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 Post subject: Gradius Developer Interviews (I,II,III,IV,Gaiden)
PostPosted: Sat Jul 21, 2012 12:29 am 

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Joined: 20 Feb 2011
Posts: 1035
Here is one for the oldschoolers, a series of six Gradius interviews. While I hoped to find one for every entry in the series, I only could find ones for Gradius, Gradius II, and Gradius Gaiden. I also included two short interviews as bonuses: one for Xexex, and another excerpt from a Konami STG interview which touches on the influence of Western CRPGs.

I found these online at this site, which is a rare compendium of game developer interviews from now defunct publications like Gamest. I hope to translate more things from it in the future. The only catch is that, for reasons unknown to me, the original interviewer questions have been excised. Thus these read more like "reflections" from the developers, but they are surprisingly readable. I can testify that for Gamest at least, an annoying amount of sycophantic non-game related banter takes place between the often multiple interviewers and the interviewees, so in a sense its welcomed.

I'm reserving the next posting in the hope that I can add to this with future interviews, particularly for III, IV, and V... be sure to send me scans of anything you might have! I really enjoyed doing these, as Gradius and Life Force were my first introduction to shmups. Special thanks to trap15 for answering some programming related questions for me. Enjoy!

My previous shmupforum translations can be found at this thread, but I will also list them below for convenience:

Scorer Interview Collection - TAC, LAOS, NAL, MON, etc
Stella Vanity and Valhellio Developer Interviews
Two M-KAI Interviews (Eschatos, JSS, Cardinal Sins)
Yoshinori Satake - Steel Empire, Over Horizon Interview
Armed Police Batrider Characters/Stages/Bosses translation (w/ NTSC-J)
Basiscape Composers Interview - Shooting Gameside #1
Cave Shooting History Interview Extravaganza!
Doujin Round Table Discussion - Shooting Gameside #1
Mushi HD/Saidaioujou Famitsu Cave Interview
Raizing Interview - Sotoyama Yuuichi and Yokoo Kenichi
Masahiro Yuge - Toaplan interview (Shooting Gameside vol. 4)
Tatsuya Uemura - Toaplan interview (Shooting Gameside vol.4)

Game Hihyou 9/99 - Machiguchi Hiroyasu Interview

Machiguchi Hiroyasu
Born 1960, joined Konami in 1983.
At age 23, became team leader for the Gradius development group.

I joined Konami sometime around 1982 or 83. When I joined I didn't really like games that much... or rather, I didn't know much about them. After being hired, I had to learn everything about games from step one. I learned most everything on the job as we went along, even basic things like what we call the element of "game play."

I started out as a designer, but after awhile it was determined that I didn't have any talent for that. (laughs) So I got reinstated as a programmer. When I was hired, Konami was working hard to transition from making medal games to video games, and a lot of projects ended up getting shelved. As a result, the first game I actually released publicly was Gradius.

I was given a team to work with, but since you definitely can't make a game with only your own ideas, I started off by asking everyone what kind of game they wanted to make. To my surprise, everyone responded "STG!", and with that we began planning. At that time it was the golden age of Namco's Xevious, and everyone was driven by the enthusiastic sentiment that "If we're going to make a STG, let's surpass Xevious." As for our choice to make a horizontal scroller, it was because we had materials for Scramble and decided to reuse those as much as possible. In fact, Gradius originally started as "Scramble 2."

As it was our first title, we didn't have any confidence about what we were doing. We had a lot of anxiety. In any event, we started coming up with things, and we tested out idea after idea on the actual monitor screen. For example, with the Options, we must have tried out around 20 different movement patterns for them, proceeding by the process of elimination when something didn't work. The development period for Gradius took about a year, and all the while it was a process of continual experimentation and refinement.

Another one of our goals for Gradius was to be able to express something that previous games hadn't been able to do. That would be what we call "sekaikan" [[story/world/setting]] today. I think having a unique world and setting was one of Gradius' defining points.

At the same time we were developing Gradius, Konami finished work on its first 16 bit PCB, the "Bubble System." It was a huge step up in terms of display and processing power. Nowadays home consoles have 128bit CPUs, but back then a 16bit system was very powerful. Accordingly we had all sorts of wild ideas reflecting our desire to do something new that couldn't be done before. The fact that each stage has a totally different image came from our desire to make a variety of different worlds for the game. For Gradius, this idea came first, and the gameplay followed from it.

For the world of the game, we were very influenced by science fiction movies. The popular sci-fi movies at that time were Star Wars and Lensman. (laughs) Lensman had just come out when we were thinking about what kind of STG we'd make, and we all went and saw it as a team. It had a huge impact on us. Not the story, but the way the plasma and lasers and such were drawn left a big impression. On the way back from the theatre we were talking, and we decided "Let's add something like that plasma laser to our game!" And that was how the Laser weapon came to be.

We had many difficulties, but one that stands out was the limitations of the memory. For its time it was quite a large amount of memory, but it still wasn't enough. In Gradius, when you die, you're sent back several screens to a checkpoint. The truth is that wasn't in our original game design plans. The background data would be loaded 3 screens at a time, and then the next background data would be transferred, but when that transfer would get interrupted in the middle by a player death, to allow time for the background data to be transferred we had to send the player back 3 screens. We had to do that due to memory issues, but it ended up leading us to the interesting "recovery pattern" system, so it was all for the best.

[[tr note: According to a knowledgeable source, this limitation may have been because the bubble memory required the "bubbles" to be electrically pushed along inside the memory. It's too slow to read a lot of data from one part, then go read another, and come back. The programming knowhow required to work around this may also have been lacking, as it was this particular team's first game.]]

Another thing we struggled with was the power-up gauge. This was the most difficult. We also tried out a system where you pick up individual items, like a "speed up item" and "missile item", but it somehow wasn't very satisfying. We wanted to give the players freedom in their choices. Not just the choice of whether to pick up an item or not pick it up, but something more detailed. So we figured we'd have players pick up power-ups that they could store, but we really struggled with how they would be used and what kind of selection system there would be. We got a flash of inspiration from the way the function keys on personal computers of that time were laid out. It was their layout and arrangement that gave us the image for the power up gauge. After that we made the power up button. At that time there were almost no 3 button control panels. So we also made a 2 button version of Gradius, but as we expected, it wasn't very fun. In the end, after thinking about the players' responses from the location test, we decided on the 3-button setup.

I think Gradius' success lies in the fact that we were able to take everyone's ideas on the team, debate and discuss them, and make something that reflected the whole team's intentions. Also, we didn't pay much heed to ideas from the outside. The decision to use a 3-button setup is one example of that. Instead we forced our way ahead. (laughs) Of course, that was because we were confident that what we were making was interesting.

In the world of arcade games, you're judged under two different standards: one is the strict question of whether the game made income for the operator, and the other is whether the players liked it. And sometimes there is a gap between these two. Its especially apparent lately. There's various aspects of arcade gaming... there are games that draw a low income but are loved by players, and there are also games that are popular but have a low replay value, so their income ends up being low. Gradius was very popular, but it had a low replay value and didn't draw much income. Still, I think it made on average 18000 yen in a day.

From our perspective as game designers, we felt that a game where "the better you are, the longer you can play" was best. But its very difficult to do that now. So I think games you can play for a long time are being left to home console games. However, naturally we want those players who love arcade games to come back to the game center, so even if the profit falls a bit, and the replay value is low, I think games you can play for a long time are necessary. This was one of the motivations for us in making Gradius IV, as well.

Recently, due to the influence of games like DDR, the focus at game centers has been on casual players. That is, players who don't know much about games but come to the game center to play anyway. If we don't grasp this fact as designers, even if we make a good game, players will quit before they can even understand what's interesting about it. I'd say that is the most pressing thing for us to consider now.

As I've been making games for a long time, in my view one of the greatest changes in game development has been the way we make games. When my generation worked as designers, we'd draw characters on paper with a marker, but now everything is polygons. Its a huge change. And this is my perspective of things, but I'd say that up till now we haven't had to think much about production costs. There was a strong sentiment to just make the games we wanted to make. But that has changed now. Also, we used to think only about satisfying players, but now we have to think more about our original customers, the arcade operators. If we can't make the operators happy, then the players won't get to experience our games either. I think that has been the greatest change--having to strike a balance between the game as a creative work and a commercial product.

1996 Machiguchi Hiroyasu Interview

During the development of Gradius I worked as a programmer and as the team leader. I was involved in Gradius, Gradius II, and Gradius III--the entire series. Originally Gradius was planned as "Scramble 2." The famous STG at that time was Xevious... there had been many STGs released after it, but none had surpassed it. One of our development concepts for Gradius was to make a horizontal STG which would surpass the vertical scrolling STG Xevious.

The capsule powerup system was at first an item power-up system. It probably makes more sense if I call it the "Salamander" system. But we wanted players to be able to choose how to power up their ship, so we left it as you see it today.

Gradius was the first STG to use 3 buttons. Nowadays there are many 6 button arcade games, but at the time 2 button games were the norm. Until the location test, Gradius was also a 2 button game. But it felt too much like something ported from a Famicom game, and at the location test the development staff collected a number of surveys from the game center, and after much deliberating, they decided to make it a 3 button game in order to make it more strategic. At the time it was a very bold move. Various departments at Konami exchanged their opinions about it, but in the end we made it a 3 button game. We had a lot of anxiety about that choice, but I think players were happy about it.

Generally speaking there was no way players would enjoy playing something that we ourselves didn't find interesting, so we came up with a variety of ideas for the stages as well. Some of those ideas couldn't be accomplished due to hardware limitations, but we brought them back for Gradius II and III. The fast scrolling stage and the ice stage in Gradius II, and the bubble stage in Gradius III are examples.

We originally added the Moai because we wanted to give a mysterious image to the game. Xevious had used the Nazca Lines, and we were inspired by that. But we had no idea the Moai would become a mainstay of the series like it has.

As for safe spots and such, we were able to confirm some of them ourselves, but most of them have been found by players. Simply put, they were bugs. We didn't plan for them to be there. This goes for slowdown as well as safe spots, but I think for Gradius all the bugs ended up having a positive effect on the game, and I think we were extremely lucky in that regard. Although its definitely true that those were the boom days of "secret tricks" on the Famicom, from the developer's perspective we'd rather not have had those bugs. But in the case of Gradius, we were lucky in that the players supported us, so those mistakes weren't fatal. .

Our offices were in Osaka during the Gradius development, and after we released the first game a young kid of about elementary school age brought us 200000 yen and asked us to sell him Gradius. Since this was a large amount of money even to us, we called his parents to confirm, and they asked us to sell it to him, so we did. That we had a fan like this made me extremely happy.

Bonus! 1993 Nagata Akihiko - Konami STG Interview Excerpt
(non-gradius portions excised)

Around the time of the first Gradius, the concept of "power ups" in STGs had not yet been clearly defined. Games had systems where the weapons you started with stayed with you from beginning to end. But we thought that was boring. We thought that it might be interesting to add some kind of bonus items.

At that time, Western computer RPGs were coming into Japan, and "building your character" was a kind of new gaming buzzword. We were thinking of ways to bring that concept into the STG genre. Nowadays it seems rather obvious, but back then it was a combination no one had thought of yet. We also wanted to add other "adventure" aspects to Gradius. We planned a system where once you cleared a stage, you'd have a branching choice of where to go next. But in the end, due to memory space limitations, we couldn't add that feature.

1988 Gradius II - Kouji Hiroshita Interview

Kouji Hiroshita
Joined Konami in 1981. Has worked on Megazone, Twinbee, Jackal, A-JAX, Contra, Super Contra, and others.

After Salamander had been released, we started plans for a third game in the Gradius series. We were all waiting for a chance to make it, and of course the requests from fans for us to make it was a big motivation. For STGs, if you just continue making sequels with no break, there's a fear you'll fall into the same patterns. That was why we didn't start making Gradius II immediately after Salamander... we wanted to take some time and develop more ideas. During that time the fans continued to clamour for a sequel, so we finally got started on it.

The development period was extremely short, only about 5 months I think. We were looking towards this year's AOU show, and we started designing it just after last year's AM show. Being such a tight schedule, it was very hard on the staff.

Gradius II is the 4th game in the series, following Gradius, Salamander, and Life Force. The difficult part was that it needed to resemble the Gradius series, but at the same time, it couldn't just be an exact copy. So we tried out all our new ideas, while trying to keep things "Gradius"-ish, and I think we succeeded in making a game that will be difficult enough for fans of the series--one that even skilled players can enjoy.

On our Gradius II development team, we have people who joined Konami because they played Gradius in the game center and liked it. Hearing their perspective on the series brought out a variety of ideas. One person remarked that the essence or appeal of Gradius is that its a smart, stylish game. I think that probably comes from design of the character ship and the enemies. The power-up system also gives it a distinctive flavor. There are many people on the Gradius II staff that personally like the STG genre, and there was a sense that we're all here to make STGs. Lately there's also been an increasing number of skilled players, so we want to make it difficult for them. So naturally there was a sense of wanting to provide a challenge from the developers to the players.

At first we only had one selection for power-ups. That was the first one (speedup, ground missile, double, laser, option, shield). That was the selection from the original Gradius, but we later added more choices. Various ideas were suggested, and we decided that we should let people freely select their own power-ups. We had a lot of ideas then, regardless of whether they could actually be achieved in the programming or not. Things like a ground laser, or homing missiles. Eventually we settled on the current scheme of 4 separate power-up selections. The goal for our staff was to make each option about the same power, so that in the end, after trying out each one, you'd return to the first selection you had gotten used to in the original Gradius. But it didn't really work out that way. The 4 choices were meant to be equal, but the 2-way missile option was considerably stronger because it could fire upwards, I think.

The reason the laser is weaker for Gradius II is that we thought it was too strong before, so we made it a little less powerful. In Life Force you can select the Ripple Laser or the normal Laser. But most players only selected the Laser, so by making the Laser weaker this time, the Ripple Laser should now appear stronger. Another way we strengthened it was when the Ripple Laser hits an obstacle now, it gets a little smaller, but continues onwards. Each of the 4 weapon selections has their speciality, and I think for each stage there's one which is more advantageous than the others. Our goal was to allow players to freely choose the weapons they like and develop their own strategies. For skilled players, after they clear the first loop with one of the stronger weapon selections, they can challenge themselves with a different setup.

The Moai stage was the first stage we made. We did that because the Moai are a mainstay in the Gradius series, and their character design is already established. The idea for the stage was to stuff it with as many Moai as possible. After that we made stage 1, the artificial sun stage. The point of that stage is to give the player a chance to power up. But if you just give the player a bunch of power-ups, it will be boring, so we wanted something where skilled players could get powerups easily, and where the more you tried to power up the more dangerous the enemy attacks would become.

We created the second stage somewhere in the middle. At first it was an organic "internal organs" stage like Salamander, but we changed it later to its current form. The second half of that stage is just like a Contra stage. For this stage we had a female designer on our staff, and she designed almost all of it. We'd see her drawing these outrageous characters and cackling to herself, and the other staff members were always saying "What is going on in your head???"

For the crystal area of stage 3, we programmed it so that the ice would have a certain chance of either drifting toward the player's ship or rebounding and moving away from it. We also added some randomization to that--its not completely random though. That way, although the ice always appears in the same set location, depending on how the sequence of programming events unfolds, it might get dangerous for the player and cause him to change his route. We made this stage in such a way that the spread bomb would be good for it.

Originally, the game ended after the boss rush in stage 7. But we felt we needed to have a base for a Gradius game, so we added the final stage. Also, the last stage we created was the Volcano stage. We also felt here that if its Gradius, you've got to have a Volcano stage.

Personally, I don't think Gradius is that difficult of a game. If you can make it to the end it does become difficult though. By the third loop its like, this is no game. (laughs) But our intention was to make the first and second stages easy to clear. A lot of games recently are very difficult right from the start, and we wanted to go against that trend.

I think the special quality of the Gradius series is that you feel the enemies are somehow watching you. There are almost no enemies that just move on their own, unresponsive to the player. We also thought it was boring if players always follow the exact same routes, so we've added a certain degree of randomness to things, including bullet patterns. The most obvious example of this is in the crystal stage, I think. In addition, its often said among our team that Gradius is a strategy game. If you use your head and think about what you're doing, you'll progress. That also means that each person will have their own individual strategies. Our Gradius II team is the same, with each person having their own individual route through the stages. I felt that way seeing people play at the location test as well... ah, this route is also possible... oh, someone has completed a new route here... and so on. Our development goal was that if a route or pattern worked in one place, it shouldn't work in the next. We were surprised when players figured out a route for the section just before Crab in the last stage, and for the safe spot on Covered Core. Our staff watched a video of that and everyone was shocked.

The important thing for games is that they allow you to lose your sense of time. The better a game is, the more it does this and makes you feel like you've been playing a very long time each credit. I don't say this because short play times are best for earning income, but I'd like to make a game where the degree of satisfaction is the same for those who only play a short while and those who played a long time. Of course, this isn't the end of the Gradius series, and we hope to continue making dense games that allow you to fully forget the passage of time. And we want to continue making games that fulfill the wishes of our fans.

1997 Gradius Gaiden - Seki Teisaku & Staff Interview

Introduction by Teisaku

The concept for Gradius Gaiden was, to put it simply, to pursue and refine the gameplay of the Gradius series. We want our games to progress along with the development of new technology and hardware. I think you see this with Solar Assault, but the Gradius series too will probably continue to evolve in the future. But I think the essential fun qualities of the series, like the power-up system, should stay the same. As refining the gameplay was both our concept and goal this time, we decided to call this entry "Gaiden."

[[tr note: Gaiden means "side story." As he says, the developers were not necessarily furthering the main story or world of Gradius, but rather wanted to focus on developing different gameplay aspects of the series.]]

The game takes place in an era far in the future of the series, but among the developers, we considered it more of a side story. As you can see from the development of the Gradius series heretofore, each game takes place in the same universe. Therefore we made several connections with the Salamander series as well. We also were aware that the Famicom games are straight copies of the arcade games, but the MSX develops an entirely different story.

Previous games had a lot of variation in the Laser, but the Double weapon didn't evolve that much. So we added new weapons with the idea of strengthening the Double, and diversified the new Double weapons according to the various roles they would fulfill ingame. We also were thinking about 2P simultaneous play, and we thought it would be better to have different kinds of ships rather than just ships with different colors, so we added new ships. The weapons each have 2 levels of power as well. Basically, that came from the desire to create stronger versions of the existing weapons. We also thought it would deepen the strategy by giving more choices to the player.

The basic difference between the 1st and 2nd loops is "fan service." Its our way of saying thank you for playing the game a lot. We don't currently have any plans for "Gradius Gaiden 2," but if the response to this game is good, we'll have to think about. Please be sure to send Konami your thoughts about our game!

Short Profiles

Seki Teisaku
Role: Director, Character Design
Previous Works: Lagrange Point and others.
PSX Strengths/Weaknesses: Easier to develop for than other consoles. I think the hardware limitations don't influence the gameplay designs.
Favorite Konami STG: Trigon, I think. Gradius is very well done too.
Favorite Gradius Gaiden ship: Jade Knight. Its hypnotizing...
Development Challenges: The planning phase was the hardest.

Kobayashi Takayuki
Role: zako enemies, boss design, enemy placement
Previous Works: Detana Twinbee Yahoo! Deluxe Pack, Gradius Deluxe Pack.
PSX Strengths/Weaknesses: Because of the frame buffer system in the PSX, you have a high degree of freedom for displaying graphics onscreen, allowing you to present a variety of things. But because the backgrounds and everything has to be redrawn on screen, it requires a lot of speed.
Favorite Konami STG: Gradius
Favorite Gradius Gaiden ship: Lord British
Development Challenges: By playing everyday I became too used to the game, and I lost the ability to tell what was difficult and what was easy.
Future of Shooting?: I think both 2D and 3D shooting each have their own distinct appeal, so I think the current style will continue to be around.

Seki Kazue
Role: Designer. Also helped some with Moai stage and other bosses.
Previous Works: The megadrive version of Animaniacs... but it was only released overseas, so nobody knows it! Mine is a lonely life.
PSX Strengths/Weaknesses: All people have their strengths and weaknesses. And you can say game hardware is the same way. But you know, it isn't as simple as "strengths==good" and "weaknesses==bad." The key is to forgive all, and love everything. If you can do this, you may enjoy what is lacking, too. Yes, that is part of being a "professional." Man, I just got deep there.
Favorite Konami STG: Hmm, I love many games... this is difficult. Only one? Well then, the legless Twinbee. Why? I like what I like. I love radishes and strawberries.
Favorite Gradius Gaiden ship: Since I designed them, they are all like beloved children to me. If I had to say, the ship I like the most in terms of shape is the Lord British. The one that's most fun to play would be Jade Knight. But the Falchion β weapon effect is also a sight to behold. And for pure aesthetic beauty, nothing matches the Vic Viper's laser. Ah, I praised them all! Hehe, anyway, I recommend them all.
Future of Shooting?: I don't know the answer to such difficult questions. Only one thing is certain. The only thing that will never change is that things will keep changing. Hehe.

Ryo En'you
Role: Programming for stage 4/7 enemies, stage 6 boss, Triple core, Giant Ducker
Previous Works: Detana Twinbee Yahoo! Deluxe Pack, Gradius Deluxe Pack
PSX Strengths/Weaknesses: In the beginning I was a little lost on how to use the Playstation's unique frame buffer.
Favorite Konami STG: My favorite has got to be Gradius II. I'm not very good, but for some reason it has a strange fascination for me and I can't stop playing it. Also Xexex. I was very moved by the Princess---err, I mean, the stage 1 background graphics and music.
Favorite Gradius Gaiden ship: I like them all. (laughs) I recommend the Lord British and Jade Knight to people who like weird weapons.
Development Challenges: The refraction effect on the Vic Viper's laser. Until the middle of the development I couldn't get it to refract and bend correctly.

Jun Asami
Role: Graphics
Previous Works: PSX/Sega Saturn ports of Snatcher.
PSX Strengths/Weaknesses: The ability to have multiple patterns for the characters. No particular difficulties/weaknesses.
Favorite Konami STG: All of the Gradius series.
Favorite Gradius Gaiden ship: I like the Falchion β for its swept forward wings.
Development Challenges: I ran out of ideas for the zako characters about halfway through.

Yukihiro Yamazaki
Role: Programming for zako and bosses
Previous Works: Secret
Favorite Konami STG: I can't get enough of A-JAX. I was impressed by the cool scenes with the fast rotation/scaling effects and the rousing music.
Favorite Gradius Gaiden ship: I recommend the new Falchion β ship. It excels in both defense and offense, and can be enjoyed by beginners and veterans.
Development Challenges: As one would imagine, the pressure of releasing something that would not disgrace the Gradius name. The pressure was considerable, as this was both part of a series and one of Konami's flagship titles. Though that fact alone made it all the more worth doing.
Future of Shooting?: Times are changing, and hardware and software are both evolving to 3D, but I think 2D shooters like Gradius will definitely not go away.

Akira Souji
Role: Progamming
PSX Strengths/Weaknesses: We were able to use data compression for Gaiden, and it was a process of trial and error to see how much memory we'd need to layout for sound and other things. So we spent a lot of time with the feedout timing and the data readback.
Favorite Konami STG: Axelay on the SFC. The reason is simple--it was the first STG I oversaw after joining Konami. I did the soundtrack and sound effects for it as well.
Favorite Gradius Gaiden ship: Jade Knight. I like the sound of its laser too.
Development Challenges: I'd been developing for Sega Saturn previously, so when I was suddenly switched to PSX development I didn't know anything. There were a number of things I wanted to do in the beginning, but I did my best with my limited abilities.

Role: Sound Effects
PSX Strengths/Weaknesses: This was my first game doing SFX for, so I can't make any comparisons.
Favorite Konami STG: Famicom Gradius.
Favorite Gradius Gaiden ship: I thought the Lord British was easiest to use at first, but when I got used to it, the Falchion β was also fun.
Development Challenges: Making the new sound effects I made match up well with the previous sound effects from the series.

Norizaki Miura
Role: Music Composer
PSX Strengths/Weaknesses: With the PSX you no longer have the constraint of having to worry about sharing channels with fx and music and such, so its you have relatively more freedom when composing. However, to a certain degree I wanted to use the characteristic Gradius sounds, so I struggled to recreate their timbre and tonal quality.
Favorite Konami STG: Gradius Gaiden.
Favorite Gradius Gaiden ship: Jade Knight. The design is cool, and I like the green laser. If you clear the game, you can hear the Jade Knight theme music.
Development Challenges: Making sure not to shatter the "Gradius" image. The theme I had for composing Gradius Gaiden's music was "newness within nostalgia." That newness doesn't mean "new music"... my intention was to bring something new out of the old series.

Bonus! Xexex 1993 Development Team Interview

Our goal for Xexex was to change the image people had of Konami STGs as being "hardcore." That's why we added a cute girl. The plan was to add a girl so as to attract general players, not only hardcore gamers, but at Konami there was a lot of controvery over it right until the end.

For our image of Princess Irene La Tias, we lined up our various drafts on a table and each pointed out what we liked--her hair should be straight, she should have a necklace like this, etc. Her personality should be very reliable and a little easy-going. Planet E-Square is a peaceful, pastoral world, after all.

There's no particularly deep connection between the Flint and Irene. Planet E-square was seeking help from outer space with the power of telepathy, and at the same time, they happened to discover the Flint. Now that peace has been restored, the Flint and the people of E-Square have established communications and continue friendly relations. The Flint have bonded with E-Square, and that's how the planet has been brought back to life, I think.

Irene's voice actress was Sumi Shimamoto. Since she's a real pro, everything went smoothly. We didn't have much memory left for the sound effects and vocals, though, so that was tough. But I'm glad we were able to work with her.
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Last edited by blackoak on Thu Mar 12, 2015 8:11 pm, edited 10 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Gradius Developer Interviews (I, II, Gaiden)
PostPosted: Sat Jul 21, 2012 12:29 am 

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Gradius Portable Guidebook Interview

Nakamura Kengo: Designer. Participated in Gradius from the planning stage.
Responsible for the basic world setting and enemy characters.
His major works for Konami include Contra, Ajax, and Kyuukyoku Sentai Dadandaan [[Monster Maulers]]

Creating the World of Gradius

Originally, we had the basic idea for Gradius that you would warp to a different dimension for each stage. As we talked about what the theme for each stage would be, the idea came up for ancient ruins and mysterious fantasy worlds. From that we got the image for Moai or Stonehenge floating on a continent in outer space, and everyone thought "this is cool!" That was the origin of those creative stage designs.

Stage 3: Moai

At first the Moai were just part of the background, and I remember it wasn't very interesting. But I personally thought the Moai were memorable characters and I really wanted to add them. (laughs) I said we can't just leave it like this, and so I worked hard with the background designer, suggesting they shoot rings from their mouths and can be destroyed. Though now when I think of it, I don't really know why I thought they should be shooting rings from their mouths. (laughs)

Stage 4: Reverse Volcano

One day we were testing the vertical inversion hardware feature, and we tried inverting the volcano stage as an experiment. When we did that, we realized that having everything "upside down" conveyed a certain feeling of discomfiture, in a good sense. It also looked like you were in outer space, and the gameplay was fresh too, so we used it as the "Reverse Volcano" stage. In the end, Gradius wasn't developed by just following pre-existing rules and specifications; rather, many of our insights were the result of experimentation, and we wasted a lot of time, but that's how the game was created. The programmers did complain a lot though. (laughs)

Stage 5: Tentacle

We thought the game would be too plain if the stages were only ruins. We wanted something weirder, so we decided to make a stage with organic cells squirming all around. I think that Tentacle stage was completed more by the determination and technical expertise of the programmers than the designers.

My boss, who was both programmer and director, had been saying that he really wanted to include an organic stage in Gradius. But we were very worried whether our hardware at the time could properly convey the right popping, writhing organic feel for the cells. Then one day, the director told us "make a character that looks like a pachinko ball." Then, after about two days I believe, we came up with the creeping movement of the tentacles. We made each little pachinko ball (cell) in his arm move individually, and everyone was amazed at how, in a short time, the design had become so realistic, disturbing, and gross. One problem we had was that, while it looked visually impressive, it was very difficult to incorporate into the game. At first it didn't go toward the players, and it didn't shoot bullets either, so it was a pretty useless enemy. (laughs)

Stage 7: Base

Well, this will be nothing but excuses, but... we were working on this stage up till the very last minute and had no time at all, so it was almost entirely a rush job. The magnetic barrier poses almost no threat, (laughs) since you can just avoid it by going to the edge of the screen. We actually had wanted to make you go inside the barrier and dodge a bunch of things. The reason the last boss is a brain is because none of us could come up with any other designs. The idea was that you'd get so excited seeing it, like "huh, what the hell is this!", that you'd get nervous and run into it, losing a ship! Well, that would only work once of course. (laughs) By the way, the reason the final boss doesn't fire anything is because we felt it was hard enough just getting to this final point, so let's just give the programm--I mean, the player, a break... (laughs)

Big Core

Since Salamander, we've had different bosses for each stage, but we had no plans for that with Gradius. The character design for Big Core underwent numerous changes, however. It was a process of trial and error. One of our earlier designs looked like the manbow fish. (laughs)

Protoype Gradius

Actually, at the beginning of development, Gradius was not the mecha game you see today. Everything was entirely organic. Enemy designs were all organic, like the Ducker enemy, who was a cockroach. (laughs) The fact that the enemies in Gradius are mechanical, but move more like organic creatures, is a remnant from that early design. But one day, there was an internal evaluation of our work, and it turned out the other teams really didn't like the characters in Gradius. So our director said we had to redo all the designs. Personally, I really liked them, but... (laughs) It was very discouraging and difficult. So we decided from there to change everything to a mecha design, but the problem was, I couldn't draw mecha designs at all. (laughs) One of our colleagues who knew a lot about mecha stuff lent me some of his anime and sci-fi collection, and I spent day and night copying and tracing those designs.

That took me about a month, and during my studies my boss came over and berated me. "What have you been doing! These character designs haven't changed at all! When are you going to finish these?!" (laughs) But he was a good person, and even though he said all that he gave me another month. After about 2 months then, I finally began drawing the designs you see today, and after several weeks of living at the office, I finished them. Looking back on it now, I wonder what was the point of all those organic designs that took me 4 months! (laughs) But either way, I'm very thankful to my coworker (and adviser) who lent me his materials and saved me from that hell.

Length of Development

If you include our early period of experimenting with ideas... I don't think it was over a year. Maybe about 8 months. When I joined, I spent 4 months on those organic designs, and having to redo them naturally caused the programming to be delayed as well. After the location test, it took about 2-3 months to finalize everything. Because we had so much time early in development to experiment with new ideas, Gradius had a rather long development period when compared with games from that time.

The Gradius Team

There were 5 of us in the main team, including myself. 2 programmers and 3 designers. I did all the character designs, and the other 2 designers handled the backgrounds. The sound and hardware people were from another division in Konami.

The "Gradius" Title

The provisional title for Gradius at the planning stage was Scramble 2. It wasn't until a half year had passed and the basic structure of the game was nearly finished that we decided on the "Gradius" title. We were saying that if we didn't have a title, we couldn't make the instruction sheet, so we chose it then. Actually, the person who came up with the "Gradius" name is the same coworker who helped me out with all those mecha designs. At a naming meeting, where we were all submitting different possible names, he suggested "Gradius", whihch was an alteration of a certain sci-fi movie title. There were other candidates as well, but I remember that this title was easy to say, and we really wanted a title that would stick in a person's memory. Also, we also wanted to have a "ga/gi/gu/ge/go" consonant in there somewhere... we just thought that would be cool. (laughs)

The "Gradius" spelling

Although the word Gladius means short sword, we didn't intend that meaning at all, and its just a coincidence. Several years later someone said to me, "doesn't the title refer to a Gladius?", and that was the first time I realized it. Even though it was just a coincidence, I remember being really surprised. (laughs)

History of the Vic Viper

The motif for the Vic Viper design originally came from the ships that appear in a certain sci-fi movie. I mean the way the ships wings are divided into two pointed ends... I'm sure there's people who, hearing this, know what movie I'm referring to. (laughs) The origin of the name came from two things: first, the way the ship and the options appear in formation looked like a V shape, so I called it "Vic." Second, when the options move it looked like a snake, so I named it "Viper," and together its "Vic Viper." I came up with the name myself. By the way, Vic does not refer to "Big." (laughs) [[tr note: Japanese fans may have wondered about that because the romanizations for Vic and Big differ only in the voiced consonant at the end]]

About the Graphics

During the development of Gradius, I was especially aware of the amazing and popular vertical scrolling games that had been released. For their time, they could represent light and shadow in a very concrete, three dimensional way. You couldn't help but be influenced by the sophistication of those worlds. For Gradius, we kept that example in mind while trying to create our own unique world, and we put a lot of effort into the light, shadow, and use of color. Also, this is a rather detailed point, but we made sure the stars in the background that were more distant moved slowly, while those closer moved more quickly. Its easy for space scenes to seem rather flat and one-dimensional, so we laboured to make it as 3D as we could. The director and I often went to the game center after work, and we took notes on how the enemies and ships in other shooting games moved and acted. We did a lot of boring work like that back then. (laughs)

The power-up meter system

Our initial idea for Gradius was to use a system like Salamander, where you immediately get the power of the capsule you just took. But we thought that had been done before, and we wondered if we couldn't create a system where the user could select his weapons more freely and intentionally. Also, in our initial version, you only got power-ups from the red enemies, but we later changed it so that you'd get a power-up when you defeated a line or formation of enemies, as a kind of reward. But this caused there to be too many power-ups, and just taking one could break the balance of the game. So we were wondering how to let players use these power-ups that they'd taken risks to accumulate, and it was these concerns that led us, through continual test plays, to the system you see today.

The Laser

From the start we had a vague idea about creating a laser that resembled a beam weapon from the movies, something that hadn't been done in arcade games yet. It was our director who poured his all into creating that laser, and just as with the creation of the tentacle enemy, we designers just stood back and watched. (laughs) It was really amazing for its time, seeing the laser go "pew!" across the entire screen. It was awesome, and we all got goosebumps seeing it. However, we had to make the laser interact with all the options, and it turned out to be a real struggle due to both game balance and slowdown.

The Options

In an early development version, the Vic Viper design looked like a seahorse. The options then looked like children, and the whole thing made you think of a duck and its little ducklings. (laughs) Personally, I thought it was really unique and rather liked it... but from a gameplay perspective, I realize that design had problems; if the options looked so concrete and material, then when they hit against the terrain, you would naturally expect them to disappear. But that would be too difficult to implement, and the option system would lose its appeal as well. So for that reason we designers changed our beloved little options to the ones we have today that look like pure energy. We did a lot of testing to determine what would be best: options that trace the ship's path, or a system that allowed the player to freely change the formation of the options. We had about ten different systems, and eventually settled on the one you see today.

Why is the Shield power-up designated with a [?] ?

Actually, with that, we planned to have a variety of power-ups there, not just a shield, so that is why it was a question mark. Though in the end it turned out to be just a shield... there were a lot of things we left unfinished, and I offer my apologies to all the players. (laughs)

Test Playing at Konami

This wasn't just our team, but in those days we pretty much lived at the company and only went home to take a bath or change our clothes. (laughs) So we did a lot of test playing too. All the employees cooperated on bug checks for each other's projects, and we'd create a schedule for a 24-hour rotation. One amazing thing was that the employee who found an important bug would get a free VCR! We had a ranking system for bugs (A, B, and C level), and it was like an exchange counter, where you'd present your A-level bug and say "VCR please!" (laughs) In those days a new VCR cost several hundred dollars, and they were piled up in the bug checking room, and everyone was in a frenzy to get them. (laughs) After bug checking for about 8 hours, someone would come in and say "my turn!", and that person would be like "noooo!!!" (laughs) There were people who got really good by doing that week after week, until even in a sleep deprived state they could dodge the bullets. (laughs) You'd say to them, "this is getting crazy, you need to sleep!" but they just couldn't step away from that joystick. (laughs)

We never predicted people would get so obsessed with it. There were many employees who would play on their breaks, and it seemed like there was an uninterrupted stream of people sitting at the cabinet. During lunch you'd always see someone there. Even after lunch, when it was time to start the afternoon shift, employees from other teams would be playing it. They had intended to only play a little and then quickly get back to work, but they'd get obsessed with it and couldn't walk away. (laughs) That happened a lot. For us developers, once we started the test play phase we felt the game really had something addictive in it, and everyone was glad to do the bug checks. (laughs) I remember people like Takatori, our Gradius II programmer, was absolutely crazy about it and would play it whenever he had a spare moment. (laughs)

Response from the Location Tests

We used three buttons for shot, missle, and power-up, and the Twinbee team who was next to us at the time said "there's no way you can have three buttons in your game." (laughs) At the location test too, I remember everyone thinking it was a little dicey. At our first location test the speed of the ship was too slow, and there were people who got to the volcanoes in stage 1 without knowing to use a single power-up. (laughs) It'd be game over very quickly, and we saw them kick the table and walk away, as if to say "what a crappy game!" We realized this was a major problem, so we created an instruction sheet that carefully explained the power system. Even then a lot of people didn't look at those instructions. (laughs) But by and by people came to understand the game system, and good players came and were watched by others. After that the game shot up in popularity. Now that I think back on it, the Gradius project really wasn't well organized or planned out. (laughs)

Ideas that didn't make it

On the cell stage, we had an idea that the small cell enemies would attach to the player ship and slow it down, eventually making it so you couldn't move. We also wanted to do a crystal stage. That idea didn't come to fruition, but we were able to revive it for Gradius II. From a programming perspective, if you were to take all the ideas we tried out and abandoned, it would be a massive pile.

A Hi-Score system with Gender and Astrological Sign

The idea for adding gender and astrological sign came from two other designers who were women. We were talking about what to do for the high score entry, and we wanted to try adding something that hadn't been done. Since the Gradius setting was in space, someone suggested adding astrological signs to the ranking. I had wanted to do it from the beginning, actually. (laughs)

About the Sound

There were several songs that I requested from the staff based on ideas I had. Generally we asked for 80s popular western music, and I remember the Kuuchuusen prelude coming from that. When we'd request something from the sound staff, we'd give them some music cassette tapes as an example, and from there the sound designers would look at the game in action and expand things with their own ideas. The whole development team was really pleased with what the sound and music staff created. I don't think there were many games back then where the music left such an impression that hearing the opening phrases made you immediately think of the stage. I love each song they composed, but of course my favorite is the Kuuchuusen BGM which I had requested.

Later games in the Gradius series

I played the Famicom versions of Gradius. As for the recent games, I can't say I've played them a lot... though honestly, that's because my skills are limited. (laughs) But to see how the series has continued to this day without interruption is very moving to me, as if a part of my DNA had been carried on to future generations.

Memories of the Gradius Development

We never thought Gradius would become so famous. Our feeling at the time was simply, "if we're going to make a game, let's make something that's never been done before!" And although it was difficult, I think circumstances at the time allowed us to do something new like that. Despite the many challenges I think the game really showed off the creativity of our programming, sound, character design, and also hardware. For me personally I remember the project as being trying and difficult almost the entire time, but it was all repaid by seeing the players enjoy the game. One night, when Gradius ranked #1 in income, I was out eating ramen with my senior colleague when he said to me, "we were right about our game." Even now I get teary-eyed thinking about that. Although I still have some regrets where I wish we'd done this or that differently, it was a game we gave everything to. And I'm exceedingly grateful to my colleagues and Konami, who let us do whatever we wanted, even when we didn't know what we were doing. (laughs)

If you were to make a new Gradius...?

Hmmm... well, its not a game, but if I had the chance I'd like to make a space opera movie of Gradius, where I could depict the world with the proper sense of scale. It would be a live action film of course. But my brain isn't up to the task, I'm afraid. (laughs)

Gradius II Portable Guidebook Interview

Takatori Toshiaki: Joined the Gradius team in the middle of development as a new employee. Since Salamander he has had a central role in the series, and he worked as the main programmer on Gradius II. His major works include Salamander, Life Force, Gradius II, Xexex, and others.

Stage 1 - Artificial Sun

The Volcano stage was actually the first stage we completed, and the Artificial Sun stage was done in the latter half of the development. However, it had a lot of visual impact so we decided to make it the first stage. Being an arcade game, it was very important that you grab the player's attention. Nowadays it might not be considered anything special, but at the time, arcade hardware wasn't very powerful, so that made Gradius II's graphics all the more impressive when compared with other games of its time.


Fire dragons come out of the artifical suns... that was used in Salamander, but there you only had a single dragon, so this time we thought we'd fill the stage with them. (laughs) It wouldn't do to make the boss a dragon too, so we decided on a phoenix. Of course, its a mystery why the phoenix, an immortal creature, can die here. (laughs)

Stage 2 - Alien

This was one of the earliest stages we finished. Maybe right after the Volcano stage? People often say that this stage was inspired by Contra, (laughs) but we weren't really thinking about that when we made it. By the way, the designer of this stage was a woman. Our team back then had some weirdos who liked stuff like this. (laughs)

Big Eye

In stage 2 of Gradius (stonehenge), there's sections where you use your ship to break through the walls. I thought it would be interesting to reverse that idea, and make a boss who shoots bullets that form a wall behind you, gradually decreasing your space to manuever.

Stage 3 - Crystal

I think we made this stage somewhere in the middle of development. In terms of gameplay, its a stage that focuses on "dodging." The movements of the crystal shards as you break them apart is tricky and hard to read, and even with laser they're tough to destroy.

Crystal Core

With this boss, from the start I wanted to design a very risky safe spot--nothing ventured, nothing gained! Its supposed to be a kind of lure to the player, like "come on in here!" There's many safe spots in Gradius II, but most of them were put there intentionally.

Stage 4 - Volcano

Starting with the second loop, the terrain for this stage changes. Before this we had simply changed the enemy algorithms for the later loops, but this time we thought we'd experiment with changing the terrain itself.

Death Mk II

This boss was originally in Salamander. Actually... the truth is, we didn't have much time to make an original boss, and so we just added this guy. (laughs) But his second form with the huge laser was something new. I had never seen a laser that big in an arcade game before.

Stage 5 - Revenge of Moai

We decided to add this stage in the initial development plans. The stage name is "Revenge of Moai", and in the middle of the stage when the Moai turn red, its supposed to show how angry they are. And they really do get pissed. (laughs) The Jumping Moai are mad as hell! (laughs) At the time, the image of the Moai was already firmly associated with the Gradius series, so we took pains to make sure we didn't betray the fans' expectations with this stage.

Stage 6 - High Speed

People often think that the source of inspiration for this stage was the high speed escape sequence from Salamander, but actually isn't. Our inspiration here was Scramble--the origin of Gradius. By the way, using the force field to pass through walls was a technique we anticipated players would use.

Big Core Mk II

The Bacterian army is always getting their Big Core ships destroyed, right? So this boss was supposed to represent a powered-up response to that. (laughs) This is another boss where we designed a safe spot from the beginning. It was supposed to be a challenge to players: "see if you can align yourself with this red line!" (laughs)

Stage 7 - Boss Rush

The Boss Rush stage was the very, very last thing we did--I mean, literally, the last. I think Gradius II was probably the first game to have a boss rush in it, where you fight previous bosses from other games all in a row. However, we actually re-did all the programming and the graphics for the bosses, rather than just reusing the code. We gave the Golem boss to a new employee to program as training (laughs), and I actually think he did a better job than the original Golem from Salamander.

Covered Core

In our initial design plans, Covered Core was actually supposed to be completely covered with armor, but... because of a progamming mistake on my part, there's an opening through which you can shoot him. (laughs) I messed up the angle at which the cover is supposed to stop rotating. He was supposed to be completely covered at first, and you couldn't attack him during that period... but, I guess it turned out to be a fun boss anyway. (laughs) The upper right safe spot was intentional. Our design philosophy with safe spots was twofold: first, it was something that could rescue you from danger. Second, like a hidden character, it was meant to be something you had fun searching for, and there were players who enjoyed that. Its also one of those techniques where people watching you play would say "Aaaa!", like watching a street performer or something. (laughs)

Stage 8 - Mechnical Base

Naturally we wanted to follow in the footsteps of Gradius' last stage and make a final base stage here too. Personally, I think the way you destroy the entrance hatch and invade the base looks awesome. I actually would have liked to make the hatch have more internal parts, so it would visually crumble away as you shot it, but we ran out of time for that. (laughs) In the section where the sheets peel off the wall and fly at you like Salamander's last stage, we designed it to be barely dodgeable without a speed power-up. Fine-tuning the recovery checkpoint here took longer than any other in Gradius II. The section with the rising walls later in the stage shows one of the design themes we had for Gradius II, that the terrain would evolve and change as you played. The Big Eye boss from stage 2 and the bullets that form a wall behind you was an example of that, as was the dragons in the Artificial Sun stage, who were meant to evoke the prominences in Salamander's fire stage.


Dodging his legs by staying in the dead center at the far right edge of the screen was not something we initially planned during development, but we realized it during the pre-release playtesting and decided to leave it in. It was the same with the upper right Covered Core safe spot and the Mechnical Base midboss safe spot. With techniques like that, I would say about half of them we designed ourselves, and half we noticed by chance and intentionally left in. The way the very last wall before Gofer closes was one of those Gradius trademarks. We added it in at the last minute, but we made it too slow, so it doesn't really pose any threat to the player. (laughs)


We knew the name "Gofer" from the beginning, but it took a long time to decide on his design. The word Gopher/Gofer is English slang for tsukaippashiri [[tr. "errand boy"]]... it means something like "hey you, go get me a yakisoba pan bread." (laughs) We used it to mean that Gofer was ordered by someone higher-up: "The Vic Viper is becoming a problem. Eliminate him." But since the subtitle is "Gofer's Ambition", he probably outgrew the initial scope of his orders, and in act of hubris against the Bacterian Empire, decided to pursue his own ambitions. (laughs) In terms of game play, we first thought he would fire lasers out of his eyes, but there was an argument about this, and it was decided he just wouldn't attack at all. But you know, as I was making him, I really wanted to give him some kind of attack! I felt sorry for how pathetic he was.

Length of Development

Gradius II took us about 5 months. There were two new employees who had been working as clerks, who were drafted to help with the programming. Other than that, the main crew was three programmers and three designers. The development period was short, but it was a highly competent and focused group; most of the team members had been at Konami for a long time, so we only needed 5 months. The pressure was intense, just from it being "Gradius II." Now that I think of it, though, we only had 3 months for Life Force... that was even more hellish. For Gradius II, we did the location tests at a game center in Okayama. We stealthily set up the pcbs on cabinets there and did it all in secret. (laughs) So when we suddenly announced it later at the AOU show, I think everyone was surprised.

Story Connections between Gradius, Salamander, and Gradius II?

The truth is, Salamander was initially planned to be Gradius II. There was a big controversy over whether to make the sequel to Gradius a vertical or horizontal scroller. It was decided to do both, and that game ended up being Salamander. So even though Salamander has different gameplay, in terms of the story, its connected to the Gradius universe. Having Golem and Tetran in Gradius II was therefore a natural progression. You may have noticed that in the ending to Salamander, an enemy escapes from the planet just before its destroyed. We added that because we explicitly wanted to leave room for sequels. However, we hadn't made an enemy sprite for that ending scene, and since we were using mask roms, we were told it would be impossible to add. But we didn't give up, and took a completely different, pre-existing sprite and changed its size and color data so it would appear that way. We also wanted to show something escaping at the end of Gradius II, but we just didn't have the time to make it. (laughs)

MSX Gradius 2

I wasn't aware of the MSX Gradius 2 development. It proceeded on an entirely different schedule, and since the department was different, the staff were all different too. Same for the Famicom Gradius and Salamander.

Famicom Gradius II

I've played it, and I think its a wonderful port. At that time, the arcade staff really had a lot of pride in our work, and we worked hard to make something you couldn't play at home on consoles. So... I'm not sure how to say this, but we weren't very cooperative with the console port team. (laughs) That made the console team work even harder to create something worthy of an arcade title, and since the Famicom version of Gradius II actually turned out to be great, all of us on the arcade team felt like, "Damn, they got us!"

A New System: Choosing your Weapons

This was one of our very first design concepts for Gradius II. I think Gradius II was the first STG to allow players of different skill levels to select their own ship. At first we had many more weapon selections, and you could freely select your weapons like in the Edit Mode of Gradius III. But as we went along, we realized there were weapons that were useable and weapons that were junk. To keep a proper balance we decided to create four different setups. Getting the overall balance took a really long time, and we swapped weapons in and out of the selections often. In the end, there turned out to be some selections that were weaker than others, but we still felt each could clear the game.

Changes to the original Gradius Laser

The hitbox for the original Gradius laser was extremely wide and powerful, so we reduced it two pixels for Gradius II. The ripple laser, by the way, came from the Salamander development. We were trying to think of what could replace Double. The name "Ripple Laser" was created by one of the overseas staff, but in our team we called it the "Hamon Laser." [[tr note: hamon means ripple in Japanese. There are no special connotations.]]


Our playtesting was very thorough. After all, if you can't confirm yourself that it can be cleared, then you can't release it for sale. Of course that doesn't mean everyone could clear it on our staff... we did very focused playtesting with skilled players. Some were on our team, and some were not. They discovered a great many things, like safe spots we hadn't intended, or places you could move through a wall with the forcefield equipped. During the test play we limited it to 3 loops even for the skilled players, but we figured there would be players who'd score 10 million and above. Its truly amazing how good some players are. It always surprises me!

Option Hunter

We actually added the option hunter just one week before the deadline. (laughs) It didn't appear during the playtesting or location tests, either. It wasn't that we had thought of it earlier but ran out of time; rather, the idea for the option hunter simply occurred to us at the very last minute. By this time in the world of STG, there was a huge gap in skill between good players and beginners. If you made the game accessible to beginners, it was boring for advanced players. Conversely, if you made it for advanced players, it was too difficult for beginners. It was when we were trying to solve this dilemma that the idea for the option hunter came to us. Since we were rushing to add him, his sprite doesn't have much animation. (laughs) We explained the idea to the designers, and they had very little time to create him.

Voice Samples

At that time, arcade games were starting to use voice samples more frequently. But the data for voice samples ate up a lot of memory, so we added very few samples given the space limitations. We would have liked to add more speech, though. By the way, when we played the game during development, we would all scream "BUMOUUU!" together whenever Intruder died. (laughs)

Enemy Names

The names were decided by everyone together. However, we did all that after the fact, not during the main development. During development everyone just called the enemies whatever they liked. We also weren't working from conceptual illustrations; we simply created the pixel art from scratch. So when it came time for promotional artwork in magazines and such, only after the development was finished did we do illustrations and think about names. (laughs)

Delayed Timing Suicide Bullets

The delayed timing of suicide bullets at higher loops was something we did to make the game harder for expert players. Back then there were many players who could clear the later loops of the original Gradius, so we wanted to give them a real challenge here.

Working with the Composers

For each stage, we would make requests to composers for songs based on our concepts and ideas. Then they would compose several demo tracks and give them to us. We'd listen to them together as a team and then give the composers our collective feedback: this needed to be faster, or more rhythmic, or this wouldn't work at all, and so on. Accordingly there were a lot of demo tracks recorded, and plenty of tracks that never made it into the game. Personally I like the boss theme, as it has the melody from the Gradius boss theme in it. (laughs) For the boss rush with Golem and Tetran, we specifically requested the Salamander boss theme. Nothing else would do! (laughs)

Hi Score Screen

The hi score screen enemy animation changes depending on your ranking. Its surprising this was made given we only had 5 months. (laughs) Most of the ranking screen was done by a new employee. Since he was new, he had a lot of free time compared with us, and he finished it very quickly. So he decided to add in other characters for fun and make them march like that. He said he wanted to see the Duckers dance. (laughs)

The Overseas title, "Vulcan Venture"

The first Gradius' title overseas was Nemesis, which means the Goddess of Vengeance. And in roman mythology, Vulcan means God of Fire. So the title Vulcan Venture came from one of our overseas staff, who thought of it after seeing the Artificial Sun stage and the title screen. By the way, making the title offset to the left, rather than just straight in the middle like most arcade games, was a little detail I added. (laughs) I said "Let's do something visually attractive with the center of the screen!" I believe that kind of title screen layout was a first for an arcade game.

Volcano and Moai Stages: Establishing a Tradition

The Volcano and Moai stages are very familiar to the Gradius series, so its easy to say they're mere cliches. However, I think that if the design ideas are strong enough, you can bring out something different in them. On the other hand, they're also a promised element that fans expect to see, much like Mito Komon revealing his inro each episode. "Ahh, there it is." (laughs)

[[tr note: Mito Komon is the long-running (1969-2011) Doctor Who of jidaigeki, aka Japanese period dramas. Each episode always ends with Mito Komon, who has been disguised, revealing his true identity as a daimyo by showing antagonists (and the audience) his inro.]]

Stage ideas that didn't make it

Regarding the sand stage in Gradius III, we also had an idea to do that for Gradius II, but the idea didn't make it. Same for the Plant stage from Gradius III, which was in our initial draft. Though we hadn't thought of making the boss for that stage try to suck you in, of course. We also wanted to do an internal organ stage for Gradius II, but it was a little difficult given the abilities of our hardware at the time, so we abandoned it. We returned to that idea in Xexex. (laughs) Xexex had different members, but almost all of the Gradius II staff participated in it.

The Origin of Gradius: Scramble?

Yes, that's right. Its really the origin of horizontal scrolling STG in general, I think. It influenced many games in various ways. And Gradius itself was originally developed as the Scramble 2 project. Then came the power-up system, which was Nakamura's idea. He used to show me his notepad, with all his ideas written on it. That notepad was a thing of beauty--it had so many great ideas in it, and we referred to it constantly.

If you were to make a new Gradius...?

I would love to make one. Though its impossible to do an arcade STG game today... sadly they just don't make enough income for the operators. Partly that's because, with the exception of Salamander, they're exclusively one player games. I'd love to do a Gradius game with online networking capabilities. I think that could be really interesting.

What was Gradius to you, Takatori?

That's hard to sum up in just a paragraph. (laughs) I was a gamer kid myself, and I loved going to the game center to play STGs. It was my dream then to make those games, so the fact that I actually got hired by Konami and was able to make Gradius II was like winning the lottery. It makes me extremely happy to know that so many people have enjoyed my games and that they still enjoy a good reputation today. Even now I can look back on those times and say "I did that!", and that makes me a happy man. (laughs)

Gradius III Portable Guidebook Interview

Itou Yoshitaka: Programmer. Worked on all aspects of the player ship in Gradius III. He is known for Asterix (AC) and other games.
Miyoshi Takemasa: Designer. In charge of backgrounds and player, enemy, and boss designs. His representative works include Gradius 2 (MSX), Pardious Da! (AC), and Gradius III (SFC).
Kaneda Junichirou: Sound Director. In addition the boss music, he also contributed to the sound effects. His other works include Gradius NEO and the Pop'n Music series.

Stage 1 - Desert

Miyoshi: In our original plans, this stage was going to be two vertical screens wide, and you could scroll between the sky and ground sections. But this design made it difficult for the player to encounter the enemies because there was too much open space, and it interfered with the interesting ideas we had intended to include, so reduced it to a single screen. Also, the boss for this stage was originally meant for the lava stage, but our hardware was upgraded during the development and we ended up having to change the bosses and stages around. Everything had to be restructured and re-placed. I think this stage changed the most, as a result.

Kaneda: I remember people told us that the dragon coming out of the sand was too cute looking, and we should change it. (laughs)

Miyoshi: They said the same thing about the sand lions. (laughs) At first I thought we'd have to remove them, but I thought to myself, if you look at it from the perspective of the game difficulty, weren't they perfect for the easier first stage? So we left them in. As for the antlion boss "Goliath," that was a very straightforward design.

Stage 2 - Bubble

Miyoshi: The Bubble stage didn't change much from our initial plans. Although the setting and the enemies are different, our concern from the beginning was, in terms of gameplay, how to differentiate it from the Crystal stage in Gradius II.

Itou: For the location test version, I remember the first stage was the desert, but I don't really remember what stage 2 was.

Miyoshi: The main thing with location tests was seeing how the enemy placement was working, so we didn't really pay much attention to the order of the stages. After the stages had been completed to a certain degree, we'd have a general meeting with everyone, but I don't really remember clearly saying this was going to be stage 2 then, either. As for the boss, Bubble Eye, our first idea was that he'd be a huge ball of liquid, and as you shot him, he'd break apart into innumerable smaller bubbles. But we felt that just destroying some ball of liquid wouldn't really give the player much sense of accomplishment, so we came up with the idea of an eyeball in the core that was feeding like a parasite off all the liquid bubbles. This added a grotesque organic quality to the boss. Its important that bosses are memorable, you know. (laughs)

Stage 3 - Volcano section

Miyoshi: In a word: long. (laughs) You might think we made it long because it was the final stage for the beginner's mode, but that wasn't our intention. As for the beginner mode itself, we added it because we realized the game had become something incredibly difficult, and we wanted people to be able to clear the game, at least in a limited fashion.

Itou: I seem to remember adding the beginner mode after the location tests. I think it was the very last thing we added to the game, actually.

Miyoshi: The response from the players at the location test regarding the difficulty was pretty critical, so we added it to appease them.

Itou: Yeah, there was no beginner mode during the development, it was only added at the end.

Miyoshi: Graphically speaking, there's no differences between normal and beginner. And the difficulty is just as unforgiving for the beginner mode stages. (laughs) I believe some fans treat beginner mode as a score attack nowadays.

Stage 3 - Underground Base section

Miyoshi: We'd had the idea digging through walls with your shot since the original Gradius, but for Gradius III we wanted to give the player freedom to carve his own route through the stage. But if you shoot too much, boulders will suddenly fall on you and block your path, and we thought this would add to the fun of choosing your own path. The godorei characters that come out at the end of the stage was my personal touch. (laughs) I added them since I really like the Iron Maiden enemy from the original Gradius. [[tr note: the "godorei" character is the name for the ships that come out of the ground near at the end of the third stage, just before the boss. They're called Iron Maidens in the first Gradius, and I'm not sure why they changed the name for Gradius III.]] My original idea for that enemy was to have them lying in wait, camouflaged by the boulder that covers their upper half, and then they'd suddenly fly out and surprise the player. But in the end we just made them act the same way as they did in the original Gradius.

The boss for this stage, Big Core Mk-III, is my personal favorite... I love the visual impact and presence he conveys. Due to memory limitations we had to shrink him down for the Super Famicom version, but in the arcade version we could do it properly, with an imposing, heavily armored exterior. But the reflecting laser didn't quite work right for the arcade version... we corrected it for the SFC though. I'm glad we had the SFC version to correct all those bugs we couldn't fix for the arcade.

Stage 4 - High Speed

Kaneda: The idea for a 3D stage came from a conversation about what new ideas we could bring to the Gradius series, right?

Miyoshi: In Gradius II, there was a horizontally scrolling high speed stage. But just repeating yourself is meaningless, so we opted for a 3D high speed course this time. And we had never done a 3D stage with Gradius before. In the planning stage, however, we wanted it to be full 3D, with totally free movement. But due to various circumstances we had to abandon that.

Itou: It was really difficult doing 3D graphics with the hardware back then. It was all 2D, but we tried to give it a pseudo-3D look.

Stage 5 - Moai

Miyoshi: For the "rolling moai," I remember the Director coming to us one day and saying suddenly "Let's add this!" (laughs) The stage was originally envisioned as your typical Moai stage, with lots of Moai spewing out ion rings... then somewhere along the way those Moai spinning in space appeared. (laughs) By the way, our lead designer at the time had never seen the rear side of a Moai head it seems, (laughs) and he was really stressing out over how to draw it correctly. Finally I think he built a real physical model of a Moai and used it to make an animation model. About the totem moais, those were based on the winning entry from a Gradius III idea submission contest we published in Gamest. There were lots of similar ideas from that contest, but we selected this one, revised it a little, and added it in.

Stage 6 - Cell

Miyoshi: As the theme for this stage was "cell," we wanted it to be fully saturated with that fleshy, organic feeling. In the planning stages, this was originally going to be a stage like the artificial sun stage of Gradius II, with infinite vertical scrolling and humongous cell bodies floating about like planets. However, if we did that right after the Moai stage, it would mean you'd have back-to-back infinite scrolling stages, so we changed it to be like the cell stage from the original Gradius, where you shoot and dig your way through the cell walls.

The boss Gregol is of the brain golem family seen in Salamander, but the Golem boss in Salamander moves slowly, right? I worked hard to make this one more active, with its snakelike body, to make the player feel more pressured. I wanted it to look like some grotesque frankenstein of organic parts.

Stage 7 - Lava

Miyoshi: With all the flying enemies and lava shrapnel, we wanted this stage to be all about dodging. The last part where its really narrow is especially difficult.

Kaneda: The Wyvern boss for this stage was originally the boss of the desert stage. He looked a bit cuter then too. (laughs)

Miyoshi: A different designer was leading this section, so I wasn't very involved in the particulars. (laughs) The truth is the dragon boss was designed with the image of the desert stage in mind, and when, in the middle of development, it was decided to add a lava stage and use this boss, I was like, "What!?" (laughs) But having him be in the midst of all those burning flames was pretty cool, so I guess it was the correct decision after all.

Stage 8 - Plant

Miyoshi: At the earliest stages of development, this stage was made up solely of plantlife. But, as we worked on it, we felt it was very difficult to give the right sense of danger because the stage design was based on the mild, gentle color of green. We tried to use the cell stage of Gradius as a reference, but it was very difficult to get the image right. So finally we changed it: we made it so there aren't many plants in the beginning of the stage, but as you get deeper into the stage the plantlife starts to encroach more and more, until you finally encounter the cause of it, the stage boss.

Itou: The plant stage was the very first we completed, right?

Miyoshi: That's right. We first worked on those stages (Sand, Bubble, and Plant) that we thought had new or different gameplay elements. We then put them together to display at the game show. (laughs) Normally in a STG, you die by colliding with a bullet or enemy, but we wanted to showcase some of the surprising moments in Gradius III, like the way the plant boss tries to suck you in, or the ivy that tries to snare and entangle the Vic Viper. The fact that it feels easy for such a late stage is probably due to our overreliance on such gimmicks.

Stage 9 - Crystal

Itou: The motif for this stage was a certain puzzle game that was popular at the time. (laughs)

Miyoshi: This is a stage the Director was saying he wanted to include. The root of the idea came from a non-3D high speed stage we were initially planning. But it would be different from Gradius II: this time mechanical parts and debris would fly at you and form together to make the stage map as you went. You'd have to quickly decide on which route to take. That idea for things flying at you and piling up had been around for awhile, and it led to the Crystal stage.

By the way, I remember after we released Gradius III, I saw a player during the final cube rush stay on the edge of the screen and let the cubes accumulate there. It was the first time I had ever seen that, and I thought, "ah, that's one way to do it!" (laughs) During development we had intended for players to dodge each cube individually.

Itou: We deliberately made that part in an attempt to kill the player. (laughs) We wanted to make them dodge the entire time. Our intention wasn't for the player to hide while the cubes piled up, but rather as the cubes piled up, you'd have no choice but to keep moving forward, and the dodging would get harder and harder.

Miyoshi: People have said that this stage isn't actually clearable, but as developers we tested each stage and confirmed it could be cleared. So no matter how difficult it might get, I'm confident that it is possible.

Kaneda: I could never get past the cell stage. (laughs)

Miyoshi: At the time I was pretty confident about my STG abilities so I played a lot. I felt like if I concentrated and applied myself, I could manage most any game. Though if someone asked me to repeat my performance it might not go so well. (laughs) For the Lizard Core boss, since it was a crystal stage, the boss had to be a crystal boss. Its the traditional "core" type boss, with an updated tentacle and attack pattern.

Stage 10 - Boss Rush

Miyoshi: On this stage all the bosses from Gradius II reappear. They're all pretty weak, but we thought that would make the boss Bellinger Core (known as Dellinger Core, but during the planning we called him Bellinger) appear stronger by contrast. Also, this stage is something of a fan service stage, so I think we didn't want to make the boss rush too challenging.

Itou: Though I would like to add, I believe it was an accident that Covered Core doesn't actually use his cover. (laughs)

Miyoshi: By the way, when Dellinger Core emerges from the crater, the image I wanted players to have was that they'd arrived at the planet, and this planet itself was the Mechanical Base of the next stage. Its meant to feel like that boss comes out of the base to challenge the Vic Viper and stop him from entering. As for my design ideas for Dellinger Core, I wanted a boss whose appearance and attack patterns would evolve as the fight went on.

Stage 10 - Mechanical Base

Miyoshi: The part with the Gaameido laser cannon enemies who leave their wreckage behind when they die was meant to be the ultimate pattern memorization. Deciding what weapon to use and when to kill them in order to make a clear path through was difficult, but... therein lies the fun of it. (laughs) When we made the rotating laser section, our intention was for it to be easy to dodge because the rotation would be fixed, but it gets difficult if you cause slowdown with your shot. That was unintentional.

Stage 10 - Final Boss

Miyoshi: We wanted Disrupt to be the biggest, most complex midboss the series had seen. For Shadow Gear, the truth is, we designed him with flexible joints and wanted him to have more organic movement, but the programmers said it was impossible due to schedule constraints. (laughs) And up till the end we were really stressed about what to do for the final boss. Finally, without thinking too deeply we just asked ourselves plainly, "what IS a bacterian?" And our answer was that organic, repulsive creature.

Itou: The truth is, Gradius III was meant to be the conclusion of the Gradius series.

Miyoshi: Yeah, the original subtitle during the planning drafts was not "densetsu kara shinwa e" [[From Legend to Myth]], but rather "saigo no shitou" [[lit. "the final battle to the death"]]. In any event we were going to end the Gradius series here and start to work creating a new series. So we wanted to give a clear explanation of the Bacterians, who had been described pretty vaguely up till then. Of course, new Gradius games keep coming out, so... (laughs)

Regarding the final high speed area, we thought that just escaping unscathed after you took out the final boss would be unrealistic. (laughs) Also, the ending scene shows the Vic Viper exiting through an escape hatch, so we wanted to link up with that too. I remember the Director realized that hatch was in the ending and immediately went about updating the stage map. (laughs) There's a lot of vertical movement required in that sequence so if you don't have enough speed its impossible, but I think that was done intentionally... I mean, we did test it and make sure it could be done. (laughs)

Hidden "Gradius" and "Salamander" stages

Kaneda: As the sound director, I believe I remember suddenly being told to add these stages in the middle of the development?

Miyoshi: I knew someone was working on it, but didn't they just use the code from Gradius and Salamander?

Itou: I have a feeling they just ripped the stage character data from there. I believe the Director was saying he was going to make these stages.

Miyoshi: He kept saying he wasn't doing it as a joke, but that he was trying to faithfully recreate them. (laughs)

The Concept for the 3rd Gradius

Kaneda: I think I remember talking about how Gradius III was meant to be a summation or compilation of the Gradius series?

Miyoshi: When we first decided to make Gradius III, the team was only the director, two designers, two sound engineers, and one person on the hardware side.

Kaneda: We also only had one programmer to begin with.

Miyoshi: Yeah, I wasn't around during the initial planning stage either. I was on the console development team, and we were talking about what to make for the newly released Super Famicom. Then we talked about porting Gradius III, which was stil in development, and it was decided that it would be easier to port if I had firsthand experience with the arcade development. So I was hastily put on the arcade team. (laughs) But we had heard this was the "final Gradius," so we proceeded under that belief.

Development Period

Itou: It took about 12 months to finish the master program, I think. I recall that the producer had a wedding, and he kept moving the deadline around so he could make his wedding date in time. (laughs)

Kaneda: Yeah, that was a lot of pressure.

Itou: He had a long honeymoon planned after the wedding, so I remember he kept asking us "are we gonna make it?" while we worked. (laughs)

Miyoshi: The designers have to finish before the programmers can start, and I remember our schedule being very short. On top of that, Konami was very involved in publicity efforts with game magazines, so every month we had to update them with our status reports. It was really tiring.

The Gamest Reader Idea Submission Contest

Miyoshi: We didn't have to use the winner's idea exactly as it was submitted. We were free to use just the gist of it and expand or add to it as we saw fit. So it was actually difficult to decide on whose idea and exactly how much of it to incorporate.

Itou: We had a notebook with all of the submitted ideas, but we didn't just use them as-is.

Kaneda: Yeah, we used them more as seeds from which to develop an idea.

The Many Weapons of Gradius III

Itou: I believe we ended up including almost all the weapons from our planning documents. Even then I remember discussing if we couldn't have more, and searching through the ideas submitted from the Gamest contest. (laughs)

Miyoshi: Personally, I like the twin laser. Its a rapid-fire laser and it looks nice on-screen. I always select it without thinking whenever I play. (laughs)

The [!] in the Power Gauge

Miyoshi: As you might expect, we added the [!] to the power gauge simply because we wanted to add some new kind of power-up. I think the most useful was the one that lowers your speed when you've taken too many speed power-ups. The mega crush can be useful too, but usually you just die before getting to use it. (laughs) The speed down is useful on the Plant stage, for instance. If you have 3 speed ups, you can easily dodge the plant tendrils, but after that its dangerous to have too much speed.


Kaneda: I don't believe we did a complete run-through of every stage in our playtesting, did we?

Miyoshi: For bug checking, we preferred to let the person who designed the stage see if he could clear it or not, so you become a specialist regarding your own stage. But since each stage was checked individually, with each person saying "its all good!" if they could clear their own stage, I don't know if anybody checked it all from stage 1...?

Kaneda: I don't think any of us even could. (laughs)

Miyoshi: I remember someone bug checked the complete playthrough by credit feeding.

The Drama Track from the CD Soundtrack

Kaneda: Its 100% a true story... more or less. (laughs) The characters were based on the actual staff of the time. I completed it pretty quickly because the story came from actual experiences of mine, like the time I wrote the Kuchuusen intro melody for Gradius but forgot to put it in the game. (laughs) [[tr note: I haven't translated the whole drama track, but I may sometime. Its basically an exaggerated parody of a "day in the life of the developers" where everything goes wrong. It begins with a guy explaining a bug he found where the Moai are spitting out dragons, and gets crazier/sillier from there.]]

Knowing this was a shooting game, I wanted the music to be upbeat and rousing. And since there were many stages, I wanted each one to have a distinct feel. The composers who had worked on the previous Gradius games told me they wanted to do something different this time, like choir vocals for example. The songs I wrote were the boss theme, "Dark Force," and the music for the Gradius and Salamander stages. I also wrote the intro for Higashino's "Try to Star." I also remember that I thought the ranking theme I had written was really great, but there was another sound director there who didn't like it much. (laughs) He said it was too short and too bright, and wouldn't fit... so it was rejected at first. I think this soundtrack cd has so many catchy tunes, its great to listen to just as normal music. 5 years ago a new employee at Konami came up to me and asked me to sign his copy. I signed it and told him he should go get everyone's signature. (laughs) I have a lot of personal memories surrounding this cd.

The Super Famicom version

Miyoshi: I know the fans wanted a 100% arcade accurate port, but the team we chose for the SFC development didn't have the same level of skill as the arcade team. There were also limitations with the hardware which made some things impossible. But we were able to include things we couldn't do with the arcade hardware, and we did fix certain bugs.

Looking back at Gradius III

Miyoshi: There are parts I'm embarassed about, and things that concern me in terms of gameplay. But there's people who like those aspects of Gradius III all the same, and whenever I'd notice a player at a game center storm off from the cabinet saying "this game is impossible!", another person would quickly take his place. (laughs) Several years later, when I had returned to console development, people would tell me "You made Gradius III! I love that game!" (laughs) At times like that I'm very grateful I was able to be a part of it. There's imperfections, but you can still feel that its a part of this beloved series. And since I also worked on the SFC port, I feel a sense of satisfaction and completion regarding Gradius III.

Kaneda: What I can say first and foremost is that Gradius III was a project you look back on and say, I'm glad I was a part of it. Its the Gradius series, so it was a great honor to be doing work that would reach such a wide audience. However, I don't ever want to see another sunrise from the company office windows... although it would happen many times after Gradius III. (laughs) I was in my 20s then, and it wil always be one of the fond memories of my youth.

Itou: My work prior to Gradius III wasn't that stressful, so this was really challenging. Our schedule was very tight and I remember being very stressed out. On Monday morning I'd change into my work clothes, and work would continue straight through Friday with no breaks. I worked on difficult projects after this, but I feel this was the most taxing. But thanks to Gradius III, I came to learn how to say "I can do this!" even in the face of the most difficult work.

Gradius IV Portable Guidebook Interview

Ashida Hiroyuki: Zako enemies, design, and overall direction. His main works include Gaiapolis, Detana Twinbee, and Gradius II.
Yoro Daisuke: Enemy and background design. Also helped out on bosses. He is known for Bishibashi Champion and others.

Stage 1 - Liquid Metal

Ashida: For Gradius IV, we didn't think about the order of the stages while we were designing them. So when it came time to choose the most suitable stage for stage 1, we went for something with a lot of visual impact, and that was the Liquid Metal stage.

Yoro: Also, I think Gradius IV was the first in the series to use polygons. We were searching for something to show off those new possibilities when we came up with this stage.

Ashida: The emphasis on visual impact made it resemble Gradius II, and I think it turned out to be a bit of fanservice to Gradius fans. By the way, when we decided to make the liquid metal planetoids have a reflective surface, it turned out we couldn't use the effect on very large or irregular polygons. So we ended up with the small, very round planets. As for the stage 1 boss, he's the type that changes his shape during battle. We decided in the beginning to make 3 separate transformations, but we argued about what they should be until the very end. (laughs)

Yoro: Yeah, we had ideas like a turtle, a seahorse, some spinning thing...

Ashida: Also, we deliberately made the strength of the boss change depending on what he transformed into. I think the green one was the easy one. I seem to remember the white turtle was strong.

Yoro: I think that idea came from me having a pet turtle. (laughs)

Stage 2 - Plant

Ashida: This was one of the first stages we made.

Yoro: That's right. Our theme for Gradius IV was "interactive." So the tendrils move in a unique way and react when the player shoots them.

Ashida: They snap back at you, if you shoot them too much.

Yoro: Yeah. We wanted players to be able to interact with the game in that way, where they'd be uncertain what would happen as a result of their actions. The plants are one instance of that idea. Only when the player is shooting does he interact with elements in the game world, so we had a discussion about how we could visually present this "interactive" motif, and the plants came out of it. We also argued a lot about the spore mist that appears in the latter half of the stage. At first we made it so thick that you couldn't really tell where bullets were coming from.

Ashida: For this boss, we tried to make his attacks unpredictable, but it turned out that they have a pattern that can be memorized. (laughs)

Yoro: We messed up the game balance with his arm that extends out and attacks the player. Its instant death if you've never seen it before. It was really too powerful.

Ashida: We created that boss according to the "Gradius theory" of boss design: each boss has a combination of a weakspot, something that defends that weakspot, and something to attack with.

Stage 3 - Bubble

Ashida: This stage is difficult because there's an element of luck involved. Gradius had been known as a pattern game, but changing it from a pattern-based game to one that relied more on player's reflexes was one of our fundamental design ideas for Gradius IV. That choice is reflected very strongly in this level, and because of that, I think its a particularly hard level for longtime fans of Gradius who were used to memorizing patterns.

Yoro: Yeah, the fact that you'd need to execute a slightly different strategy each time you played was an intentional move on our part.

Ashida: In addition, I wanted to create something that looked soft and fluid. In Gradius III there is also a bubble stage, and though the bubbles look soft and "bubbly," there's also a mechanical aspect to them that looks unrealistic. Using polygons, I wanted them to break apart more finely and realistically. I especially wanted to show how a bubble shrinks and contracts when a smaller part breaks off.

Stage 4 - Magma

Ashida: I remember saying "We have to include a Volcano stage!" (laughs) But we wanted the tone to be more realistic, and for the rocks to have a rugged, craggy feel. We also changed the color of the stage to distinguish it from the Plant stage.

Yoro: Yeah, and the magma doesn't come till the second half of the stage. I remember we kept revising the way the lava looks and acts up to the very end. Making the terrain move with the waves of lava gave us a lot of trouble.

Ashida: Another example is the enemy sets... we couldn't get them to work right. Even after we placed the Duckers and other enemies on rock platforms, the lava moved too much for them to be very effective. Even with placing the flying zako enemies, the constantly twisting terrain undermined our efforts to arrange them in the way we wanted. For the really violent movements in the latter half, we actually created that part according to a pattern. We first figured out how the player ship should navigate the section, and then afterwards we added the terrain movement and enemies.

Yoro: We strived to make it feel like you were battling with the terrain.

Ashida: And of course, having the boss be a dragon who enters in the middle of the screen is one of those promised Gradius conventions we had to honor. (laughs) Since the eyes were his weakpoint, we decided to encase the head in that armor.

Yoro: We worked hard on this design so the weak point can be clearly distinguished. Same for the turtle.

Stage 5: Moai

Yoro: There was a lot of disagreement about the Moais.

Ashida: The way the Moais work in the Gradius series is already firmly established, so I think all the arguing was kind of pointless.

Yoro: As a tradition in the game, they were pretty much worn out by then. We felt like we were beating a dead horse.

Ashida: In Gradius II, we made the Moai stand up and spin around, and in Gradius III we made them really large. So we asked ourselves what we could do for Gradius IV, and the idea of infinitely respawning Moai is what we came up with.

Yoro: That was something we tried towards the end, just to see how it would look. But it turned out to be really fun so we used it for the vertical Moai as well.

Ashida: Yeah, it felt like it would be too easy to clear with only horizontal Moai, so we decided to add vertical ones too.

Yoro: With a fully powered ship it was just too easy to get through it. To make it harder we made the ion rings from the revived Moai force the player to move further and further forward, making it increasingly hard to dodge. We did that because by this time, there were too many expert STG players. We had to make it so they could enjoy the the game too!

Ashida: For the boss, we were pretty much left to our own devices. They told us as long as there's a big Moai and small Moai, we could do whatever we wanted.

Yoro: We wanted a new weapon for the Moai boss, something really difficult and strong, and we came up with the little "Moai henchmen" you see. We were able to do whatever we wanted with the boss, like the lasers coming out of the little Moai's eyes. (laughs)

Stage 6 - Cell

Ashida: This was the last stage we made.

Yoro: That's right. Our image for the stage was "blood vessels."

Ashida: The Gradius series always has breakable walls. Most players who have made it this far will be fully powered-up, so we designed it to be very difficult if you just thoughtlessly destroyed everything. Instead, you're supposed to veryyy carefully advance without spraying bullets everywhere. (laughs) We also made the weakpoint harder to shoot for the rampaging tentacle enemies that appear later in the stage.

Yoro: We had been wanting to make something grotesque for Gradius IV. (laughs) I wanted it to be a little eerie and disturbing, too. The way this stage reacts violently to you when you attack it was also part of the interactive design we were going for. As for the boss of this stage... well, that was our attempt to make a Golem style boss. (laughs)

Ashida: I remember this boss being relatively easy to design and explain to the staff. I designed it so you could get inside the space between the small tentacles near the eye, but that it wasn't a "safe spot"... I worked hard to get rid of the safe spots on this boss. When he dies he fires off a bunch of lasers, but there's a pattern to it and its dodgeable.

Stage 7 - High Speed

Ashida: The high speed, boss rush, and fortress stages all appear at the end of the game here in quick succession. For the boss of stage 7, I wanted to add some kind of shield to his front and rear, but it wasn't working right because of the way he moved. We deliberately wanted to make a boss who could rotate so naturally and easily, unlike previous core bosses in the series.

Stage 8: Boss Rush

Yoro: The zub rush was very popular with the staff at Konami. (laughs) So we definitely wanted to add that.

Ashida: We had never shown a boss coming out of a space cruiser the way you see in the Gradius poster, so we wanted to show that in-game here (and in the attract mode, too). Also, when we decided we would add a boss rush to Gradius IV, we thought we'd feature a series of original new bosses rather than rehashing previous ones. I especially wanted to make Vanishing Core's searchlights, the way it shoots at you if you're caught in them. (laughs) We really enjoyed making Big Core MK III Kai, too. We made his movement very smooth, and he can change the angle of his reflecting laser. We gave Covered Tetran normal bullets and mine attacks. Mixing bullet types like that is a common feature of Gradius bosses. For Berserk Core, we didn't expect players to find that safe spot. The idea with Planet Core was to make him a stronger version of Covered Core.

Yoro: Planet Core was the most difficult for us...

Ashida: I feel like our design ideas came from it being round.

Yoro: I remember saying it was big, so we'd make it like a planet...

Ashida: Ah, that's right. And the little guys he spits out were supposed to be moons or satellites. (laughs) And there you have Planet Core.

Stage 9: Base

Ashida: The base stage is another Gradius mainstay, but I think flipping the orientation vertically in the middle of the stage was a first.

Yoro: At first the programmers told us it couldn't be done, but we just made them do it anyway. (laughs)

Ashida: We knew we wanted to do that pretty early on, but it took a long time and actually ended up being late.

Yoro: Gradius is always a horizontal scrolling shooter, so they were like, why in the world are we making this vertical...

Ashida: Well, we did want to surprise everyone. (laughs)

Yoro: I remember making it rotate smoothly was a challenge.

Ashida: With the midboss Bloody Gate, we intentionally left the safe spots in. Safe spots are a part of the Gradius series, after all. There are things in Gradius we wanted to change, and things we wanted to keep the same.

Yoro: We probably made him red because we wanted him to look intimidating. (laughs)

Ashida: And those spinning weights that come after that midboss were definitely part of our "interactive" theme. Doesn't the Crab boss appear after that?

Yoro: We were really worried about his movements looking too comical. I remember we also were stressed out about the last boss.

Ashida: We were. (laughs) If he's going to be an organic being, how do we portray him? I remember we tried to make him embedded in a test tube at first. In the end we made a model that showed his face, though.

Yoro: Yeah, he would have looked really weak if we put him in a test tube. (laughs) His face looks a lot different than Gofer from Gradius II.

Ashida: And yet, his name is Gofer. (laughs)

The meaning behind the "Fukkatsu" subtitle [[fukkatsu==revival]]

Yoro: In arcades it was the era of fighting games, though there were less and less of those games as well. Music games were starting to dominate everything, and in the midst of that we wanted to signify the "revival!" for shooting games.

Ashida: Games in general were all starting to be polygon based. And for Konami too, they had released very few traditional 2D arcade games by then. But the title also conveys the meaning that Konami still was dedicated to arcade games, and we wanted to make that clear with the title "fukkatsu."

Yoro: It really has a lot of different meanings. There was the revival of Gofer, the revival of arcade games generally... and there was also meant the revival of the stoic STG, in contrast to danmaku games, which were the majority of STGs at the time.

The Gradius IV concept

Ashida: Other than the interactive quality that we've mentioned already, visually speaking we had wanted to make a 3D Gradius game. But the truth is, that idea would have really fettered the traditional Gradius gameplay because Gradius is about navigating your ship through 2D spaces and bullet patterns. We also considered using the 3D to show enemies approaching from far away, but we wanted to keep the gameplay itself simple, so we abandoned that idea. We ended up deciding to keep the gameplay 2D, but add depth to the visuals with 3D. When bullets are in 3D, it just becomes too difficult to determine hitboxes. So we ended up really diluting the 3D aspect we had originally envisioned, and even the terrain ended up being relatively flat so as to allow the player to better judge collision detection.

Six Different Ships

Ashida: In Gradius III there was an edit mode, but that made the game difficult to balance. We decided to avoid that from the beginning and thought of various workarounds, but we had a hard time coming up with new weapons. Gradius II was a fairly balanced game in this regard, so we decided to expand on that game and add two more equipment types and put the new weapons there. Those were the vertical mine and the flying torpedo.

Yoro: For armor piercing, I designed that by starting with an idea of what the weapon's hitbox would look like. Then I extrapolated outwards from there as to what kind of weapon would fit that hitbox, and created visuals for it.

Ashida: One thing we worked at was making sure each weapon setup had advantages and disadvantages. We often hear that vertical mine is very strong, but armor piercing is very weak, and that was done intentionally.

Length of Development, Size of Team

Yoro: Our staff was changing a lot at the time, so I can't say exactly how many were working on it.

Ashida: There was a period in the middle where the project was put on hold. More than half the staff was changed when it resumed. So the length of the project really depends on where you draw that line... for our group, I think we took around 10 months?

Yoro: I think that's about right. It was a bit longer for me.

Ashida: I actually was invited to join as Director later in the project. They were like, "Hey, you know Gradius, right?" (laughs)

Your Personal Favorite

Yoro: Gradius II for me.

Ashida: I worked on Gradius II. I was a new hire at the time, and they told me: "We may be making Gradius II, so why don't you just get started on it now?" (laughs) They handed me Salamander and Gradius as references and I remember playing those for about 2 months. On Gradius II I drew the stage backgrounds. And so Gradius IV probably has a lot of influence from Gradius II. There were a lot of staff members that loved Gradius II also, and we would have discussions about whether we should make such and such like Gradius II, or whether we should do something different.

The Redesigned Vic Viper

Yoro: I think the Vic Viper was revised more times than the stages. I forget how many months we spent on it, but I do remember people saying they didn't like it. (laughs)

Ashida: Its slimmer than the previous incarnations. We asked ourselves, what was the real charm of the Vic Viper? It has a sort of grey-ish color in-game. In the original Gradius, its design was sharp, in Gradius II it gets sharper, and in Gradius III it looks smart and stylish. Since we were redesigning the Vic Viper in 3D polygons, we decided to emphasize that sharp appearance. My original image for the Vic Viper in-game was a little more round... the tail area should look a little more weathered and rough. But our design really highlighted its sense of speed, I think.

Allowing Continues

Ashida: The overseas version of Gradius II had allowed continues, but none of the domestically released Gradius games did. We decided to add them this time, and I remember saying "Even if you continue in Gradius, you still have to perform a checkpoint recovery!" (laughs)

Yoro: There are players who really enjoy checkpoint recovery. Everytime I go to a location test and see the players I'm impressed by how good they are. (laughs) So we wanted to make a game that would be fun for them, too. On the other hand, that doesn't mean you can just abandon new users, and for that reason we added continues to Gradius IV. The game center operator could decide whether to turn continues on or off, so it was only an option.


Yoro: The second loop playtesting was limited to players who were already very good.

Ashida: We checked the first loop to make sure recovery was possible from every checkpoint. In the second loop and after, there are slight changes in the terrain and background, so we checked those very closely. We also decided during playtesting to use the "Parodius" rank system: dying once lowers the rank, and dying twice lowers it further. We wanted to give players a chance before Game Over.

Checkpoint Recovery

Ashida: Since we made Gradius IV, its often been said that the Gradius series is a kind of puzzle game. That puzzle flavor was especially strong in Gradius III, and I think for a certain kind of Gradius fan, its one of their favorite features.

Yoro: Yeah. For fans who didn't like our system, I don't think it was so bad that they completely abandoned the game, but our concept for Gradius IV was that it would be interactive. If you moved like this, the enemies would respond like this, and we designed it so each time it would be a different experience. Of course, a lot of it can still be reduced to patterns and memorization. (laughs)

Later Loops

Ashida: For the second loop and beyond, the instructions we got from staff was pretty much "do whatever you like." (laughs) So we had a meeting with the team about loops, and the question came up: just because its a Gradius game, do we have to keep doing these loops? But it was decided that having them would make certain players happy, so we ended up adding a really challenging second loop.

Boss Names

Ashida: I named all the bosses, but I don't remember who named all the other enemies. I basically said to whoever created an enemy, "name him what you like."

Yoro: Alpha and Omega [[Aa and Muu in Japanese]] were named after the person who made them, Ayumu. He might get mad if he sees this. (laughs)

Ashida: Yorogaton Kimera was named by Yoro and another developer. Everyone said it was an awful name. (laughs)

Stage ideas that didn't make it

Yoro: In the end we didn't do it, but weren't we planning to make a water stage?

Ashida: Now that you mention it, I remember that too.

Yoro: When we brought up the idea of a water stage, someone asked "how should we do it?" and the response was "yeah, what should we do..." And the idea pretty much died on the table there. (laughs) There was an idea to do a stage with a lot of waterfalls, I remember.

Ashida: I remember someone asking "what happens to the Vic Viper when its in the water?"

Yoro: Yeah, someone asked that. But we thought it would be weird if the ship died by touching the water, so we'd have to make it a background feature only... and if that was the case, we said we might as well abandon the idea. I think some of those ideas were used in the bubble or magma level, though. Let's see, what else was there...?

Ashida: I don't know if I really want to reveal this, but... there were talks of adding a puzzle game feature where you'd shoot a globe or ball, and you'd have to make it roll by shooting it.

Yoro: Another idea we had was a "fake" Vic Viper that would appear and fight you one-on-one. We thought "this will be awesome!", but when we actually tried it, it was really boring. (laughs) I know this idea was suggested for Gradius III too, and when they tried it, the enemy ship was too hard to hit and it wasn't very fun. Later, I remember discussing what we should do about the Moai, and there was a very busy day when we had to sleep over at Konami. I was sleeping, when suddenly Ayumu came up to me and said, "Yoro, I've got it! Bagworm Moai!" (laughs) I said "what the hell is that?" and he said "I don't know"... and we went back to sleep. I think he must have been dreaming of a meeting or something.

Ashida: He must have meant the Moai should be hanging or suspended from something.

Yoro: Probably... but it would have been dumb anyway, I think. (laughs)

Memories of Gradius IV

Yoro: For me, this was my first important project. It was the first project I'd participated in from the very beginning. So in that sense it was a difficult experience, truly.

Ashida: I don't really remember the day-to-day details. We were just too busy. One reason my memory is blank is that we would usually write all our ideas on a whiteboard, and everyone would use that as a reference while they worked. (laughs) So now that its been erased, I don't remember much.

Yoro: There had been many Gradius games before this, so there was a lot of pressure on us to create a worthy "IV." I have mixed feelings about it: I feel a sense of pride and superiority in some of the things we accomplished, and with others I wish we could have done something different.

Ashida: Since I joined as director halfway into the project, there were employees who looked at me in a negative way: "what are you doing here?" (laughs) That was really difficult. I think everyone has their own sense of what Gradius should be, and how a Gradius game should be made.

If you were to make a new Gradius...

Yoro: I think the possibilities would be overwhelming. (laughs) What to do, how to make it new... I really enjoy bringing my ideas to life, but I think with the arcade format its especially difficult. Maybe if it was a console Gradius. But yeah, I could get lost in it...

Ashida: I'd like to make a new Gradius--as long as no one complains or cares if its a commercial failure. (laughs)

Yoro: There's no way that will happen. (laughs)

Ashida: I know, but if someone gave me that level of freedom to really radically reconstruct Gradius, I think I'd like to try it. When you're told its ok to break the rules, that's when new things happen; but if you're told to make something new AND honor all the old traditions, its extremely difficult. If I made another Gradius, I'd want to break some of those rules.

Gradius Gaiden Portable Guidebook Interview

Isobe Keiichi (En'you Ryou): Player ship design, programming for stages 4/7 enemies, Stage 4/6/7 bosses, Triple Core,
Heavy Ducker, and others. Also oversaw art design for the instruction booklet. His other works include the Gradius Deluxe Pack and OZ.

Kobayashi Takayuki: Game system design, programming for stage 1/2/3 enemies, stage 1/2 bosses, Laser Tetran,
Neo Big Core, Sol, Heaven's Gate, and others. His other works include Suikoden IV and Rhapsody.

Chigasaki Kei: Backgrounds, game system design, programming for stages 3/5 bosses, Juggler Core and others.
His other works include Gradius Deluxe Pack and Tokimeki Memorial.

Yamazaki Yukihiro: Programming for stage 6 enemies, Metal Serpent, DeathDouble, Deltatry, Boost Core,
Gunner Wall, and O.V.U.M. His work includes the Dance Dance Revolution series and others.

Miura Norikazu (Nories Miura): Sound Composer. Worked on stage sound design. His works include Bugi,
the Winning Eleven series, and more.

Stage 1: Beyond the White Snowstorm

Kobayashi: We decided to make the first stage something fresh, so we choose a snow stage, which was new for Gradius. In the second loop the snow pushes the player's ship downwards. Some of us were saying that should be in the first loop, actually.

Isobe: But of course it turned out to be too difficult that way, so we left it out. Even so, people who see the snow for the first time always get really nervous: "can that hit me?!" (laughs) So I think we achieved our goal of surprising people.

Stage 2: Requiem for Revengers

Kobayashi: The idea for a graveyard started from asking how we could bring back older characters and bosses from the series as a bit of fanservice.

Isobe: We were talking about how to present them in an interesting way when someone said, "Well, aren't they all destroyed now?" (laughs) In a sense, this stage is a kind of "farewell" to them all. (everyone laughs)

Kobayashi: The forking path ended up being featured only in this stage, but we actually wanted to do that in other stages, too.

Isobe: The boss for the lower path is named "Noobiru" [[Nobil]] because his tentacles extend. (everyone laughs) "That's your idea of a pun?!", they said. I cracked up.

[[tr note: the Japanese verb for extend/stretch out is "nobiru." Punning in Japanese is usually more complicated, so this was especially silly. By the way, the Gradius wiki entry for Gradius Gaiden has the Grave and Nobil boss names reversed.]]

Yamazaki: During development, his arm extended incredibly quickly. It was crazy.

Isobe: Yeah, with bosses, they're definitely at their strongest right after you've created them. (laughs) While you're making them you just keep thinking "I've got to make him stronger, stronger, stronger!" Then everyone plays it, and it becomes "how can I make this easier?"

Kobayashi: When you add all these different attacks and detailed movement patterns, bosses naturally are quite strong at first. Then you have to find the right difficulty balance for them.

Stage 3: Into the Crystal Cage

Isobe: I put forward the idea for this stage, and I made it, but... I think I tied a noose around my own neck in doing so. (laughs) The way the lasers reflected was extremely difficult to make because I had to consider the placement of all the enemies and the player's ship as well. But I think it was worth the trouble, because it turned out to be a very impressive stage.

Yamazaki: At first we placed the enemies so they would be difficult to hit with the reflecting laser, but when we actually playtested it, it wasn't very fun. So we went in the opposite direction and placed them so they'd be easier to hit with the reflecting laser.

Stage 4: Ruins of Silence

Isobe: After Gradius Gaiden had been released, I looked at the player feedback survey cards and saw so many responses that said "I died on the 4th stage." It seems this is the stage where people think the difficulty suddenly shoots up.

Yamazaki: The idea to have the Moai heads break in half and fall off came from the Playstation hardware's rotation effects, which were now easier to use. I think the combination with that and the laser eyes made for a fun and interesting design. If you shoot them right when they're shooting their lasers, you won't know which way the head will roll, so its wickedly difficult. (laughs)

Isobe: For the laser Moai, we were pretty much out of new ideas for the Moai. Then someone said, "Well, what if their eyes shoot laser beams?" (everyone laughs) They said it as a joke, but we ended up going with it! The boss, Moai Dimension, also came from PS rotation abilities. "We can do rotation so easily, so let's try and make everything spin!" (laughs)

Yamazaki: With the PSX you could do sprite rotation, scaling, and really anything related to size--lengthening sprites, enlarging them, shrinking them, etc. So it was a natural fit.

Isobe: The name came from the idea that you were in a space surrounded and enclosed by Moai, aka the "Moai Dimension." (laughs) We also added a lot more speech for the boss this time.

Stage 5: Organic Fortress

Kobayashi: Chigasaki's background work really shines here with the way the walls undulate up and down.

Chigasaki: Using the PSX's processing speed, I experimented with a slightly different method with the VRAM for that terrain effect.

Isobe: Looking at Gradius Gaiden as a whole, we tended to spend a lot of time trying out new terrain ideas. When I later saw the magma stage from Gradius IV, it occurred to me that maybe we were inspired by it.

Yamazaki: The boss Mad Skin is, in a certain sense, the strongest boss. (laughs)

Chigasaki: Maybe so, in the sense that you can't just memorize and reduce his attacks to a pattern.

Isobe: I often get hit by those gum balls and die. (laughs)

Chigasaki: Since you can't ultimately predict the angle at which the balls will bounce off, dodging this isn't about memorizing a pattern, but rather about kiai. I know that's a taboo word... (laughs)

[[tr note: kiai doesn't really have a 1-to-1 translation. It usually means fighting spirit and is associated with yelling out things in combat; however, its sometimes used loosely to refer to aligning one's energy with an opponent. One gets the sense that the latter meaning is meant here, since a non-pattern based attack requires a certain kind of split-second intuition or "in the zone" quality to dodge. The taboo comment is interesting, and may refer to either the Gradius series or STGs generally: specifically, the preponderance of (and perhaps player preference for) memorization attacks vs. reflex dodging.]]

Stage 6: Green Inferno

Yamazaki: The idea for enemies that come from behind in the very beginning was taken from the MSX Gradius 2. (everyone laughs)

Isobe: Yeah, the green plant stage itself was first in MSX Gradius 2, also. (laughs)

Yamazaki: Yeah, Gradius Gaiden is full of homages to past Gradius games. The weapons having two levels to power-up is also from the MSX versions.

Kobayashi: Yamazaki, you made this stage, right?

Yamazaki: Yeah, though as you can see, its really just a cobbling together of other people's ideas. (everyone laughs) I don't even remember how many enemies I created for it. Actually, for the walker enemy, I made both a 2-legged version and a 3-legged version. In the end I had to cut the 3-legged version though.

Isobe: I made the boss for this stage, but it was frustrating how our concept for the boss kept changing. I remember he first went through 3 separate transformations. By the way, his third attack that sucks you in came from the Gradius III plant boss (Choking Weed).

Stage 7: On the Event Horizon

Isobe: This stage is my personal favorite. Early in the development we asked "What shall we do for a volcano stage this time?", and people were like "I guess we have to put one in, its Gradius after all." (laughs) We thought of doing the usual volcanic eruptions, but since this was the PSX, we definitely wanted to revise it with some kind of background or terrain effect.

Yamazaki: Ahh, I love this stage too. Its cool how the music really matches the stage.

Isobe: We made it so only the player ship's missile is affected by the gravity. Some were saying the standard shot should also be affected, but it was like, "then there won't be a game to play!" (everyone laughs) The enemy shots do curve, but lasers are unaffected. That little detail was a nod to our love for sci-fi. (laughs)

Stage 8: Formidable Guardians

Yamazaki: This is an all original boss rush. We felt, and so did the director, that just rehashing all the prior bosses would be boring, so we reworked it a bit.

Kobayashi: Yeah, and all those bosses were buried in stage 2 anyway. (laughs)

Isobe: DeltaTri was inspired by Trigon. Both the director and Yamazaki, who made that boss, were fans of Trigon. Though personally, when I think "dragon laser", I think of Gaiapolis. (laughs)

Yamazaki: At the end when he self-destructs by turning his dragon lasers on himself, that was meant to show the gallant heart of the samurai: "I will not die at your hands!" (laughs) By the way, in the second loop, you'll notice that destroying the dragon lasers sometimes causes a lot of suicide bullets to come out, and sometimes only one... that was an object overflow problem. (everyone laughs) When he spits out the scattered bullet pattern before, I ran out of allottable objects for the suicide bullets. Also, I originally thought this name was really cool, but now that I think of it "delta" and "tri" both mean triangle... damnit! (everyone laughs) Well, this was an homage to Trigon, so I definitely needed to have "Tri" in there somewhere.

Isobe: By the way, the music after DeltaTri changes because we wanted to signify that you were entering the latter half of the boss rush. Our nickname for it was "bosu bayashi" (laughs).

[[tr note: "bayashi" refers to the orchestral/band music that accompanies Japanese festival marches, so "boss procession" or "March of the Bosses" is an approximation of the joke.]]

Stage 9: Fate...

Yamazaki: The way the BGM syncronizes with the start of this stage is so cool. Miura, who was in charge of the music, synced it up for us precisely with the start of the stage.

Isobe: The previous high speed stages in the Gradius series had a lot of starting and stopping, and some felt this took away from the sense of speed. So we removed those as much as possible. Racing through the successive shutters at the end is a cherished Gradius tradition we had to keep in, though. (laughs)

Yamazaki: Now that time has passed, I can say this, but... the Gunner Wall was inspired by the boss of a certain arcade game that I was obsessed with at the time. I'm sorry. (laughs) Especially when comes at you and traps you with the needle bullet pattern. [[tr note: almost certainly a reference to Black Heart of Battle Garegga]]

Isobe: Well, for Gradius, that kind of bullet pattern was something fresh. I also really like the flashy explosion when this guys dies. Yamazaki, you sure put a lot of care into the way your bosses exploded. (laughs)

Yamazaki: Yes, I love explosions. (laughs) I really like the flashy explosions in AJAX. But the truth is, the graphic patterns we had for explosions in Gaiden were rather small, so it was a struggle.

Isobe: The next boss, Heavy Ducker, was created by me. Making his roller dash and the way he attacks from the background was simply my little pet project. (laughs)

Yamazaki: The earlier version of Heavy Ducker was a real bastard! For the attack where he drops mines that shoot pillars of fire, there were many more mines, and it was practically impossible to dodge on sight. (laughs) Though if you observed the timing really closely, you could somehow manage...

Isobe: Even I didn't feel like I could clear that attack. (laughs) The next boss, Sol, was nicknamed Uni. (laughs) Here too, we knew we wanted to pay homage to Crab from Gradius II, but this particular design wasn't decided on till very late. Finally we ended up using the PSX's rotation effects.

Yamazaki: Kobayashi made Sol, and I was impressed as usual with how quickly and effortlessly you completed him. I'm really bad at creating those fine, smooth movements.

Kobayashi: No no, that's not true. (laughs) The director had a lot of ideas for this part, so it was easy to make.

Yamazaki: Kobayashi likes to make spinny bosses. (laughs) Laser Tetran was like that too.

Final Boss: O.V.U.M

Isobe: The last boss, who seems to want to tell you something. (laughs) Man, we were wracking our brains over what do for him up to the very end. His name is meant to be read "Obamu." In English, I believe it means "abnormal shape." [[tr note: it doesn't!]] "The Original Visions of Ultimate Monster" was added later.

Yamazaki: We struggled with him a lot--truly befitting the "last boss." (everyone laughs) The presentation was very abstract, and half of him was just a bunch of sparkling lights.

Isobe: The basic idea was for him to be like an illusion, an existence without a clearly discernible body. As for why he takes the appearance of Salamander bosses, well... our image was of "spirits" that would appear one after the other without much rhyme or reason, and the Salamander bosses were easy to use.

Yamazaki: The small sphere that appears at the very end is his true shape.


Yamazaki: The staff roll is in Japanese. And the font is large! (laughs)

Isobe: I can't help but laugh everytime I see it. (everyone laughs) Why did we decide on kanji for the credits? Its different, but something seems off about it... well, either way, its easy to read! Its good for we Japanese. (everyone laughs)

Kobayashi: I also like the ending song.

Isobe: Yeah, it exudes feelings of liberation and relief... "Ah, my work is done!"

The Gradius Gaiden development

Isobe: The development period was just under a year. We really strived to create a fun, balanced game--not just as an addition to the Gradius series, but as a STG game also.

Chigasaki: The Gaiden staff originally worked on the Gradius Deluxe Pack. So everyone was very knowledgeable about Gradius, and while we were porting the arcade games, there were a lot of strong opinions exchanged about how "I would have done this differently!" and such. (laughs)

Yamazaki: And of course we were very conscious of the fact that this was a console game we were developing. We added more power-up capsules than normal, and made the checkpoint recovery easier than the arcade titles.

Isobe: Unlike an arcade game, you don't need to use up a bunch of quarters to play. We didn't have to follow a "kill the player in the 2nd stage!" arcade philosophy (laughs), and we could pace the difficulty in a more balanced way, with the goal of progressively raising the player's skills.

The Origin of Gaiden

Isobe: We decided on the Gaiden title first, and the story came later. So to be honest, we didn't really think too hard about the story connections with the Bacterian empire and so forth. But that said, we did feel that by using older characters, the bosses' wrecked shells, and other references, that connections would be suggested to the player, while leaving the details vague.

Chigasaki: The truth is that, at first, our team really wanted to make an official numbered entry in the Gradius series.

Isobe: But it actually turned out that doing a Gaiden entry, we could come up with ideas more freely. I think in the end it was very advantageous.

Yamazaki: And by calling it Gaiden, we could avoid the potentially severe critcism from core fans. "Gaiden? You mean its not part of the official series? Ah, but its still so fun!" (laughs)

New Ships

Isobe: I remember there was a conversation in the beginning about how it was kind of sad that in previous games when the ship changed weapons, its appearance didn't change.

Chigasaki: At the start of development Gaiden was 1 player only, but along the way we added 2P simultaneous play. So for 2 player games, we needed a way to visually differentiate the ships.

Isobe: That brought up the different looking Vic Viper and Lord British from Salamander, but since we had 4 types, we needed to design two more ships.

Yamazaki: Everyone contributed ideas for the ship names and weapons, and we decided on it freely amongst ourselves.

Isobe: By the way, regarding the Falchion β... after we completed Gradius Gaiden, I learned of the existence of the FDS game Falsion. (laughs) The similar names are a complete coincidence.

Yamazaki: What, really?! This is the first time I've heard that. (laughs)

Isobe: Its true. I thought "Falchion" alone was a little too short for the name of a ship and didn't quite fit, so to give it some weight I added the "β." Then, later I created the story that "actually, there was an alpha version of the Falchion...", and people were like "Whoa, that's cool!" (everyone laughs)

New Weapons

Isobe: The hardest to make was the disruptor. It was way too strong at first, but when we tried to balance it we made it too weak. (laughs) As a result I think the Lord British ended up being the least rewarding ship to play.

Yamazaki: Yeah, but a lot of people like the ripple laser. (laughs)

Isobe: Its true, Gaiden's ripple laser takes the place of Double. It felt like Double wasn't very well received as the Gradius series went on, so we decided to try to improve on it.

Yamazaki: The Vic Viper double that can shoot behind is very powerful.

Isobe: Also, the Falchion β Auto-Aiming weapon was my idea. It came from my own bitter experiences, where I'd aim at something but then an enemy would get in the way. I thought, "theres never been a homing weapon in Gradius that doesn't require you to be horizontally aligned with the enemy, has there?" (laughs) During development there was no limit on the fire rate, though, and it was too strong so we scaled it back.

New Barriers

Isobe: Since we'd gone to the trouble of making 4 ships, we felt we might as well make 4 different barriers. The idea for "guard" came from me being bad at Gradius games and always dying when I hit the walls. So I right away I demanded a barrier for the terrain. (everyone laughs) Limit came from the idea of making a barrier that was about time rather than durability.

Gauge Edit

Isobe: This was an evolution of the edit mode in Gradius III. "Since we can change the weapons (vertical), why not allow players to change the order (horizontal)?" When we actually tried it out, it was surprisingly fun. (laughs) You know, in Life Force the Lord British ship had a different power-up order. Since they had done it there, I figured it would work out here.

Second Loop

Isobe: We thought that just increasing the enemies and making them tougher would be boring. (laughs) We tried changing the enemy algorithms and increasing their number. It was simply fan service. Also, there were things we regretted removing from the game that we were able to bring back under the guise of a second loop.

Yamazaki: I was part of the "A Stronger Second Loop!" faction. (everyone laughs) I remember someone yelling out at a meeting, "We HAVE to make the second loop more difficult!" Arcade STGs of the time had two loops, and the second loop was always incredibly difficult. I definitely think that inspired us, well, for me personally at least. (everyone laughs) I liked the idea that players would feel like the second loop was an invitation to a deadly contest!

Chigasaki: Heaven's Gate was made specifically for the second loop. We ended up having some free time in our development schedule, and I think Kobayashi made him. (laughs)

Yamazaki: Heaven's Gate actually has a safe spot, and we knew about it before the game was released. (laughs)

Kobayashi: But if you just fight him normally, he isn't that hard. He reveals all his tricks after you fight him once. Just by staying in the middle you should be able to dodge his attacks, and its very easy.

Isobe: The prelude Kuchuusen melody also changes for the second loop. Originally the composers made two version of Kuchuusen for us, but we all thought the Sky #2 song was better. Though later some people told us it doesn't seem to fit the Gradius series.

Ideas that didn't make it

Isobe: At the idea stage we had the image of a "Sea of Mud." The terrain would be like the Bubble stage from Gradius III, but the ship's movement would be slowed down. But someone said, "would this even be fun?" (everyone laughs), and that was the end of that idea.

Kobayashi: We also thought of having a Crab type boss in the last stage who raise the walls as he walked.

Isobe: Really, we didn't abandon many of our ideas. Almost everything we thought of in the beginning made it in.

Chigasaki: But we did change the order of the stages around two or three times. During the development the internal organ stage was 2nd, and the graveyard stage was 7th. But in terms of color the graveyard and base stages were too similar, so we separated them. We did a lot of changes like that.

Isobe: Also, the high speed stage was stage 6 at first, and separate from the final base stage. We joined them together later. We thought it was cooler if it felt like you descended into the final boss' lair, so we put them together.

Yamazaki: I think it turned out to be a really cool final stage because of that.

2 Player Simultaneous

Isobe: The first thing we stumbled over was how to divide the 4 options between 2 players. At first we made it that whoever got them first kept them, but that way the more experienced player always won. So someone suggested being able to exchange the options. (everyone laughs) It ended up being like a pseudo-competitive system. (laughs)

Yamazaki: You know, I thought it was great. It feels almost like a minigame, but its a good system.

Stage Titles

Isobe: I was allowed to name these. (laughs) Every Gradius game, the stages have rather plan names. Just "Volcano" and so forth. At that time a lot of arcade STGs were using fairy tale like settings. I thought that was really cool, so I tried to add something like it to Gaiden. I'm not sure I was successful for every stage though. The black hole stage name "On the Event Horizon" came very easily, since I love science fiction. (laughs)

The Sound of Gradius Gaiden

Miura: At the start, the director told me he wanted me to approach the sound in a way that was distinct from all previous Gradius games. Since the playback method was different from arcade games (the PSX used CDXA sound format), I tried to do things that could only be done on a console system. I wanted to make full use of the advantages of a console port, and I tried out various compositional approaches to that end. I think I really had a lot of freedom in writing the music for Gaiden.

The main theme, Sky #2?

Miura: Officially we never announced a main theme for Gaiden, but Sky #2 was it. It uses the same melodic phrase as SPEED. Originally it was used as the Jade Knight's theme, but we wanted a unique melody to represent Gradius Gaiden--something that you hadn't heard before in the Gradius series--and Sky #2 fit that role. It also features prominently in the original soundtrack as a bonus track.

Looking back on Gradius Gaiden

Isobe: Of all the titles I've worked on at Konami, this is the one I have the most confidence in. I tell people this work represents my heart and soul.

Everyone: Ahhh!

Isobe: I was so lucky to be given this project. I learned a lot from it, and it was the first time I made a game that I myself enjoyed playing. During the development I was really into scoring, too. (laughs)

Yamazaki: It was really fun to create. It was fun to make, and fun to play... it felt like, "should I be getting paid for this?" (laughs)

Isobe: Yeah... that's the ideal game.

Kobayashi: For me, Gradius was a game I had played a ton as a kid, so in that respect the pressure was immense. Even so, I was so grateful and happy to be able to create a new Gradius title.

Chigasaki: Gradius is such an emblematic title in the world of STG, so I too had a lot of anxiety at the time about creating a new entry in the series. But in the end, unlike the Deluxe Pack we were able to fully utilize the abilities of the PSX, and the game is still rated highly by fans, so I'm glad I got the chance to work on it.

Yamazaki: I joined in the middle of the development, but to be involved in a Gradius game was like a dream come true to me. I was so happy. I joined the game industry because I wanted to make STGs, so to suddenly be working on Gradius made me incredibly happy. In many different ways it was a memorable project for me. It was the first time I felt the actual sensation that "this is how games are made!" Looking back on it, being able to come up with ideas and try them out then and there was a development style that you don't see very often nowadays.

Isobe: It was like doing a live show.

Yamazaki: If we thought something was fun we'd just add it, and more and more new ideas got added everyday. It really felt like "this is how you make a good game."

Isobe: Its partly thanks to our director, who wasn't afraid of adventure.

Kobayashi: He was always saying we needed to take on new challenges.

Yamazaki: That's right. He's an extremely prideful person who hates to lose. "I won't do anything that's been done before!" is what he used to say. I think that kind of attitude has a lot to do with creating an original game. I'd love to work on a development project like this again... I want to make a new Gradius game, with this staff! Of course it wouldn't be Gradius VI, but rather Gradius Gaiden 2. (everyone laughs)

Isobe: For those who encounter Gradius Gaiden for the first time on PSP, I hope you don't take the Gaiden title in a negative way. It does many things the main series can't do, in a good sense. Please enjoy it for what it is.
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Last edited by blackoak on Thu Mar 12, 2015 8:11 pm, edited 15 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 21, 2012 2:11 am 

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 Post subject: Re: Gradius Developer Interviews (I, II, Gaiden)
PostPosted: Sat Jul 21, 2012 2:59 am 

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Great translation! I feel bad for the people who worked on Gradius 2 and Gaiden though, it sounds like they were all pretty terrified of messing up the Gradius image :(
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 Post subject: Re: Gradius Developer Interviews (I, II, Gaiden)
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II and Gaiden are the best Gradius games, though, so it worked out I think.

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 Post subject: Re: Gradius Developer Interviews (I, II, Gaiden)
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Very interesting, although I am laughing at the image of electronic bubble-pushing. Apparently it is sort-of accurate - the thin-film memory used allows a type of quick serial access memory to be made. In a traditional magnetic tape, the magnetized regions are laid down in just one direction regardless of the width of the tape used, and the tape has to be pulled past a read head. "Bubbles" represent two advances: One, the region is continuously magnetized and fluctuating (the bubble memory has to heat up to get to its operating temperature to accomplish this), and so the magnetically distinct regions (i.e. bits) can be pushed along. Two, experiments with different materials allowed this process to be aimed in a specific direction, and also the regions were much smaller.

It was never a match for semiconductor memory which is truly random access, and it wouldn't have been applicable to traditional serial tape storage applications either, since the bubble memory is only a temporary storage, and even if you could fix data along its surface, it will only be a small portion that will be erased during serial access, it seems. So...if I understand this correctly, perhaps what Machiguchi Hiroyasu means is that in order to line up with data boundaries, they send the player back to a region that includes other necessary information to get the game running again. Perhaps something like a bit of code and player graphics are loaded into regular DRAMs or CPU registers and the like (I wonder if bubble memory has "lanes" allowing some data to be looped...from the description it sounds rather like it would mainly be useful for background bitmaps and scrolling them, or maybe other serial applications like music), and then the bubble memory reads out the background graphics continuously for CPU controlled screen drawing.

Knowing magnetic stuff, it sounds very fast for what it is based on.

I might have that all wrong. It certainly sounds a bit different from what I read the author saying here, which I have some difficulty interpreting. I was always interested in the bubble memory; I ought to find some more sources than just Wikipedia :mrgreen:

In other news...the kid with 200K yen. HOLY CRAP! I'm a bit saddened that they didn't actually sell him Gradius...or maybe a man in his 30s somewhere actually owns Gradius, and not Konami? :mrgreen: That's all I have to say about that.

Edit: Assuming the yen/dollar exchange rate of mid-1985, roughly 240 yen to the dollar, the kid offered Konami people roughly $833 and 1/3 dollars. In 2010 dollars, that would be almost doubled, to $1665.77 or so. That would be one hell of a sweet device. Did the kid buy an arcade cabinet, I wonder? Actually, I often wonder about how much arcade games cost operators back in the day. The new-ish gun games and maybe even some current traditional JAMMA format games I see costing as much as a car sometimes, but I wonder if everybody asked for hundreds of dollars per kit back then.

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 Post subject: Re: Gradius Developer Interviews (I, II, Gaiden)
PostPosted: Sat Jul 21, 2012 5:12 am 

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ISTR reading that there was an interview with the guy who ported Gradius to Famicom where he basically said that he created the infamous Konami Code because he sucked at Gradius but still needed to test the later levels, and it wasn't worth the extra programming/QA effort to remove it from the release version. Anyone have that one? :)

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I read that and all I can think is "She's Downy soft now".

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 21, 2012 12:54 pm 

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Thanks for the translation, as an old MSX fanboy anything Konami from that era piques my interest or something.

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We'd see her drawing these outrageous characters and cackling to herself, and the other staff members were always saying "What is going on in your head???"


Thanks so much for this, mate. Great read. Gradius is still my favourite series, so it's really nice to get a feel for how it all came together, and how it could have been so much different! The excerpt about the possible branching-paths system is delicious.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 21, 2012 11:58 pm 

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Great initiative.

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 Post subject: Re: Gradius Developer Interviews (I, II, Gaiden)
PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2012 9:04 am 

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Klatrymadon wrote:
We'd see her drawing these outrageous characters and cackling to herself, and the other staff members were always saying "What is going on in your head???"


Thanks so much for this, mate. Great read. Gradius is still my favourite series, so it's really nice to get a feel for how it all came together, and how it could have been so much different! The excerpt about the possible branching-paths system is delicious.

Agreed 110%, and yeah the Darius thing stood out to me too. Thanks for picking out that quote! It's too bad they didn't give that staffer's name.

Somebody should write a nice letter to that guy who worked on Animaniacs.
These translations are totally blowing me away. I just quickly read through the remainder (Gradius II onward). Noticed this, though:
blackoak wrote:
Bonus! Xexex 1993 Development Team Interview

Our goal for Xexex was to change the image people had of Konami STGs as being "hardcore." That's we added a cute girl. The plan was to add a girl so as to attract general players, not only hardcore gamers, but at Konami there was a lot of controvery over it right until the end.

"That's when we added a cute girl" perhaps?

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2012 10:44 am 

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Loved it! Especially the part with the kid who showed up with cash in hand to purchase a PCB. It reminds me of a friend here in Sweden who convinced his mom to buy him an arcade cabinet with Ghost 'n Goblins in 1985! I think it costed 8 thousand SEK at the time. :)
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Amazing. Such a shame to think the small team with big ideas is a practice almost completely wiped out. :(
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2012 6:40 pm 

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Klatrymadon wrote:
The excerpt about the possible branching-paths system is delicious.

I think I can hear someone at Tatio chuckling to them self inadvertently.

But seriously, that is some good info; I never would have guessed how much inspiration Gradius took beyond its predecessor to get where it was. Thanks again blackoak!
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A great series of interviews about one of stg's greatest series.

Really interesting stuff; I love it when game developers talk about the technical nitty-gritty of things like memory limitations etc. Makes for a fascinating read.
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Thanks everyone, especially for catching little proofreading errors. I do proofread these myself, but always seem to miss something. "Missle" is especially embarassing; to think I once won a spelling bee... :oops:

The hardware limitations are fascinating, and I was initially puzzled by the comments about the bubble system memory. The text is freely available, but I'm fairly certain there are no mistranslations--he just isn't being very specific about what was wrong, and I'd probably need a Japanese 1980s programming background to draw more decisive inferences from his scant descriptions. Regardless of the exact technical reasons, it is as he says...

Its both intriguing and sad to see the difference between developers then and now, with regard to difficulty. Hiroyasu's comment about the balance between commercial/artistic production is very honest, but totally made me grimace. We all know where that path leads, now... but anyway, it was quite refreshing to translate a perspective OTHER than "we need to make this easier for new players."
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2012 9:48 pm 

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Although the technology is completely different, as I understand it reading from bubble memory would work much like an endless tape loop (8-track tape, microdrive etc). Once you've read some data off the media, you'd have to spool through the entire thing to read it again, which can take a very long time. As mentioned in the article, Gradius read three screens worth of data into RAM at a time, so when you lost a life you restarted at the earliest point already loaded into RAM rather than waiting until the start of the level could be loaded from the bubble memory again.

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 Post subject: Re: Gradius Developer Interviews (I, II, Gaiden)
PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 3:54 pm 

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Great work as always. Know of any Irem-related interviews or articles that could use a translation?

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 5:32 pm 

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brilliant stuff thanks - I love me some Gradius :)
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Op Intensify wrote:
Great work as always. Know of any Irem-related interviews or articles that could use a translation?

Actually, that site has interviews for R-type, R-type Final, R-type Delta, and a general Irem STG interview. I haven't looked too closely at them, but the original R-type interview looks very good. They reference Gradius a lot, so perhaps I'll work on that next as a nice segueway.
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Does that site have interviews with the Gradius III team?

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2012 7:48 pm 

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blackoak thank you again! i really am feeling the love for gradius...wooT

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2012 10:18 pm 

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Master O wrote:
Does that site have interviews with the Gradius III team?

It actually has a couple Gradius III related things. One is a Gamest interview after a "submit your ideas for Gradius III!" style contest. Very uninteresting and no details about GIII, considering it occurred before development. The other is a tiny, wholly insubstantial interview with the music composers.

If anyone has Gradius/Salamander/Parodius related interviews from superplays, art books, etc, and could scan them for me, that would be wonderful! I've exhausted whats available online, so thats the only way I'll be able to add to this... unless Shooting Gameside gets some interviews. :|
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 27, 2012 9:04 pm 

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^I have the Gradius Portable guidebook. Covers I, II, III, IV and Gaiden. Lots of concept art too. I'll get to work, but its a real lot of stuff to scan.
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Thanks for doing this, you are a treasure.
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Oh hell yeah. Thanks yet again blackoak!

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2012 8:58 am 

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you've really put in a lot of effort here for our collective benefit. It took me a while to read through it all but I think I got quite a bit of Information from the Developers' Perspectives.

Many thanks for the great Addition to the Shmups-Forum :)
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 Post subject: Re: Gradius Developer Interviews (I, II, Gaiden)
PostPosted: Wed Aug 01, 2012 2:05 am 

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blackoak wrote:
Master O wrote:
Does that site have interviews with the Gradius III team?

It actually has a couple Gradius III related things. One is a Gamest interview after a "submit your ideas for Gradius III!" style contest. Very uninteresting and no details about GIII, considering it occurred before development. The other is a tiny, wholly insubstantial interview with the music composers.

Is it too late to submit an idea for Gradius III? :mrgreen:

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