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The TechArt and Animation Team at Wright Flyer Studios is a group of specialists dedicated to the creation of in-game animations. The members of this team include former animators and designers who have worked on mega titles. I asked them about behind-the-scenes development stories as designers of the Raramagi (go to official site) smartphone app that was released six months ago and has continued to grow in popularity, and about the reasons behind Raramagi's appeal. (Interview by Live2D Inc. | July 28, 2017)
A school-themed RPG of music and magic—a performance together with you
This impressively dramatic RPG is the result of a powerful collaboration between Wright Flyer Studios
and the anime production studio A-1 Pictures!
Set in the young schoolgirl orchestra Kigakubu that is on the verge of falling apart, the player must work to save the girls, grow the bonds between them, and produce winning music.
Opening the curtain on adventure and flowering youth that spans several worlds…
Planning, drafting, and development: Wright Flyer Studios
Production: A-1 Pictures
Character design: Haruko Iizuka
Composition and main scenario: Yu Nishimura
Sound: Kenji Ito
— July 25* marked six months since the release. Congratulations on your success. (* The interview was conducted on July 28, 2017.)
Thank you so much! Raramagi is a fabulous game featuring many girls, but its main story also has depth to it. It features laughs, tears, and tension, and has considerable emotional impact.
Each chapter highlights and digs deep into an individual character. The game features battles as an action game, but I think we created a game with a good overall balance and a main story that brings the player closer to a mystery as he or she progresses. I think that users have come to like each of these individual elements over the past six months.
— Can you tell us about the highlights of the game in a bit more detail?
The more than 30 adorable characters designed by Haruko Iizuka (*1) were voiced by experienced voice actresses and given convincing performances. The character expressions and actions which are synchronized with these performances were added using Live2D.
All of these elements combine to create the wonderful harmony of Raramagi. I hope that everyone will give it a try.
I also want people to experience the high quality of the dress illustrations (similar to the card illustrations in an ordinary social game) where the characters are drawn. In addition to the cuteness of the characters, much attention was given to the backgrounds and lighting as well. A single frame from a date scene has a real-world feel like it was taken from a photograph.
— Certainly the available dress illustrations feature situations that are a perfect match for the characters, and are pictures that can draw the viewers in and keep them entranced.
The images, scenarios, and episodes that expand out from the dress illustrations provide a range of discoveries about each of the characters. I am sure that through them, everyone will find one out of the many characters who they particularly love. Of course the game was produced to be enjoyable from start to finish, but I think that the game is worthwhile just for the characters who are there to cherish.
The battles also are exhilarating, and even I feel the tension rising when certain conditions are met and the cast song (*2) starts to play during a battle.
*1: Haruko Iizuka is active as an animator and character designer. She has worked on anime features including Tamayura and Little Busters!
*2: The cast song is the Raramagi opening theme song Mirai Symphony. It became available for purchase from various distribution services on August 9 (Wednesday).
— Why did you decide to introduce Live2D?
As I mentioned a little before, all of the Raramagi characters were designed by the animator Haruko Iizuka, and the Live2D source images were produced by the anime production company A-1 Pictures. The charm of these characters is one of the biggest selling points of the game.
In the market, the use of high-quality moving 3D models in games is becoming commonplace. However with Raramagi, in order to transmit the enchanting character designs directly, we decided to use the original illustrations in the game rather than create 3D models. Our goal was to use the original illustration directly in 2D to create a feeling of character presence that was equal to any 3D game. We wanted to achieve our dream of bringing adorable movement to the finely detailed and gorgeous characters painstakingly drawn by Haruko Iizuka, while still retaining the charm of the original 2D illustrations.
In addition, as I said at the beginning, a lot of work also went into the story that was written by the main writer Yu Nishimura. So we also wanted to break free of the adventure game dialog system and make it a truly visual game. The technology that met these requirements was Live2D.
We considered other 2D animation tools, however Live2D is particularly good for giving a dynamic feel and real sense of presence to a 2D illustration. The combination of motions and expressions also allows for a highly varied range of actions.
Other features such as blinking, lip-synching, and physics-based hair movement breathe life into the characters, and there are many functions available to make them vibrant and realistic. Although it is not yet used in Raramagi, the ability to use dynamic control that turns a character to face in the direction tapped by the user has potential for future applications. We felt that we could utilize these functions to create exactly what we wanted to, and decided to use Live2D.
There is no other technology that can create such a rich range of movement from a single illustration, and moreover can keep the original charm of the illustration intact.
— As a motion designer, what points do you focus on when adding movement to a character?
I pay close attention to a number of points, however I am most particular about movements of the arms, snapping of the wrists, and other details that give an adorable character a soft appearance. For example, making sure that the arm movement follows slightly after the shoulder, and the wrist movement after that. So that the motions do not appear monotonous, I also add contraction or extension of the torso and try to give a rhythm to the movements. During these motions, I am careful to avoid an unnatural center of gravity balance. Based on past experience as an animator, I imagine the overall motion and incorporate that into the Live2D motions. My goal is to add movements at varying speeds that match the personality of the character and are scaled to prevent any disruption in the world image in that work.
— Were there any particular points that made you happy that you used Live2D?
The largest advantage for Raramagi was the ability of Live2D to give vibrant motion to an original 2D illustration without losing the charm that only a 2D illustration has.
I think that being able to create the “trick” that is unique to deformers and 2D images when changing the angle of the head or bending a joint really gives shape to the perfection of 2D illustrations as a kind of original culture that 3D cannot produce. The cost performance of creating this all from a single original illustration is also a good match with the concept of game development for business or mass production.
— Were there any issues that you experienced while using Live2D?
At first we created one model using as many as 8,000 polygons. However later we changed the policy to maximum 4,000 polygons in order to ensure a smooth display on actual terminals. For this reason, we had to search for and erase the polygons in parts which were not related to the deformation. This was difficult work, and we made a number of improvements behind the scenes like this so that users would be able to better enjoy playing Raramagi. Because this was such tiresome work, I would like to see a function that can identify polygons that are not related to the motion. If these polygons could be automatically deleted, that would be a big help.
— Raramagi contains more than 30 fascinating characters, but the expressions and motions look different for each one.
That is correct. For each character, detailed traits including personality, interests, special skills, and family members are set, and based on these we create the detailed movements, or we create motion based on the storyboards produced by A-1 Pictures. For this purpose, naturally motions for all characters and all emotions were newly created, with no two motions exactly alike. We also were determined to create highly detailed changes of expression. I would be pleased if users look for these differences in the movements within the game.
— Are there particularly distinctive character motions or any particular parts that you hope people will notice?
To be honest, I want people to see all the characters. However, there are some noticeable characters slightly different from the others. I will introduce some of them briefly.
She is wearing a knit sweater but she is not wearing it properly; it is just draped over her arms. As a result, her Live2D structure is largely different from those of other characters.
The settings to make the sweater stretch and shrink, and to coordinate the movements of the arms and sweater were difficult but we enjoyed the challenge and remained focused on the details as we worked with Live2D. She was a very satisfying character to animate, and I hope that everyone will look at her closely.
Creating the motions for this character was the most fun.
Her character is something like a stuck-up princeling, and in order to produce that atmosphere her arm movements are larger than the other characters, almost an exaggerated performance. In order to study her movements, during production we used videos of the Takarazuka Revue and played them over and over again as reference.
When we are talking about rich expressiveness, we have to mention Kanae Sezawa. She is a character with a broad range of expressions. The brightness of her smiling face is one of the highlights, but then when her suspicious face appears, a large shadow is cast across it. She has a happy and simple personality, and just watching Kanae is very soothing. Her role in Raramagi is someone who is able to brighten a room just by being in it.
— There are parts which you created with particular attention to detail for each individual character.
While this could be said for all the characters, it is the plain and simple movements that are most difficult to present naturally. I hope users will notice the finely detailed movements such as how the body moves when she is simply breathing.
The physics of the hair and breast movement coordinated with each motion required particular attention. Because the characters are students, we wanted the motions to be modest and real, with a subdued refinement, so that they did not appear too sexy. We played the movements for each character in the meeting room while adjusting the parameters a little at a time to match the character traits until we got the approval of each group involved. Please watch for this also.
— What are the future plans for Raramagi?
For the future, we have decided to exhibit Raramagi at Comic Market 92 which will be held from August 11 (Friday) to August 13 (Sunday), 2017. We are planning to sell original goods consisting mainly of original artwork such as Raramagi 2017 summer set and long poster featuring all of the Kigakubu members together, and also to distribute some novelty items.
In addition, we are planning to conduct a trial of the new “Odekake” function that will be installed in the game in the future and allows users to take photos with the Kigakubu members.
“Odekake” lets users take a picture together with their favorite Kigakubu characters and feel like they are actually on an outing with them.
When visitors to Comic Market 92 try “Odekake,” the photo taken there will be printed out and given to them as a present!
We are also planning to give stickers as presents to users who post their impressions of the trial session to SNS with the hashtag #raramagi. Please come visit us at the Raramagi booth (corporate booth, West 4F, No. 4332).
Note: “Odekake” is a function under development, and the details may be different from the trial session when the function is actually installed.
We also plan to further expand the main story, events, cards, and other aspects of the game, so please look forward to more Raramagi in the future.
— Thank you for your time today!