What do you get if you cross ground-breaking mobile technology with one of the biggest anime franchises of all time? Bandai Namco’s answer is Dragon Ball Legends, a card-touting, Xenoverse-aping mobile battler whose tagline is “I’ll take you down with one finger”.
That ground-breaking new technology is the Google Cloud infrastructure, which allows virtually lag-free connections between players no matter the distance. Bandai Namco were able to demonstrate at this week’s GDC just how well the network works by setting up a game with team members in Japan – some 5000+ miles away – and the delivery was flawless, even if the staff most definitely allowed game producer Keigo Ikeda to win.
It’s telling that Legends was announced during a Google developers session, live at GDC, as it underlined how important the game and the technology underpinning it are to both companies. As the first of its kind it gives us an indication of the future, where players will be able to seamlessly play against each other no matter where in the world they are, and the ramifications for gaming, especially titles that live or die on having a lag-free connection like fighting games or competitive shooters, shouldn’t be underestimated.
The partnership between the two companies almost came about by pure luck, and when development on the game originally started Google’s technology didn’t even exist. “When we did find out about – I found it in a newspaper – and we saw that Google were talking about making a connection between continents, we thought, ‘We can use this, this is how we’re going to provide one service to all players worldwide.’”
The game itself then is a fully featured, one on one 3D action game, with you and your opponent flying high above the ground, locked in combat. It bears plenty of similarities to the Xenoverse games, which makes plenty of sense when you know that Dimps have had a hand in its development. Much like games in the Marvel Vs Capcom franchise, you choose teams of three and can switch out characters when they’re taking a pummelling, or if your opponent’s element puts your current character at a disadvantage. The six characters that were shown at the event – Super Saiyan Goku, Piccolo, Pan, Vegeta, Frieza and Nappa – look fantastic and are seemingly only a glimpse of the full line-up.
Excitingly for Dragon Ball fans, Legends actually includes an all-new original character that’s been designed by series creator Akira Koriyama, with Keigo dropping some hints about him being a time-travelling Saiyan who’s not from the same era as Goku. “He’s something new,” he said, “a new addition to the world of Dragon Ball, and one of the game modes, the story mode, is viewed from his point. He’s the main protagonist and he’s deeply rooted in the game.”
One of the key things for Keigo and his team has been ensuring that the game is intuitive, and the idea of a one finger control scheme was central to that; “We want to tell you that it’s not about the controls. If you want a game that’s about controls, you can go back to Dragon Ball FighterZ. I wanted to create the perfect Dragon Ball app, meaning we could have made a complicated game mechanic that required two hands, and held the phone sideways – and you might get arthritis! – but that’s not exactly what we wanted. The value of having a smartphone app is that it’s accessible, that you can play anywhere. You can have a beer in one hand, maybe even a hamburger, it doesn’t matter, you can play with one hand and that was a pretty big focus for us.”
Movement is controlled by swiping in different directions, and are satisfyingly responsive, allowing you to rush down your opponent or dodge out of the way of their attacks. You can attack via canned combos just by tapping away at the screen, though the most damaging moves in your arsenal are controlled by the action cards which run across the bottom of the screen. Each of these has a stamina cost, which introduces an element of strategy to how and when you attack, and they fill the screen with Dragon Ball’s trademark hyper-stylised combat.
In such a storied franchise it’s perhaps harder to innovate, but Bandai Namco’s legacy of Dragon Ball games has clearly been a key resource for the team. “As most of the Dragon Ball games have come from our company, we had some people that directly worked on them, and we had a lot of communication with them to see what they focussed on in their games. Even though it’s the same Dragon Ball world, each game had their own unique quirk, so listening in on their talk, looking at their games, looking at their decision making, really helped us out to get to where we are.”
This being a mobile title, the developers are looking for ways to keep you engaged, and it looks as though character customisation is going to be at the root of that, with new card abilities and set-ups becoming available as you progress. “Each character will have a really deep focus on how to upgrade them, how to customise unique quirks so users can level them up, and even players who aren’t exactly still attuned with action-orientated games can defeat other players simply by creating and progressing to a strong state with that character.”
You might wonder why Legends, and its use of Google’s innovative technology, is the showcase for this remarkable fusion of software and hardware, but Keigo feels that this is the perfect place to trial it, with the ubiquity of mobile making it the ideal place to start. “The evolution of the technology, the spec, is rising at a tremendous speed, it’s exponential right now. These Razer phones [which Legends was being demoed on] are far superior to your average notebook or laptop, it’s silly! I’m actually mad because it’s better than my work PC! So in that sense it creates an accessibility where you don’t have to worry about where the player is or how he’s connecting. We can create content where anybody who feels like it can play.”