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  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. Gandalf42

    Goals for the site.

    So I started Shmuptacular around thirteen years ago.. granted it's been on hiatus for a number of years.. but the goals have always been the same. Originally, I launched the site because there just wasn't a ton of STG related content (games, reading material, art, etc) that was easily available to fans and I wanted to tie together what was out there. Over the last five years or so, everything has really changed. STG games are much more common then they were before and accessibility (due to online shops) has helped the genre flourish. I'd always planned on bringing the site back and now seemed as good a time as any. One of my main goals with this relaunch is to bring a lot of the disparate parts of the genre together under one roof. To that end, I've started adding doujin freeware games into the files section, the forums encompass all topics from playing and collecting to development. I've also started to aggregate video content from some of the big channels in the STG scene. I've added a few of blackoak and rancor's excellent interview translations to the articles section. The gallery section has a selection of shmup artwork (professional and fan created). All of the content is also being appropriately tagged- so using the tag system on this site will allow you to pull all content related to a specific tag by just clicking on it. There are still some kinks to work out with the uploads to the site being buggy.. but hopefully we'll get those worked out in time. I've also been trying to reach blackoak about his stance on me mirroring his translations but I haven't heard back from him yet. My reason for including them is really about preservation.. having the translations on multiple sites will help make sure they survive if a few sources go down.. That being said, all of his excellent translations are available from his site Shmuplations and most of the ones I'm mirroring are from his posts on Shmups Forum. That's about all for now. If you like the site be sure to share it with your friends! Take care, -Gandalf42
  4. 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!
  5. 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)
  6. 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…
  7. Takashi Ichimura Translated by blackoak. Central Works: Dodonpachi Dangun Feveron Dodonpachi Daioujou Ketsui Guwange Progear no Arashi Espgaluda series Mushihimesama series Deathsmiles series Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu —Please tell us what your thoughts are as Cave celebrates its 16th anniversary. Ichimura: I've been involved with all the games, from Dodonpachi to Dangun Feveron, Guwange, Progear no Arashi, and everything after. So its a very deep feeling for me, to have been on the same path together for so long. For every project I have memories of struggles and challenges, but since this work is an extension of my hobbies, its all been fun. In game production, too, the final stage of development is always difficult, but when a project starts I'm able to work at my own rhythm. Of course as the deadline approaches I have to really focus and it can be stressful... (laughs) —From a layman's perspective, the work of a programmer is quite unique. Ichimura: Generally speaking, it can be difficult to know what the work of a "programmer" is. While I might be the main programmer on a given project, other things like character programming will be handled by someone else, so there's a division of labor that goes on like that. Usually about 3 people will be involved total, though its also quite common for the ports to be done entirely by one person. Personally I think it can be problematic when you get too many programmers on one project, because programmers as a group are very straightforward, logical people. Its always "Its this way, so we have to do it like this." And programming itself is very much like that. People often say that programmers think too highly of themselves, or that they see everything in black and white and have no friends, but personally, I'm such a laid back person that I haven't noticed that. That may have something to do with the whole "takeyari kara kakuheiki" phrase, actually... [[ translator note: this literally means "from bamboo spears to nuclear bombs." Its isn't a set phrase in Japanese; Ichimura will explain its meaning and origin below. ]] —Its the programmers who determine the difficulty of the game, right? Ichimura: That is set by the programmers, yes. For the arcade games, it usually gets set after the first location test. We use about a 3 minute portion of the game as a base, and set the difficulty from there. The difficult part is when the game doesn't stress the player's abilities enough and we have to adjust the balance to be more challenging. That's something that we really do by intuition, and it would be very difficult to imitate I think. Part of the game's appeal will be determined by the programmers, so we're involved in a lot of the planning as well. I think some people may be familiar with the phrase "from bamboo spears to nuclear bombs," but that came about while we were designing one of the attacks of the bosses from Progear. People said they weren't satisfied with the danmaku patterns, so we really cranked up the difficulty on it, and that phrase "from bamboo spears to nuclear bombs" was born. So in that sense, it is indeed true that programmers have a huge effect on the difficulty level. [[ translator note: Japanese threads suggest it was the 5th boss or midboss, but its difficult to tell since it seems to have entered the "NicoDouga" lexicon and is used to describe any situation where the difficulty is suddenly ramped up ]] —Starting with Ikeda, please tell us if there's anyone you've clashed with at Cave. Ichimura: I don't think there's ever been anyone. Being so laid back, it might just be that I'm not noticing. It could be I'm too laid back, and possibly I've been annoying everyone around me all this time. When things get busy, there's times when being this laid back can really backfire. (laughs) When I'm making a new game, although I want pour all the accumulated know-how I've acquired into it, if that's all I do then I'm not satisfied personally. So I'm always wanting to try out and add new things. Of course challenging oneself is good, but if there are too many challenges, it can cause us to fall behind schedule. So I always want to set my challenges such that I just barely make the deadline. (laughs) But around the time I was developing Deathsmiles II, I wasn't involved in anything else and could focus on that game... or so I thought! Even though I really wanted to challenge myself with that project, it turned out there were deadlines that had to be met and I really couldn't. But for those parts in my games where I couldn't rise to the occasion, I always try and improve them for the next game. —Being so laid back, what are some of the projects you struggled with? Ichimura: Probably Mushihimesama Futari... although it sold very well. (laughs) That title has so many game modes, and each one is quite substantial in terms of content, but we had a severe schedule with a very short development period. Up the very last minute before release it was still being worked on... it was really terrifying. We did make it though. (laughs) If I were to name a project that was memorable, but not necessarily a struggle, it would be the first game I worked on, Dodonpachi, which really opened up the possibilities of danmaku shooting for me. Also Mushihimesama, I think. We had just decided to create a new pcb hardware, and I was involved with designing it from the beginning so that project left an impression on me. I don't have anything against danmaku shooting, but if that's all you make, you eventually end up wanting to try out something new. I've never been very good at danmaku games... I can't dodge the bullet patterns. (laughs) With danmaku games, the enjoyment comes from "seeing and dodging" the bullets. But I prefer a high speed, rhythmical game in which you get into a rhythm dodging different patterns. So it was like, aren't you guys getting tired of playing danmaku games?! I wanted to play something more intuitive and immediate. Shooting games can definitely be that way, but I think racing games have more of that rhythm and flow I like. —Yeah, that is definitely important for racing games. Ichimura: I've actually been into racing games for a long time. And not just games, I also love real cars, and take my own to the circuit. I used to do cart racing too, though what I do at the circuit isn't as crazy. (laughs) Race carts run so close to the ground, so the sense of speed is intense. At the circuit I race at the speed itself is of course higher, but the sense of speed is more relaxed. The car I drive, by the way, is the standard 1600cc FF Levin. It just a normal car without any flashy paintjob or stickers. (laughs) Before I drove at the circuit, long ago I used to race downhill. That was before Initial D was popular, and I was living in Hiroshima at the time and would race in the hills around there. I don't do it anymore, but I still occasionally get the urge to. —Cave also released the racing game "Touge" for consoles, but were you involved in that? Ichimura: I worked on "Touge 3," but only a little. I didn't do the main programming, but I helped out with the debugging. As someone who's actually raced, I thought it was a very fun game. It also features the 180SX, which my friend happens to own, and I've driven it and done drifting with it, so I made sure the game matched the actual car's handling. I've sort of got a thing for the 180SX. It just feels good when I drive it. My friend says the Silvia and the 180SX are both really solid cars for drifting. Saying all this probably makes you think I'm some street racer. (laughs) You often hear that when people get behind the wheel their personality changes, but I'm also laid back there, too. (laughs) On normal roads I'm the kind of relaxed driver that taxis get angry at. Of course on the circuit, its another story. (laughs) There's no one who wants to drive safely after paying their money to drive on the track. —Is your desktop at work crowded with racing and car stuff, then? Ichimura: There's many people at Cave who adorn their desk and monitor with items from their hobbies, but I don't really do that much. Well, the truth is there's actually so much stuff scattered around my desk that I don't have the room. On the ground there's a monitor and X360 development materials, and there's so much stuff scattered all over the place the path to get to my desk looks like an animal trail or something. (laughs) And behind me there's a communal supply cabinet... or at least, it was supposed to be, until it got overtaken by all my clutter. Other employees have been getting mad at me about it so I've been cleaning it up little by little. (laughs) But for my work, when I do debugging, I have to have two sets of monitors and computer equipment, so it just gets cluttered. —Was it your love of cars that led you to the game industry? Ichimura: When I was a student I didn't have any interest in cars; all I did was play games. I was looking for work in Hiroshima, where I lived at the time. As for cars, my friend at the time introduced me to them and that was the beginning of my interest. I was really into Ridge Racer at the time, too, so that might have been an influence. I liked other games besides racing too, of course. Fighting games were really popular then and I played a lot of Garou Densetsu (fatal fury) and Street Fighter II. And in my third year of college I only had one lab class a week, so other than that I was completely free, and I went to the game center all the time. That pattern of slacking off while studying programming began in my second year of college. The first company I worked at was a kind of surveying company, and since this was right after the bubble had burst, there were a lot of game designers working there. At that time I saw an advertisement that Cave had put out, and it said something like "The Company That Made Donpachi!" When I saw that I thought, "ah, this is calling me!" and it was like a shock ran through me. (laughs) Donpachi had just come out in the game centers and I played it a ton and liked it, and I thought this was the kind of company I wanted to work at. The X68000 and PC-98 computers were popular at that time, and I bought an X6800 in college and had been studying it. I had made some doujin shooters for it, and Cave's advertisement said they wanted someone who knew X68000 assembler, so it seemed like the perfect fit to me. —If you had a PC back then, you must have owned a lot of different game hardware by now? Ichimura: Of the recent hardware, I own a PS3. The World Cup is going on right now so I've been playing nothing but "Winning Eleven." Yesterday I lost a match between Holland and Japan, and Japan ended up losing in real life too, so I'm refusing to play today's Japan vs. Paraguay match. (laughs) I watch the matches on TV, but I just to be safe I record them on my PS3 with the Torune software, too. In that sense I get a lot of use out of the PS3, not just with games. Torune is great. For 9800 yen, if you use it you won't need a video recorder anymore. I also own a PS2, which is still on active duty. I own a Wii, too, and lately I've been playing Metroid Prime on it. I received an X360 recently, but I haven't opened it yet. (laughs) Since I use it at work all the time I had no intention of buying one myself, but I think someone gave it to me with a feeling of "you of all people should have one!" (laughs) There's some X360 games I want to play, but I don't really have a place to put the console right now. I'm at least planning to play Ridge Racer on it. For games, the X360 is quite good. The previous model hardware had a huge power supply, was noisy, and made me worry about how hot it got, but the new model seems to have solved these problems. As for older hardware, the first I bought was a Sega Mark III. Actually, I had been into radio controlled cars for a long time, and I traded one with a friend for a Sega Mark III. (laughs) Buggy mode radio controlled cars were really popular in my area at the time, so much so that you could get a game system for one. Radio controlled cars is still one of my hobbies, actually, and since I can't go to the race circuit every week, I get my fill with my radio controlled cars. I have a PC at home, too, and I make libraries and middleware on it. I have a lot of game consoles, and I still go to the game center occasionally too. Not to play anything specifically, but just to see what's new and what's going on. My friend is obsessed with the game "Border Break" right now, so lately I've been going there a lot with him. (laughs) —You like mecha and racing games, but how about moe?! Is there a character you'd like to marry? Ichimura: Basically I just love mecha games, so there isn't a character like that for me. (laughs) Its also the case that making mecha characters is easier for me than human characters when I'm designing a shooting game. And the characters in Cave's games... they're all weird or strange in some way. (laughs) Hmm, if I had to name someone, it would be Reco from Mushihimesama. Now that I think of it, I want to try flying around on her beetle Kin'iro! As a racing fan I'm curious about how a flying beetle would feel. —When you say that, it makes me think you must have done some of the voices for Cave's games... Ichimura: Its true that Cave has a long tradition of using employees or designers to help with the voice work, but I've never done it myself. I'm bad at that kind of thing so I don't even want to try. (laughs) People have asked and I've steadfastly refused. Actually, with Guwange, Inoue did ask for my help, but it was for some enemy character doing some weird "guohhhhh" voice thing, and I absolutely didn't want to do it. (laughs) —Speaking of the mecha titles you've done, please tell us about Ketsui, which I understand was very popular at Cave, too? Ichimura: Yeah, when it comes to my love of mecha shooting, Ketsui is a game that was fun even when I was making it, so its very dear to me. I also still enjoy playing it, as the bullets are fast and I'd have to say it really emphasizes rhythm and flow. I didn't have much to do with the character and ship design, so I was able to focus all my energy on the bosses, and for each one I struggled to come up with cool attacks and bullet patterns. But it was also really fun thinking those up. —Speaking of boss characters, you've done so many, but are there some that you particularly like? Ichimura: I'm very fond of the stage 5 boss of Dodonpachi, the first game I worked on at Cave. Also Hibachi from Daioujou. I had been wanting to make bullet patterns like that but I thought I wouldn't be able to do it. (laughs) Hibachi is Ikeda's creation, but Ikeda and I have entirely different styles when it comes to shooting games. While working on Hibachi I realized that it was impossible for me to try and imitate Ikeda, so I switched gears and followed my own path. I think that comes across most clearly in Ketsui. With any endeavor, at first you start out trying to copy something as closely as possible, but at some point your differences start to come out. And I really think that the special something that attracts players to a game can't be easily imitated. Ikeda is very good at making the player dodge bullets. His games are built around players finding the correct path through danmaku bullet patterns, and therein lies their appeal. I, on the other hand, really like games that have a certain flow, where on-sight and reaction dodging are the main focus. —What do you think shooting will be like in 10 years? Ichimura: I get the impression things will be more casual. There won't be many of the kind of hardcore games you see in game centers, but things will probably be more like the smartphone games you can casually play anywhere, which are popular right now. Ranking and scoreboards will also be different, with the focus shifting more to different ways to communicate with other players rather than individual scoring competition. I think it will be interesting when people on a train can be playing something like Time Pilot against each other. There's a strong impression that shooting up till now is something for hardcore fans, and its difficult for beginners to get involved. As you can see with recent Cave titles, I think future shooting games will be made to have a wider appeal. So I think the direction we're moving in is more casual shooting games that anyone can pick up and play. —Are you interested in making casual shooting games in the future? Ichimura: I'd like to make a shooting game that doesn't feel exactly like a shooting game. Lately all sorts of new things have been happening in line with new hardware coming out, and I think we have to start pursuing those avenues. But my hands are full right now with researching various things, and I don't have time to start planning something new. I'd like to spend more time thinking stuff up, but when you also have to consider that a game needs to be profitable it gets really difficult. So for now, please just let me devote myself to programming. (laughs) There are several things I'd like to experiment with, too, but they're for platforms Cave isn't developing for. I'm thinking to just work on them in my free time at home, at my own pace. —Please give us a final message. Ichimura: I'm going to keep making shooting games with Cave, no matter what form they may take. I'd like to collaborate on more games with Ikeda... but lately he's been very busy and it might be difficult. And in the first place, its kind of weird to be talking about the Director actually programming games himself at the office. (laughs) I will keep making shooting games, so to all our fans, I hope you will keep coming along for the ride!
  8. Manabu Namiki Translated by blackoak. Central Works (He either did all or part of the soundtracks for these titles.): Dodonpachi Daioujou Ketsui Espgaluda II Mushihimesama Futari Deathsmiles Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu + Black Label Deathsmiles II —Please share your feelings about Cave as they welcome their 16th anniversary. Namiki: Shooting games have been around since the dawning of the game centers. I think its amazing the way Cave has shaped and pursued the evolution of the gameplay of "dodging and firing bullets." I also love these kinds of games, so I'm very happy that I've been able to support Cave through my music. I was employed by Cave before working with Basiscape, so our relationship goes back a long way. —Starting with your older titles, please tell us how you got involved with game production and writing music. Namiki: My first plunge into the game industry was a part-time job designing pixel art graphics. But I didn't have any artistic talent and never studied art. I just knew how to get the computer to display certain images and worked like that. It was the first time I learned color theory and such, from an art school professional who taught me while I worked. I was 19 then, and it was 1990. Listening to music had always been a hobby for me. When it comes making music, I had never studied, I didn't know piano, and I never went to music school. About all I had done was help a friend out a bit who had a band when I was a student. But I was a young kid who earnestly loved games, so I had all these personal ideas about how game music should be, or how the music should match the graphics of a game. I wrote music just with my imagination. Through my part time job, I painfully realized that I had no talent with drawing. (laughs) So I thought, if I'm no good at drawing, how about music? So with a synthesizer that I had at hand I started making chiptune style game music, and I'd keep diligently working at it until I'd finally have something worth hearing, and then I'd show it to a friend. While I was doing all that, I sent a demo tape to a company, and they hired me. That was my professional start, in April of 1992. After I joined the company as a "pro," while I made music there I also studied music, so that order was all wrong. (laughs) So, if anyone reading this has something love to do, I want them to challenge themselves and remember that you can pick up the technical stuff later. I think if you really love something, even the difficult parts won't seem painful. —Having worked on so many games, there must be some where the setting and world were very difficult for you to write music to. Namiki: When it comes to writing music that fits a shooting game, its different from normal music. I have to always keep in mind that it has to be a certain kind of music to work for a shooting game. I think this is a fundamental thing to remember, in a sense even coming ahead of the graphics and the setting. For example, to compare it with cooking, in cooking the ingredients are already decided, and the setting of the game is like the spice or flavor. In Dodonpachi Daioujou, when I heard the world was a retro-future sci-fi setting, I thought I'd give the music the same color and style, but a fundamental premise that I have to remember is that this is music for a shooting game. Another example, Mushihimesama, takes place in a fantasy world, and the feeling of nature flows through it, so musically I wanted to include folk music rhythms, and use flutes and drums as instruments. For each game I add all sorts of things to diversify the game world. All these different "spices" have to be added while I hold fast to the premise of it as a shooting game... to say it another way, how do I work it out with such limitations. In that sense, its a difficulty I have to face for every game I work on. —When you're creating the music for a game, what kind of things do you pay special attention to? Namiki: I've always really loved games. I've been playing what we would now call "retro" games since I was in elementary school. When I'd listen to the sound effects and music of those games, I'd think about how it could be made more enjoyable, or how it could better excite the listener as he played. I continue to research those things now, with my work, and its something I keep close to me everytime I'm writing. I'm making "music for video games" so I really focus on how to make the music synergize with the game and make it more exciting. —It must be difficult to achieve that effect in the noisy environment of a game center! Namiki: Like many kids, when I was young, I'd often ride my bike to the game center, and when I stopped my bike in front, and the automatic doors opened, and I heard all the music flow out... I was like, "Alright, let's play!" and it would really get me excited. I'd like it if I could recreate that excitement in my music. In game centers, there aren't only video games... there's also medal games, crane games, photo sticker booths, tv displays... its a place where all these sounds and more are jumbled together. I've been involved in making music for games in game centers for almost 18 years now, and I still find it hard to hear a game's music in the flood of all that sound. Its something you just can't get away from. But when I write music, I think if I can at least match the mood of the music to the game's progression, even if you can't hear it properly with headphones, the basic parts of the rhythm and melody won't get lost as you play, even in that noise-saturated environment. When I play my favorite games, too, if I get overwhelmed by the other sounds in the game I get disinterested and will soon end up dying. (laughs) And its further disappointing then, not even being able to hear my own explosion! So that sense of excitement and tension from the music is important. When you've cleared a stage and hear music that feels good, you get pumped up and think, "Alright, what's next!" When you can't hear it, though, its like there's no response from the game and its lonely. I feel like even now I'm still fighting against the flood of sound in the game center to avoid that. (laughs) —Its true that your music really gets people excited to play, starting with the character select screens. Namiki: Players who aren't very good at shooting games will still always hear certain music: the stage/ship/character select screen, and the music you hear before you start playing and take-off. Before I start composing I always get some hints from the graphics and rules of the game, in order to understand what I should be emphasizing. Each time I work hard at this aspect of the composition. I consciously try to write the stage select screen so that it gets players excited, and to make it feel like an inviting door into the world of the game. Of course the more stage select screens I make, the more I exhaust my tricks. (laughs) I haven't counted exactly yet, but I think its been... 9 games? If you add in arrange versions and console ports its probably well over 10. For Daioujou, Ketsui, and Deathsmiles I did all the music myself, but for the other games, in order to keep on schedule, I've asked for help from other Basiscape staff for several songs. Of course I'd like to do everything myself, but its just too difficult. —The CD soundtracks for those titles were also very popular. Namiki: Before I started working at Cave I worked for another company making shooting game music, but almost all that music has never been put out on cd. When the soundtracks for the Cave games came out on CD, I got inquiries about putting out my older work on CD, too. My response was, please ask Cave about that. (laughs) But after that things became more open, and I participated in the Cave Matsuri events, too. The truth is, people then were saying the outlook for shooting games doesn't look good, and that fewer and fewer game centers are carrying shooting games. There was a feeling of danger that, at this rate, shooting games would disappear. I made my music then with the feeling that, if I write good music, the people who love it will carry the torch forward. That was all around the time of Daioujou and Ketsui. —You must have a lot of attachment to the music from those games, then? Namiki: I feel that way for all the music I've written, but those early days were particularly memorable because they were full of trial and error. Back then the music couldn't be realized with the same level of quality as a CD, and the waveforms for the different instruments all had to fit on the space of a floppy disk. Now that I think of it, I remember that the music score had to all fit on the same floppy, too. Its not exact, but I believe we had about 1.2MB of space. When the music got recorded for the CD soundtrack, that was the first time we even heard them in stereo. Even now, pcbs with stereo capability aren't common. That's another difference between normal music and music you hear in a game center, you know. Lately there's been an increase in stereo capable arcade games, but the influence of that older time is still strong. After all, its already been 8 or 9 years since Ketsui and Daioujou were released. I believe it was December of 2001 at my first meeting with Cave that I was told about the space and sound limitations, and I was shocked. It was a real struggle but somehow we managed to release Daioujou in April. I remember staying up late all night sometime in February and delivering the finished product to the office. —Daioujou also has a lot of tracks, and you were on such a tight schedule! Namiki: More than the number of tracks, the development environment and the technical specs were special and difficult to deal with, and it was really frantic. But for Ketsui and Daioujou, I felt I had really grasped the essence and feel of "Cave shooting," and that it was very clear to me how a shooting game should be, so my vigor came back. Since then, the hardware has been improved for games like Mushihimesama, Espgaluda II, Mushihimesama Futari, Daifukkatsu, and Deathsmiles...and each game has brought its own new challenges, but it was my experience with Daioujou that formed the firm base for me. Everything since then has been about how can I build off that base, and it has never once failed me, except once. That was for Daifukkatsu Black Label. Well, I shouldn't say it failed, but rather that I wanted a different taste there. Everyone who plays shooters seems to have really good ears, so its very difficult meeting their expectations each time. (laughs) I think the graphics and design teams, and everyone involved in our games, has to face that same dilemma anew with each game. In particular, I have a strong impression from Junya Inoue saying during Deathsmiles, "I want to make something that isn't 'Cave style'." The way the difficulty and stages can be selected, and how players can choose their favorite stages, the way it scrolls horizontally and you don't die when you run into something... Deathsmiles, looked at objectively, really is different from Cave's normal style. At the first meeting for it, I heard from Inoue himself that the world was a "gothic horror, gothic lolita." That news came at just the right time because I too had been wanting to change the style I'd become set in. Inoue and I were kindred spirits in the sense that we both saw a lot of new ideas in that setting. So Ketsui, Daioujou, and Deathsmiles were all turning points to me, and I have a very special attachment to them. —In Deathsmiles, the "Halloweentown" song is very impressive. Namiki: That song came out very easily. It was very different from the music I'd written up till then, a sort of gothic style with classical airs, so of course I studied up on those things in order to incorporate them. I'd never written for that kind of a world, and to be honest, I felt I wasn't very good at it. The music of old Europe like Bach, pipe organ music and such... its famous, but I feel like the respect people pay it is sometimes not entirely genuine. I get the sense people are forced to listen to it for their musical training, and it often gets used in a hackneyed, cliche way whenever anyone wants to evoke churches or old Europe. But if I wanted to give players an image of a horror game, that was the way to go, and even if I didn't reference Bach, if I wanted something with that kind of feeling I was going to have to make my own "gothic horror shooting" style music in this way. It became easier when I realized I could put my own twist on it. After I wrote the Halloweentown song, like a picture scroll, the music for the other stages came out smoothly and easily. From the experience I felt how important a game's world was. For a SF, mecha shooting like Dodonpachi, where the world is already firmly set in stone, its become very difficult to add variety through the music. Using just a synthesizer and figuring out how to keep things interesting for each new game... I've finally hit a stalemate. When I hear other mecha style shooting games, it always cliched rock and techno, and it doesn't enhance or enlarge the world of the game. Since I've been given the distinction of writing music for Cave, after all, I've never wanted to cop out with some generic rock and techno cliche. I've always wanted to write music that really reflects the true core of the game's world, filtered through my own sensibilities. And I here I am today. (laughs) —Is there anything you've been wanting to do in the future? Namiki: By now I've made so many songs for boss fights that I'm really worried how I will make future ones interesting. Such worries are the fate of the creator, but I want new challenges without narrowing my ambitions and releasing something mediocre. I want Cave to make a shooting games with no boss music. (laughs) A boss-less shooting game... could it be the next big thing!? (laughs) —Are you saying a shooting game without stages?! Namiki: Yeah, the accomplishment from clearing stages would be lost... (laughs) Well, in place of bosses, just put some kind of boss-like obstruction in the way! —That's what a "boss" is. (laughs) Namiki: Ok then, let's have Ikeda make a new shooting game with no bosses at all. I only ask the world that they please stop making boss rush games. These games where its just one boss fight after the other from the get-go just end up giving you ulcers, anyway. So instead, please make a "journey shooting" game with no bosses. (laughs) Because that's what I've been saying about not getting trapped by mediocrity. I want Cave, and myself, to challenge ourselves by making games that aren't just rehashes of preexisting ideas. In shooting games there's a certain basic set of promises that games fulfill: zako come out, then a midboss appears, then you defeat the boss and clear the stage. I want to overturn such "common sense"... with a no-boss shooting game! (laughs) Or maybe we could do a single, really well-hidden boss. —If you do that, then the boss will have to have 5 phases or so, and with each phase the music will also have to change... Namiki: Why are you torturing me!! (laughs) Well, I know that's a joke, but it would be a new challenge, something different from everything we'd done so far, like Deathsmiles was. Shooting has this reputation as a hardcore genre, and I know Ikeda too has wanted to sweep that image away. Its difficult, you know, to make something that different people can all enjoy. That challenge will be an eternal theme for shooting developers. —Do you still go to game centers to relax or get ideas? Namiki: I go a lot. But I like older games, when there were more diverse genres. The number of new arcade games has really decreased, and there's almost no new large arcade machines at all. So if I want to play something like that it always ends up being something older. [[ translator note: the terms Namiki uses are kogata games and taikan games. A kogata game just refers to a normal sized arcade game, like a standard candy cab size. Taikan games are large arcade machines with enclosures designed to give greater sensory immersion, things like F-ZERO AX, Darius Burst, many racing games, etc ]] By the way, I have two children, and my son is a big fan of Cave's shooting games. He's in his third year of elementary school now, but he can clear their games. He 1cc'd Deathsmiles Mega Black Label at the game center. (laughs) It began with him listening to the roms I'd bring home from work, and him asking "Can I hear Dad's music on this?" but lately, rather than hear Dad's music, he's awoken to the intrigue of Cave's games. I thought there's no way he'll spend enough time to clear these, and that he'd just give up after awhile, but I was shocked when I saw him weaving through these danmaku patterns! He cleared Deathsmiles II with about 60 million points! Someone saw his score ranked on the Xbox Live leaderboards around 100th place and said to me, "Maniki, your score is amazing!" and I replied, "That's not me, that's my son!" (laughs) —Your son shows great promise as a future shooter. (laughs) Namiki: If there are more kids like him, then I think a way will open up for the next generation of shooting. I also want to hear what shooting music sounds like in 10 years. I wonder if I'll still be writing shooting game music then? I'd like to still be writing and be included in the 25th Anniversary Cave shooting book. (laughs) I'm excited for however it will turn out, but please let everything be in stereo by then. Maybe we'll even have "live orchestra" shooting music. I know it would be exciting to have a live orchestra playing shooting music at some future event! I hope there are more events and such in the future. I'd like to involve kids more, like with a caravan shooting competition. If you do that you'll get kids named "Naniwa Casper" gathering in Shinjuku Gyoen. [[ translator note: where Cave's offices are located ]] You know, the original shooting game generation is now in their 30s and 40s. Soon we'll be Grandfathers! When our eyesight starts to go bad, there's no way we're going to see these danmaku patterns... it'll be "Oohh, where's my ship?!" and the arcade cabs may start needing reading glasses or handrails attached to them. (laughs) "Barrier Free Shooting" won't be referring to a shooting game with no barrier! And since our hands will be shaking all the time, they'll have to add "shake correction" to the games to keep the ships from moving about... ok, I'll stop thinking of all these ways our bodies will degenerate. (laughs) So please, show your children ages 10 and below the wonder of shooting games. [[ translator note: I cracked up at this. "Barrier Free" in Japan is a term that means handicap accessible. Otherwise, in Japanese shooting games, the term barrier means the same thing as in English, a shield/barrier. Nice one, Namiki. ]] —And the music too should appeal to the younger generation as well. Namiki: Maybe we'll start seeing bouncy punk music by 10 year old girls be added to shooting games. (laughs) Let's sign some of these girl bands for production! You'll hear them screaming out while you struggle with the boss! I was saying I wanted boss music to have an impact, so I've got to try some strange things, you know. (laughs) —Looks like we've finally come back to the subject of bosses... you really do hate them. (laughs) Namiki: When I first started writing boss music it was fun. But gradually I started running out of new things to do. (laughs) Now that its come to this I just have to keep trying new things. But when the tempo gets over 200 BPM, it becomes difficult to construct music that way. And at 300 or 400 things everything juts sounds like a drill. I'm really at an impasse here. When I'm trying to write boss music at my PC I'm just grinding my teeth with frustration, and its raising my blood pressure! If you don't get the right tension to make it feel imposing like "I'm the BOSS!" , then the song ends up being more appropriate for a mid-boss or something. If I can just convey to the readers of this book the terribleness of bosses, I will be saved. (laughs) Its terrible making their music, its terrible for players struggling to defeat them, its terrible for Cave from start to finish creating them... everything about bosses is terrible. Who benefits from this madness?! (laughs) So please, think about a shooting game without bosses! —Please give all your fans a final message. Namiki: As everyone knows, shooting is a very interesting genre. While you can naturally enjoy it on your own, please also share it with your friends. Or if you have children, please don't think it will be bad influence on them, add playing together as one of his/her activities. And as a composer it would make me happy to see parents and children playing together and getting excited. Also, if you've understood how terrible the work involving bosses is, despite all this, please crush them. (laughs) Shooting games will surely be decreasing, and there will be less chances to play them, but I think Cave will continue to put out high quality shooting games, so please keep watching us.
  9. Junya Inoue Translated by blackoak. Central Works: Dodonpachi Esprade Guwange Progear no Arashi Dodonpachi Daioujou (part of the illustrations) Deathsmiles series * Mainly oversees character design, game setting, and story. On Deathsmiles he also directed as "graphics president." His manga "BTOOOO!" has been in publication since 2009. —Please share your thoughts regarding Cave's 16th anniversary. Inoue: It feels like the child who was so small is finally all grown up! (laughs) I joined Cave about 2 years after they had started, in the middle of Dodonpachi. Since they were in the middle of it, I wasn't given too much of the main work. Judging from the style of the team making Dodonpachi at that time, the main work was the bosses and stages, and things like the story, opening, ending, and ship select weren't thought of as very important. So my boss at the time told me, "Its not that important, so Inoue, you do it." Since I had essentially been told "do whatever" with the story and ending, I was really lost as what I was even supposed to do. (laughs) I mean, since the stages and the protagonists and the ships were all already completed, how in the world am I supposed to come up with a story after the fact?! Even now I wonder about that. Anyway, I ended up studying up on the prequel, Donpachi, and realized it didn't have that deep of a story. Well, now I could relax a little... and with that feeling my work at Cave began. Since then, I've quit the company but I'm still connected to them even now, with my work on Deathsmiles II this year. Its been a long, lasting relationship. Though Deathsmiles II will be my final game with Cave... (laughs) —Weren't you saying the same thing when Deathsmiles was released? Inoue: I… am a liar. (laughs) The truth is, I hadn't been involved in any of Cave's sequels so I was interested this time. From the start I had wanted to do sequels to the various projects I had worked on; there's ideas you just couldn't fit into the first game, and new ideas keep coming up even after its finished, and I wanted to somehow bring those to life. It ended up that when I talked with Ikeda about all this he was like, "Ok, you do it then," so the direction became my responsibility for Deathsmiles II. I was busy with my work as a manga artist, and I wanted to change the atmosphere from the first game, so I was going to hire a different illustrator and focus on direction myself... that was the plan, but somewhere along the way it turned out that I had come up with all these new design ideas, so in the end I did the illustration myself. Its controversial to change the visual design like this, but if I can't get the feeling of satisfaction I'm seeking from the first and second designs, I will change it again for Deathsmiles III. (this is also a lie) —In Dodonpachi, how did you come up with lines like "Shinu ga yoi"? [[ translator note: a translation would lie somewhere between the gruffness of "now, die" with the nuance of permission, ie "you may die now." the key point is that its not a crazed SHINEEE!!!, Hokuto no Ken style threat. ]] Inoue: There's always various tensions when you make a game, but with Dodonpachi I was pretty relaxed. So I think that's why that kind of catchphrase and character came about. I touched on this before, but I think that for each game you work on you have to take things according to their circumstances, and not be too hung up on particular ideas. I think that in a game's characters and background, you find the core of the story, and the world of the game flows from there. Many games at the time which were called "masterpieces" had a world and story which were closely intertwined, after all. But with Donpachi and Dodonpachi, that wasn't the case at all. So no matter how seriously I tried to create a backstory I thought I would never reach something on the level of the Raystorm games. With that being the case, I had a very blase attitude about it and the result was that I just worked on things in a very casual way, not taking it too seriously. (laughs) After I had finished working on Dodonpachi, sometime later when I saw the words that come up before the last boss, "Saishuu Kichiku Heiki," I exclaimed, "Ikeda!! Yet again you've put more of your insane pillow talk into this game!" To which Ikeda replied, "YOU wrote that!" (laughs) I guess I was so relaxed I forgot what I even did. (laughs) So please don't give me too much credit or respect for Dodonpachi. The one who deserves that is Ikeda, for the feat of designing those charismatic bosses. Only in doing so we'd end up adding some strange language to the game. At the time a senior employee at Cave (he was something like a director) was announcing to the development team that his image for the game was Uchuu Senkan Yamato, and I thought that here was a Star Wars lover who'd just revealed his true colors. With that, I told him I was thinking about refining the story for Dodonpachi to be more like 70s era sci-fi, and the phrase "shinu ga yoi" just came out naturally. I'd completely forgot about all that... (laughs) They seemed like phrases that Battleship Yamato villains like Lord Desler or Emperor Zwoda would say. [[ translator note: saishuu heiki is a normal word that means "ultimate weapon." Adding in kichiku, which means "brute" or "cruel" makes it "ultimate brutish weapon." An extra layer of meaning comes in from the fact that "kichiku" was popularly (mainly) used to refer to Americans and English soldiers as "brutes" during WWII. This would be more overt given the military theme of Dodonpachi. Also, regarding "pillow talk" or makurakotoba, the meaning is different from how we colloquially use the phrase is English; it refers to set phrases in classical poetry in Japanese, rather than erotic bedside banter. In other words, Inoue is referring again to Ikeda's known proclivity for using strange language. ]] —Speaking of Ikeda, from your perspective, what kind of person is he? Inoue: I probably shouldn't say too many weird things about him in public like this. But I have nothing to say but weird things! Strange people seem to always be drawn to him. One time, on the train he saw a man in a tank top who looked like he was about to be kissed by another man standing behind him. This guy in the tanktop was really well built, and the guy behind him seemed to have his lips puckered up as if to say "What a wonderful back! <3" Ikeda saw him posing luridly like this, as if he were waiting for the brakes on the train to suddenly be pulled so the man would fall into his waiting lips. Ikeda's always seeing weird things like that. He observes mysterious things too. On the last train of the night, he saw an old man go "UGH" as if he was about to upchuck the entire contents of his stomach, and yet he never threw up, but his mouth kept getting fuller and fuller, almost to bursting. Ikeda observes many things that one would just normally ignore. There's something in him that seems to attract these kind of strange people. Its a quality that can't be mimicked! Cave: (a Cave staff member who was sitting next to Inoue at the interview, hereafter "Cave"): Ikeda is always saying "Junya is strange." Inoue: He doesn't call me Junya! Ah, that's creepy! Cave: It would be funny at an event if you both did a routine with "Jun-chan" and "Ike-chan." I bet the fans would like to see that. Inoue: Yeah, it would be funny to see those two arguing. And with 1 mic between them. Ughhh, I'm disturbed! (laughs) —Do you often butt heads with Ikeda? Inoue: Quite often. If Ikeda is the King, then I am the Prince... neither of us will back down. But lately Ikeda seems to have withdrawn and is not too involved with development, so I haven't had much feedback from him. Cave: Whenever Ikeda calls me the phone calls go on and on. It gets to the point where even he says "I don't want to talk on the phone anymore." Inoue: Its worst when he's in high spirits, isn't it? Lately I've been keeping his number blocked. (laughs) Cave: When it happens that Ikeda has been talking for an hour and I can't believe he's still going on, I suddenly realize from the content of the conversation that its Junya he really wants to talk with. If only he'd just use email. (laughs) Inoue: Hey, these are important conversations! If you tried to do this in email it would take 8 times as long! Talking all these things over is the key to a good game. Cave: Why not just come to the office? Well, actually, then the meeting would never end... (laughs) It would be like, I'm STILL here?! There he goes again, just talking on and on with no consideration for his fellow man... Inoue: Oh, but there is. These are important conversations that will determine the basis of the game. "On men's moe obsession with girls" and so forth. When I first heard Ikeda say such things I thought, "what the hell did he just say," but due to his excellent powers of persuasion I have come around and sensed something very deep... he introduced me to some research materials, and I ordered them from Amazon... Cave: ... (embarrassment) Inoue: Ikeda called me one night at 11PM and shared his wisdom, "You can't make dressing in drag look so free and easy! You've got to make him look all frustrated, like he's saying 'No, no!'" As a result of that session I realized, "Yes! I've got it!" and the character Lei was born! —So that's how it was... by the way, which Cave character would you take as a bride? Inoue: Well, I'm not familiar with the characters of Cave's other titles, but if I had to choose one, I would say Windia or Irori. I have a lot of affection for the characters I've made, you know. You've got to love your own work, first and foremost. Though if that feeling is too strong, other people won't like it, you've got to be mindful of the balance. (laughs) So I feel I should say "daughter" rather than "bride," right? (I'm taking this too seriously) —...ok then. Of the games you've developed, which ones have a special emotional significance for you? Inoue: In their own way I feel a strong connection to various things, but in the sense of which one was the most challenging, ESP.ra.de. I felt inside that I had changed Cave with this game. Also, Guwange, for showing me that I could draw pictures like that. These two are most significant for me because I feel like I was able to express myself with them most fully. Deathsmiles, on the other hand, was more like "how do I make others happy?", and as far as my personal attachment goes, is therefore lower than Guwange and ESP.ra.de. Cave: The world of Guwange is very unique. Inoue: Cave made a big fuss about the Japanese aesthetic at first... I wasn't at the Guwange team at first. One day I took a peek at what they were doing, and they were saying the Japanese style would come from mechs with Japanese roof tiles as armor... and then I exclaimed something like "How exactly is that 'Japanese' style shooting?!" Well, after that, you know how it is... once you speak out you've got to help out, and I joined the Guwange team. So after that I aimed for a Japanese style that would include things like youkai, yuurei, the awe of sakura blossoms, the beauty of blood, the excitement of summer, and so on. To achieve this, I felt the image of Edo and Sengoku (warring states) periods were too close to current human civilization to be effective. The more ancient Heian, Kamakura, and Muromachi eras would really give a more "youkai" feeling to things. The divine presence of the kami and the sense of mystery would be greater, too. Cave: There aren't that many games with such a Japanese taste to them. Inoue: Within the already small genre of shooting, the number of games with a Japanese aesthetic is yet smaller. Speaking broadly there's the Shikigami no Shiro series, but that Japanese aesthetic is rather slight there. There's also the Vasara games. Ikeda loved the image of Tokugawa Ieyasu smoking a cigar in that game, and he said to me, "I want to blown away like this." —You did some fine voice performance in those games too. Inoue: That was just playing around. I absolutely can't do vocal performances. Like Hitchcock or Tarantino, I wanted to leave my... fingerprints? (laughs) on my work. Its an expression of the feeling I have as a kind of director, wanting to shower my work with love! On the other hand, projects that I haven't had much attachment to don't have my voice in them... like Yanya Caballista... right? I tried doing some voicework for Satan Claws, but we found someone perfect for that role. And we've been doing full voice work for our games lately, so the pretense for me adding my voice is gone. I stepped back a bit for Deathsmiles IIX and only recorded my voice for the boss Tamekosu. I'm really bad at vocal performance. You know, my lies always get found out, so my acting sucks. My specialty lies more in coming up with lies. Cave: I think its funnier with Junya's monotone readings! Inoue: It makes the passionate fans happy when they see little chinks in the armor like that. They like to find our little faults and enjoy brandishing them about and teasing us. "Haha, look at this dialogue!!" kind of thing. They're laughing at us! Cave: I know (laughs). As soon as you say "Cave" they start grinning. Inoue: We can use that to our advantage, in a sense. After all, our games are pretty slapped together... (laughs) You now, at a live event recently SawaXXXX-san's ass was half-revealed, and it was kind of chubby, and he was jokingly scolded "you've been slacking off!!" But I say, that's good! Because you can see the little flaws. If you can't see those, its lacks charm. When you get down to it, Cave also has a strength not unlike SawaXXXXsan's ass. How do you like it, my "ass theory" (shiririron)? Or "shiriron," to say it like Ikeda! [[ translator note: the typically inane Japanese pun here comes from the fact that "shiri" (butt) and "riron" (theory) share the sound "ri", so combining them in one word sounds like the kind of silly catchphrase Ikeda would apparently come up with. ]] —Speaking of Deathsmiles, I hear you forgot the name of your own characters... Inoue: You must be referring to the time we were creating merchandise for Deathsmiles... Cave didn't know the name of the character's magic. So they asked me "What was the name of Suupi's magic again?" I'm really bad at remembering names so I always choose things that are easy to remember. The magic names were based off what they yell out: "ho, ho!", "ki ki ki ki..." "boo boo", that kind of thing. So I was trying to remember what Suupi called out when she used her magic, and I thought, "gaago", that's it! and emailed Cave back. Later I learned that it was actually "gyaasu". (laughs) Because of that I think we had to reprint some things. (laughs) Please, don't trust me! —Are there other names you came up with in a similarly convenient way? Inoue: At this age, I have a hard time remembering those names. You try remembering something like "Colonel Schwarlitz Longhena"!! If there were some keywords or something it'd be easier to remember. With "Irori" from ESP.ra.de, there's the common word "irori" ("sunken hearth/fireplace") that everyone knows, and it conveys an image of Kyoto, where she's from, and it also evokes the winter setting of ESP.ra.de... with all these allusions, its the perfect name. And it has "rori" [["loli" or lolita]] in it! Perfect! It has absolutely nothing to do with the Okonomiyaki restaurant near Cave's offices. Other than that, most of the names I choose are named after something already existing. I think Its easier to remember that way. For example, in Progear everything is named after parts like "Ring," "Bolt," "Chain," "Nail," and "Rivet." Deathsmiles too, there's kazedukai -> kaze -> wind -> Windia. Shireidukai -> yuurei -> a movie example -> Casper. The fire user was faia -> foia -> Folette. For Suupi, based on an image of an impoverished girl selling matches, it went: himojii (hungry) --> nemui (sleepy) --> su~pi~ --> Suupi. There's not much to it, you see? When I was at Toaplan and Batsugun came out, people complained that they couldn't remember the names of Beltiana and Alteeno.. "is that German?" So it comes from a reaction to that. (laughs) —How did you get into manga and games? Inoue: I've always liked manga, but for games, when I saw Makaimura at a game center, my destiny was changed. And it was in my second year of junior high, when you're most vulnerable to obsessions, so I really got addicted. Thus began my disreputable life of going to game centers. After that, I temporarily set aside my goal of becoming a manga artist because I entered the game industry. Lately I haven't been able to play games at the game center, but I do occasionally play "Tomb Raider: Underworld" at home. As for manga, I draw at home and in the office for my own pleasure and to keep my skills sharp. (laughs) —Do you think making games and drawing manga have anything in common? Inoue: To me, they're pretty much the same. There's a world, and characters, and you're thinking of the best way to show all that as you create. You imagine characters and scenes, and you're trying to figure out what their goals, how they act, and finally you decide to show the best parts in this or that way. I really get into all that so its interesting for me. Following that logic, I think making games and making manga are the same to me. My style is to create a world and setting, and from that a story, so I don't spend too much effort establishing the characters (laughs). The Colonel was made much more deliberately, so that's a different story. But ESP.ra.de and Guwange were that way. I place a lot of importance on the packaging and the coloring. As there's 3 or 4 heroes in those games, I can't spend an inordinate amount of time drawing any single one. This story-centric way of doing things causes the same kind of things to happen in manga too. Though in today's era, its not really a good thing, but... —I imagine its very difficult to work on both manga and games at the same time. Inoue: I'm the type of author who really gets absorbed in one thing, and if I can't develop the world even deeper than the players and readers end up seeing, then I feel like I can't present it. So if I end up having to do too much, I can't focus on one thing at a time deeply and I end up losing interest entirely. When that happens the work falls apart. I'm always afraid of that. —Will you be attending future Cave festivals, where you get to mingle with your fans? Inoue: If I do some work with manga, then maybe... when I release something new I feel like I should attend, but it seems a little strange when I'm a guest everytime. When I think about how others might see my attendance it seems somehow improper, so I'm planning not to come for awhile. (laughs) That reminds me though, last year at the Cave Matsuri I met a guy who told me he had met his girlfriend because of Deathsmiles. I was very happy to meet someone like this. I was curious how it happened. I worked hard on making Deathsmiles a cute game that a girl could look at and not feel weirded out by, and wanted it to be a game that people who don't normally play shooting games could get into. So when I heard some two people got together through Deathsmiles I was like, "I did it!" Cave: Fans of your manga and fans of your games both come to Cave Matsuri events. Inoue: Yeah, there are many Cave fans who keep an eye on my work. When I did a signing event in Oosaka, close to 80% of the fans said they were fans since my Cave days. Those are the people who support me and my work. I have fun drawing pictures and such at the Cave Matsuri events, too. —If there's anything you'd like to say about Cave, please take the occasion now to speak freely. Inoue: I'd like them to make major games, like the kind you see on commercials. Doing that, of course, would mean graduating from the world of 2D shooting. But Ikeda is a person who operates on the logic of "is it interesting?", so I think its a waste for him to be so bound by 2D shooting games. I've been saying this for 15 years now. In the future the world of shooting games is going to get smaller and smaller, but I think it will remain without disappearing. It has a kind of strength, being a genre with a solid fanbase, and the games aren't expensive to create either. Even if it shrinks, I don't suppose it will completely disappear. Cave: Well, how about Deathsmiles III then? Windia's children's generation? Inoue: Don't tell lies! (laughs) That would change the setting in a strange way because it would have to happen before Windia went to Gilverado. I'd rather remake Esprade. I'd update the graphics and world and call it "Esupriredo" or something. "Guwange RPG" sounds interesting too. The character wouldn't be Shishin and them, but would be the player's own customizable avatar. I'd keep the stages short and increase their number and get to draw a bunch of different motifs. It would be like going on a pilgrimage through ancient Japan. Well, I should stop now. If I say any more they'll ask me to start drafting a design plan. —Please give any final message for your fans. Inoue: I, Junya Inoue, and Cave, are supported by the love of all our shooting fans. We will keep this devotion close to our hearts as we continue to do our best. Thank you for everything.