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  1. ***As of this episode, Gunbird 2 is not listed on the eShop, similarly to Gunbird 1. It should return soon, and we'll let you know here when it does!*** We enjoyed Gunbird for Nintendo Switch, so when Zerodiv brought Gunbird 2 to the platform, it was only natural that we had to take a look! Adding new elements to established formula, Gunbird 2 is a game that is better in every way than its direct predecessor... but how does it stack up? ================================================= [Join] the Studio Mudprints Facebook Fan page! https://www.facebook.com/StudioMudprints [Interact] in the NEW facbook group, Single Pixel Hitbox! https://www.facebook.com/groups/SPHit... [Follow] Ser and Daeruna on Twitter! http://twitter.com/serraxor || http://twitter.com/daeruna [Listen] to the PPR Podcast! http://www.presspauseradio.com [Watch] our Simulcast livestreams both here and on Twitch every week! https://twitch.tv/serraxor [Support] Studio Mudprints by checking out our Patreon Page and Ser's Music Page! http://patreon.com/serraxor || http://www.smpmusicproductions.bandca... ========================= This episode of Bullet Heaven was made with a copy of the game provided by the publisher for review. The opinions expressed are our own and are not paid for by developers, publishers or any retailers or resellers in any way.
  2. Round IV with the Sega Dreamcast. This time with a complicated setup and even new lights that makes things look great. You're welcome 😃
  3. Dreamcast to HDMI setup: TO be used in Bullet Heaven and Sega Dreamquest! Dreamcast ► Demilo DC to VGA ► VGA to video converter and scaler ► HDMI to XRGB Framemeister for forced 4:3 Aspect ratio from 16:9 ► HDMI to Elgato HD60 for 60 FPS capture ► PC record. Made with PORTTA PETVRHP VIDEO CONVERTER - SPDIF/COAX CONVERTER 1080p SCALER Get it here: https://tinyurl.com/y9ey6tvp Outside Canada: https://tinyurl.com/ya4jofay
  4. We're back with even more 360. More Pork. More Sweets. More soul. More Nyaa.
  5. Hand-picked BGM mixed to the SFX 1LC = One Life Clear = No Miss = No Deaths Season 3 finale. This game embraces the metal and the rawk. I respect enough to keep the subgenres within those confines. This is done on Normal Mode with autobomb on using Loop, the OP. Impressive like a fox, I know! Did I definitely keep a pocket replay recorded long before I started Season 3 in case I didn't feel like training to make a 10th video? I totally did! Bullet Soul is Region Free on 360. Bullet Soul Steam and Bullet Soul Infinite Burst Steam are Steam and on steam. Tag-SEO-tastic! Tracklist: Logos | Neel Kolhatkar - Modern Educayshun Intro Movie | Boris - Free Intro/Menu | AC\DC - Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll Player Select | Queensrÿche - Electric Requiem Ship Launch Intro/Stage 1 | Pearl Jam - Even Flow Midboss 1A | The North Star Mutiny - Walking Into Traffic Stage 1 | My Goodness - Cold Feet Killer Midboss 1B | Night Beats - The H Bomb Stage 1 | The Divorce - Yes Boss 1 | Harvey Danger - Flagpole Sitta Victory | The Young Evils - Darker Blue Bayou Stage 2 | Tom Compagnoni - Maiden Goes To Hollywood Midboss 2 | CantBreakSteelMashes - Cult of Crazy Train Stage 2 | SoDA - Nothing To The King Boss 2 | Synovia - Desert Blade Victory | David Savior - White Cocaine Stage 3 | Shinray {Yoko Shimomura/Street Fighter 2} - Guile's Theme Goes with Metal (OC Remix) Midboss 3 | Sixto Sounds {Mutsuhiko Izumi/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV} - The Shredder Stage 3 | Lennart Alsing {David Wise/Donkey Kong Country 2} - Stickerbrush Symphony Boss 3 | Lashmush {Yasunori Mitsuda/Chrono Trigger} - Seed of Perdition (Lavos) Victory | Léo Estalles {Nobuo Uematsu/Final Fantasy} - Victory Fanfare Theme Stage 4 | Symphony X - Seven Midboss 4 | Nine Inch Nails - The Perfect Drug (Drum Solo) Transatlantic Stage 4 | Marilyn Manson - Astonishing Panorama of the Endtimes Boss 4 | Dream Theater - Panic Attack Victory | Dragonforce - Revolution DeathSquad Stage 5 | Dragonforce - Revolution DeathSquad Midboss 5 | Kamelot - Center of the Universe Stage 5 | Lamb of God - Desolation Boss 5 | Slayer - Raining Blood Gorguts - An Ocean of Wisdom (Enemies of Compassion) - Motörhead - Thunder & Lightning Victory/Outro Movie/Credits | The Hood Internet - These Things Are Nice -DJ Incompetent Drink & Fly Shooting Team
  6. ZUNTATA - Darius / Taito Music Team Translated by rancor. Happy New Year to all! 9:30pm here in Tokyo, and I've just finished this latest translation as my new years gift to you all. This translation is from the new Darius Odyssey book: Once again, thanks to all who have purchased a copy through me - your financial support allows me the time / opportunity to do these. If you would like to support what I do and buy a copy of this book, please PM me and we can work things out. I won't stop doing this, but every dollar made counts. As I always say before these translations: If you notice any glaring mistakes, or are able to translate some parts in a better way then please let me know via PM. This translation took me MANY hours to complete - an hour alone just to format it to be readable on this site - and if you appreciate it and would like me to have the time to do more, PLEASE consider purchasing something from the link in my sig. This work is purely my own, and it you choose to post elsewhere please give credit to me for the translation. I reserve the right to edit this translation as I see fit. Sooooo... here we go! Echoing Life’s Pulse In The Universe The story of the grand battle behind the DARIUS series - what are the unknown tales from the sound magicians behind the making of this series? The secret production story from the DARIUS sound crew. —Ogura, would you please talk about the concepts and methods for composing the music? OGURA: Since I am the type of person who cannot compose music without first coming up with the words and letters, I begin composing by selecting the right keywords. I could not have composed the music for the DARIUS series without these keywords which I derive from conceptualization. To achieve these ideas, I search for inspiration that my musical antenna would catch as I read book or take a walk around the town. That’s how I found the keywords needed for the composition. The keywords often reflect the title of the music. For instance, the theme for the score VISIONNERZ of DARIUS GAIDEN was “illusionary sight.” I decided on the music title reflecting the theme first, and it guided me to completion. —The first DARIUS was loaded with Body Sonic which had an enormous impact. How did you compose it? OGURA: The soundboard for DARIUS was special. It was made of two FM sound chips that each could produce three sounds. Each chip was turned into data after the three sounds of were grouped together, and both chips had to be played at the same time. But, a glitch in the design could cause them to play out of sync. Because the company’s sequencer at the time was an inconvenient type that used a hexadecimal number system, it was quite difficult to fix the time lag. The adjustment of the volume balancer was tricky too. Volume in general gives different impressions to people depending on their physical condition that day (laugh). ISHIKAWA: I have heard that DARIUS’s Body Sonic was created simply by switching the low tone “on” and “off.” For works succeeding Ninja Warriors, a part of PSG channel was allotted to Body Sonic which was vibrated by synchronizing it with the explosions, but in DARIUS, it was merely a developing one that vibrated only when entered in the boss zone. —Three years after that, the sequel DARIUS II was released, are there any episode with the volume? OGURA: DARIUS’s music was composed under constant pressure. Since the first DARIUS was a success, the release of sequels could be anticipated, but coming up with the keywords that meet the expectations was hard. Hints for composing DARIUS II came from the Bible. The keyword derived from the chapter taking about “child of light,” the music was composed based on it. And in response to the request to incorporate the voice of a child calling “papa” from afar, the cry of the child gets clearer as the stages progress. —Is that idea linked to the fetus boss (Biostrong) as he appears in DARIUS II? OGURA: It was just a coincidence (laugh). You must have seen Biostrong while the game was being developed, but it was not the source for the idea. Composing starts both simultaneously and separately from game development, so - it is extremely rare that game images are available while the compositions are being written. That being the case, specifications are usually given for what it needed. —I never knew that. There was an impression that all bosses in the last stage in DARIUS series appear synchronized with the music, that being the case, I thought the game development was done before the composition began, especially for the last stage in DARIUS GAIDEN. OGURA: DARIUS GAIDEN was a special case. For example, synchronization was applied consciously to both the concepts, screens, and sounds. The sound direction was adjusted by constantly communicating with the programmers. The last stage begins with no music but only S.E. first, and then the music starts when the climax arrives. ISHIKAWA: That type of direction is used in Dariusburst too. In the last stage, the same music continues from the beginning all the way to the scene where the boss appears, and the tone of the music changes when the boss finally shows up. I got the idea from the method used in DARIUS GAIDEN. —G-DARIUS is regarded as the starting point of the series, does the sound used in it also reflect the concept? OGURA: Not really, I was not conscious that the sound was made that way because the stories available while to me were really coarse. I didn’t even know the tagline “You Will Witness the Birth of Life” until the game was released (laugh). At the time, I was studying about chimeras created by immunology, and used what I learned as the concept for the music in G-DARIUS. The theme was that the enemy is the fusion of a biological being and a machine. The image of the music developed based on the theme coincidentally matched up with the unknown concept. —I have been asking about episodes in making of the first DARIUS through G-DARIUS, but what are the most memorable works for you, OGURA? OGURA: In terms of direction, it is DARIUS GAIDEN. I am fond myself of the idea to play the same music through both stages 1 and 2 is a good one. —The bonus CD album contains a compilation called OGR SELECTION which you personally choose the tunes to be included, what standard did you use in order to pick them? OGURA: When I got the offer, I had no idea how to choose the music. Once I started selecting songs, I realized that it was impossible to compose the selection with the 7 pieces of music. This selection is not what I consider “The Best”, but I rather tried to select the pieces that would tell a complete story. The first tune is CHAOS and the seventh is KIMERA II, that was already decided at the beginning, but the order and arrangement of the rest was up to me, and it was hard to do. I was not sure if it was a good idea to include the tune FAKE, or if the fifth track should be “Dada” or “Network”, and I completed it after repeated trial and error. —ISHIKAWA, From your point of view as the producer of this bonus album, what was your impression of the OGR SELECTION? ISHIKAWA: I honestly thought the album came out fine reflecting what OGURA’s music is all about. I was worried that he would choose a tune like CAPTAIN NEO, which plays in the stage 1 of DARIUS, caring for ZUNTATA (laugh). ZUNTATA KATSUHISA ISHIKAWA Works as a sound engineer for ZUNTATA. Recently he took care of total sound design often. For Dariusburst he was responsible for both sound direction and sound effects design. Notable compositions – Metal Black (sound effects), Darius Gaiden (sound effects), Psychic Force Series (sound director) ZUNTATA SHOHEI TSUCHIYA Works as a composer for ZUNTATA. He takes part in creating music for products ranging from arcade games to mobile applications. He is renowned for his wide range of music sense. For Dariusburst, he acted as the main composer. Notable compositions – Haunted Museum ZUNTATA HIROKAZU KOSHIO Works as a composer for ZUNTATA. He takes part in not only composing but also developing sound development aiding tools and sound systems by making use of his deep knowledge of sound software. Notable compositions – Space Invader Extreme Series, Music Gungun! Series. HISAYOSHI OGURA MUSIC LAB HISAYOSHI OGURA Works as a freelancer currently after having created numerous reputable music under the name OGR for ZUNTATA. For him, “music” should provide visually active experiences and fuse sounds and images. He was one of the composers of the production of Dariusburst. Notable compositions – Darius Series, Arkanoid, Kageno Densetsu, Galactic Storm, Kiki KaiKai —The bonus CD album doesn’t only include OGR SELECTION but also the Super Famicom version of DARIUS TWIN tunes. What was the reason to include them? ISHIKAWA: That’s purely fan service. To add premium value to the sum of the DARIUS ODYSSEY series, I thought it was appropriate to include DARIUS TWIN which is not available on CD yet. DARIUS TWIN’s music was composed by an outside contractor. But the direction and programming were done by us, so I guess you can say DARIUS TWIN is a work of ZUNTATA. Aside from DARIUS TWIN, there is SAGAIA GAME BOY version that is not available on CD yet, but it is going to be downloadable on iTunes Store as of December 2009. With this one too, you will be surprised it was created with only 3 simple sounds and some noises. The Latest Work DARIUSBURST Sound Making Behind the Scenes —Ogura, Tsuchiya and Koshio, three of you who participated in the composition of the music in Dariusburst, what were you guys conscious about while making the sounds? OGURA: In hindsight, I think it’s fairly safe to say that the keywords in making the tunes were “prime numbers.” Although the way the producer Aoki expressed it and the way I did it were different, the belief that DARIUS sounds should be one of a kind was completely the same for us. The image I had in mind during the composition of the music was the establishment of a “network without the core” and “multi-dimensional structure,” but when I began thinking about the titles for the music, it became the keywords “prime numbers,” which were basically the words that related to the numbers that don’t have any divisors other than themselves. But there was more than meets the eye to it - a lot. Then I changed the thinking process for a bit, and came up with titles using some English words and numbers that had meaning to them, and then when I researched about them further, I found that those meaningful numbers themselves were prime numbers. It was also the case with G-DARIUS, these coincidental chemical reactions are what make creating music for DARIUS series (laugh). TSUCHIYA: I began using a different approach to that of Ogura. I started by not feeling the atmosphere, but the words. Plus I haven’t heard any of Ogura’s music for DARIUS since I heard it once at the beginning of the project. Actually I tried not to. It was simply impossible to interfere with Ogura’s already existing world. What I was working on was to create music that lives up to what people expected in Dariusburst, and hadn’t heard Ogura’s Dariusburst music till recently. —My impression on listening to the music by both Ogura and Tsuchiya was that as if you two had met up and composed the music together in a secretive meeting regarding the unified sprit felt in the sounds. TSUCHIYA: That coincidence is what makes DARIUS sounds so interesting in my opinion. Although I was conscious the whole time not to be aware of the sounds Ogura created, but the end result has all the essences DARIUS sounds should have. That proves to me that DARIUS has the definite presence that determines the way the music sounds no mater who makes it. ISHIKAWA: This time around, we asked Ogura to join as a sound team member this time around while Tsuchiya was chosen to be the main composer. As the sound director, I am relieved to get responses, that it was undoubtedly the DARIUS sounds, from the people who heard the Tsuchiya’s music (laugh). —Was there any problem you had to overcome before you started composing? KOSHIO: First of all I made some demos, but was told by Ishikawa they were not fitting as DARIUS sounds (laughs). Then I thought again what the DARIUS sounds were all about, by listening to Ogura’s past DARIUS sounds I tried to understand solely what DARIUS was really about. Finally I came to the conclusion that the music of Dariusburst exists somewhere has nothing to do with the view of world of DARIUS Ogura has created with his music up to now, as yet needs to have the impressions of DARIUS… Actual directions for the composition only became apparent after having listened to Tsuchiya’s music. Tsuchiya’s music was new and well represented DARIUS’s world. ISHIKAWA: As the sound director, regarding the Dariusburst’s music making, I was nervous what kind of music Tsuchiya and Koshio would come up with after telling them to create something new instead of mimicking Ogura’s music. After all, I figured that most users were anticipating the DARIUS world created by Ogura. Honestly, in the beginning of the production, I was thinking that it was such a pain in the butt to direct it due the undeniable impact Ogura had created in the past (laughs). But Dariusburst was the only chance to show the world what ZUNTATA could do in the present progressive form. WHO IS ZUNTATA - TAITO’S RIGHT-HAND MAN? The name ZUNTATA was first used when the TAITO sound development team released the album DARIUS in 1987. Since then ZUNTATA has been active for over 20 years now. The main figure Ogura later became a freelancer. Currently with Ishikawa as the main guy, members as Tsuchiya and Koshio continue to progress toward their next stages. Out of the many sound teams for video game makers, ZUNTATA is surely one of the most renowned. It is told that it was ZUNTATA who decided the sound specifications for TAITO’s arcade PCBs. THE MUSIC STYLE IS EVER-CHANGING. IT ALL DEPENDS ON ATOMOSPHERES AND WHAT MY ANTENNA IS CATCHING. Even after Ogura left TAITO, ZUNTATA is paving the way to revolution and continues to give birth to new sounds. The sounds of Dariusburst are the expressed determination for ZUNTATA. What constitutes DARIUS must be somewhere deeper than where Ogura’s music lies. I am pretty sure Ogura can describe what DARIUS is made out of, but we really don’t want to know. Otherwise there is no point for me to direct the music (laugh). I firmly believe that we obtained significant assets by trial and error in pursuit of what makes up of DARIUS. —Speaking of what makes up DARIUS, would you tell us what it will be in the upcoming series. OGURA: How we make the music is ever-changing. What we feel and is caught on our antennae at the time significantly changes the atmosphere of the sounds. There are no set ways the sound should fall into. We’d rather not say what it is in words but as long as we abide by it, I think we can keep creating new DARIUS sounds no matter if it would be in the arcade form or for PSP. TSUCHIYA: I am well aware that DARIUS music has to be created by Ogura more that the fans do. Nevertheless, I would honestly glad if the users were interested in my other music after playing Dariusburst. KOSHIO: What I noticed after completing the composition was that both the game creators and fans have strong feelings for DARIUS. So, I’d like to discover more of those feelings through Dariusburst. I would be truly honored if I could incorporate the synergy in creating future sounds. ISHIKAWA: DARIUS was a piece of work in which sound direction was extremely difficult. If I can join the team again for the next project, I would love all the composers to let me hear the music made with unlimited imagination and new ideas again. DARIUS is a very special title to us, and we wouldn’t stop reinventing the sounds as well as the game itself. —Finally, please give a message to the readers who will play Dariusburst. KOSHIO: The visuals are beautiful and sounds are fit to the contemporary trends. We’d like the players to feel something that exists though the series by both watching, and listening to the new DARIUS. TSUCHIYA: They should discover something new in the sounds if they read our interview once again after playing the game. OGURA: Even though Dariusburst is for PSP, which is a small device, it is created so that you can feel the vastness of the world and the hugeness of the enemies. We really hope that the players enjoy it by expanding their imaginations without boundaries. We also recommend them to pay their attention to the original DARIUS soundtrack album, which is on its way to be released. If you listen to it as a CD album, you’ll start seeing a different Dariusburst world altogether. ISHIKAWA: This latest Dariusburst sounds are high quality as music in general and also function really well as game music. That’s only possible because it exists within a game, and it can be considered as “the game sound.” We’d really like the fans to enjoy the music and sounds as they play the game without any preconception whether it is a DARIUS game or any other shooting game. – The members of ZUNTATA and Ogura, thank you for the valuable talks today. *This interview was recorded in 2009. 2013: ZUNTATA TODAY ZUNTATA is thriving even after the year 2009 when the interview was recorded. In 2011 they held a solo live concert for the first time in 12 years, in conjunction with the DARIUSBURST - ANOTHER CHRONICLE developer talk show. In 2012, they released the album “COZMO ~ ZUNTATA 25th Anniversary ~” celebrating the 25th anniversary of the start of the company. It received much attention of game music fans for its luxurious content that included the work of 12 members of the team. It contributes their musical pieces to game companies other than TAITO too.
  7. Sine Mora - Shooting Gameside Interview with Theodore Reiker of Digital Reality Interview by Yamoto Shinichi —The gameplay system in Sine Mora revolves around the use of time: rewinding time, slowing down enemies, and extending your time limit by killing enemies. This system is combined with a story about time itself. Where did the idea for that fusion come from? Did you have the idea for the story first, or the system? Reiker: The system came first. For the idea of a game based around extending your time, we were influenced by an old Japanese doujin Galaga clone, Carax. It added a fresh, unique flow to Galaga, and we thought we could use a system like that in a hori STG. To that basic system we then added the ability to manipulate time. At the same time we started thinking about the world of Sine Mora and the heroes' backstories. When I was young I saw the film Wings of Honneamise, and I was deeply impressed by its wonderful world and the creator's loving attention to detail. I wanted to create a game that could be meaningful, too. I wanted the game to be like a well-written science fiction story, where both the game world and the game system, acting in tandem, would tell the story. —What made you decide to create Sine Mora as a horizontal STG, as opposed to some other genre? Reiker: At first we wanted to make an arcade version of Sine Mora too. However, after careful consideration and research, we decided to make it only for console. For creating a STG, The current generation of console hardware is very powerful: HD graphics, 3D surround sound, online replays, and there's even support for 3D displays now. To take advantage of these abilities, as well as the most widely used display form (16:9 widescreen), we made Sine Mora a horizontal rather than vertical STG. Regarding the production itself, Sine Mora is the first game I've directed. Before I got involved in game design I worked in business research and development. In 2009, when Digital Reality established its publishing division, I was introduced to someone from Grasshopper Manufacture by Risa Cohen, who was involved with Shadows of the Damned at EA. Our company was searching for a quality game to add to our portfolio, and we were also interested in digital distribution. But for me personally, more than a simple business opportunity, it was the chance of a lifetime to create a game with a legend in the gaming industry. So I left my position (in business R&D) and created the core team for this project. They're all veterans with a great passion and zeal for this project, and they too had long dreamed of creating a STG. I added my personal experience to this recipe and our "trojan horse" development began; our goal was to bring the dying STG genre and its splendors to a wider audience. —In Sine Mora, you don't have the standard STG system where getting shot once==death. What was the reasoning behind that choice? Reiker: We had two simultaneous goals for Sine Mora: creating a STG that would be deep and involving, and also creating a play experience that would be fun but different from other games. The time extension system served as the base from which many of our other ideas flowed. We also wanted to distance ourselves from the trend toward danmaku games and make a game that would appeal to a wider audience. Over the last 10 years Cave has pretty much perfected that subgenre, and we felt it would be suicide to try and challenge their dominance there. STG games today are synonymous with danmaku, and that's all thanks to the incredible passion of Cave. Therefore, we decided to make a classic STG different from the danmaku style. We think its equally difficult (in a different sense), while also not scaring off new players with intense danmaku patterns. I think there's still a lot of room in STGs for new possibilities and ideas. In our system, you can take more hits before dying than traditionally allowed, so its a much easier game to get into. I think this system will allow more players to get hooked on the genre. —Yeah, the fierce bullet curtains and instant death attacks can make STG look quite intimidating. Reiker: Yeah, it does, doesn't it? Sine Mora's story mode was designed to be easy, where anyone could play it and experience the enjoyment of STG. I think it would have been very wrong to have made that too hard. But, yes, since STG players love the difficulty, we made the arcade mode hard. As a genre, STG is focused on player skills. So trying to make an "easy" arcade mode would have been pointless really. The true joy of STG comes from overcoming challenges, after all. —The graphics in Sine Mora are very beautiful, and the retro-future mecha design is also very impressive. Please share any difficulities you had in terms of the art design and graphics. Reiker: Thank you very much! The audio and visual work was done by Grasshopper Manufacture, and we're very grateful for their wonderful work. We originally wanted to create something that more closely resembled Raizing's Battle Garegga, but Grasshopper convinced us to choose a style that would better support the dark, serious story. We then decided on a presentation that would be similar to Studio Ghibli's vivid color and animation style. Also, we were very honored to have Mahiro Maeda, one of Japan's foremost anime creators, as a guest artist. In the west he's known for creating the Second Renassaince portion of The Animatrix, as well as Kill Bill's anime section. Of course he's famous in Japan as a director. For Sine Mora, he designed 3 of the bosses: Steropes, Palladion, and the huge zeppelin in the Tira stage. When the actual development began, we were amazed at the quality of the concept art Grasshopper Manufacture had given us, and we wanted to recreate it for the game as accurately as possible. Luckily, almost all our design issues were worked out in the initial planning stage. Using a simple grey box demo level, we pointed out the significant structures and elements which the artists would need to create. The concept artists in Tokyo did the coloring for these key frames beforehand. The greatest challenge was the 3D presentation, especially with bullet trajectories. Sine Mora is entirely in 3D, and we wanted to make full use of stereoscopic 3D rendering. When you force a 2D game into 3D, there's the possibility for many problems. So 2D games that want to look 3D often use "2.5D." One of the most important things we learned in development was how difficult it was to insert a 2D object in a 3D space, in such a way that the player knows it is part of the gameplay. In many of the boss battles, we encountered a strange problem; that is, when the bosses actually entered the play area, the difference in scale was too big and it was confusing. So to blend the actual game elements and non-interactive cinematic elements together, we used some tricks. In many cases, we placed the bosses several hundred meters away from the background scenery, rendered the bosses' bullet trajectories on the same plane as the player, and avoided things like lengthy graphics fx and warping particle fx. I don't think players would notice these tricks outside of the stereoscopic mode. When you play on a 3DTV, the bullets are all rendered on a separate plane above everything. Before seeing it in action, this was my biggest worry. But it actually looks quite good, natural, and is suprisingly easy to play. —I was impressed by the Domus boss fight among the huge buildings, and the Libelle boss that looks like a combination of a giant mech and living creature... the artwork and the setpieces for the boss battles are very elaborate. Reiker: Our studio had never made a STG before, so we really struggled with that first boss fight with Kolobok (the huge guardian from the Moneta Point level). He doesn't just throw out a variety of bullet patterns and attacks, he also moves around as if he were alive. Blending the various animations together for those organic movements was very difficult. In contrast, the factory spider boss Tsuchigumo was the last boss we created, and it took far less time. Kolobok took about a month, but Tsuchigumo, including all his attacks, took us only a week. —Please share how you came up with Sine Mora's story, which features tyranny, revenge, and other very dark themes. Reiker: The main theme for our story is fighting against time. The time we humans can spend on Earth is limited. During our period of existence, we're constantly confronted with certain important questions: "Am I making good use of my time? What if I don't spend enough time with my family and children? Must I respect the time that went into the legacies of my father and forebears? How do time and trends influence our morals and actions? Aren't so many of our beliefs shaped by the place and time we live in?" ...and so on. The actual story comes from a dilemma I was experiencing myself. To me, Sine Mora meant "the chance to create a game in a genre I love", but on a deeper level, it meant working together with a country I deeply admire and respect, one whose history and culture is steeped in games. It was also a chance for me to share the doubts I had with others. —The geometry of the danmaku patterns is beautiful, and they're quite varied. Please share your design concept for the bullet patterns. Reiker: Thank you. It makes me very happy to hear that you like the bullet patterns! To be honest, we don't consider our game to be a danmaku game. Of course, since we love Cave's games and design, there's definitely that influence, and maybe its impossible to avoid the comparison. Our bullet patterns are a mix of the style and design of Raizing and Seibu Kaihatsu. We did a lot of experimenting with the bullet pattern designs. Our planner would come up with all sorts of interesting ideas, then we'd test them out in the game. Naturally, Sine Mora was influenced by all the STGs we've played before, and those we played during development. As a result the bullet pattern style is mixed, and I hope players find it interesting and original. —Which STGs you were inspired by? Reiker: Probably the biggest influences are Einhander, Under Defeat, and Shinobu Yagawa's legendary Battle Garegga. From Battle Garegga we took the score and rank system, as well as the dark theme and dieselpunk setting. Einhander is not a danmaku game, but is open even to casual gamers, and it made highly effective use of 3D. So that was very important. Finally, Under Defeat was an inspiration with its incredible attention to detail. And there's many other minor influences in the game, like Progear no Arashi, the Gradius series, Steel Empire, G Darius, R-Type... —Please give a final message to our readers. Reiker: I am very honored to have had the chance to work with Grasshopper Manufacture. They are a very open company that allows a lot of freedom, and they excel in creating entertainment that will appeal to players outside of Japan. Thanks to them, I was able to express my respect for the Japanese STGs that inspired me as a child. With this joint development, we were able to share our part of the world with Japanese players, too. I hope others will find this journey interesting and valuable!
  8. Jamestown: Shooting Gameside Interview with Mike Ambrogi of Final Form Games Interview by Yamoto Shinichi Translated by blackoak. —How did the idea for Jamestown come about? Ambrogi: When we decided we would make a STG, we also decided we needed to add some kind of hook. We exchanged different ideas we liked: "an elegant, beautiful steampunk world", "historical people and places", "space that feels is vibrant and active, not empty and cold like in reality"... We ended up creating an alternate history where we imagined Jamestown, the actual American colony, taking place on Mars. —How long did the development take, and how many people were involved? Ambrogi: It took about 2 years. The core group was 3 people- 2 programmers and 1 artist. We got a lot of assistance from friends and outside contractors though, and this game couldn't have been made without them. —What were the most difficult aspects of the development? Ambrogi: There were many challenges in the development, and wittling it down to the hardest is difficult to say. The first hurdle was getting that actual danmaku feel down. Every genre has a 1000 little unstated rules. If you break one of them, it won't feel right to people who like the genre. The second challenge was creating a multiplayer mode where players of different skill levels could play together. We wanted a game that both very experienced players and danmaku beginners could play together, in a way that would be meaningful to both of them, where players could support each other. Pulling that off was one of our greatest challenges. Personally, I think the #1 challenge for any game is getting the game balance right. Our big wish for Jamestown was that it would help new players learn to play and enjoy danmaku games. Getting that difficulty balance right so that beginners and veterans could enjoy the game (playing alone or together) was something we grappled with through the entire development. —You can see the influence of Japanese danmaku STGs in Jamestown. From your perspective as Westerners, what is the charm and appeal of danmaku STG? Ambrogi: There's many elements we love from scrolling STGs, especially danmaku. All our members grew up playing Galaga, Space Invaders, Gradius, and similar games. Its really been a lifelong love affair. But outside of nostalgia, we had an interest in the intensity and skill required for danmaku games. Its in that moment when you're threading the needle through a fierce bullet pattern, and the total concentration it requires. We especially like the dazzling bullet patterns in Cave games; in particular, Dodonpachi, Ketsui, and Progear were inspirations. On top of that, we love the idea of complex scoring systems in danmaku games. Its almost like you can have two separate games in one: a game for beginners who are trying not to die, and another for veteran scorers. —The Vaunt system is very unique. Why did you opt for this, instead of the more typical bomb system? Ambrogi: The Vaunt system was our attempt to share with players what we thought would be the most fun way to play a STG. It probably won't surprise you to hear that we were very inspired by Takumi's games, especially Mars Matrix. When there's multiple players, you have to share resources and do things cooperatively, but when playing alone you have to do all the work yourself... that kind of scoring system was directly inspired by playing cooperative music games like Rock Band. As for the Vaunt shield, there were various reasons we used it instead of a traditional bomb. First, in a 4-player co-op situation, using a bomb means you're dominating a very large portion of the screen. Second, we thought it was cool to be able to shield your teammate from bullets with the vaunt shield. Third, I think that scoring systems that revolve around bombs are a bit overdone at this point. Rather than receiving a bonus for not using bombs, we thought staying in Vaunt as much as possible and keeping your multiplier going as long as you can made for a better experience. —What has the reception to Jamestown been like so far? Ambrogi: We've been surprised at how many people like Jamestown. We knew when we started development that this genre isn't popular with everyone, and that in America, many STGs don't even get reviewed. We occasionally get mail about Jamestown, or read posts on the internet about it. Its been kind of unbelievable, hearing people say things like "I don't actually like danmaku games that much, but when I played Jamestown, it made me want to play more games like this." —What STG titles have influenced you? Ambrogi: Well, as I said above, we're huge Japanese STG fans. We all played a lot of Gradius in the arcades. The big influences for Jamestown were Cave's fantastic games, especially Dodonpachi, Progear, and Deathsmiles. Takumi's Gigawing and Mars Matrix were also big inspirations. At the same time, with regard to building the right tempo and progression, Ikaruga and the amazing Gradius V provided many insights. —What do you think of Japanese STG? Ambrogi: I hope people can tell from this interview and Jamestown itself how much we love Japanese STG. We really strived to make Jamestown more like a Japanese STG, rather than any euroshmup or western developed STG. —What are some of your favorite games? Ambrogi: There's a lot! I've already gone over the STGs we like, so I think its ok not to relist them again here. We grew up alongside the game industry, so we like a lot of classic games. Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart, Zelda: LttP, Rock Band... naming them all would take all day. The two founding members of Final Form games met each other through Soul Calibur and Starcraft, so those titles are especially dear to us. We're also interested in the games coming out of the indie game movement. Monaco and Spelunky are two really interesting games. —What are your favorite Japanese games? Ambrogi: Well, as you can see, most of our favorites games are from Japan. I'll name a few others though: Shadow of the Colossus - our whole team fell in love with this game. Dark Souls - the very deliberate gameplay is wonderful. Suikoden II - one of our members thinks this is the best RPG made, to this day. ...but yeah, I could go on all day like this! —What is the ideal STG to you? Ambrogi: If it existed, I think it would go something like this: A new and exciting idea every few seconds of play. A scoring system that is simple, intuitive, and gives players interesting choices in how to score. A game that can be enjoyed by both completely new players and 40-year old veterans who have dedicated their lives to STG. An interesting story and setting that don't distract from gameplay, but rather strengthen and deepen it. Ushers in world peace. —Will you continue to make STGs? Ambrogi: We love the STG genre, but we're looking at a lot of different options right now. There's a lot of possibilities to explore for our second game. We'll be experimenting to see what's fun, what's exciting to us... and that could be another STG, or it could be a different genre. —Please give a final word for our readers. Ambrogi: I want to extend our gratitude to those who have played Jamestown and supported us. Its a great honor to us that Japanese players (especially superplayers) have enjoyed playing our game. For those who haven't tried Jamestown yet, we hope you enjoy it!
  9. Yoshinori Satake - Steel Empire, Over Horizon, Insector X Developer Interview Translated by blackoak. (From Shooting Gameside #4 and #5) Yoshinori Satake Founder of company Idea Point. Involved in making games since he was 18. Has developed the shooting games Insector X, Over Horizon, and Steel Empire. —How did you come up with the idea of a steampunk world of airships and steam powered machinery for Steel Empire? Satake: Hot B had originally made the shooting games Insector X and Over Horizon, so we naturally started talking about making another shooting game. I submitted plans for both a horizontal scroller and a vertical scroller, and my boss at the time, who had developed Chuuka Taisen and others, told me he wanted to do a steampunk style game. So I ended up doing the planning for it. I came up with the title "Koutetsu Teikoku." Now we have things like "Dodonpachi," but at the time 4 character kanji titles weren't that common for shooting games, so I thought it would be a title with a lot of impact. Chuuka Taisen also had a 4 character kanji title, so I didn't think there was anything strange about it, but there was some resistance from my boss, who was a bit puzzled when I showed him the title. But many people liked it within the company, so we decided on Koutetsu Teikoku. I actually wanted the logo to be displayed vertically, with the menu displayed beside it. But in the end it turned out to be too difficult to do that, so we scrapped the idea. Even so, when you look at the game as a whole, its really chock full of things I love, like the flying submarine in stage three, and the moon rocket in the final stage. —Yes, the world is quite interesting. Satake: The image I had for the world was one of outrageous and nonsensical science. People in the past didn't understand the limitations of the steam engine at all, and they thought the steam engine could do anything. They wrote many blueprints like this, and my idea for Steel Empire was to bring those designs to life. People back then thought there was an atmosphere in space, and that the Aurora Borealis actually existed in space, too. So I tried to express that in the last stage by having an atmosphere in the background, and I told the designer how people back then drew images of space with mist. Using that as our image, we designed the graphics of the final stage to have a colorful, Aurora-like mist even though its in space. So even in space the propellers on the planes are spinning, and since there's an atmosphere, there's smoke too. Steel Empire appears to have a serious atmosphere, but we had different ideas for the enemy and stage names from the outset. The stage names come from actual band names. I don't know that much about music, so I had someone else name them. We did that to give a sense of variety and fun to the game. Of course when you're making a game it isn't all fun, but we wanted people to think "this game must have been extremely fun to make!" when they played it. Going back to the names, the stage 2 name "Tenshi no Uta" [[Angel's Song]] comes from German. The sound of wind blowing inside a cave is called "Angel's Song" in German. It seems to be a kind of religious belief, and its sometimes said that the voice is not only an angel, but a Goddess. Another reason I used angel in the title is I wanted to hint at the fact that many people died there in the steel mine in stage 2. The image is that of an angel there, taking away the souls of the departed. After Steel Empire came out, one review said that the game was "ideological." (laughs). Midway through stage 2 there's an explosion and you can escape, but I wanted people to be thinking about how dangerous the cave was. It was based on the idea that many similar explosion accidents have happened in mining caves. I wanted to create an atmosphere for players where they'd see that the Empire doesn't care much for human rights, that there are many things more important to it than human life, and that people were being made to work in that dangerous mine. The one scene I had wanted most to put in the game was the high speed stage when you escape after the explosion. For a company with technical knowhow, this probably wouldn't have been that difficult, but it was very tough for us to create. For the explosion and the fast scrolling screen, the graphics memory has to be switched out quickly, and it uses a lot of the chip's processing power, so there was slowdown. —The feeling you get from the slowdown is similar to the excitement of some movie explosion scene, so I think its actually better. (laughs) I really liked the scene in stage 3 with the long range cannon bullets raining down on you, too. Satake: The idea for that was that your enemy, the Empire, had installed long range cannons along the coast, and in order to let your allies' mothership get near, you needed to fly in at low altitude and destroy them so the invasion could be easier. I don't think many people who were making shooting games back then started their design from some story idea like this. I'm the type who can't build up a game unless I have a scene or story I've thought of behind it. For every stage it was like, "this is happening in the story, so this has to happen." I would then first start by thinking about what emotions that scenario should convey to the player. That's how Steel Empire was made. —The scene I really like is when you fight with the huge enemy battleship boss in stage 3, and burst a hole in its stomach. Satake: The image for that huge battleship came from the ship Gigant from the anime "Mirai Shounen Conan." Once we decided to do a machine rivet aesthetic for the game, I knew we had to have a giant battleship like that. Blasting into the stomach or core of the battleship wasn't originally based on anything specific, but it turned out to be good for the balance between the two player ships. Of the two ships, the fighter plane Etopirika has a smaller hitbox and is easier to use. However, we thought there might be people who can't dodge bullets well to begin with and would find the more hardy airship Zepperon easier to use. So it was our intention to include more scenes where the Zepperon would play a more active role. On the coastline stage, there are many enemies in the ocean, so Etropika, with the shot firing below, is a better choice. So we thought it would be great if there were more scenes where the Zepperon, which could fire upwards, would be more useful. I didn't want to do the typical horizontal shooting stage, where for no good reason there's a wall or ground at the top of the screen and something falls on the player from above, so we thought a large battleship would be ideal. —As you destroy the large bosses in Steel Empire, there are small explosions as they go down, but there's no huge explosion where everything goes flying. Satake: We were using almost all the available graphic memory already, so it would have been tough to add in all the shrapnel from an explosion like that. Also, I wanted to stress the weight of everything as a theme in the game. A condition for the bosses was that they would look really heavy and hard. Since its a world of steel, that weight and hardness are important. I wanted to show the players just how massively heavy the thing they had just defeated was. Also, one other thing, since its a shooting game a certain level of difficulty is required, but we made it so there wouldn't be any big hurdles before reaching the boss. If a player has to game over, we wanted it to be on the boss. Bosses in shooting games are often made so that if you know the way to defeat them its simple, but I think if they're too easy to beat its no good. So I asked various people about the bosses' difficulty, and spent time adjusting it accordingly. Also, enemy ships with propellers don't look that heavy or tough, do they? But since everything in the world of Steel Empire is made with propellers, the bosses might appear weak. "Why am I fighting against this light, flimsy boss?" is something I didn't want players to think, so I made the bosses difficult. —The way the BGM scrolls with the musical score under the title screen is excellent. Satake: That came from the idea I had for Steel Empire, that there was first a short story... that then got turned into a movie. So the opening and the attract scenes are both like a movie. In old movies the film had no sound, but that doesn't mean there was no music. An orchestra would play behind the viewers while they watched the screen. In films of that time, the score would sometimes be shown below the film, so I wanted to replicate that for the title screen of Steel Empire. It was kind of an offbeat idea, and when I first saw it I was surprised, but when the packaging and illustration were completed I thought the musical score opening fit the world perfectly. It helped get you steeped in the atmosphere and draw you into the game. When I sent the beta version to Sega, I think they reviewed it and gave it something like a 'C', but everyone we had showed the beta to until then had given us rather favorable reviews. The world of the game and the dramatic cut-scenes were given high marks. I personally cannot create a convincing atmosphere with text and graphics, so I struggled with how to convey the proper image for the game in the beginning. Once we got the feedback on the beta version and it was decided we would make the game, it gradually started to sink in for me that my instincts were right for the game, and at Hot B too. I was understanding more about how to make this a cinematic game. Making the game manual like a movie pamphlet also came from those ideas. The graphic designer and PR person who made the manual did a great job for me. Also, I had one of my coworkers write text for the instructions. He also did the speech-like text that appears in the middle of the stage when you enter the Empire's capital, which I couldn't get right on my own. He later worked on Samurai Spirits, by the way. —He sounds like a talented guy! Satake: I wanted to make the staff roll like movie credits, too, by "Hot B Films." But I wasn't able to secure the time in the development schedule for the ending, so someone had to work overtime and get it done. The person who did that cinematic staff roll was actually someone who didn't like the idea for of movie like scenes in the beginning, but in the end he came to really understand the atmosphere I was aiming for. —In the final stage when the ship goes underground, the screen shrinks to a 16:9 cinemascope framing. Satake: In the other stages, the scenes where the player takes off from the mothership are in that style too, but when you lose the mothership in stage 5, I was thinking about where I could use that effect and I came up with that scene. Even though you're used to the effect by that point, you know the mothership is no longer there. I also used it for dramatic impact in the scene where you go into space with the rocket. But there was one thing that gave me trouble later. Normally after you dock with the mothership, you then go to the ship select screen and if you think a certain ship is bad for that stage, then you can pick the other. We put it in to allow the players a bit of strategy, but once you lose the mothership in the story, there should be no way for you to select a new ship, and I was really worried about this. I thought it would be really bad if you couldn't select the ship you wanted for the final stage. I realized it would break the atmosphere of the game, but we left the ship select screen in there for players who weren't great at shooting games. With shooting games, if you lower the hurdles and let even unskilled players get used to the game, before long they'll become better players, I think. If a person who can't clear even the first stage in a shooting game and isn't enjoying themselves instead manages to make it to the 3rd stage, I think they'll be better able to understand some of the appeal of these games. I had first wanted to make Steel Empire with infinite continues, but I thought that after clearing it players would end up thinking shooting games are too easy and boring. That's one of the rules, or limitations of these games. In Steel Empire we employed a level up system which was geared toward unskilled players. Originally, you could power up to level 40. But my boss at the time noted that you didn't need to be level 40 to clear the game, and that even if I programmed in all those levels, very few players would reach them. So I lowered it so that 20 was the max. —If the level max was 40, how was that supposed to work? Satake: Skilled players could clear the game in the upper 20s. I had imagined level 30 would be the average, and that unskilled players would need to build up to level 40. With infinite continues, bit by bit you'd raise your destructive power as well as your attack strategy, so that unskilled player scould clear the game by leveling up, and get better at the game in general while doing so. Its difficult to construct a shooting game in such a way that a player of any level can enjoy it. When I started making shooting games, I was thinking "why doesn't everyone enjoy these games?" and I studied a variety of different popular games with that in mind. For example, in RPGs, one reason people finish the game and don't give up is because there are always a variety of different quests and things to do even if you get stuck or bored, such as going around and talking to people, raising your levels, or searching for stronger weapons. Dragon Quest is very conscious of this, and drew a clear line between itself and more unforgiving Western RPGs. Anyone can play it, its easy, and you can finish it without giving up. It was Yuji Horii who created that style. As he tuned the difficulty level in Dragon Quest he was always thinking about what level you'd need to be to handily defeat the enemies. Those kind of adjustments were a point of reference for me. I also studied Super Mario Bros., but I realized the methods used in that game aren't very effective for a shooting game, and from there I begin a process of trial and error to come up with something suitable for a shooting game. Shooting games have forced scrolling, and you can't advance the screen at your own pace like you can in Mario. If you made a shooting game that let the player do that, it would become way too easy and you'd have to totally change the way enemies are placed. On one extreme, if the enemy placement for shooting games is completely pre-decided, then all players need to do is just memorize where they appear and move there beforehand and fire. It would end up being way too easy. In Super Mario, there are pits to fall into when you make jumps. Even though you progress at your own pace, you might still mess up. But in shooting games there are no pits. Moreover, your attacks are long range, and it would be impossible to set the difficulty correctly if you could move at your own pace. Since setting the difficulty already takes so much time, that approach was out. (laughs) —So that's how you came up with the power up level system, then? Satake: Yes, it came from experimentation along those lines. I'd like to do more like that in the future, actually, but the fact is the market for shooting games is really shrinking. The experiment I'd like to try in the future is a shooting game that doesn't abandon casual or light players. I want to do something that anyone can play and broaden the fanbase of shooting games, but I don't think it would be well received by the current shooting market which is geared toward hardcore players. —As the original author, how were you involved in the Game Boy Advance version? Satake: At first I was asked to oversee the editing, but I couldn't do it because the schedule of the project was too tight--just before the deadline the enemy placement hadn't even been completed. But I was able to comment on the few things I was concerned about in the middle of the development. Back in the day, Hot B had put forward plans for an arcade version of Steel Empire, but it got suspended in mid-development. The people who worked on that arcade version ended up working on the GBA version. They are all your typical arcade shooting game fan, so the GBA version has those tendencies. But they also loved Steel Empire, so they left the form of the game pretty much intact. I don't think it would look too hard to a beginner. From the beginning, with the hit point system, the game was never that difficult, and I'm glad that was there for the GBA version. Though it was difficult to get everything prepared so the development staff could play the original Megadrive version. —Yeah, by the time Steel Empire was being ported to the GBA, the megadrive was retro hardware. Outside of the online virtual console ports, it seems like there's few places to play the original hardware now. Satake: The Steel Empire cart is very hard to find nowadays, and there aren't many people who own a megadrive anymore, either. So I'm grateful that the GBA version is available. It may be rude to say it, but Starfish also isn't that big of a company, and they can't spend a lot of time or money on development. So it wasn't possible to refine every nook and cranny of the game in great detail. The megadrive version of Steel Empire was made under the same circumstances. But I think the things I wanted to do in Steel Empire were different from other shooting games, so it ended up being a unique game. —Did you update many things for the GBA version? Satake: I had wanted to make the hitbox smaller, but the programmer told me that doing so would be too much of a strain on the GBA's processor. In order to keep things light for the processor you needed the hitbox to be an 8x8 pixel area, but Steel Empire wasn't originally made with great concern for the processing power like that. So I don't think the GBA version replaces the megadrive version. Its more like it recreates the original experience as accurately as possible on a small screen. —Part of the bosses are different. Satake: For the bosses, since the screen size was different, they couldn't do the same things. If we used the same boss attacks on the GBA's small screen, I don't think you'd be able to clear the game at all. The sense of weight and hardness of the bosses comes through the same in both versions. In the stage before the last boss, there were a number of impossible spots where the screen size was too small and the space between your ship and where enemies appear was more narrow than the megadrive version. I'd like players of the GBA version to know that the GBA version captures how I wanted Steel Empire to feel. —Do you have any plans to release the megadrive version of Steel Empire on the Wii virtual console, or any other online distribution? Satake: I think it would be great if it could be downloaded on one of the modern consoles today, but the truth is, I don't have the megadrive source code anymore. For the GBA version we had to reverse compile the source from a ROM image. But because the megadrive version used a number of unique functions, there were a number of parts that didn't work... or to put it another way, the reverse compiled source code compatibility was rather poor and reconstructing the various subroutines was very difficult. For instance, the flying submarine in stage 3 and when the tracks in the latter half of stage 1 start to shake, both used the 16 dot pitch vertical raster capability that was unique the megadrive. If only I could find the original source code... —Yes, it would be great if you could locate it. Satake: Occasionally I get the urge to play Steel Empire again, but its a hassle getting my Megadrive out and setting it up. When I look back on the game now, even though I say I made the game for people of any skill level, the last boss really is nasty. I didn't want to make an "easy" game per se, just something that wouldn't turn new players away, but that last boss is a real killer, of a kind rarely seen in my games. (laughs) For a shooting game, Steel Empire is rather long. It takes over an hour to clear. About one third of that time is boss fights. Even if you're familiar with a game, if it takes an hour to clear it is tough. If Steel Empire were a game that ended in 30 minutes, I don't think the last stage would be that difficult. But you can't maintain your focus for a whole hour. It might be best to pause the game and leave it running to refresh yourself. (laughs) In general, skilled players already have a high level of concentration, while unskilled players can't stay focused for that long. So if you end up making a really lengthy game, even those with a high level of concentration will end up losing their focus. By doing so you shorten the gap between skilled and unskilled players. (laughs) Because even players who can focus well will lose it after around 30 minutes. If Steel Empire were about half as long, with 6 stages, it would be too easy to clear for skilled players. One central way players feel the difficulty in a game is when their concentration gets interrupted. Games are typically designed to allow players to have breaks. But shooting games require the player to stay focused for a long time, and if you lose your concentration somewhere, you die. Dying and continuing is one way to refresh your focus. But around stage 4 or 5, when you lose your ability to analyze and think through the challenges, you also lose the ability to stay focused. All this is another key to shortening the gap between skilled and unskiled players. It was mostly all planned. —In Steel Empire, hoarding bombs for score and getting the no miss clear bonus are both really difficult challenges. Satake: I didn't want to make a game that overly emphasized scoring. For skilled players, such a game is just fine, but unskilled players would get hung up on the fact that they aren't scoring very well. I didn't want to have a system that conveyed such a negative impression to new players and caused them to lose spirit. —I think there are many fans waiting for a sequel to Steel Empire. Satake: To make a proper sequel I'd probably need more development funds than we had for the GBA version. But I want to do it. I have an idea for a sequel titled "Koutetsu Moyu" [[something like "Burning Steel", though its a bit of a play on words, since the 'yu' can also be read in this compound as "oil" or "fuel"]]. Steel Empire was a sepia-colored steampunk world, but this would be a dark, grey steampunk. I have an image for it like the old war movies "Nihyakusan Kouchi", "Senkan Yamato", and "Zerosen Moyu". I'd like to take the dark grey atmosphere of those movies and make a steampunk world out of it, using color, but with a monochrome feel from the desaturated colors and such. I think that would be an original steampunk world, and I've been drawing up plans for it to submit to Starfish. —I want to play that! Satake: In the past there used to be companies that specialized in making shooting games. But in today's world, shooting games don't sell at all, and only Cave and Grev are really carrying on. All that's left are hard games for a niche audience. But if thats all there is, then shooting games will not develop. Shooting games need something like Mario or Dragon Quest which expands their audience and appeal. Putting aside whether "Burning Steel" would be the game to do this or not, if there are people out there who agree with the gist of what I'm saying and would like to help me make Burning Steel, whether you're an individual or a company, please let me know. The main people who made Steel Empire were myself and the designer. Also, the programmers who joined later. I think it would be fun to work with the same group again. Though we're all a bit old now. (laughs) —Please tell us about Insector X, the first shooting game you worked on. Satake: At the time, Hot B had finished making Chuka Taisen for Taito, and the sales were very good. So we drew up plans for a game called "Konchuu Taisen" [["Insect War"]]. We had worked it up as an insect version of Taito's Darius games, and the insects would be drawn in a realistic fashion. However, in the middle of development Taito talked to us about making the game with cute, childish characters. We changed the title to "Insector X" then, too. By the way, the Megadrive version of "Insector X" was designed to be a realistic insect game from the beginning, so the atmosphere is totally different. When I joined Hot B, I started out doing the debugging for the arcade version of Insector X, but when we decided to make a Famicom port, I ended up overseeing that. —There are two characters in the Famicom version, and they differ in strength quite clearly. Satake: I used a choice of different characters in place of the usual "easy" and "normal" difficulty settings. It was something I had wanted to do from the beginning. In games with difficulty settings, most players who choose the lowest difficulty and clear the game feel it was too easy. And few players deliberately choose the hardest difficulty setting. So in Insector X when you choose the boy or girl, the strength of the character clearly changes. I didn't want players who cleared it with the girl to feel like they had cleared the game, but to keep going. Actually I had thought I would make a character selection screen that said [in Japanese] "for girls" or "for boys", but I figured that would be too obvious, so I wrote it in English instead. [[ translator note: If the string of logic in the above paragraph about difficulty settings doesn't make much sense to you, well, it doesn't make much sense in Japanese either. He's kind of rambling or just not explaining himself very clearly. Also, the last idea is puzzling, because the english used in that character select screen is very simple: just "For boys" and "For girls", so it seems like even a younger student of English would understand it. ]] —The girl character starts out with a 3-way shot and autofire. In constrast, the boy only fires straight and has no autofire, either. Satake: That was the result of adjusting the character difficulty system. Also, at the time the majority of kids playing games were boys, and there weren't many girls, so in a sense I wanted to expand the appeal of these games. But now there are many skilled female shooting players, so I think I'd have to do something different today. —Does the content of the game change depending on which character is chosen? Satake: The ending is different. Its a small thing, but if you're playing as the girl and you kill the final boss but his last bullets also kill you simultaneously, you will still clear the game, whereas the boy would not. I don't remember how far the bosses health has to be down for this to happen, but the reason I did it is that beginners tend to die a lot on the last boss, so I wanted to help them out a little. I think since Insector X is a comical game, this is forgiveable, but if you suggested this for a serious, realistic shooting game it wouldn't go over so well. (laughs) —Next you made "Over Horizon" for the Famicom. Satake: Hot B was in talks with a company that had made an RPG with edit capabilities similar to RPG Maker, and they proposed using their engine to make a shooting game. As a result of those talks they started working on Over Horizon. However, there were talks from them about changing the design, and it ended up becoming just a normal shooting game. The stages they had made were about half completed, and the graphics were very weak, and we decided at Hot B that we needed to fix it up. So we took the project over from them and I oversaw the design from there. After that we added stages where you shoot forward and back, and we changed the parameters of the player shot. We also enhanced the graphics. To explain the simple parts, for example the first stage was a plant stage, but it was all done with one color of green. It didn't look like nature at all. So we added trees and such to make it look more natural. Also, the sand stage was at first nothing but sand, so we added rocks and dunes to give it more visual appeal. When the graphics just looked too horrible, we had to totally redo them, including enemies and map graphics, and it was quite a bit of makeup work. —I like how Over Horizon has a variety of gimmicks in it. Satake: Yeah, stage 2 in particular is loaded with them. Though that wasn't done because I have a particular love for such gimmicks; rather, we thought we'd make the most of what was already there, so we tried to efficiently re-use what the prior development team had done. We designed the stages so as to give their gimmicks as much life as possible. [[ translator note: They are using the English word "gimmick" here, but they mean little features in the stages, like walls that close, or switches you need to hit, etc. The company that worked on the first draft of Over Horizon isn't named anywhere, but its likely that their "RPG Maker" type program allowed them to program such "gimmicks" into the stage design more easily. ]] —There are a lot of gimmicks in the presentation as well. Like when the shutter suddenly closes and enemies fly out behind you, then they hit that closed shutter and explode. Satake: There were a real pain to program. Especially as this was the Famicom. It might surprise you, but to be honest Hot B's programming skills were not that great. But with Over Horizon, since the previous guys had gone to the trouble of adding those gimmicks in the first place, we thought we'd use them as much as we could. —Were those gimmicks in the original design plan? Satake: I think so. At first they weren't really well-implemented, so we made a lot of adjustments. I think the flavor of the previous development team remains, but I think in the end we were able to turn it into a really good shooting game. But it was a struggle. In the final part of the development I hardly slept at all, and I stayed up all night for 5 consecutive days, a record for me. (laughs) —In the game, after you die but before you continue, you're able change the placement of your options and your shot. Satake: Games like the Famicom Gradius II, and the arcade and PC Engine version of R-Type were quite popular, but I felt like they really pushed players away with their difficulty. To be honest, at the time I didn't really like shooting games that much because of this. I think there are definitely people whose motivation naturally increases when they're face with such a challenge, but those games couldn't sustain my motivation. I think that is one reason the audience for shooting games hasn't expanded. Of course, just making shooting games easier isn't enough to broaden their appeal. In Insector X my goal was to make something that wouldn't have huge walls, but also wouldn't be easy. Going back to Over Horizon, I thought that if I left players room to experiment and change their shot, it would decrease the reasons a player has to give up on a game. For example in Dragon Quest, when you die in battle you keep your experience points, so you don't easily lose your motivation. But in Gradius II, if you die once you've got to figure out a recovery pattern. Doing that is probably impossible for the average player. I couldn't figure them all out myself, either, and had to use the recovery patterns others had made as a reference. And if its a shooting game that doesn't have any strategy information available for it, I think it would be impossible for the beginner. So I was thinking how I could avoid making the player think "this is impossible for me." Changing the shot after death came out of that. I wanted to forestall the player quitting, letting him experiment with laser on this stage, or switching to all homing shots for this stage... and while he tries all that, perhaps he'll become better at dodging bullets in the meantime. (laughs) —I like how the ship can shoot forwards and backwards, too. Satake: One thing that really sucks in shooting games is when the screen is scrolling forward and an enemy suddenly appears behind you and kills you. That's a very common thing for beginners to experience. For it to be natural, you need to always think about placing enemies so that they can be dodged. I think there are also players who get frustrated when enemies appear from behind before they're used to it. So I thought that if your ship could start off firing from behind, then I thought players would think "If my ship can fire from behind, there must be enemies that come from behind..." (laughs) Those were the main reasons I made the ship fire front and back. Aside from that, in shooting games where you can't fire front and back, if an enemy circles around behind your ship there's nothing you can do. Until you can get your ship behind the enemy again you can't do anything. I thought this would also anger players, so I tried to avoid that when making Over Horizon. The ability to fire front and back takes care of that problem, too. —In the ending there's the line "I'll be back", like the message in Terminator. Was that your idea? Satake: Yeah. Over Horizon came out before Terminator, but Terminator was a lot more popular (laughs). I am really horrible at English. By my second year of Junior High, I couldn't even read the english alphabet. On English tests I would usually receive an average of 10/100. So I asked someone very skilled in English to translate the "Ore wa kanarazu modotte kuru" line. At the time we had been talking at Hot B about a sequel, so I wanted to leave some hint in there, and I made the character just before the ending there say that line. I wanted it to be a startling scene. People who saw it later probably thought we took it from Terminator, but the truth is it was added by someone who doesn't understand English at all. (laughs) —We'll be waiting for your games to come out on virtual consoles, and for a sequel!
  10. So you want a shmup for four players in the veion of star soldier and other caravan shmups? Quad Fighter K answers the call, complete with a faux kusoge in tow. So how does this indie Japanese caravan shmup stakc up? Let's take a look
  11. In episode 59 of Bullet Heaven, we took a look at the XBLA version of Ikaruga on the Xbox 360. We really love Ikaruga, and with the recent Switch version, we thought it'd be neat to compare every home version of "Project RS2" to the most recent iteration of this amazing classic. How does it stack up
  12. 1917: The Alien Invasion was a decent fictional account of WWI humanity versus an invading alien scourge. Now it's back with extra ships, levels and features as 1917: The Alien Invasion DX for the Nintendo Switch and PC... with what could be an inappropriate ESRB rating. What are we talking about? Let's take a closer look.
  13. Hideki Nomura Translated by blackoak. Central Works: Ketsui Espgaluda series Mushihimesama series Ibara series Muchi Muchi Pork! Deathsmiles II Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu He primarily does character design and the interface/menus. On Ketsui he did part of the maps, and on Espgaluda II and Mushihimesama Futari he did the world/setting. —It looks like you're very busy right now, but how are things going? Nomura: The project I'm working on right now, Akai Katana, is at the final critical stage. Everything has to be completed within one week. Normally I'd have more time, but I have so much other work to get to... Right now, I-san of our subcontracted staff is sitting next to me, and he works very quickly, so I've had to hand the next design drafting work to him. I want to get started on the modeling, but without the design drafts the team is stuck... but they aren't something you can just come up with in an instant, they take time. You have to look at all the materials we've come up with for the game and draw new patterns too, and when you finally think its right you can hand it over. So while I'm waiting for all that, I'm not doing anything at all. Only when I-san returns can I finally get to work. (laughs) So I can't even really get started on my work until the evening. —You also work on the interface and menus. What kind of difficulties arise there? Nomura: The world of the game and the menus are connected, I think. For instance, if its a mecha game, it would be strange to have a Japanese aesthetic in the menus... a mecha game should have mecha styled menus to make the game consistent, so I always work on them myself. The truth is I should probably give that kind of work to someone else, but I always end up doing it. I'd like to give more work to others, but we don't have enough employees. (laughs) And I feel bad giving so much work to the subcontractors, knowing they'll be stuck here all night. So I usually portion a certain amount of time for it and then just do it myself. Once its decided whether the game will be mecha or character style, and the general world and setting of the game are known, then I put the menus together. Because without any kind of motifs or themes I can't do anything. For this game, the katana is the motif, so I try out different backgrounds and search for interesting visual materials until I find something that fits. The truth is I don't have enough time to do it all, with only two weeks to make the character select screen, name entry screen, and ranking screen. I'm barely able to keep on schedule. I always say I'm not going to do anything else while I work on the menus, but in the end something extra always gets put on my plate. —With all that work, how have you not collapsed?! Nomura: While I'm working on a project, its somewhat mysterious, but my body never breaks down. Even now, I can't remember the last time I took a break, and for days and days now I just go home and go straight to bed. Somehow, I just keep going on... because if I collapse now, its all over for the project. (laughs) Though, it has happened that I collapse the moment a project is over. (laughs) Its probably because I'm so tense and keyed up while I'm working. After a project is completed I'll sleep for over 12 hours. Well, actually, the truth is that we're always crunched for time. Location tests, game shows and events, release deadlines... it never lets up. Projects don't always start out busy. Lately the busiest part has been all the initial planning, and once that is over, to a certain degree you can decide your own schedule, and work on the things you want at your own pace. Of course, in the final stretch its always hell. That reminds me, I had my health checkup today, and I've lost a ton of weight. (laughs) Aside from not eating much at night, I haven't changed anything in my diet but I'm still losing weight... it might be from never taking a real break. And yet the doctor said to me, "you've gotten a lot better!" I had mixed feelings about that. (laughs) I moved not long ago, and I'm close enough to walk to the train station, so that's good. —Maintaining your health seems difficult... Nomura: During our last project I had some free time, so I would go running at night. I'd run to the Tama river, but I never lost any weight. No matter how much I ran I didn't lose weight, though I know why that is. After you exercise food becomes a lot tastier... I'd get back and have a beer and such. I figured since I was sweating it was ok. (laughs) When I was running crazy distances in the middle of the night I lost nothing, but now with all the hard work I've been doing at the office, I've lost 5kg. Its a mystery to me. When I was running, before coming back for overtime I'd go have dinner at a place nearby. They didn't have fish there, it was only meat. I was eating a lot of heavy food then, and it probably wasn't good for my health. I'd have an American burger one day, and a Japanese style burger the next... you can't lose weight like that. (laughs) Now that my wife and I live together, I think that's had a very positive effect on my health as well. —You've definitely been working hard for quite awhile. What are some of the more memorable titles you've enjoyed working on? Nomura: Ketsui was very memorable. I joined Cave because I wanted to work on shooting games, but at first, fate seemed to be against me. I wanted to make shooting games, so I brought a bunch of my mecha design drawings with me to the interview, but after the interview they told me, "Ok, well, starting tomorrow, you'll be working on our snowboard game." I was very surprised, "What, snowboards?!" (laughs) Well, I figured it was good that I had even passed the interview. My first project was with the snowboard team, and my next three projects were all snowboard games as well. While making those games I started to think, "Am I only capable of drawing snow...?" At this rate I was thinking of quitting, but then like a godsend a space on the shooting team opened up, and that was for the project Ketsui. I was told to work with Tanaka, who was managing the backgrounds and maps for the game, but when I was all of a sudden asked to draw like him, I couldn't do it right away. So at first, for many days I stayed up all night, and I slept at the office for 9 straight days. Though I did go home to take a bath each day. —Weren't there any sentou (public baths) near the office?! Nomura: I don't like those for some reason... my routine was to go home, take a bath, eat dinner, and come back to the office around 11PM, and work until morning, getting some quick rest before the next day. It was tough when I couldn't go home for my own birthday though. I spent that birthday all alone at the office with a bentou lunch. (laughs) But a nice employee from the mobile content division did bring me a cake. I was happy to make that connection, but the game development team at Cave is full of people who work very quietly and keep to themselves, so I was a little worried at first. Working on the backgrounds for Ketsui, I did the maps for stage 2, the final stage, and the menus. It was very memorable for me, being entrusted with work that was so hard and challenging. If only I could have started doing work like that from the beginning. Espgaluda II was the first project I was the lead on, so in a different sense that was very memorable. I had to think of all the character names, but there aren't too many names that will sound cool if you take them from butterfly names. (laughs) I think Espgaluda was a very complete work, so I struggled with thinking how I would connect a sequel to it. There were many difficulties, and at first I fought with the programmers. (laughs) It was over a development tool I needed. Before Galuda II, when I created the data, I'd have to compress everything by hand so it could fit into memory. But if I was going to do all that for Espgaluda II, it was going to take over 6 months of work, so I asked them to make a tool to automate the compression. They came back and told me they couldn't really do it, to which I replied, "well, I can't do my job either then!" It was a stubborn back and forth like that. (laughs) Finally, the tool did get completed, and without it I don't think the game would have been finished. (laughs) Because of that one fight, everything, including the console port, went smoothly, so I'm glad it happened. The development time for Espgaluda II was only 6 months, which was rather short. So during that time I rented a futon and slept over at the office. I set it up in the corner of the office, but that was near an emergency exit so it was problematic and the security guard made me move. (laughs) I had no choice so I moved to another part of the office, but that was where other, non-game development staff were working. When they'd arrive for work in the morning I'd be forced to wake up, so I couldn't really get any respite anywhere... I'd end up going to sleep at 7 and waking up at 8. That was my life. —Did you also fight with other employees about everyday things? Nomura: No, not at all. You can't really work with people if you have bad relations with them like that. Of course there's been times when I've had to force a smile and hold my tongue. On the project we're working on now, I blew up once. Though when I look back at it now, it was probably for the best, too. (laughs) Basically there haven't been any real conflicts between everyone... just the normal extent of "well, I'm not sure if this is the best way to do it" and so on. I don't think its good to completely criticize another person's ideas. When we have meetings to decide on new titles to develop, Ikeda will come up with some insane idea and I'm left wondering who the hell these people are I'm working with. (laughs) I really like Dodonpachi, and when I'd bring some "normal" ideas inspired by that design I was told "its too normal." To mention some weirder ideas of mine, for Espgaluda II I made a character that only had a head and neck, and everything below was a tank. When we brought that out at the AM show, the players said, "It looks like he's speaking, but I don't see his lips moving..." That's because his face is actually elsewhere. (laughs) After people understood that, in a weird sense he became a popular character. The idea for him was "a man who abandoned his flesh to become powerful", and having spent so much time on this idea, I had a lot of fun and really went all out with designing him. I even designed parts of his body that you can't see onscreen when he transforms. [[ translator note: I haven't played Espgaluda II so I'm not exactly sure who this refers to. Madara's second form? ]] —Speaking of transformations, was anime a big influence on your love for the mecha style? Nomura: For mecha stuff I love Gundam, but the transformations were largely influenced by the Valkyries from Macross. In addition to buying Valkyrie plastic kits, I also did a lot of papercraft and made them be able to transform. I've always like arts and crafts like that. Liking shooting, I also like mecha stuff, but originally I was obsessed with Gundam and wanted to become an animator. But in high school I played a lot of different games and started wanting to work in that field instead. That was around the time I started drawing pixel art. The first company I joined had a pixel art test, and because I passed it I was hired. At first there were tons of things I didn't know, and the closest person to my age was seven years older than me, so I had many difficulties. Even though I learned the fundamentals of pixel art there, before I knew it pixel art was fading away, and 3D rendering became the mainstay. I occasionally still do cute pixel art for nostalgia's sake. —Is there a connection between your interest in pixel art and Gundam? Nomura: Yes, I was wanting to talk about that. (laughs) There are these really small building blocks called "Nano Blocks," and I am beyond obsessed with them. They're about 1/4 the size of legos and they make various different shapes. When they first came out almost no one knew about them and I thought it was rather lonely, but I've been posting my creations on my website and lots of people have come to see them. —And that relates to Gundam...? Nomura: It will be quicker if I just show you. (shows a picture of his Gundam nanoblock creations on his cell phone) You can see stuff like this on my blog, too. I generally spend about three hours working on them before bed. They're very small, so you can only make things you already have a general idea about. I can finish roughing in a piece in about 3 hours, and then I enjoy touching it up here and there. The things on my homepage are often too big to display elsewhere, so I post them there for posterity before breaking them down. —You should sell them at the Cave Matsuri event! Nomura: I've made all kinds of characters, including characters and crafts from Cave's games. But the problem is I can only make one; I can never make the same thing twice. (laughs) So I can't sell them. There's also a lot of difficulties with making them. My hands have gotten all swollen before from it. Tweezers are hard to use and if you can't use your hands, it just doesn't work. Sometimes when I'm working, I'll drop the piece and it will crash to the floor... then I'll be on my hands and knees searching for nano blocks under my desk in the middle of the night. (laughs) —Your talent for pixel art must help you out here. Nomura: Yeah, it might be true that my pixel art experience of long ago allows me to make these now. I used to build with legos too, but they were too expensive for what you could do with them. But when I saw nano blocks I thought, "this is it!" I became so obsessed with them, it was like this was my life's work. For a period I thought I might even try doing it professionally. I actually really want to release some things for Wonder Festival, but I haven't made any building recipes. After you've built something, you can't really deconstruct it and make a recipe after the fact. I would love to see nano blocks get more attention, and become better known. —For Cave's characters then, you must surely favor the mecha ones? Nomura: When it comes to drawing, I actually prefer the creatures in Mushihimesama, like the dragons. I like things that I can draw in one burst of inspiration like that. With mecha, I start to get stressed out trying to make the parts fit together. I love dragons, so in Mushihimesama I thought, well, its not insects, but maybe I'll add some dragons... and really enjoyed drawing those. —Was it drawing pixel art that attracted you to the game industry? Nomura: I started doing pixel art in my third year of junior high. In high school I got my motorcycle license and soon started spending all my time at the game center. Around then Ys on the MSX2 came out, and playing that was the thing that made me think I wanted to work with games. I was then employed by my previous company, and when I went to the interview it was in a small, 8-cho apartment. I was surprised, but when I went in and saw game hardware all over the place I finally realized, "Aaa, this is a game company!" I thought there would be a lot of fresh high school graduates like me there, but as soon as I got in they immediately gave me boss characters to draw! I thought of myself as an amateur, but it turned out I was able to do a good job, and I was very happy when I saw a commercial for our game on TV. At Cave, Ketsui was my first shooting game, but shooting games had been my first official work in the game industry, as well. At that time an amusement park had just been built near me, but everyone went to the game center. Even though Disneyland was within walking distance, everyone went to the game center anyway. So its pretty sad to me now, seeing the game centers dying out. I moved recently, but there's no game center near me so I haven't been able to go. Before I moved there was a really hardcore game center near me, though. —It seems like you've been playing all sorts of games for a long time now. Nomura: I really like strategy games for all the customizing you can do. I loved "Front Mission." I spent so much time customizing all the parts and changing the colors of the mechs and stuff, that it seemed like I would never even start the game. For the Super Famicom version of Wizardry, too, you could draw your own characters in game, and I'd spend tons of time on that without ever starting the game. My favorite game though was probably Tactics Ogre. I like that dark kind of atmosphere. I also loved Ys, the story and the music were so well done, and that is the game that inspired me to join the world of making games. —Tanaka was saying he hates strategy games. (laughs) Nomura: I tend to draw whatever I think looks cool, but Tanaka is more like, "There are not ducts here so the ship has no intake." He's taught me various things. (laughs) I was impressed because I had never met a person with so many particularities like him. I was glad to have been put on the Ketsui team, but at that time I had no idea how to draw airplanes and fighters jets with realistic weapons. So I figured I needed to study up, and I bought a bunch of reference books and poured over those. Up till then I had thought drawing a tank just meant sticking a cannon on and you're done. But recently I've been able to incorporate what I've learned into my designs. —Do you ever object to any of Ikeda's ideas? Nomura: We fight a lot... its a love hate relationship. (laughs) I think that's just how it is when you're a director... you can't always be liked by everyone. You can tell he really loves shooting games. There have been many times where I've wondered why this guy is working so hard, and even though he's the director, he's the last person to go home. He's really amazing. I would like him to spend more time training his successor, though. If we were to collapse, there'd be no one who could continue his work now. I understand though, because I'm also the kind of person who wants to do everything by myself. On this project, Akai Katana, Ikeda was one of the staff and gave us various ideas. Everyone added their own personal opinions, and even though we'd spent so much time mulling it all over, some new idea would come and upset everything we'd worked on. Of course, that new idea would have to be integrated into the old, and that's how you get a good game. The team is everything... individually, you can't do it all. —What do you think shooting will be like in 10 years? Nomura: I think the entire game industry, not just shooting, will be very different. More and more games and movies are starting to use 3D technology now, so I think we'll finally see hologram style games we dreamed about in the future. In the old Macross series, there was a scene where the ace pilot is at the game center shooting down the enemy fighters, battling with the Batroids that would appear in front him. I was impressed by that when I saw it. It will be interesting 10 years from now when we have games like that. —Please give your fans a final message. Nomura: If you're trying to get into the game industry, don't get discouraged. I faced such potentially discouraging situations many times, but it somehow all worked out! (laughs)
  14. Shinobu Yagawa (CAVE Arcade Technical Leader) Translated by blackoak. Central Works (He primarily works as the main programmer.): Ibara Pink Sweets Muchi Muchi Pork! Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu Black Label Espgaluda II Black Label (360 version) —What kind of work does a main programmer do? Ikeda (who was sitting beside him): Our work, as the name suggests, is the game programming that ties everything together. Within that, the work is divided into two types, with one group handling requests to "program such and such a section" and another group that actually does the main core programming. Yagawa: My job as main programmer is to create the game. Ikeda: That's a vague response. (laughs) Yagawa: Not it isn't. Its right on. —To your fans you are also known by the initials "YGW." Was this a name you used in response to Ikeda's "IKD"? Yagawa: No, it was nothing like that. (laughs) I also didn't make that name, the players just chose to call me it on their own. Ikeda: In my case, it was also to hide my name, but if you look at the staff roll it all comes out anyway. (laughs) —It seems programming is very important work--the heart of the game. Yagawa: I don't think its the heart of the game. Its merely one part that makes up a game. I definitely think its important, but the graphics and sound are both equally important. However you look at it, the total design and the properly adjusted balance are the most important things when creating a game. That is the thing that decides whether a game is interesting or not. —Is an evolving difficulty system (rank) the hallmark of the "Yagawa style"? Yagawa: People often say that, but I think its an exaggeration. I've also done games without rank, after all. But its certainly the case that my arcade games have that feature. Its not because of some particular insistence on my part, but rather because income at the arcades is equivalent with the amount of time one spends playing. It sounds bad, but it was one of my methods for increasing income for arcade operators. —In doing so, the difference between skilled and poor players really becomes apparent. Yagawa: Well, that's why skilled players spend a lot of money. (laughs) On the other hand, if you practice a game, and despite getting better you don't get to play for very long, I don't think you would want to keep playing. Personally, I've always liked shooting games, and I think being able to play longer and longer as you improve at the game is enjoyable. If you spend all this time improving at a game, only to have it gradually end more and more quickly, then I don't think its very fun and it won't be played. —Does your own level of skill affect how you adjust the difficulty in a game? Yagawa: I'm not really playing shooting games like this anymore, but in the past I think I was pretty good. (laughs) Naturally, when you make a game you test play it, and I think there ends up being a relationship between the programmer's skill and the skill required by the game. Though I'm not sure if that's apparent to other people. Actually, among programmers, there are plenty of people who aren't very skilled, and when those people are forced to make a "difficult stage", they unfortunately have to rely on their imaginations to create it. If you don't understand how to make something difficult interesting, it ends up being guesswork. There is such a thing as "interesting difficulty", and when programmers tried to just guess what that was, it never turned out very good. I don't have much fun when I play games that are said to be "for beginners"... even though I'm not that good anymore. (laughs) When I was really into it I would finish simple games very quickly. If there were something after the first loop it would be fine, but if not, it would stop being interesting and I'd stop playing there. If the game doesn't have something past the first loop, or something else about it I can sink my teeth into, then I probably won't play it. —You said you aren't playing games anymore, but does that mean you aren't going to the game center, either? Yagawa: Not too often, but I still go from time to time. I don't go to do market research or for anything related to work... just to play. Though if I had fun playing something I have ended up remembering it for future reference. But I never go to the game center for the purpose of doing research like that. Lately I don't play any games other than shooting there. When I was going to the game center often, I liked versus fighting games as well. —What do you play at the game center now then? Yagawa: Shooting. (laughs) —Do you play Muchi Muchi Pork, your own creation?! Yagawa: No, as you'd expect, I don't play that now. (laughs) I play what we now call "retro" games, I guess. When I happen to see old shooting games there I get nostalgic and end up playing them. Sometimes there are games that I was obsessed with back in the day, but when I play them now... I can't believe how boring they are! I wonder why I loved this so much? Why did I spend so much money on this? ...alone in the game center, I ponder these things. I certainly thought they were interesting at the time. Games themselves are gradually able to do more and more interesting things, but old games must always remain old games, just as they are. I only stop by the game center on occasion, so the lineup is always changing and there's no game I'm really into right now. And I can't tell you what I've actually been playing or it will reveal the identity of the game center I go to. (laughs) If that happens, like it has with Ikeda, it will be difficult for me to go play there. Everyone knows Ikeda's face, so when he goes to the game center he's always approached by a bunch of people. He should try wearing a disguise or something... Ikeda: I don't want to go that badly. (laughs) —Do you feel like the shooting games you made are the best? Yagawa: That's not entirely untrue. (laughs) But if I said Battle Garegga, I'd sound like a weirdo. (laughs) For people who like shooting games or are interested in them and want to have a lighter experience, Armed Police Batrider is preferred, whereas Battle Garegga is more for when you want a disciplined, focused experience. Also, people often say this on the internet, but Gun Frontier... I've pretty much fully exhausted it now, but its the game I played the most. Hmm... I've played so many games.. I can't remember the titles! Ah, its not shooting, but I liked Samurai Spirits. But I didn't play Street Fighter II. By the time I thought I'd play it, I had missed the boat, and just kept getting destroyed. (laughs) —Since you love games so much, you must have a lot of hardware?! Yagawa: I don't own any. There isn't a single console set up at my house. The last ones I purchased were the Sega Saturn and the Playstation. I'm glad I bought the Saturn, but I only own one game for it. (laughs) That game, by the way, is Virtual Fighter. But since then I haven't bought a single game... as for my Playstation, I lent it to someone, I wonder where it went. As you can see from the state of my Saturn, there aren't any recent games I've wanted to play, so I don't own any consoles. Speaking of shooting games only, the Saturn had a lot of arcade perfect ports. But I'd rather go to the game center or buy the pcb. I have about 150 pcbs of shooting games alone. So if something is an original game I'd buy it, but I won't buy ports. —You own that many pcbs?! Yagawa: Yeah, and its definitely inconvenient owning this many. (laughs) I have no place to put them all. Many of them were bought for cheaper than you'd buy a new console game today. I don't have many in my bedroom, I keep them in a separate location... —Why don't you open a game center? Yagawa: Everyone says that. (laughs) Opening a game center now would be a big gamble. I'm can't spend the rest of my life that way! (laughs) —How about this... you could sell cheap candy to little kids and have each credit cost a mere 10 yen! Yagawa: Any way you look at it, it'd be bankruptcy! And I'm bad with kids to begin with! Do you know how much the electricity and the rent alone would cost... if I could make a profit I'd do it, but its clearly an unwinnable fight. (laughs) If you don't have something other than games there, its really tough. —Well, how about having "Yagawa's Shooting 101" classes held there, too? Yagawa: There are many people more skilled and qualified than myself to host such a class. And I'm not even that good in the first place. (laughs) Now if we had some cute girls teaching it, we might get somewhere. Though if it were packed with shooting-loving young men, it might be a little... (laughs) So I'm sorry, but I won't open a game center! —It seems that if you could get more women who play games to come to the game center, then you'd naturally have more men come, too. Yagawa: Yeah, there's always been very few women. To relieve stress, it may be that people prefer music games and fighting games to shooting games. You know, when you play a shooting game, you actually get more stressed out. When you can say you love shooting games, I get the sense you're no longer a normal person. (laughs) And of course I include myself in that. Everyone around me who likes shooting is a weirdo. —That means the people at Cave must also be full of weirdos too, then? Yagawa: If we're talking about the development team... well, I can't deny it. (laughs) There are definite boundaries in our office... there's "over there" (the other departments) and "over here" (development), and the atmosphere is very different between us. Its like "normal people" and "strange people." When an inspector visited our offices, he said something like "The game development division is the most dirty." He said there were monitors strewn across the floor. (laughs) Even I wonder why they're on the floor? Its not like you normally play games with a monitor on the floor, right? In the midst of all that disorganization, my workspace is actually the clean one, I think. (laughs) You can clearly see the top of the desk, and there are no weird figures decorating it either. Even Ikeda has all these weird Tarako figures on his desk. Ikeda: Tarako Kyuupii figures. For some reason everyone gives them to me. (laughs) Yagawa: I don't really have any hobby items that I collect like that. —It seems like collecting pcbs exclusively would qualify? (laughs) Yagawa: But they're too expensive now, so I don't buy them anymore. And its a pain finding a place to store them all, and I don't have free time to play them at home anyway. —Wouldn't playing on your cell phone be convenient then? You could play it anywhere. Yagawa: By the time cell phone games had become popular, I had already mostly lost my interest. (laughs) The screen size is also too small. The controls can't be very complicated for them, and the response is bad... that's the deathblow for me. I've played shooting games on them, and to be honest, it wasn't very interesting. So I'm not interested in the PSP or DS either. Ah, I do own a DS though. I bought it only to play "Gundam Mahjong." (laughs) —Ah hah, you do own a game console! Yagawa: I actually own Mario for it too, but I had my fill by the second level and threw it down, "I'm done, I'm not doing this!" Long ago, Mario was popular on the Famicom and I have fond memories of it so I bought the DS version. I thought it was cool at first, but I couldn't take it after awhile... I personally have no interest in making games for a system with a small screen like the DS or PSP. So when people say, but can't it be fun even with a small screen? For me, no. (laughs) —Yagawa, you should apply your powers to make it interesting! Yagawa: Nothing I or anyone can do will make that screen bigger! You know, its not that I have a particular fixation with arcade hardware and games, but it does seem that if you don't release a shooting game in the arcade first it won't sell well. —Do you have any preferences for platforms to develop on? Yagawa: Not personally, but it is true that if you suddenly release a shooting game for a console system it won't sell well. Outside of that business perspective, I don't have any particular preferences. I do rather like older hardware though. I like the challenge of "doing the impossible" with older hardware, and pushing it as far as it can go. Hardware today is too powerful, and the threshold for someone to make a game has really gone down. With graphics too, even a relative amateur can pump stuff out. In the past you couldn't just start doing pixel art right away, and with programming as well, it used to be that you had to learn assembler first. Now with the PC and other development tools being so powerful, anyone, even untalented people, can just go ahead and make a game. So that's all the more reason for me to want to work with hardware around the same level as Cave's current hardware. —We're in the 3D era now. Yagawa: 2D is the foundation of shooting games, and there are almost no 3D games. Of all that I've tried, I've played very few 3D shooting games that were interesting. Graphically I think they are interesting, but its very difficult to tell whether a bullet will hit you or not. Ikeda: Today the arcade market of the game industry has really shrunk, and the focus is on consoles and the overseas market. Overseas fans know shooting games as 3D FPS games. That type is the focus of the market, but our speciality is 2D shooting... that doesn't mean we aren't targeting the overseas market, but its a fact that its a woefully small market for us. Well, the truth is its always been that way... (laughs) —Do you think shooting game fans themselves are changing? Ikeda: They might not be decreasing, but they aren't really increasing either. Though I think we gained a new class of players with the console version of Deathsmiles. —It seems like more than the games, there are people who became fans because they like the characters. Yagawa: I think its a good thing for characters to become popular, but personally I have no interest in characters, I don't care either way. (laughs) I don't need them! Or rather, I don't care if they're there, but they aren't necessary to make a good game. Though from a business perspective, I'm not sure. (laughs) —Do you think there is a trend in making games easier, not only in the shooting genre? Yagawa: I don't really pay much attention to that... though maybe that's why people say my games are difficult. (laughs) In the past it was normal to play and the memorize parts, or to watch someone else play and memorize what they did. Well, even back then, there was definitely a trend with making games easier, though I didn't want them to. (laughs) I think its natural that players should actively work at things themselves. To say it somewhat negatively, I make games for myself, and if I think its good then its fine, and this goes for difficulty settings as well. So I don't give much concern to what fans will think. It isn't that I don't hear others opinions, but that I listen to and reflect on them, but to what degree I incorporate their ideas is up to me. —Does that mean you often fight with others at Cave? Yagawa: It does! Actually, the only one I've clashed with till now is Cave itself. Its not Ikeda that I've fought with... its a little a hard to explain. (laughs) When I talk with Ikeda, its an exchange of opinions. But... we don't fight, since I too am just an employee. (laughs) I have a friend who likes shooting games and wants to make them, but he says he couldn't handle an office, and not being able to make what he wanted. And that's definitely how things are normally, I think. So those are the people who start their own company. However, I'm not really like that, and I can't do that. (laughs) I can't support so many people like that. Seeing how difficult everyone here is, I think its a real feat to be able to do that. —Is there anything you'd like to put on the record for Cave's 16th anniversary? Yagawa: Give me a raise. (laughs) Also, please give me more vacation time. And put some air conditioning or something in here! I know these are rather plain things, but they're important. With all this hardware on all the time, it gets excruciatingly hot depending on where you sit. People are always fighting over whether to turn the air conditioner on or off! Ikeda: Well, let's change your seat then. Yagawa: Also, please move the office closer to my house! Ikeda: That's not possible. Yagawa: It used to be at Kagurazaka, but now since moving to Shinjuku Gyouen its gotten even farther for me. I want them to build a tunnel from my house to the office. Ikeda: That is also not possible. Yagawa: But even when I'm busy, I never sleep over at the office, since the next day I'm just going to have to come in again. Even if it takes a little time, its better to go home I think. So please move the office closer to my house. Ikeda: Impossible. (laughs) —What kind of shooting games will you make in the future? Yagawa: Well.. I don't think I'll make any more. (laughs) I don't actually know for sure, but I do have my ideal project, which is to make something that I think is interesting. But I'm not sure how well that would be received. Its like what I said above, about how the games I used to play back then aren't interesting to me anymore. There used to be a lot of games that were challenging, but that if you memorized them enough you could make progress. These were fun games in their day. But if you play those games today, they feel more like work, and quickly become dull. 10 years from now, if things continue like this, commercial shooting games will probably disappear, and only doujins made by dedicated fans will remain. Its certain to be difficult, but I don't think shooting fans will ever disappear, as shooting games are easier than others to create on your own. Also, with PC development now, the things needed to start creating a game are more available, and in that regard shooting will not disappear, I think. I also want to do more events like the Cave Matsuri to promote shooting games. Ikeda: I really want to have more interaction with our players at those kinds of events, to strengthen the bond between the players and the creators. Right now it just feels like a place where we sell things, but I think it would be good to do other things. —Please give a final message to Cave fans! Yagawa: I am very grateful. But... I wish you had spent more money on our games. (laughs) Also, regarding pirated copies that people have been talking about lately... if you don't buy the game, there will be fewer and fewer people making them. Arcades are also fading away, you know. Speaking of that, if Cave opens their own arcade, I’ll lend them my PCBs. Ikeda: But, those aren’t Cave games! (laughs) Yagawa: Well, I have V-V, so it should be alright. Ikeda: Please don’t touch that one…
  15. Run begins: 13:25 Player interview: 57:33 Y.Saito's 2nd performance of two on Saturday @ Stunfest 2018 held in Rennes, Bretagne, followed by an interview with Y.Saito himself!