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 Post subject: Four M-KAI Interviews (Eschatos, JSS, CS, Ginga Force)
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:40 pm 

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Joined: 20 Feb 2011
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update: added two extra interviews to end of this post

In expectation of M-KAI/Qute's upcoming Ginga Force, I've translated two M-KAI interviews that were online. One is from a Japanese programmer who originally conducted the interview by email... he asks some fairly obscure questions about M-KAI's early history programming MSX games before getting to several questions about his WonderSwan work and Eschatos. I also translated the "bonus" interview from the official Eschatos site, which is just five or six quick questions specifically about Eschatos. While reading this I learned that Shooting Gameside #3, the one volume I don't own, also has an M-KAI interview... I'll have to append that sometime.

I enjoyed reading his comments about muscling through coding sections, which reminds me of the focus I used to have coding z80 assembler, when I'd laboriously compile everything by hand in text files, development tools be damned. I've also been playing Cardinal Sins/JSS a lot more since the tate patches came out for them. I haven't given them a focused period of play yet (sorry, Batrider...), but I wanted to support a developer still making new shmups, and non-danmaku ones at that. Anyway, enjoy! Oh, and I finally caved in and started writing "STG" instead of the awkward "shooting game". 8)

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

Jamestown and Sine Mora - Shooting Gameside Interviews
Mahou Daisakusen manga translation
Toaplan Shooting Chronicle Interview Madness
R-Type Developer Interview Collection
Gradius Developer Interviews (I,II,III,IV,Gaiden)
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)

M-KAI Developer Interview (Eschatos, Judgment Silversword, Cardinal Sins)
Interview by autumnmotor, by email, November 2011

—Let's start off with something light. Since releasing Eschatos, you've had various opportunities to talk about your games, but do you like doing interviews?

M-KAI: You said "light," but this puts me on the spot right away. (sweat) I'm not used to doing interviews, so I'm already nervous about what you're going to ask.

—What games have you been playing lately?

M-KAI: You probably mean video games, but lately there's been a ton of medal games coming out. I've been playing a lot of the big push lever style games, but lately those have been going away. (tears) It would be nice if there was some new shooting game at the arcade to play, but lately I've been more satisfied by console releases, mainly the X360. I've been checking out all the ports and re-releases on the X360.

—Please tell us about what games have had an influence on you as a player and developer.

M-KAI: In the sense of what games have influenced me, probably all the early Famicom titles. It was the start of a new era of games and everything seemed brand new to me. I was also a young kid in elementary school, which has a lot to do with it. The largest influence, though its not a game, would be the Family Basic computer that my brother-in-law bought. That was very important for me. After he passed it on to me, I spent the next several years tinkering with it and learned to write my own programs (although it could only compile BASIC). Without that moment of feeling the pride in my own capabilities, I may not have become who I am today.

—In 1995 you released your first game, "Izumic Ballade" for MSX. At the time there were other development platforms like the X68000, but why did you choose the MSX to develop on?

M-KAI: It was because the MSX was similar to the Family Basic I had worked with before. As for the X68000, I simply didn't have the money for it as an elementary and junior high student. I also think the age group for that system was a few years above me. But there was a time when I somewhat regretted not having worked with the X68000. Its hardware for handling sprites was unrivalled among personal computers, even now, I think. And if I had learned how to use it, I might have been able to find work programming arcade games.

—What do you mean by that?

M-KAI: I mean, I get the impression that many arcade shooting games used the same 68k CPU.

—Izumic Ballade was an RPG. RPGs have an image of being harder to program than STGs. What did you think about that, once you tried creating one?

M-KAI: There are many difficult aspects to developing RPGs, such as inadvertently creating bugs in the code that prevent the player from progressing in the story, or forgetting to add the right hints and clues to allow a player to progress, or difficulty adjustment issues, where you end up having to re-adjust everything from the beginning. I remember ironing out a lot of bugs in Izumic Ballade, though it still didn't get very good reviews. One the rare occasions I play it today, I always think I'd like to do a remake.

Compared with STGs, though, RPGs are basically about programming battle parameters. For example, if you want to change something in the middle of an RPG you don't have to rewrite every attack pattern like you would in a STG, so in that sense I think its easier.

—Your next game was "Kanzen Kouryaku Kyokugen", [[something like, "Perfect Offensive ULTIMATE"]] which was also your debut as a STG developer. How was it received by players at the time?

M-KAI: I began developing this around the time I was working on the final version of Izumic Ballade. I included a Time Attack demo version with Izumic, so thanks to that I think the about same number of people who bought Izumic Ballade also bought Kyokugen. (laughs) Because of Kyokugen I had the opportunity to meet many different people, so I think as a game it was a major turning point for me in several respects. It was worth the 2 years of effort it took to make.

—With the characters and the sounds made when you score (done by seiyu), there's an aspect of Kyokugen that appeals to the hardcore M-KAI fan. I'm curious as to what your interests and hobbies (novels, animation, manga etc) were at the time?

M-KAI: I began working on Kyokugen when I was in high school, so I was really into robot school anime. Along with that anime, there were a lot of commercials in my area for "Shounen no Fune," so a hybridization of those two things naturally was on my mind. For the next two years I would live a student lifestyle, so gradually I really got into STGs and anime seiyu. Now that I'm over 30 the obsession has mostly calmed down, and I don't really know much about recent anime or seiyu...

[[tr note: "Seiyu" means voice actors, and has enough of a distinct cultural connotation to warrant writing it out like this as opposed to the more generic 'voice actor.' "Shounen no Fune" literally means "Boy's Boats", and as far as I can tell, this is a very common group activity summer/spring vacation field trip that students take on a big boat, usually in middle or high school. Finally, I'm not sure what kind of anime constitutes the genre of "robot school" anime, but there you have it!]]

—After the vertical STG Kyokugen, your next game was the horizontal STG "Pleasure Hearts" (distributed through the disk magazine "Sanriku Ouja #0"). How did players receive that one?

M-KAI: I can't deny that compared with Kyokugen, this game was aimed more at the hardcore STG crowd. But I think it still received pretty normal reviews.

—Pleasure Hearts develops at a really nice tempo for a STG. It doesn't include a preponderance of stage gimmicks like your typical horizontal shooting game. What were your goals in developing a game like that?

M-KAI: It was simply the case that I wasn't very familiar with STGs that used a lot of terrain features. With arcade games too, by that time danmaku STG had become the main style, but since I was young, I didn't receive much influence from them.

Also, speaking of horizontal STGs on the MSX, there were many well known series, and I wanted to try throwing a style into the mix that was different from players' pre-set ideas of what a horizontal STG should be.

—Each of your games until then had taken about 2 years on average to create. Please tell us a little bit about your development schedule (are there games you abandoned in development?).

M-KAI: As far as scheduling goes, I pretty much didn't do any of it. I just worked on this as a hobby, and basically started out first making the parts of a game I really wanted to make. Back then I was totally ignorant of efficient programming methods, and I ignored any concerns with profitability or production costs, and just doggedly assembled the game day by day. My data creation tools were all done in BASIC as well. My method of working was very particular to myself, since I wasn't concerned with learning quicker or more convenient methods. In particular, for the sound MML data entry method, I'll leave out the details, but when I look at it now I can't believe I used to do it that way. I just really wanted to make games back then, and I didn't want to spend the time learning to use development tools. (laughs)

Between Kyokugen and Pleasure Hearts, there weren't really any projects that I abandoned. But back then there was no one to oversee or review my work, which I made according to my own desires. And I think I was too young to feel ashamed about the things I released. When I look back on it now, I see really bad parts in those games, things so embarassing I'd like to remove the game from circulation.

—Please tell us the reason you switched development to the WonderWitch platform (I believe there was a similar mobile game platform, "P/ECE" that was out at the same time...)

M-KAI: I had just started to become aware of the possibilities and need for my program code to be reproduceable on other platforms. I also felt I would be limited if I only knew assembler, which was limited to certain CPUs. So I was attracted to learning the general programming language C to make games. I remember that P/ECE came out a little bit later than the WonderSwan Color, but with the monochrome screen and button layout of the P/ECE, the WonderSwan appealed to me more.

—What attracted you to the WonderWitch and WonderSwan?

M-KAI: I think the main appeal of the WonderSwan for me was that the system was cheap and it could do vertical scrolling games. The programming language for the WonderWitch was C, and compared to other platforms on the market, I liked that you could program things for it quickly that were in no way inferior. Also, this isn't something many are aware of, but you could write programs that could use a larger SRAM than was used in most other commercial software. This SRAM is usually set aside for save data, but it could also be used for working memory for program execution, and it could handle very large objects. I think Judgment Silversword would have been very difficult to make without this special feature of the WonderSwan cartridge.

—Judgment Silversword is different from your average STG in that extends are very frequent, and you feel like you can play for quite awhile on a single play. What were your intentions there?

M-KAI: At the time there were many STGs coming out that didn't feature extends at all. I wanted to give players that sense of relief that only comes from an extend. Its that feeling of momentary relief you get when you have no lives left and you pick up an extend. But I adjusted the difficulty on the last stage to depend on how many remaining lives you had stockpiled, which I think was my reaction to having a generous extend system.

—In Cardinal Sins the range of the wide shot differs between Trial Mode and Normal Mode. Why is that?

M-KAI: Mach [[the co-developer/publisher]] had been saying for awhile that the wide shot was too powerful.

—I've been wondering, did Qute make any overtures to you about selling Cardinal Sins? To be honest, its very strange to me that a game of such high quality wasn't released commercially from the start.

M-KAI: The positive response to the commercial release of Judgment Silversword had exceeded our expectations, so from the start I planned Cardinal Sins to be freeware as a way of showing my gratitude.

—In your next game, "Project E-Force," which was released as "SelfProduce", you used basic stages similar to traditional STGs, compared with the unique sequences of Judgment Silversword and Cardinal Sins.

M-KAI: As for my motivation for making it, and this is connected to your question below, at that time I made it just because I wanted to. I was also annoyed that people kept saying that my games were "80s" games, though that feeling has lessened now. I've given up further work on these two games, though. Given the WonderSwan's specs, its difficult to come up with graphics and music by myself. Even so, I don't think it was a complete waste of time, as they are still available on the WonderSwan.

—Please tell us about the Windows development utility "ShootingRPG."

M-KAI: Its just an RPG battle development tool that I converted to a vertical STG tool. The content of it was all just my experimentation, so it was never finished or anything. I found some old screenshots (1, 2) and an explanation I wrote for it, so I'll write this out for you here. Remember, this was nine years ago... (sweat)

"Windows Shooting RPG Construction Tool (REV.2503)

Created for the Direct X environment
Publicly released with with the Visual (Standard Edition) individual license

I ran out of patience and never finished designing this, so its been left in a half-finished state.
The usable characters are also just placeholders.
Please think of the content in the same way. (sweat)

If someone can release a full game using this I will be happy.
I just have too much work going on right now."

—The famous programmers ABA and Murasame Aeju are also connected to the WonderWitch Grand Prix coding competition. ABA is currently releasing open source games, and Murasame is involved in doujing game distribution through a Comiket Market group. While they are each advancing indie games in their own way, please tell us how M-Kai came to do joint commercial development with Qute.

[[tr note: Murasame is currently the sole member of the doujin circle PlatineDispositif, who has released the famous DicingKnight and Gundemonium games, among others. ABA is the development pseudonym for Kenta Cho, who made rRootage and Parsec 47]]

M-KAI: My involvement with Qute came by way of several fateful encounters through the WonderWitch Grand Prix. Actually, there was a period of time when I felt I wanted to keep working on everything solo, like I had in the days of Kyokugen, but to be frank, that approach won't work with the larger scale projects I'm working on nowadays. So I would love to work with ABA and Murasame, who are quite capable. As for other details, I talk about this a bit more in Shooting Gameside #3, so please check that out.

—Eschatos basically uses the same system as Judgment Silversword (the ship system, stage sequences, etc), but the scoring and level design are quite unadorned and simple. What was the reason for those changes?

M-KAI: With STGs, you begin with a foundation of simple rules and have to find some kind of scoring system that will distinguish the game from others. The scoring system will therefore have a certain degree of complexity, but my goal for Eschatos was to try and make a game free from unnecessary or overly complex scoring systems.

—I feel there's a very randomized approach to the game overall, with the enemy placement, attack timing, etc. What were your intentions there?

M-KAI: I wanted to make a game that didn't feel like a strict puzzle game, something that wouldn't require studying. I think there were many STGs like that in the 80s.

—In Judgment Silversword, you can change levels with a hidden code. But in the re-release with Eschatos, you can't do this anymore?

M-KAI: I added that hidden command in the event that the ROM cartridge batteries died. With the X360 the possibility for that data loss is very low, and you can erase achievements and make other adjustments directly in the options menu, so I left it out.

—The Eschatos development lead Yonezawa said that he'd like to make a horizontal STG next (from the Eschatos soundtrack liner notes). Do you plan to work with Qute again?

M-KAI: Since Eschatos has received good reviews, I want to work on something with them next time too.

—Please tell us about any habits or particular tendencies you have regarding the story, bullet patterns, and enemy placement. For example, as a fan I've noticed you often use high speed continuous spread shots that are aimed at the ship, and there's also the shield from Judgment Silversword and Cardinal Sins.

M-KAI: I'm careful about not making the enemy bullets too slow. Also, I try to make the player ship's explosion as flashy as possible, so that it feels good even when you die and the game is over.

—I think we can say that each of your games has had some kind of RPG-like aspect to it, where you accumulate something as you play. (for example, the item collection in Pleasure Hearts, or the scoring in JSS and Eschatos which opens up new areas of the games). Please explain why you chose to incorporate those elements.

M-KAI: I personally like RPGs a lot, as I'm the type of person who gets into things obsessively. I think the strong point of RPGs is that if you spend enough time with them (assuming you don't get bored in the middle) you will surely clear the game. Also, as for the item collection and stat growth aspects of RPGs, I'd like to include those in my future games as well. When I was developing Judgment Silversword for the 2001 WonderWitch Grand Prix, I played a lot of STGs on the Sega Saturn, but I noticed there weren't any games that rewarded you the more you played them, like RPGs did. STGs at the time also had a tendency to make you throw away credits if you messed up, and you'd have to redo the first stages over and over. If I was going to make a game, I wanted to address that shortcoming somehow.

—You said in another interview that you had become used to playing games where the bomb was designed to be an emergency save. What do you think is the appeal (or drawback) of that design approach to bombs?

M-KAI: I think the appeal there is that the bomb allows you to skip parts you aren't good at for now, and you get to see a little bit further into the game. It also gives a sense of accomplishment for skilled players who get through without using bombs. I think its good when a game can allow for that division between "bombs saved for points" and "bombs for escaping." Bombs are also supposed to be flashy weapons that add a certain flavor to the presentation of the game, so I think its a waste when you're penalized for using them, and the bomb button simply becomes the "thou shalt not press" button.

—Of all the games you've developed, which ones have been particularly memorable for you?

M-KAI: I would say Eschatos, for sure. Before Eschatos I had been doing all sorts of experiments and prototypes, but it had been 6 years since I had last completed a game. I feel like I've grown very old! Also, from the very beginning I started Eschatos with the help of several others, and I am deeply moved and grateful to them.

—Of the reviews you've received, there's been a number which praise your games as spectacular homages. Up till now about half your games have been released as doujin titles. With Eschatos, you've joined the ranks of so-called "legitimate" consumer games, but you maintain the stance that your games are homages to others. I think this is a style unique among shooting game developers (Radiant Silvergun would be an exception). How do you ensure that this "homage" doesn't descend to the level of mere parody or plaigarism? (I apologize for the difficult question. But I think this is an important factor in all of M-KAI's games. Please share your thoughts about it.)

M-KAI: All I can say about this is that the experiences I've had with all the games I've played in my life are very important to me. I don't think I'm particularly conscious of it, but their influence naturally comes out in what I create. Also, leaving out the time I made doujin games, I've never had the intention to just blatantly imitate other games. For instance, I've thought I might want to use a certain part of a certain game, but I've never tried to actually recreate something note for note. Therefore I think it comes across more subtly.

—You're something of a star among doujin STG developers. As our senpai, please give us a message (or advice).

M-KAI: When I look at it objectively, I've had a lot of totally blank periods where I produced nothing, so it feels a little awkward to say I'm a "star," but...

What I can say for others, though, is that if you think something is impossible to do on your own, see what you can manage alone, but also seek help from others. Also, I think its important to be aware of what's going on in the world, see where people are active, and learn new development platforms. It was frustrating for me since I had spent so much time learning other platforms, and I was stressed out by the massive amount of new things I had to learn, but as a result of those struggles I was able to release both Judgment Silversword and Eschatos.

Its also important to have absolute trust in yourself. This was the only thing that got me through my blank periods.

—You've said that you made Eschatos with the hard difficulty as your point of reference. I would expect you to have a certain level of skill as a STG developer, but are there any other STGs which you can clear, or are good at scoring in?

M-KAI: For arcade danmaku shooting, my skill is such that only rarely do I achieve glory. As for scoring, I don't focus on it too much, and I'm not the type who can really get into scoring.

—Do you play any doujin STGs? If there are any you like, please tell us about them.

M-KAI: Up until about 10 years ago I played them a lot. Nowadays I hear about new doujin titles almost everyday. It seems the number of people involved in doujin games has exceeded the commercial STG market. I check out titles on Nico Douga and such, but as I haven't been able to put anything out for Windows myself, a certain feeling of jealousy tends to well up within me. (laughs) But I haven't been able to actually play many doujin games. I'm sorry.

—Do you play the so-called "danmaku" games?

M-KAI: I check out all new console and arcade releases, whether they are danmaku or not. As for the appeal of danmaku games, I think they have relatively simple controls, the bullet patterns can express a very geometrically beautiful aesthetic, and since the hitbox is small, if you're lucky you can dodge and escape things... there's a sense of stress and focus there people like, I think.

—Finally, please give a final message for fans of M-KAI's games.

M-KAI: I feel bad that I made everyone wait so long for a new game since Cardinal Sins. Since many other people were putting out doujin STGs, for awhile I thought I would just rest and stop making games, but I have been moved by the response of all the people who waited for Eschatos. It has really motivated me. I never thought I'd be able to release a game on a console, and I hope to continue being able to surprise people (in a good way) with future games.

—Please give a final message to readers of this interview.

M-KAI: Knowing that people will check out the games I made by myself so long ago, and how filled they are with "huh?" type moments because I was young... well, its embarassing, but if you can enjoy them in a lighthearted way I'll be happy. On that note, with Judgment Silversword and Eschatos I had many people check, adjust, and review the game until I was satisfied, so please try them out! Thank you for reading to the end.

—Thank you.

Eschatos Official Page Bonus Interview

—Please tell us the history of the Eschatos development.

M-KAI: I had actually been involved in making a completely different STG for Windows, but in the middle of that Qute talked to me and asked if I would try making a game for the X360.

—Please tell us about the difficulties you had in making Eschatos.

M-KAI: I had become used to playing games where the bomb was designed to be an emergency save. But some of the design ideas I had for this game were "shield, not bomb", "wide shot range limitations", "the enemy appearance and patterns must be randomized to a certain degree", and "stages where the player's view would change at predetermined points." So I struggled to create a game that had design elements that I wasn't familiar with.

I remember especially worrying about the visibility during the 3D perspective parts. Also, unlike most current STGs, Eschatos has a system where you can't progress to the next stage until you've defeated all the enemy formations or let them escape, so I had to pay extra attention to making sure the backgrounds syncronized with the action. Since there are many parts where the length of the background changes depending on how quickly or slowly you defeat the enemies, I worked really hard to make everything appear natural. I also spent a lot of time developing and adjusting a scoring system that would be simple, not too puzzling or complex, but also wouldn't be totally boring or extraneous.

—Please tell us about the difficulty of the game.

M-KAI: People had said Judgment Silversword was too hard, so at the start of development for Eschatos we added a Normal and Easy mode where things are much easier. So if players clear Normal mode once and feel something is lacking, I would definitely like them to try the Hard mode. From the start I programmed Eschatos with the Hard mode as my base, and the Advanced Hard mode is the one I played the most as well. Hardest mode is unlocked as you play the game, but it contains parts that were done almost half-jokingly, so please don't worry if you can't clear it.

—Please give us some simple strategy tips.

M-KAI: Compared with the Wonderswan series of games I made, the shield has a more important role here, so if you learn to use it, you can defend against most attacks. But if you move around with the shield out, it becomes easier to accidentally collide with the bullets stopped by the shield, so please be careful. Also, by picking up the bullet cancelling flash items that occasionally appear, the difficulty of the game will greatly change.

—Regarding Cardinal Sins and Judgment Silversword, is there anything you've updated from the original WonderSwan versions?

M-KAI: I developed these using the WonderSwan source code, which I ported to the X360. Since this was a source level port, I was therefore able to keep most everything the same, down to the original sprite flickering. I did have to recreate the slowdown by hand, but I was able to adjust it to my satisfaction, I think. I also added online ranking and achievements.

—You asked Yousuke Yasui to compose the soundtrack for Eschatos this time. What did you think when you heard it?

M-KAI: After I consulted with Qute, we asked Yasui to write the soundtrack. He also helped out with getting the image of the game as a modern STG, so I am very glad he worked with us. To be honest when I first heard the stage 3 and 4 BGM it was very different from what I had expected, but after test playing the level many times, I now can't imagine any other music fitting! I remember the whole development staff being very excited each time he would bring a new track to us.

—Have you thought about what your next project will be?

M-KAI: It hasn't been fully decided yet whether I'll be developing for the X360 for my next game, but I'd like to make a "90s" style game. (laughs)

—Thank you.

Eschatos - Shooting Gameside #3 Interview

M-KAI: Programmer
Mach: Director
Yonezawa: Qute Co. Game Director

—Let's start by having you introduce yourself for our readers.

M-KAI: Hello, I'm M-KAI. I did the main programming for Eschatos.

Mach: I'm Mach. I was in charge of the game direction, design, and the basic system.

Yonezawa: I'm Yonezawa, and I oversee game development at Qute. For Eschatos, I handled the technology side, the advertising, project management, and things like that.

—Please tell us the history of Eschatos and how it came to be.

M-KAI: After finishing Cardinal Sins, I had been trying to create a new game for the WonderWitch, but I was completely stuck and couldn't come up with any interesting ideas. During this time I had begun learning DirectX and was really into it, but after 2 years, all I had to show for it was an unfinished STG with about 2 stages. One day I showed this to Mach, and that was how Eschatos started.

Yonezawa: Qute worked together with M-KAI and Mach on Eschatos. The way we worked together isn't exactly like a commercial game maker, nor is it like the typical doujin circle... so it might seem a little strange to people. Qute had a connection with them from the WonderWitch programming contest, and we had talked about wanting to collaborate on something together. Finally the circumstances aligned for everyone and we were able to start development.

Mach: At first M-KAI and I worked without any definite target, and we didn't really have the goal of releasing a commercial game. But after we started working with Qute, the project gradually took shape into an X360 release.

—If you had to give a keyword or theme for Eschatos, what would it be?

Mach: "Normal, not classic/retro!" Also, "a fusion of gameplay and dramatic presentation." You know, people often describe Eschatos as a "classic" game, but we were really aiming for a "normal" game, but in a good sense.

Yonezawa: Lately there have been hardly any new "normal" STGs. The systems are way too complex, or its all about danmaku, and you can't really play it normally, just dodging and shooting.

Mach: That's right. So we wanted to rehabilitate the concept of the "normal" STG, and turn that word into a badge of merit. And M-KAI already had a 3D engine he had programmed, so we designed the game to make full use of 3D in its presentation.

—Eschatos was programmed for the X360, a very powerful and flexible platform for development. Compared to the hardware you've used before, what was easier, and what was harder?

M-KAI: As for easier things, above all, it was great having almost no limit on the number of objects. Though that also made it easy to forget and carelessly put too many objects out. Most of the code I wrote for Windows also worked without modification, which was nice.

The difficult parts were mostly related to the 3D aspect, and the fact that most of my usual tricks for a 2D STG didn't work anymore. For example, when enemies overlap each other on a 2D screen, you can still visually determine which is above and which is below. But in 3D, the enemies would appear to sink into each other, and it looked distintictively strange. I spent a lot of time correcting that in Eschatos.

Also, most of my knowledge about how to design a 2D game didn't work here. With the MSX and WonderWitch, it was necessary to make the bullet speed very fast, but that approach didn't work here, and actually fettered my progress in the game design when I tried it. Another problem was the greatly expanded parameters needed for displaying sprites. Most of the methods I'd used until now became obsolete... I looked back fondly on the time when games could be made with sprites that needed just 4 variables: the character id code, color, and X and Y coordinates. (laughs)

—You included Judgment Silversword and Cardinal Swords with this release. Could you tell us about any interesting anecdotes or struggles you had when you originally made those games?

M-KAI: At the time I was drowning in work at my main job, and so I nearly missed the application deadline for the 2001 WonderWitch Programming contest. I was on a business trip at the time, and I only had internet at my company office. I remember sneaking back in after everyone had left under the pretense that I had forgotten something, and uploading my submission. I also remember the final phase of the commercial release of Judgment Silversword in 2004 being very stressful. I'd leave work on the last train of the night, and it would take an hour to get home... then I'd work all night without sleeping, taking the first train in the morning back and napping at the office. It was like a test to see if I could succeed at this as a side job. I slept even less then, than during Eschatos.

Mach: During that time I playtested the game everyday on the commute train. I also did debugging then. Back then it wasn't quite like today, when everyone is looking down at their mobile device or handheld.

—And why did you decide to include Cardinal Sins with this release?

Mach: Once we decided Eschatos would be an X360 release, we thought we might try porting our older games as well. We had the source code available, and Qute had put these out for WonderWitch, so it was a relatively painless process. Since these were actual ports and not emulation, the slowdown was initially different. Simulating that correctly took the most time.

Yonezawa: At the start we hadn't talked about porting them. But I myself really wanted to play those games on a TV screen. (laughs) Both are well-suited for smartphones and other handheld consoles too, so if there's a chance we'd like to release them there, but we have no concrete plans for that right now.

Mach: If we're going to release something for those, can it be something new instead? (everyone laughs)

—In recent years, STGs have experimented with anime characterizations, and human characters instead of actual ships. Why did you eschew this approach for Eschatos, and instead opt for an "80s flavor" STG?

Mach: Our original game design plan was to make an arcade version of Judgment SilverSword. What led us from our basic prototype program to the finished version today was coming up with the idea of a UFO invasion theme. So with those things in mind, we decided on a nostalgic atmosphere for Eschatos. We didn't really have the free time to add a lot of non-essential things like character illustrations, since the project started with just the two of us.

—In Eschatos there are three modes with different gameplay and systems: Original, Advanced, and Time Attack. Was there a reason for dividing things up like that?

Mach: At first, we only had Time Attack and another mode, now called Advanced. That was originally the default difficulty, but at one point we got stuck and tried changing things up with a no-power up mode, which then became Original. After that we rethought and retooled Advanced as well. For Time Attack, we aimed for a STG experience that would feel like a racing game. However, since we didn't have anything to actually compare this idea with, in the end I think we made the difficulty level a little too easy.

Regarding the three modes, Original is about destroying everything as quickly as possible to spawn more enemy waves. Advanced is for people who like scoring. Time Attack includes a rank system that changes the difficulty. Our plan was to make a single game you could play several different ways.

M-KAI: The idea for that came from our consideration of the diversity of modern shooting players' tastes. In the same vertical STG, you can have a completely different experience depending on simple things: many or few enemies? a big or small hitbox? a fast or slow ship? many or few buttons? a charge shot, or close-range attacks? etc. And in this way players themselves have different preferences we wanted to cater to. So our intent was to make Advanced and Original almost opposite in their style. Our staff really liked Original mode, but I felt it was missing something with regard to modern STGs, so we added more score items and such. But even with games that emphasize scoring, we know that different players enjoy or get bored by different things. I think that rather than just adding difficulty adjustments, making games with multiple choices in the overall game style is one way to expand the horizons of STG in the future.

Yonezawa: For the most part, the game mode and basic system were left to Mach and M-KAI. But with Advanced mode, we reached a major standstill, and for a time there was even talk of dropping it. In order to make the deadline for release, I ended up contributing some ideas at our meetings, and we were finally able to get it completed.

—In JSS and Eschatos, there's an emphasis placed on the clear time for each section. What led to this idea?

Mach: The way JSS and Eschatos make you think about time, or sequences, is a unique feature to those games compared with other STGs. We tried to construct the stages/sequences in Eschatos so it could be completed in 30 min (20 for JSS). It isn't the typical system with a fixed stage length, a midboss, and boss. It starts with short "sequences" that are only several seconds long, which then gradually get longer. Its sort of like one really big stage. So the bosses don't align with any specific stage.

Back when I had hobbies other than games, there was a time when I went to a lot of clubs. I thought it would be cool to make a game that flowed like a DJ's mix, gradually building until it reaches a peak. That was the design we used for JSS and Eschatos, where its like one seamless sequence.

We then had to come up with a scoring system that would give a sense of continuity between each section, and for that we came up with the "kill everything quicker==better score bonuses" system. We tried it out and it worked surprisingly well, giving a good sense of intervals and a tightness to the enemy spawning.

M-KAI: Unlike most STGs these days, we didn't synchronize the background and enemies for JSS and Eschatos. Instead you're trying to defeat enemy formations as quickly as possible, and doing so gets the next formations to spawn quicker and clears the stage more quickly as well. This might be what people are referring to by the "80s flavor" comment, as the progression is meant to feel very speedy.

Its also true that, from the beginning, I've always been very bad at placing enemies according to a background. I've tried STG construction tools that do it, but it just didn't work for me. When the background scrolls fast and is in 3D, its all the worse. For that reason we made all the enemies and events in Eschatos based on time and how quickly you destroy every enemy in a given sequence. It was therefore easy, I think, to add a time attack mode to the game, and doing so brought my ideas for the game in closer alignment with Mach's, too.

—The catchphrase on the Eschatos packaging says "saigo no shinban" [[tr: the final judgment]]. There's also the message that appears before bosses in JSS, "HERE COMES THE JUDGE!" So it seems like the worlds of the two games might be connected...?

Mach: Our first conversations went something like "if we're going to do another game, how about another Judgment sequel?" (laughs) The original codename for the Eschatos project was "JSS3", and it was meant to be the third game in the Judgment series. We mainly just wanted to make another game that used the same shield mechanic. I thought of the Eschatos title early in the development. From there, the overall direction of the story and events took shape quickly, and we decided not to make it JSS3. So there's no connections in a timeline sense or anything; its more like a parallel setting.

Yonezawa: People who know things like the mirror shield from JSS will probably grin when they see certain things in Eschatos, but there's no direct connection between the worlds.

Mach: It isn't the same world as our previous games. There are certain connections we imagined, but we've decided not to talk about them. (laughs)

—What other STGs have you been influenced by?

M-KAI: First and foremost, Zanac. The way it reacts to the players movements and the abundance of hidden items left a big impact on me, even as a kid in grade school. There's so many good ideas in that game... the way you pick up the same weapon to powerup (and the variety of weapons), enemies that can't be destroyed without running into them, the way scoring well is linked to the aggression of the enemies... and to think it was all done in 1986 just makes it all the more amazing.

Also, personally for me, Batsugun is irreplaceable. I wanted to make something for the MSX that could display those kind of sprites and that many bullets... it was the start of it all for me, really. (laughs) After Batsugun, there was a 2-3 year period where classic STGs--games that are talked about even today--came out one after the other, and of course many of those titles influenced me. Listing them all would take all day, but yeah, I think it was a very good time to start making games.

Mach: Xevious, Zanac, Star Force, Air Buster, Terra Cresta... I could go on and on, so I'll just list these for now.

—What is the ideal STG to you?

Mach: Exciting, the whole time you play.

M-KAI: One that continues to surprise and delight you when you least expect it.

—What was the first game or games you ever played?

Mach: I've been playing games since Arkanoid and Space Invaders, so...

M-KAI: I remember playing in the game corner at the department store, before starting grade school. I was more into the medal games than the video games, and also those 10 yen games where the coin drops from the top and you try to roll it into place for a prize. I played those kind of games a lot. When the Famicom got popular, I mainly played console games. I think Galaxian and Xevious on Famicom were the first games I played there. I remember I would also play action RPGs back then with my siblings and friends... we'd all get together and we'd all get really into it.

The first concrete arcade experience I had was later, with Rayforce. It was my first 1cc achievement too.

—If there are any STGs you would suggest for beginners or new players, please share your recommendations.

Mach: Something tells me I don't need to recommend anything like that for the readers of this publication... (laughs)

M-KAI: Strikers 1945. I'd say go with the Messerschmitt or Zero ships. I think this game condenses a lot of dodging and attacking strategies common to modern STGs. If you learn to 1CC this game, I think the skills would transfer to other STGs easily.

—Please share a message for people who haven't played Eschatos yet.

M-KAI: There's been a trend to make recent STGs more and more visually flashy, but that isn't the element we focused on with Eschatos. We wanted it to feel fun while you played it, so that before you knew it, you were deeply hooked on the gameplay. So for the scoring system and such, we worked hard to make it something players could grasp as they play. In contrast we didn't spend an undue amount of time on special effects, and we hope people play it and think, "wow, someone is still making games like this!"

Mach: We hope you have a chance to experience the unique world of this "normal, but not normal" STG.

—Thank you very much for your time today!

Ginga Force - Qute Famitsu Short Interview

—Tell us some of the highlights of Ginga Force.

Qute: Ginga Force is a vertical scrolling STG for home console, and we challenged ourselves at Qute with a brand new story and setting. The story develops in scenes between the stages, and each stage is like an individual episode of the story. It has many new elements in it, like the decisive battles with the enemy characters that ride in huge mechs, and the bosslike enemies that appear at the beginning of the stage, rather than the end. Ginga Force continues the exhilirating, fun style of play found in Eschatos, so I think it will appeal to fans of that game as well. We've worked really hard on the story and setting too, and we're hoping a wide variety of players will enjoy it.

—I see Ginga Force uses a full 16:9 widescreen vertizontal format.

Qute: Yes. Eschatos used the arcade STG as its baseline, but for Ginga Force we focused on the strengths of the home console. We improved the 3D presentation and graphics since Eschatos, so we decided a full widescreen format would best reflect that. We also thought it would bother non-STG players if they saw empty space to the left and right of the screen.

—Please tell us a little about designing the story and characters.

Qute: In Eschatos we did our best to have no characters, but this time we added characters, dialogue, and in-game events that are meaningful to the story. For the story itself, rather than realism, we aimed for an anime and manga style.

—What are the features of the game system?

Qute: In Ginga Force you can play for score, but it also prominently features a system where you can equip your preferred weapons to clear each stage. We strove to create a game you could replay multiple times at your own pace, taking on new difficulty levels and equipping stronger weapons as you go. Conversely, there's also a score attack mode where the settings are always the same and you can play purely for score, so the STG format experienced players are familiar with has also been retained. I think the evolution of shooting games is similar to vs. fighting games; although there's been a transition to 3D, the gameplay elements have remained in 2D--that's one path, at least. We're hoping to share this modern 2D STG style with players.

—Please leave a final message for Eschatos fans, and all shooting fans out there!

Qute: We worked hard to make Ginga Force a game where, like Eschatos, you could enjoy it as a straight-ahead pure STG experience; but we also made it so a player can enjoy the opposite experience of slowly improving his performance with multiple playthroughs. We think both players who enjoyed Eschatos and those who haven't played STGs much will enjoy Ginga Force. Thank you!
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Last edited by blackoak on Thu Mar 12, 2015 8:12 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Two M-KAI Interviews (Eschatos, JSS, Cardinal Sins)
PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 11:00 pm 

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Damn Alex, you're on a roll! I can't keep up. :D
Always outnumbered, never outgunned - No zuo no die

ChurchOfSolipsism wrote:

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 Post subject: Re: Two M-KAI Interviews (Eschatos, JSS, Cardinal Sins)
PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 4:55 am 

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Another awesome translation and a very interesting read that sheds some light on M-KAI's development history :)
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 Post subject: Re: Two M-KAI Interviews (Eschatos, JSS, Cardinal Sins)
PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 5:22 am 

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Big thanks for this one, definitely one of my all time favorite devs! Enjoyed the read!

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 Post subject: Re: Two M-KAI Interviews (Eschatos, JSS, Cardinal Sins)
PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 11:39 am 

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Skykid wrote:
Damn Alex, you're on a roll! I can't keep up. :D

Reads beautifully, and the links & footnotes are all super useful/interesting. Great to hear from M-KAI, roll on Ginger Force!

Thanks Blackoak

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 Post subject: Re: Two M-KAI Interviews (Eschatos, JSS, Cardinal Sins)
PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 3:46 am 

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I'm very much into Judgement Silversword right now, so this was perfect timing! Thanks.

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 Post subject: Re: Four M-KAI Interviews (Eschatos, JSS, CS, Ginga Force)
PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2013 11:47 am 

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In tandem with the Eschatos STGW commentary airing tomorrow, I translated the remaining M-KAI/Qute interviews I had here. One is from Shooting Gameside #3, and focuses on the x360 Eschatos release. The other is a short Famitsu interview about Ginga Force. Both are appended at the end of the initial post.
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