.rev left the warm bosom of Taito's arcade division (where they had worked on games such as G. Darius and RayCrisis) to strike out on their own in 2000. Shortly thereafter they began work on a collaboration with Treasure called Ikaruga (maybe you've heard of it?). Ikaruga would go on to revitalize interest in the scrolling shooter genre for many casual fans, and remains one of the biggest successes for the genre this decade. It was done under the creative direction of Treasure's Hiroshi Iuchi and Atsutomo Nakagawa, and G.rev's name didn't appear outside of the credits roll but it gave them some valuable experience with NAOMI hardware, and the monetary resources to realize their first independent game.
Their first self-published project was an arcade puzzle game based on a hexagonal grid, with shades of Mine Sweeper entitled Doki Doki Idol Star Seeker. It was an appropriately low-budget game with a cutesy, appealing presentation, and the requisite buxom anime-styled cast. It was ported to Dreamcast, as well as to mobile phones and garnered critical praise, but turned few heads. More importantly it raised the capital needed to create the game that would put G.rev on the map.
Released in 2003, Border Down was the game G.rev set out to make. It borrowed heavily from a little-known Taito shooter called Metal Black, and sported some major overtones of the beloved Darius and Thunderforce series. It also introduced a host of new elements including the brilliant and much ballyhooed "border" system that caused players to take different paths through a level when they died. G.rev gave their baby a home on the Dreamcast later that year. It proved to be approachable and deep at the same time, and it resonated with gamers around the world. Its reputation has steadily grown since, and it now commonly fetches triple digit prices at auction.
After Border Down, G.rev partnered up with Treasure once again to work on Gradius V for Konami. Gradius V proved to be a big hit with fans, with many citing it as the best entry in the series. Moreover it cemented G.rev's budding reputation as a devoted supporter of the shooter genre. Many were eagerly speculating about whether their new game would be vertically or horizontally scrolling when G.rev did the unexpected.
Their follow-up title was probably the most original arcade game since the peripheral music craze. Senko no Ronde was a completely unique blend of top-down shoot 'em up and fighting game, that pitted players against each other 1-on-1 to unleash complex bullet patterns on their opponents by inputting Street Fighter-like joystick motions. Upon filling their super meter, characters could even enter a screen-filling "B.O.S.S. Mode" to unleash even more fiendish curtains of fire on their enemies. Senko no Ronde proved to be a success in arcades, and an enhanced Xbox 360 version dubbed Rev. X is planned for a summer release as well as a new arcade update called Senko no Ronde SP.
Shortly after the arcade release of Senko, G.rev unveiled their next game, a Naomi-based arcade shooter called Under Defeat. A back-to-roots affair following their experimental genre-hopping, Under Defeat was a gritty, vertical-scrolling helicopter shooter with some amazing detail and deliciously old-school firing patterns. Last month it got a Dreamcast port, earning it the billing of "last Dreamcast game." Despite the late release on aging hardware, it sold through its first printing within the week, becoming the best-selling Dreamcast game since Border Down.
GotNext has been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do some Q&A with G.rev's founder and President, Hiroyuki Maruyama. So without further ado, we present an interview with the man himself.