By Quentin H. / July 8th, 2019
Cosmic Defenders is a game where your goal is to protect your world (in single player or co-op mode) from aliens that want to destroy it. As you run around the planet, you have to shoot the aliens as they appear overhead. The first of hopefully many indie games that Natsume is helping to bring to the marketplace as part of their indie program, Cosmic Defenders is the soon-to-be second title released by the one-man studio, Fiery Squirrel. During E3 2019, I caught up with the man behind both Fiery Squirrel and Cosmic Defenders, Henry Fernandez, and talked with him about working with Natsume, developing Cosmic Defenders, how he got into game development while living in Venezuela, and more.
You can also check out our hands-on impressions of Cosmic Defender from E3 2019 by our own Josh Speer here.
Cosmic Defenders is scheduled to be released exclusively for the Nintendo Switch in Fall 2019.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and you are?
Henry Fernandez: My name is Henry Fernandez, with Fiery Squirrel, and I’m part of the indie program with Natsume.
OR: You’re a developer from Caracas, Venezuela who came to Tokyo to develop games and earn your PhD at Tokyo University of Technology. How did you get involved with developing games in Venezuela?
HF: Well, I’ve liked games since I was a kid. I grew up with the Nintendo Entertainment System- NES. I actually didn’t realize that I could make games until I was [in] my fourth to fifth year [in] university- in my country, we take five years. I studied computer science, and most of the people actually focused not on games, but more on management and those kind of things. But when I actually realized that I could make games, I said “I want to focus on that for the rest of my career.” And I started to work on very small games.
The first game- besides the commercial games we’re going to talk about today- were [from] GameJams, like two days for full development based on a very specific topic. Besides that, I tried to learn as much as I [could] by myself in Caracas.
After that- I’ve been liking Japan since I was a kid. I was a fan of the Japanese culture and many other things like anime as well. I wanted to go to Japan since I was a kid. When I was studying, I had the opportunity to do the last year of the [program] in Japan, but not in Tokyo. A place called Niigata. I studied there for around one year. I liked it a lot, and I went back for some time. I went back again, and that’s how the story began.
“…my country was going through a lot of things- a lot of people know about that, I think- I thought that I couldn’t do anything since I was in Japan.
So I said ‘Let’s try to make a game that’s not directly related to what’s going on, but that can send a message to [the] world of something that [there] can be cooperation in the end.’“
OR: You mentioned that you had to teach yourself- [was] there not much of a game development scene in Venezuela in 2011, 2012?
HF: Not so much- not specifically [for] games. I think recently, they opened a master’s [degree] in one of the universities, but besides that, not so much. We are talking about computer science- the different aspects that are related to games like graphic design, programming mostly, those kind of things. But not specifically games. If people like to work on game development, most of them work by themselves. At least, in Venezuela, it is like that.
OR: Why stay in Tokyo after you finish your education?
HF: After I finished my college in Caracas, I applied for a scholarship in Japan related to game development at Tokyo University of Technology. I finished my master degree with the scholarship and I continued to stay. The main reason I wanted to keep studying- I thought it was a very natural opportunity to be closer to the Japanese industry and talk to people who have had a lot of experience in the industry. And I’ve learned a lot from them, they are very experienced people.
OR: Cosmic Defenders– what is it about?
HF: Cosmic Defenders is a game that is coming this year, hopefully. It is an action platformer in which there are four different kinds of defenders who want to protect their galaxy from aliens who want to steal this precious thing called the Tree of Life, which is what keeps the balance of all the galaxies.
OR: Where did this game idea come from?
HF: It’s interesting- the first idea came from a Game Jam. I used to participate in many different Game Jams, it is very nice how you push yourself to throw [together] ideas in a very short time. You waste a lot of time on that, and [do] not have many resources, and you can get interesting stuff. This game, though, the theme was ‘small world’.
That’s why when you play the game, you will see a personal war. Not only that, my country was going through a lot of things- a lot of people know about that, I think- I thought that I couldn’t do anything since I was in Japan.
So I said ‘Let’s try to make a game that’s not directly related to what’s going on, but that can send a message to [the] world of something that [there] can be cooperation in the end.’ When you play the first prototype of the game, which is very, very small, you cannot complete the game without collaborating with the rest of the characters. That’s a very, very first prototype of that. It has changed, however, since it has many things.
But if you didn’t cooperate with others to destroy the aliens, you would not be able to complete the game. That’s how this philosophy was included in the game.
“This is the way that I actually work so far- I start with gameplay, the mechanics. If I like them and if I feel they are good, then comes the aesthetics and the story. But I try to make everything work together from the mechanics as a core point of view.“
OR: You first game was Fluffy Eaters for Android and iOS in 2012. What lessons did you learn from your prior game that you’re applying to Cosmic Defenders?
HF: A lot of things. Not only from the development point of view- technical stuff. But all the things I learned and made from mistakes, I applied to Cosmic Defenders. I learned about game design, also since I am working mostly- not all, but mostly- by myself, before I started to work with Natsume, I also did a lot of marketing strategy, plans, and this kind of thing. Fluffy Eaters taught me a lot. I think I made plenty of mistakes when the game was released itself. I think it is an interesting idea, but the execution was not the best.
From that, I could do many different things in order to be happy with the game for people to enjoy in the right way.
OR: You mentioned that you’re a one-man studio over at Fiery Squirrel. What roles have Natsume taken over as part of their Natsume indie program?
HF: They have been very helpful from the beginning. We started when [Natsume and I] met at BitSummit. I was there representing the game. We started talking about the game, of course we didn’t know each other. We contacted each other and we started discussing the game. And since we started working together, it has been very very nice. I have to say that Taka- especially Taka, but everyone at Natsume- and I work every week together. Not just from the feedback point of view, but also for testing, which is very hard by myself. Having more people with that is very nice, especially for a multiplayer game, so we can kill more of the bugs.
Taka has been helping with the game design ideas. When he sees something, he gives me feedback and ideas. Actually, he shaped the part of the story mode [on demo at E3].
OR: Which came first: the story, the gameplay, or the aesthetic for Cosmic Defenders?
HF: This is the way that I actually work so far- I start with gameplay, the mechanics. If I like them and if I feel they are good, then comes the aesthetics and the story. But I try to make everything work together from the mechanics as a core point of view.
The reason why I did this, I like it and I think it is good, but not only that- you know how we study a lot by ourselves and try to see [what] other developers do [in making games]? I’ve discovered that Nintendo is on board with this philosophy for a long time. They focus on the gameplay mechanics to make something unique, something interesting for players, and from that point forward they focus on creating other things. So that’s what I’m trying to do.
OR: What platforms is Cosmic Defenders coming out on?
HF: It is coming out on Nintendo Switch, so far. There are no other platform announcements yet. But for sure, the Nintendo Switch.
OR: Is there multiplayer?
HF: There is multiplayer, yes.
OR: How does it work?
HF: The one [at E3] is the story mode, which includes the cooperation that we mentioned before. But since last year [after] actual development of the game started, I wanted to try many different ideas. And now [Cosmic Defenders] has Battle Mode, which is multiplayer. You can play in a casual way, but it will be battle [against] other players. In my mind, its really, really fun. Besides that, the core idea is cooperation, so battling is very, very nice.
There’s also a mixed mode in which you cooperate first, and then at the end before the session is over, you have to fight the others. It’s like fighting for the throne, that’s one of the modes.
The final mode is survival. You can collect coins, and you can purchase stuff-not like with real money, but in-game currency. You can buy hats, and other cute stuff like that.
OR: Do we have a release date?
HF: Not yet. We know its coming this year, but don’t know exactly when.
OR: Final question- for someone who may not have heard of Cosmic Defenders until this E3, and maybe is interested in picking it up, what do you have to say to them?
HF: I think if you like old-school action shooting games with a unique element, this will be the game for you. You will enjoy a lot of play with your friends, not only cooperating [with each other], but in the battle part. It’s a lot of fun.
OR: Thank you.
What do you think of Natsume’s first indie program title? Are you excited to play Cosmic Defenders solo or in co-op?
Let us know in the comments below!
Cosmic DefendersE3E3 2019Fiery SquirrelHenry FernandezNatsumeNintendonintendo switchSwitchVenezuela