GDC: Inside the roots of the Elite Beat Agents

A lot of the sessions I went to at GDC were focussed on Intel related stuff – mostly threading and multicore. But all work and no play makes Josh a dull boy, and there were a lot of really cool, interesting sessions available that I just had to go to. One of them was titled “From Ouendan to Help! The Story of the Elite Beat Agents”.

If you’ve never played it or heard of it, Elite Beat Agents is a music game where the Agents go around helping people in various comical (and serious) situations. It’s based on a Japanese game called “Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!“. It’s not a direct translation, because, well, there’s no way the original would translate to the West. It’s kind of the same concept, except featuring ouendan, which are, um, well, male cheerleaders. They’re part of the Japanese culture, and it was really cool to hear the creator of the game, Keiichi Yano, talk about how Ouendan came to be (their only previous game was the cult favorite Gitaroo Man, which was a commercial flop), and what inspired them to make Elite Beat Agents for the American audience.

I own and love Elite Beat Agents, and I want to import Ouendan (even moreso now!), so I really enjoyed hearing Keiichi tell the story of how it all came to be.

In one of the original concepts, which iNiS (Yano’s company) pitched to Nintendo, the Ouendan had to stop a speeding bullet train before it hit a cute little puppy sitting on the train tracks. This level never made it to the final game (I think – I haven’t played it yet), because of they would have had to answer the disturbing question of “what happens if you don’t stop the train in time?” 😉

This is some concept art of the Ouendan – the main characters in the Japanese game. Yano showed some video of real ouendan in action, of which I captured a little, and might post later. Because there really is no way to describe it. I’m not even sure I understand what they really are, but hey, they look cool, they dance, and they’re secure in their masculinity while they’re doing it. :-)

When Ouendan was enough of a success for iNiS to consider doing an American version, it was pretty obvious that they wouldn’t be able to just do a regular localization/translation of the game. The characters, music, and pretty much everything about the game were very Japanese, and there just wasn’t much to relate to for the typical American gamer.

During the session, Yano spent some time talking about what inspired him to create what would become the Elite Beat Agents. Believe it or not, the first idea he had was to base them on the Village People:

I mean, who doesn’t love the Village People, right? 😉 After (thankfully) realizing that wasn’t such a good idea, Yano pondered some other teams that had elements of what he was looking for – a “motley crew”, cool, strong, on a mission to help, etc. He listed the Ghostbusters, Men in Black, and the Blues Brothers as sources of these ideas.

That’s some original concept art for EBA, and here, Yano talked about what the similarities and differences were between the ouendan and the Agents. He also listed the original Charlie’s Angels TV show as a source of the idea that there was a boss (Commander Kahn in the game) who was never really part of the action, but who gave the Agents their missions, and sent them on their way. In that art, you also see the monogram “DR”, in place of what would become “EBA” in the final game. In the Q&A session, someone asked him what DR meant (it showed up in various places in the concept art), and Yano sheepishly admitted that the Elite Beat Agents were originally going to be called the “Disco Rangers”. :-)

While showing this piece of concept art, Yano admited that Commander Kahn owes a lot of his appearance to the “cop” member of the Village People. Can you see the resemblance?

The room (one of the large combinations of three rooms at Moscone West) was packed almost to capacity for this session, and you could tell that almost everyone there (including me) was a big fan. At the end Yano broke the exclusive news that iNiS is hard at work on a sequel to Ouendan, and showed some concept art featuring a rival group of ouendan that you compete against, and even play as. My camera was on video mode for that part, so I’ll try to post the video later. There wasn’t much besides a title a few screenshots, but people were excited, and while he didn’t confirm that there would also be a sequel to Elite Beat Agents, he hinted at the possibility, and I, for one, hope that it becomes a reality.

The world needs more fun, wacky, cool games like EBA. Bring it on, Keiichi! :-)