Tomba creator Tokuro Fujiwara discusses the colorful side-scroller’s PlayStation heritage

June 1, 2024
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Today is my lucky day because I get to talk about Tomba with legendary creator Tokuro Fujiwara. Before leaving Capcom to develop Tomba, Fujiwara worked on many games, including some you might have heard of, like Mega Man, Resident Evil, and Commando. 

Tomba is a colorful action platformer originally published by Sony Computer Entertainment and beloved by hardcore PlayStation fans. In an era where side-scrollers were being left behind for polygon-pushing 3D gameplay, Mr. Fujiwara decided to do something different: a beautiful blend of old and new, something truly unique.  

Now, after almost twenty years, Tomba returns to PlayStation on August 1 with new features as Tomba Special Edition

Alena Alambeigi: In 1997, when you made Tomba, most developers focused on making 3D games like Tomb Raider or Crash Bandicoot. You instead decided to mix 2D sprites with perspective-shifting 3D environments. Why?

Tokuro Fujiwara: Tomba runs on 3D technology, with gameplay designed around 2D principles. This is why it’s described as a 2.5D game. I think 2D games have a certain kind of charm that 3D doesn’t. I also wanted to push the limits of what could be done. To bring my vision to life, I needed to use 2D principles along with 3D CG visuals. This allowed me to create something that felt new on the PlayStation. 

There were times when I wondered if I should go 3D instead, 3D games have a very clear sense of space. In 2D, all the action takes place on a flat plane, and multiple layers provide a sense of depth. This means you have to design the game in creative ways so that the different layers don’t conflict. This results in something interesting that can only be achieved with 2D. 

Alambeigi: What do you hope new players will take away from Tomba Special Edition?

Fujiwara: Tomba has many side quests. These come in different varieties and are hidden throughout the game. I encourage players to seek them out. Various items allow players to learn new moves, expanding how levels can be beaten. I hope players search and seal away the Evil Pigs scattered throughout the world, which will unlock even more to see! There are many discoveries to be made. I hope players can relax and enjoy the world of Tomba.

Alambeigi: Speaking of genre-bending gameplay. Tomba feels like an open world despite being described as a side-scrolling platformer. This was largely due to how nonlinearly the levels could be played. Was this done intentionally, or was it something that just happened through development?

Fujiwara: I had envisioned this open-feel game from the very beginning. It was all a blur when things started, but as development progressed, it began taking shape. 

You could consider Tomba an open-world title, a term that was rarely used back then. There’s a wide area with a lot of different content in it. You encounter, discover, and collect various things as you move around. For example, you have to complete certain tasks in Tomba, but you can wander around freely and complete them however you like. Some tasks and main objectives can even be skipped entirely. Many of the ideas I envisioned for Tomba back in the day were ideas we see in open-world game design today.

I initially wanted to include 100 quests, but the final game exceeded that. It was hard work for the team to fit it all together on a timeline. What started out as vague ideas in my head ballooned into an amount of content so large it blew my mind!

Alambeigi: The original PlayStation was a massive leap in gaming technology. What was it like to experience it back then? 

Fujiwara: Game development is an ongoing battle against technology growth. This was the case back then and is still true today. I felt that the PlayStation was such a remarkable improvement in terms of hardware, allowing for greater possibilities. Games went from being rendered in pixels to CG. Game developers had to learn many new skills. Expectations ballooned along with the scope of game ideas. Development environments evolved, which made things challenging but exciting for developers. The introduction of the PlayStation and the advancements from that era still impact games today.

Alambeigi: Finally, why do you think it’s important to bring Tomba back now?

Fujiwara: Tomba has been around for a long time, but continues to be loved by many. I’ve long wished that the game could be accessible to more people on modern systems. Now that the opportunity is here, I think PlayStation fans today will get a ton of enjoyment out of Tomba 

Tomba Special Edition leaps onto PlayStation 5 on August 1, with PS4 to follow.

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