Gemini Project

On the eve of Moonkitty.NET's 4th birthday (March 2003) I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to conduct an interview with a representative of the crew working on the upcoming next generation Sailor Moon game, currently called "The Gemini Project".
A HUGE thanks goes out to those visitors of Moonkitty.NET who submitted questions for the interview. I hope you find the answers entertaining, insightful and bound to wet your appetite for what sounds like a real kick arse game!

Hi Scott. Thanks for taking time out of your scheduele to participate in this interview. All of us "Moonies" are really excited over the announcement of a "next generation" Sailor Moon computer game.

Thanks Brad. We're very excited about the project, and especially by the enthusaism of the Sailor Moon fans.

Q1) A lot of people are confused over to term "Gemini Project". Is this simply the current name of the Sailor Moon game due to copyright laws or is it a combination of several companies?

When we (meaning Heavy Cat Multimedia) originally began working on the Sailor Moon game project, we decided to use the naming conventions of the NASA space program, specifically the phases of the project leading to the moon landing.

Our first project, which was a presented as a series of seven PC titles based on the Sailor Moon characters, was called the Tranquility project, and named after the region of the moon where the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on July 20, 1969.

Our web site project was called �Apollo,� which is named after the overall moon launch program. The third project, which we are currently working on, is called Gemini after the phase of the moon program where NASA astronauts practiced docking spacecraft in orbit. It seemed to make sense, since we are now trying to �dock� several companies into a project to build the game, as was pointed out by the writer for Vector 74, who has forgotten more about the space program than I shall ever know.

Most game projects like this one use a �code name� until a title is approved. We have a working title for the game, but we can't publicize it for trademark reasons, so we just call it The Gemini Project.

Q2) What parties are currently involved (as of March 26th 2003) in developement of this game?

We don't have formal permission to publicize the names of some of the companies involved for various reasons, but I can say that we have at least two interested developers, and at least four interested publishers: interest defined as we want to see the game design and discuss the project further.� This is significant because most publishers just send companies like ours to voice mail. ^^ Two of the publishers we talked to were completely ignorant of Sailor Moon. One was completely ignorant of anime.

There are four companies doing active development at this moment. Heavy Cat Multimedia Ltd. is working as the producer: building the written game design, compiling the presentation materials and survey results. Threshold 8 Interactive is doing interface and game design integration (2D visuals and animation), DVD mastering and menu design, and a seperate animation studio is doing 3D armature engineering and heavy lifting artwork for our demo. We also have an agency in Los Angeles that is acting as liason between our production group and the Japanese and U.S. licensors.

Our favorite line in negotiations so far was actually uttered by a senior executive during a presentation not long ago. "Hey look! They have Sailor Moon in Japanese now!" We just smiled. "Why yes. Yes they do. How about that!"

Q3) How was the decision made to persue production on a Sailormoon game?

lol Amidst great uproarious laughter, hooting and jeering, at least from everyone we talked to about it. ^^ Sailor Moon was one of several characters we listed as having good potential for an adventure game. Heavy Cat Multimedia's main product line is a series of combination visual novel/adventure games called zStories. As it turned out, our designs for both Tranquility and Gemini were not really zStory-compatible, since they involved elements of action and platform-based games.

At that point it made more sense to spin off the Sailor Moon designs to something more complex, and also to bring in an outside developer, since with our current workload, an independent commercial development effort would have been impossible.

We have been offered many opportunities to give up, too. The first two projects were both canceled. It literally took us years to get to the point where we could actually build a demo.

Sailor Moon is, without a doubt, one of the most complex, successful and frustrating licenses in the entire animation industry. Part of this is due to its success, and part is due to the fact that there is so *much* Sailor Moon material, that it is really necessary to have many companies involved. The combination of licensing, merchandise, television, manga, live action performances, collectibles, conventions and film has generated immense revenues. So much in fact that we often have to repeat ourselves in meetings when we talk numbers: "How many fans???" "How much???" "How many DVDs???" and so on.

Q4) Are there many "Moonies" in the office?

Yes. Everyone who works with Heavy Cat Multimedia is required to be a Sailor Moon fan or they are summarily fired. It's an interview question too. We even have a space for it on the job application: "How many seasons of Sailor Moon have you seen?" (just kidding)

In my opinion it's really impossible to expect a company to build a quality product unless they are fans of the characters and story. Knowing little details like what color Sailor Neptune's shoes are and the difference between a Sprial Heart Moon Rod and a Crescent Moon Wand is what makes a game more authentic, and more enjoyable to play. (Quick, what color are Sailor Neptune's shoes? and no looking at pictures!)

We have a truly immense Sailor Moon wall scroll hanging on one wall, and the Sailor Mercury resin statue standing next to the mail server. The scroll itself is about 20 square feet. I bought it thinking �hey, we'll hang up a little commemorative Sailor Moon souvenir while we work on this project, not realizing that when it unrolled, and unrolled, and unrolled, that it would cover two desks and a plant. Sailor Moon has a glorious frown on her face which serves as a good reminder to finish the design, especially since her eyes are about the size of dinner plates.

Q5) What sort of research exactly did you guys used to educate yourselves on everything Sailormoon? i.e. Reading manga, watching DVDs, etc.

Mostly DVDs and independent research. We have access to some of the background materials for Sailor Moon marketing which were not distributed publically. These are like reference encyclopedias for the series itself, and they are extremely useful, especially for character designs.

One of the things I made sure of early in the project was that we would compile as much correct information as we could about the show so that our design would be authentic. It really makes no sense to spend time and money acquiring a license and then make basic mistakes like simple names for attacks or monsters. So, we had to spend several months becoming amateur experts on Sailor Moon, and I think we've done a good job. Up to about halfway through the SuperS season, my guess is that a Heavy Cat trivia team would probably do quite well in the Sailor Moon category.

We've also done a tremendous amount of research into previous Sailor Moon game efforts, of which there were many, especially in Japan. We've even interviewed some of the previous developers.

Q6) What "version" of Sailor Moon will the game be based around. For example the English version has changed a few of the character's names and attacks from the original Japanese version.

We're hoping to bypass this question through selectable game options, if we can. One thing that many fans may not know is that it isn't up to licensees which names they get to use. If the English-language licensing company says Ami's name is Amy Anderson, guess what? We have to call her Amy Anderson, or license go bye-bye.

However, since we are computer programmers after all, we have all sorts of neat little ways to process and store information, like more than one name. And that, without making any promises about the design, is a possibility, provided it is approved.

Q7) I realise the "Gemini Project" is very early in development stages right now but is there any news on what the basic "mode" of the game will be or what story arc of the anime/manga the game will based around, or will it be an original story written for the game?

We would like to have an original story. If we can't get approval to develop an original story (such approval would be *very* difficult), then we'll write Gemini so that it isn't an obvious re-telling of the same story from the anime or manga.

There are many possibilities here, and we have covered both in the game design. We have an original story and we have two other storylines based on the anime. Any of the three will make a very cool game.

The basic "mode" of the game is still being worked out. I can say at this point there will very likely be more than five playable characters, and that there will be "games within the game." Everything else is still at the "is this possible?" stage at this point.

An early design, based primarily on our experiences as PC developers, called for some things that consoles simply aren't capable of due to memory and control limitations, so we had to either scale back or replace those features with ones that were more "console-like."

One particularly entertaining idea envisioned a massive nine-senshi real time battle against multiple bad guys. We actually got this to the mathematical simulation stage, and found that our main development workstation, which is about 10 times as powerful as an NG console, would run the simulation at about eight frames per second (maxed RAM, maxed CPU). 15 frames per second is minimal for halfway decent animation, and 24 is our goal, so this had to be scaled back just a little.

We're also in a difficult position because we can't really promise features at this point. If we do, and they are a) not approved or b) don't work, then people will be disappointed. We'd rather have players and fans be pleasantly surprised.

Q8) We've all heard how 3D modeling has started on several characters. Does this mean that the game will be set in a 3D environment as well?

I can say with 99% certainty that the game will be 3D, unless we have a sudden inspiration to port it to Gameboy Advanced or something.

I've just had an opportunity to review our character designs. Our production house went the extra mile and modeled all nine senshi for the Gemini Presentation. With the notable exception of Nintendo, Heavy Cat Multimedia is the only other company, I believe, that has attempted to build these characters as high-polygon animated 3D models.

A high-polygon Sailor Moon has already been modeled, armatured and animated. As I write this, less than a half hour ago, I was reviewing the run cycle animation for Sailor Moon. It looks positively incredible.

Q9) Any chance of the Moon Kitties making an appearance in the game?

We wouldn't dream of making a Sailor Moon game without including the Moon Kitties. We'll try to get Luna, Artemis, Diana and Luna-P in the game if we can. ^^

Q10) I've got to ask... Who's you're favourite Sailor Moon character and why?

Tuxedo Melvin, baby!

Thanks again for participating in this interview, Scott and I hope we can do another one later on down the line to let everyone know how progress is going.

Thank you Brad. We'd be happy to. Please encourage everyone to visit our Gemini Page for updates! Have fun!

Edit, 23rd Oct 2005: Unfortunately, Scott and the team weren't able to raise the funding to complete the game despite the massive support from the online Sailormoon community. Despite this, I hope that you found this blast from the past an entertaining read and an interesting look into what could have been. Thanks again to Scott for this interview and all the best with future projects.

The Gemini website is now offline.

<-- interview & events --

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