October 16, 2020
Games Lift: Ninja Brigade will suck you into an Arcade
Or, to be more precise, it is keyboardist and composer Jonah Weingarten who gets sucked in. Players get to look like him and fight through a fantastic landscape inspired by feudal Japan. Dev team members Nico Plötz and Robin Stephan explain their wild idea.
Jonah Weingarten is not an official member of the dev team. How come he joins luminaries like Sid Meier in giving his name to a video game title? That is on the devs. They came up with the idea of turning the soundtrack’s composer into the hero of “Jonah Weingarten’s NINJA BRIGADE”, a nostalgic metroidvania. Representing his tattoos on the game character took a lot of work. “They are really complicated,“ game developer Nico Plötz admits.
Music in search of a game
Jonah Weingarten is a friend of Nico Plötz. They know each other since 2014. Nico even developed a tribute game for Weingarten’s metal band Pyramaze. Both of them may be accurately described as metalheads, but their interests go deeper. They both love old games. And Weingarten also works as a composer; he has scored symphonic music for movies, video games and more. It was him who approached Nico with a soundtrack. All that was missing was a game.
The soundtrack is best described as 80s retro-wave: Highly dramatic, symphonic, and instantly nostalgic. To Nico, it sounded like the perfect soundtrack for a metroidvania – a game in the spirit of classics like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. With Weingarten as a creative consultant, Nico went to work. In less than a year he made an impressive amount of progress. And he grew his team to four members. Nico is an alumnus of the SAE Institute Hamburg, which not only helped him to develop his skills, it also provided him with a network. All four members of the team are SAE students or alumni. Robin Stephan helps with directing and developing the game, Annemarie Ollendorf does UI and creates assets, and Victoria Kmiec is the specialist for enemies and visual effects. This is the first time they develop a commercial game together.
Team Ninja Brigade: Annemarie Ollendorf, Victoria Kmiec, Robin Stephan and Nico Plötz (Picture: Julia Rogalitzki)
Retro is a feeling
Jonah Weingarten’s NINJA BRIGADE looks instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever played any of the classic metroidvanias: In the story, Weingarten gets sucked into an old arcade and has to fight through a hostile world inspired by Feudal Japan. He is attacked by yokai, he can turn into an Oni and the levels are themed after the five elements – as they are understood in Japanese Buddhism. He suddenly has grown a man bun, which might look just right in the setting. But it did lead to artistic differences with the real-life musician, Nico admits and laughs.
Early screenshot of Ninja Brigade
Ninja Brigade is a nostalgic game. Music, graphics and gameplay all evoke the 1980s. But it does not try to copy its role models; the rich colour palette and many of the effects would not have been possible back then. „We don’t want to limit ourselves“, Nico explains. Robin Stephan has thoughts on how the game is meant to feel: „Many metroidvanias are either slow and focus on exploration, or they are quick, hit-and-run affairs,“ he observes. He wants something different: A game in which enemies roam around and in which it is on the player to read their patterns and to react accordingly; a game that keeps players on their toes.
The game’s music will not be moving at doublebass speeds. Its development is a different story; the team is already „approaching alpha“, Robin says. One of their secrets lies in controlling the scope. The game, Robin explains, will „not be especially big, but well-rounded“. In classic metroidvania fashion, the world will be painstakingly designed instead of randomly generated. Many secrets will beckon players to explore.
Before everyone gets to search, there are still some important steps the team has to make. Next up on the schedule is preparing for the Incubator’s milestone pitch. Nico and his colleagues hope to woo their audience with a playable demo. Then it’s off to the races again. Robin is optimistic that they should reach beta by the end of this year and launch the complete game during the second quarter of the next one.