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SHMUP-bot posted an article in STG / Shmup InterviewsHideki 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)
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!
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.