Sine Mora may seem like something of a retro throwback to the bullet hell shmups of yesteryear, but the truth is, it's so much more. A joint venture between Hungarian developer and publishing outfit Digital Reality and Suda 51's Grasshopper Manufacture, Sine Mora boasts outstanding production values for a digital title, and for 15 bucks (just over a tenner), it's an absolute steal.
Garnering a glowing 5-star review here on AATG, we naturally wanted to delve a little deeper into Sine Mora, so at Wednesday's launch event at a hotel in London's Soho, we lassoed the game's Creative Director, Theodore Reiker and sat him down for a chat about how Sine Mora came about.
And if you've yet to play Sine Mora, you should at the very least give the trial a go. “It's the best new shooter of this generation,” according to our review. If that's not enough of an endorsement, then just what the hell is? You want to find out more about the game, don't you? Yes. Yes, you do. Read on!
Where did the idea come from to do a shoot 'em up with Sine Mora? Is it because the genre is enjoying something of a resurgence on digital platforms?
We are all fans of the genre and were quite sad that in recent times, there have been no games that have really been up to scratch in standards, in terms of presentation. And a lot of players who played those games back in the day, when there was not only bullet hell games but also other shooters, are perhaps afraid or scared of all the current shoot 'em up games, and so that's where the idea to make Sine Mora came from. There was no external influence regarding the decision to make Sine Mora. It was more internal than external.
As a collaborative developmental effort between Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture, how much of the creative input comes from either side in Sine Mora? Is it 50/50 or is it weighed more towards one studio?
You could say it's 50/50. Grasshopper delivered the concept art in the form of 3D paintings and also all the sound and music has been composed and designed by Akira Yamaoka at Grasshopper Manufacture. On the other hand, Digital Reality designed the game, wrote the story, programmed, modelled and animated everything.
The stylistic concept of 'diesel-punk' in Sine Mora is interesting, and it has echoes of Studio Ghibli (Porco Rosso, Howl's Moving Castle) in the game's aesthetic. What other influences had an impact on the look and style of Sine Mora?
One of the biggest influences on the team was Battle Garegga on the SEGA Saturn and it was a fun game, so the team really wanted to make a diesel-punk title based on that. We started discussing it with Grasshopper Manufacture, and we originally wanted Sine Mora to be a lot darker with the vision and the visuals in the game, but Grasshopper came up with something much lighter, comparable to Ghibli. Sine Mora turned out as the mid-point between the original idea and what Grasshopper came up with, but after seeing the concepts, we were pretty happy with what they had delivered and so that's the direction it took.
What else has working together with Grasshopper Manufacture brought to the table in Sine Mora then?
Both parties have been doing what they do best. Grasshopper Manufacture is amazing at creating worlds and creating feelings in the visual sense. But we at Digital Reality are really skilled in technical execution, and having this internal love for shoot 'em ups. Both teams just did what they know best and that's how it became a big collaboration.
Often the difficulty of shmups proves to be a big barrier to entry for a lot of more casual players. In Sine Mora you have a normal and insane difficulty, but was there ever a temptation to include a really easy difficulty to appeal to novice players?
As fans of the genre know, shmups have always tended towards the harder difficulty. In the story campaign, you have the normal and challenging difficulties, then in arcade mode you have hard and insane levels of difficulty, so there are a few different levels of difficulty. And I think the biggest added value of having Microsoft as the publisher on this title is that they never felt like the normal setting would be too inaccessible for players new to the genre who haven't been playing the recent crop of bullet hell games. Microsoft asked us to tone it down, but it never mattered about the harder difficulties. We were allowed to go as crazy as we want to with those, but with the normal setting, we were asked to keep it approachable and accessible for players who are new to the genre. For us the easy setting is the normal setting, and that's what we believe is suitable.
Where did the core concept of time come from in Sine Mora? It's your energy bar, you can manipulate time... How did that idea originate?
The idea is actually based on a really old Japanese freeware game that was a Galaga clone, and they used similar mechanics that we've obviously taken a few steps further. It was totally random that we happened to run into this obscure game, but it just shed a completely different light on how Galaga should be looked at, and that's how the whole thought process started.
So, did you start out development on Sine Mora using standard shmup mechanics with a normal energy bar and so on, or were the time mechanics always part of the plan?
We always knew from the beginning, from when the project was greenlit, that we were going to make a shoot 'em up which is going to be based around time manipulation. That was the basic idea, so it was there from the very beginning.
No doubt you've seen the immensely positive critical reception that Sine Mora has had. Is that a validation that there's still more than enough life in the genre, and is it something you'd want to pursue again in the future?
Obviously looking at those scores makes us really, really happy. We're thankful to everyone for their support in our journey to help us bring the shoot 'em up genre back into the mainstream, to have a wider audience and bring it back to where it belongs. For us it's something that is really close to our hearts. We're in shock following the great review scores, but it's a reassurance that we are on the right track.
Does the future lie exclusively in digital distribution for Digital Reality, or would you ever consider pursuing the retail avenues at some point?
Digital Reality has two departments: Digital Reality software, where the games have been developed and Digital Reality publishing department that only works in the digital space. We never want to enter retail. What we aim to do at Digital Reality is raise the bar for what can be achieved with digital titles, so I think even in the future, we wouldn't want to work on retail titles. And that's good because it allows us to retain a price point that is accessible for more people. Compared to the price of a retail title, 15 bucks or whatever is a real bargain.
So you'd agree that digital platforms will always be a more fertile ground for what many would consider to be riskier projects, like Sine Mora?
Sine Mora is available now exclusively on the Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points. Give it a whirl.