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 Post subject: Stella Vanity and Valhellio Developer Interviews
PostPosted: Sun Jul 08, 2012 9:13 pm 

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Here are two interviews with doujin developers from Shooting Gameside #5. There hasn't been too much discussion about these titles, but here are the threads for Stella Vanity and Valhellio. Unfortunately, it sounds like the developer of Stella Vanity, Tris-Gram, got pissed off at pirating attributed to someone in the overseas community, so he has closed off all info/access for Westerners. In fact, the versions discussed in the thread above are earlier (.21) versions of the game, and the interview refers to the finished product. This made it a little difficult to verify some of the details he refers to in the system mechanics, so if anyone who has played the final version has any thoughts on that, let me know.

Anyway, I hope this encourages people to try these games out. I believe they're available through rancor's shop, and probably other doujin shops if you're in Japan. Next, I'm going to try finishing up some other interviews from SG #5, and then I might work on that SDOJ strategy wiki, as I got the pcb in last week. 8)

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

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)

TRIS-GRAM - Stella Vanity Developer Interview
From Shooting Gameside #5

—When did you start developing Stella Vanity?

Tris-Gram (TG): I began working on the initial version in November 2008. I distributed the final version at the 2011 Winter Comiket, so it took about 3 years total. I developed everything myself.

—It seems that Stella Vanity is the first game you've developed. What made you choose the shooting genre?

TG: Since I began learning to program, I've been dabbling in STG programming. But it goes without saying that my skills were lacking, and I was also surprised at my lack of experience as a player, so I wasn't able to create something that would be an actually playable game. Later I really got into arcade STG, and as my love for STG intensified, I tried programming some things and it didn't feel bad at all. That made me think "I can do this now!", and from there I got completely lost in STG programming, and here I am today.

—Please tell us what your favorite STG games are.

TG: When I look back on the history of my STG experiences, the one that first comes to mind is the first one I played, the Galaga series. I especially like the PC Engine version of Galaga 88. One game I have a lot of emotional attachment to is Area 88 for the Super Famicom. The shop system certainly stands out, but I feel its really excellent as a STG. The game I love the most and have spent the most time playing is Ketsui. I played it so much I even cleared the Ura second loop. I also enjoy games with fast aimed shots like in Raiden. As for gimmicky games, Exzeal surprised me that a game like that existed, and was very interesting to me.

—When making Stella Vanity, were there any particular games that influenced you, or that you wished to pay respects to?

TG: The main one would be Ketsui. As far as the graphics and presentation go, the "Touhou" and "Danmaku Soeur" doujin STGs were a strong influence. As for others, I think there's influence from games both new and old, and I wouldn't be surprised if I included little things from those games unconsciously. (laughs)

—The weapon system in Stella Vanity is very unique.

TG: Yeah, the most obvious being the Raid and Overkill systems. The idea for those is that the Raid system is for large enemies and thick bullet curtains where you can't get in close, and then Blade is used to finish them off. The controls are simple and the weapons are very useful, and players liked those systems a lot. The Overkill system is the core of the scoring system. With many different weapons, there's a variety of attack patterns you can employ, and I was thinking that how you combine those weapons would add an element of strategy to the game.

—At first it was very difficult to use those attacks to their fullest. The system and controls are fairly complex, and I thought it would have been great if there were a tutorial.

TG: Actually, I had planned to make a tutorial, but due to problems with the production timeline I couldn't do it. I'm thinking I might add it as a patch for new players.

—I look forward to you adding it so a wider audience can enjoy Stella Vanity! Another new experiment for Stella Vanity was the story mode, in which you can develop different stats and aspects of the game.

TG: STG is a genre in which the starting conditions of a game are always the same, and its a player's skill alone which determines one's success. However, I felt that style was too stoic for today's world, so I added the story mode. With STGs, if you just want to play, you'll use continues and clear the game, and then its over. Conversely, if you aim for a 1cc then you'll have to persevere through the same scenes over and over. And while the Super Famicom and Famicom era STGs were impressive games, if you follow that pattern today it can easily come off as overly mannered and cliched, I think. So one strategy I had for avoiding those problems was the "Collection / Development System." But, again due to time constraints, its hard for me to say that I'm perfectly satisfied with it, and in the future I want to improve and develop this idea to its fullest potential.

—Is there anything in Stella Vanity you were particularly insistent about?

TG: Since the system is complex, I made sure the controls didn't unduly stress out the player. For example, the delay shift and ethereal shift use the same button, and are started and stopped using the same button. I was really careful to avoid situations where the player would get frustrated and throw the controller away due to some problem with the game controls.

I also tried to avoid situations where the player is always dodging the same way, by adding, for example, indestructible needle bullets under a danmaku pattern. There were many places where I did fine tuning like that. I also added the tate screen mode simply because I like it myself. (laughs)

—Conceptually, was there anything you were aiming for in Stella Vanity?

TG: I wanted to make a game that would be enjoyable to play casually, but would also offer that special "something" that challenges hardcore players who like to take a game to its limits. For the former group, I added Type-C mode, which has simple controls and can be enjoyed even by those who don't normally play STGs. As for hardcore players, it might sound foolish, but I wanted to make a difficulty mode that wasn't completely impossible, that would be created from your own personal shooting experience. I also didn't want to make a scoring system where the most optimal scoring route would be too obvious. While memorizing scoring patterns is difficult in its own right, I wanted a high risk system that would reward you the more risks you took.

—Its good that there's a Type-C mode that will be easier for beginners to get into. Were there any other points during development that you struggled with?

TG: Above all, the development timeline. Ideas kept coming, but even after selecting the best ones there still wasn't time to implement them all. In the end I prioritized the important parts, but it was really tough letting go of things. Another thing is that the initial response from players far exceeded my personal evaluation of the game, so I thought I really needed to raise the quality, and because of that pressure I ended up getting stuck in the development for a time. What I learned from this protracted development is that, whether good or bad, you can't take others' comments to heart too much. You've got to go at your own pace.

—Yeah, people were talking a lot about Stella Vanity before its release, and I was really looking forward to it myself. If there are any other episodes or anecdotes surrounding the development, please share them.

TG: It was my first time participating at Comiket, and I was working on the game up till the last moment. That week before Comiket I didn't sleep at all. I ended up getting help from some people in a doujin circle I knew and safely made it, but without a doubt, that week was the most intense pressure I've ever experienced in my life.

—You really went all the way for your first time! Finally, please tell us about any future plans for Stella Vanity, and any message for our readers.

TG: I'm thinking about a sequel to Stella Vanity. I want to challenge myself with newer technology, and I'm thinking I'll work at a more relaxed pace. The subtitle for Stella Vanity, "Prelude to the Destined Calamity" suggests some event in the future that I want to tell the story of, so please look forward to it!

—We will eagerly await this sequel. Thank you for your time today!

Masaaki Nagaura - Valhellio Developer Interview
From Shooting Gameside #5

—Valhellio started out as a mobile phone game. What points did you struggle with in porting it to the PC?

Nagaura: From the start I had planned to release it for PC and mobile phones, so there weren't any particular difficulties. When developing a game, the graphics are always expensive to create, but once you start thinking about improving their quality there's really no end to it, and I always struggle with where to draw the line. But since I started development on the mobile platform, which has hardware limitations, I knew what the minimum requirements were beforehand. From there I brushed things up for the PC version, and I think it was a really efficient way to develop. With the mobile version my goal was to make "the best shooting game ever for a mobile phone," so I worked hard tuning it up.

—When did you start the development itself?

Nagaura: I believe it was around the beginning of 2008.

—Its somewhat rare to have a STG take 2 to 3 years to develop, isn't it?

Nagaura: Well, this will probably be bad for me to say (laughs), but as you know, STGs don't sell very well today. You could make a game, but how will you sell it? My distributor and I were both worrying about that when, in the middle of production, we ran out of development funds, and I had to do some other work and save up money to continue developing. We were all really enthusiastic about the game though, and everyone worked other jobs while doing their best to keep developing, but that's what it took to get it done.

—One of the charms of Valhellio is Tony's illustrations. How did you come to work with him? [[tr note: Tony, aka Tanaka Takayuki, is the illustrator for Shining Hearts and Shining Blade, both on PSP]]

Nagaura: My company is located close to his, and we were on friendly terms. STGs have a repuation for being only for the hardcore, so I felt it was important for the game to appear inviting to a broader audience. I thought Tony would help us attract a wider userbase, so I asked him.

—How did you come up with Valhellio's main feature, the "EX BURST" system?

Nagaura: If the controls in a STG are to be as simple as possible, you can only have 2 buttons. With one button for shot, if you use the other for bomb, you're already out of buttons. So I was thinking about how to add to the controls with that setup, and I took a page from action games, which often feature a system in which rapidly tapping the fire button changes the main attack. So the EX BURST system came from wanting something that would be advantageous to the player when he used it on an enemy and also fun for scoring. It can of course be used like an emergency bomb, but I meant it to be used more aggressively.

—During the development of Valhellio, were there any games that influenced you, or that you made reference to?

Nagaura: There isn't really anything where I said "I'm going to use this." But I'm from the generation that has been playing STGs since the Famicom era and earlier, and STGs were flourishing then and everyone played them. But the market for STGs has been gradually shrinking, and lately there are many people who say they don't play them anymore. One reason I made Valhellio was I wanted to make a game that would give those people another chance to play STGs.

If you asked me what the most interesting aspect of STGs is, I would have to say its the fun feeling you get shooting down enemies. The downside of pursuing that intuitive, easy to understand style is that people will tend to think of the game as outdated.

—The autobomb feature is one thing that shows a lot of consideration for beginners, while experienced players can really sink their teeth into the Hard and Ragnarok modes. Did setting the difficulty give you any problems?

Nagaura: I made Normal mode fairly easy, such that even people without much STG experience could enjoy it. I struggled to get just the right balance there, though it seems very easy to me personally. In that sense I wondered if I should have made it even easier. To that end I struggled with balancing the difficulty so as not to damage the essence of what makes the game fun. For Hard and Ragnarok modes, I was well aware that STG fans would find Normal mode lacking, so I made it more severe to satisfy them.

—I feel there's a lot of consideration for beginners throughout Valhellio.

Nagaura: Yeah. For example, people who have never played STGs often remark that "Something just hit me and I didn't die?" when they get hit by a bullet. It isn't immediately apparent that the hit box and character sprite are different. Nonetheless, in practice I couldn't make those things align in the game, but as far as rules of a game go, its somewhat strange. I was thinking about things like that throughout the development of Valhellio.

—That can definitely be a blind spot for people who play STGs and think such things are completely natural.

Nagaura: Yeah, I tried to incorporate comments from general users like that and adjust the game so that even beginners could enjoy it. To make a difficulty that would be more satisfying to a wider audience, I added things here and there to make it easier to clear, like life restore items appearing if certain conditions are fulfilled, and the appearance of the reconnaissance ship.

[[tr note: the "reconnaissance plane", or "teisatsuki", refers to a certain aspect of the game where a saucer-shaped "recon" ship will appear midstage, and if destroyed, it releases an item that lowers the attacking strength of all enemies. It also releases an item that fully restores the EXBURST gauge if destroyed with EXBURST.]]

—One way Valhellio seems easier is that there are very few non-zako enemies that can take a lot of damage. Though the reconnaissance ship seemed really tough. (laughs)

Nagaura: (laughs) The recon ship will raise the difficulty of the game if its destroyed with EXBURST, so I made it tough to kill so that players wouldn't accidentally destroy it with EXBURST unintentionally. I also meant for it to convey a bit of flavor for the game, like "don't let this guy escape!" The truth is, at first the stages felt kind of lifeless and unexciting to me. I added the recon ship to the stages to help spice them up.

—I certainly didn't feel that the stages dragged on when I played!

Nagaura: That makes me happy to hear. You can lower the difficulty by destroying the recon ship, but I didn't start off designing the stages that way, so it was very difficult balancing everything after I included it. The difficulty lowers by 1 degree if you pick up that item, but even in Normal mode I had to program a bunch of different levels of difficulty. And of course I had to do the same for Hard and Ragnarok, programming every single different level.

—There are hardly any STGs made today that have such detailed levels of difficulty. Were there any other similarly detailed adjustments you made to Valhellio?

Nagaura: After burst chips appear, their glow gradually gets darker, so the quicker you pick them up the more your the burst gauge refills. I thought I should write this in the game manual as well, but I didn't include it because I thought it would scare new players away if I included too many details about the game mechanics all at once. On that note I'd also like to add that if you fulfill certain conditions in the stage, a life restore item will appear. Your remaining lives give you an end bonus, and if you have full life when you pick up the restore item you'll get bonus points. This is also very important for scoring.

—Now that you mention it, there are almost no hints about scoring techniques in the manual.

Nagaura: With recent games there's been this tendency to explain every single aspect of the game to the player. I personally don't like that. I think there's a kind of enjoyment in finding those things out for yourself.

—How did you come up with the story and world of Valhellio?

Nagaura: I came up with the general outline of the story and setting, and I had a writer fill in the details. Valhellio takes place in a near future Earth. Human lifespans have been greatly extended, and the birth rate has continued to decline. Food and energy are all provided by robots. Humans live in city-states where the population is controlled, and "humanoids," robots that are physically indistinguishable from humans, are developed to assist in the care of the humans. The Humanoids, living forever, see the deaths of generation after generation of humans, thereby developing free will and internal conflicts. Doubts about humanity begins to grow in them and they start a rebellion.

—I see.

Nagaura: Meanwhile, outside the city-states there exists a class of impoverished humans, and the gap between those in the city-states and the poor outsiders is extreme. Valhellio depicts the world of the ruling class, the humans which control the robots. There's various things I'd like to develop with this world, like a sequel to the main story, and the tale of Rukia's father from the previous generation.

—Is there a chance then for a sequel, or a console or arcade port of Valhellio?

Nagaura: I'd like to port Valhellio to other platforms. I'm currently looking for a partner to help with distribution. I also really want to do a sequel. If the timing and circumstances are right, I definitely want to.

—Finally, please give a message to our readers.

Nagaura: Valhellio was designed so that people who don't play STGs very much could enjoy it too. I think both STG developers and STG fans will be happy if the number of people who enjoy these games increases. If you've enjoyed Valhellio, please surely recommend it to your friends... the most important thing is that we increase the ranks of STG players!
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Last edited by blackoak on Thu Mar 12, 2015 8:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Stella Vanity and Valhellio Developer Interviews
PostPosted: Sun Jul 08, 2012 10:00 pm 

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There's no need to ask Tris-Gram about which game inspired him, Stella Vanity's last stage has the Evac Industry entry sequence with lolis instead of helis.
Nice job blackoak.

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 Post subject: Re: Stella Vanity and Valhellio Developer Interviews
PostPosted: Sun Jul 08, 2012 10:38 pm 

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Thanks for this; I was really hoping that someone would translate that interview with TRIS-GRAM. The system mechanics discussed in the interview were translated correctly.

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 Post subject: Re: Stella Vanity and Valhellio Developer Interviews
PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2012 8:25 am 

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The system mechanics discussed in the interview were translated correctly.

Thanks! Looks like not too many have played the full version of Stella Vanity, and I didnt see it at rancor's store, actually. Well, this will be here for future posterity. ;)
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 Post subject: Re: Stella Vanity and Valhellio Developer Interviews
PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2012 8:58 am 

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blackoak wrote:
Thanks! Looks like not too many have played the full version of Stella Vanity, and I didnt see it at rancor's store, actually. Well, this will be here for future posterity. ;)

I've looked into getting it, but at the moment it's download only from only one shop that I know of. I was told it's because the author isn't satisfied with what's been released yet, and he's patching it almost continually.. Hopefully a packaged version will hit soon.
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 Post subject: Re: Stella Vanity and Valhellio Developer Interviews
PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2012 11:15 am 

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At this point I think the game is complete, possible bug-fixes aside. The boxed version released at Comiket 81 last December was very unfinished, so the author spent a long time after adding features to the game before consigning it to the Japanese DLsite just last month. It was always his plan to put the game up for sale there, but he kept holding it back until he felt it was ready.

I'm not really sure if the author plans on printing up another batch of boxed copies--I haven't seen him mention anything about it, unless I missed something. The main obstacle I see is piracy. Someone leaked the C81 version just a day after the convention and he took it pretty badly, so piracy is now a concern for him. The digital version requires one-time authentication as part of DLsite's software protection system, but another disc release wouldn't have that, so he would have to implement a new countermeasure.

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