Akai Katana Round Table Discussion
First off, please tell us your responsibilities in Akai Katana.
Yagawa: In my case, I’ve been a part of this game since the initial conception of the arcade version. So the contents and the playability of the game had never been my concerns while doing the programming design. To explain my work assignment - I worked on the internal coding parts of the software and the others dealt with the parts which more directly have to do with the visual parts of the game.
Fujioka: I’ve been on the team since the conception of the Xbox 360 version of "Akai Katana Shin." Incorporating the surrounding areas of the interface, and the result and save parts into the game was my part in creating the game.
Koizumi: I worked on the player mechanics and most of the systems around scoring, and also directed the demo version of "Akai Katana". I am wholly responsible for the creation of "Zetsu・Akai Katana" - I made it all on my own.
Kimura: I’ve been on the team since the planning of the Xbox 360 of "Akai Katana Shin". I’ve been working on product management and the overall graphic/design matters. One of my responsibilities was to create the manuals as well as the initial packaging design. Once we all decided on the general framework and look of the game I made further adjustments.
OK, so what was the motivation for you guys to create "Akai Katana" to begin with?
Koizumi: When I joined, Mr. Yagawa was already working on the project - you had been working for 3 months up to the point, isn't that right?
Yagawa: Uh...that's right. I think I stared in March of last year (2010).
Had the world and the style of the game already been decided?
Koizumi: The world of the game was already shaped when I joined the developing team.
Yagawa: This time around I didn't participate in the initial planning at all, but rather worked on realizing the concepts developed by the main designer Mr. Nomura.
Koizumi: In all of our games we have the designer set up the world before anything else is done. After the designer has finished creating the outline, the programmers start working based on this simple outline. My part with this game didn't start until the overall idea was formed.
Were the new game systems for the X360 version proposed on the designers side as well?
Yagawa: No - I think those were created by IKD...
Kimura: I think it all started when IKD said, "Once they complete regular mode, people will eventually want something more hardcore." After we completed the last fantasy-themed game for Cave, we decided to go back with the style of what we made in the earlier years... We knew we wanted to get back into the military genre, but we also wanted to include human characters as well that was absent in some of our previous games.
Yagawa: Uh... I don't remember haring about any of that (laughs). I thought it was going to be much closer in style to our other games. I remember that there was definitely a military flavor in it after seeing for the first time the screen samples in Mr. Nomura’s initial presentation. After a while, when it was actually beginning to be made into the game, the transformation of the plane to the human form became a fact.
Kimura: Wait… So if we had always planned to include a human element, why was it a robot game in the beginning?
Yagawa: Robot game? It was never going to be a robot game. Not that I know of.
Kimura: Really? Am I the only one who saw that? I’m sure that in earlier versions there were robots transforming into planes (laugh).
Koizumi: Come to think of it, maybe there was a period in which that was the case.
Yagawa: What? I had no idea (laughs).
Koizumi: It was before the name "Akai Katana" was even decided - even before what kind of a world the game should take place was decided. That was when ideas were just being thrown around for our next game.
Kimura: From what I heard, the players character was originally on a horse. You could become a character with a horse and you had this ridiculously large sword that you wielded.
Yagawa: ...Isn't that a completely a different game?
Kimura: No! Wait! I have really seen it (everyone laughs)! The horse-play stuff couldn't be realized because it completely changed the characteristics of the game.
So when did "Akai Katana Shin" shift development from the arcade version to the Xbox 360 version?
Yagawa: It was like once the arcade version was out, that was it – we were finished working on the coin-op version. The very next day we began work on the X360 conversion.
Koizumi: As far as the early planning went, we were always thinking about eventually making the Xbox 360 version.
So at what time were you working on the special consumer PCB version that was only available through the online shop? There were a few changes in the versions, right? Why?
Yagawa: Um, that was... there was a lot happening...
Kimura: I'd say that things were included in that consumer version that we just didn’t have time to implement in the arcade PCB. I can assume that users want to know the real reason. I'd say it was that there were a lot of things IKD couldn’t finish with the deadline we were working with.
Yagawa: Um, I don't think that was the reason (laughs).
Kimura: To make long story short, it was about making as much money as possible. In fact, the consumer board was the version full of IKD features.
Because there was a large number of enthusiastic users regardless of the high price, they went on with purchasing the PCB, right?
Kimura: Didn’t it cost around 220,000 yen? Then it really is a treasure. It’s almost the price of an engagement ring (laughs).
Koizumi: Considering the background of its creation, I don't think there will ever be a conversion - even though we are aware of the requests made by users.
Kimura: Make sure to emphasize that part, with a "no way in hell!," like that (laughs). It really was a "limited version."
Regarding the system and the difficulty in the original version, did the “shin” system take the same form as in the latest version?
Koizumi: We created the fighters and the human characters in advance, and then decided what we could do with them. First there was the demand from IKD that the game should attract new users... Not just the maniacs that usually play STGs. The current “shin” system was the result of us thinking what it would take to make a game in which anyone can play.
When the game was given the location test at HEY! late last year (2010), wasn't the game system almost fully complete?
Koizumi: Yes. The overall game system was nearly completed by the time the location test was done.
Speaking of the location test, hasn't the red laser that could kill you with a single blow been changed dramatically?
Koizumi: When it comes to the red laser, nobody was really in charge of it, and no one has taken responsibility...
Yagawa: Nah, I think it was you (laughs).
Koizumi: To me, penalizing the player with an instant death was too much... I applied a damage system instead because I wanted to avoid an unnecessary death if you cannot use Nenshin.
Yagawa: I don't think you should die instantly with that kind of a laser.
Koizumi: If you die so easily, there has to be much less laser shootings going on (laughs). I think the adjustment was just right for the enemy side to shoot the laser frequently. But, since the laser damage has been reduced, I personally think the laser should damage you a bit more.
I think it was a superb adjustment to have the guiding gauge recover when a red laser hits.
Koizumi: To tell you the truth, the part of the gauge recovering was not intentional...
Yagawa: Why are you revealing that?! So much for me keeping quiet about it! (laughs). Well, we had already decided to incorporate a damage system at the coordination stage, and later on we realized that the number of gauges was steadily increasing (laughs).
As far as the player vehicles go, there is a controlling technique called the "speed recharge," am I right?
Koizumi: That was the result of a request that came from inside the department to maintain the guiding items by pushing the button slightly, right before the product version was to be released. From there the technique consecutively came into existence, but up until then it was totally out of the picture. Under those circumstances, in the Xbox 360 “arcade” mode the speed recharge is available, but we have made it unavailable in "Shin" and "Zetsu."
I'd like to ask you guys more about "Akai Katana shin," - what was the most important concept in this?
Kimura: The No. 1 sales point was for it to be the first time one of our games would utilize 16:9 full screen for home use.
Yagawa: Really? I didn't know that.
Kimura: Yes. There was a full screen compatibility in one of our 3D games, but this is the first time in a 2D shooting. Well, there is no dream in the info since it is not directly related to the game (laughs). Originally a game is started being made from such a aspect, and most of arcade screens' aspect ratio is 4:3 right? But when it becomes 16:9, density of enemies changes, Yagawa suggested the change saying, "it's simpler than you think." At the stage of discussing about remaking the order of the enemies, there was finally the talk, "do you want to change the system too?" Either way, what came up from IKD first was what was called first "in which hurricanes flies" introduced in the introduction in February. After tweaking that over and over again, it became "Shin mode."
Koiszumi or IKD, who was in charge of the Hagane system in "Akai Katana Shin?"
Koizumi: When I joined the developing team, it was the second half of the developing term...
Kimura: In the very beginning, the "hurricane" system was thought up by IKD. But a "hurricane" is like a wind - nobody knew how to differentiate the two yet. Being so flashy was good though. And to make it discerned clearly as, "katana!" Then katana was flying (laughs). And there were a lot of generic katana items spewed out, but they were all tiny in the beginning. The first plan was that small katanas got together in like a “juggling” form and throw big katanas. But more than we guessed, it was visually a bit too vague (laughs).
Don't you think you worried too much about that when it was compatible with high resolution HD?
Kimura: When you actually played the game, it was hard to see them.
Koizumi: If all the colors used for every katana are similar, it becomes hard to tell them apart. Then based on Kimura's request to change the images of the items, the prototype of the final product version came up.
This small katana talked about here, was it almost identical to Hagane item seen in the product version?
Kimura: Uh... there are the small katanas left in it too, but in the meantime, for the purpose of having a preparation stage, Hagane item and Hagane were born, but in the beginning those too were regular katanas (laughs). The arcade version's system had the impression of being really hard, so IKD was asked to make that simpler first. As a result of it, Nenshin's no-enemy was gone, and the whole thing had become simplified. Since this katana part was way complicated, it was open to question whether to increase items or not. Even without this challenge, it was a game with tons of items, we worried a lot saying, "what should we do, what should we do?! (laughs)."
You are right, "Shin" mode pumps out a large number of items no matter what you do (laughs).
Kimura: Right - that was exactly as we intended.
Koizumi: On contrary, since it was hard to understand the appearing conditions of the Kidou item on the arcade version, we created the form in which users get a response back in answer to their actions.
Kimura: By varying the appearance rates of defense mode and attack mode, we attempted to make each role clearly assigned. After all, no matter what kind of attack it is, there is always a response from each item, and in reaction to the response, you can figure out a strategy to clear the game. Well, just seeing a lot of items popping out, one is happy (laughs).
While you are thinking "is it OK to pull out an item like this," your characters ship disappears, right?
Kimura: About this part, is it OK if I ask you not to ask me (smile)? Actually none of the characters were disappearing while the developing team was first working on them.
Koizumi: Well.. Of course we tried not to have the users plane disappear - that was a glitch out of our control... On the other hand if we had made them not to disappear completely, even though amazing things are happening, the items would not look as good due to bad art direction / composition. So, we thought it would not hurt too much to have the players ship disappear as a result of all that's happening onscreen.
Since the initial X360 version of Akai Katana I saw, I think the user interface has been largely reorganized.
Koizumi: Well yes – that, and compared to the simpler looking interface of past titles, the entire look of "Akai Katana Shin" is totally different thanks to the hard labor of Fujioka (smile).
Especially the function packed replay related parts that are receiving so many positive responses from users.
Fujioka: The rewrite part of the replay was made by Yagawa, and we later decided to keep it in the final version.
Yagawa: I made that after thinking that it would be great if the game had such a function. It is a bit hard to describe with words, but although good players enjoy scoring with a single coin, that is not the case with every player. If you can score a lot of points after a bunch of tries, that is fun too! Those approaches on how to play is an outcome of a lot of experimenting with what's fun and what’s not.
Fujioka: Since there was no major problem with them in the end, we included them in the game.
Yagawa: And he shaped the way to control them.
—Some users are complaining that the number of replay saves is too low.
Fujioka: If we increased the number of saves more than what is currently offered, the stage check on the title screen get too long. 20 saves per 3 modes, 100 saves for the novice, and the total number will match that of "Great Resurrection", it would be too much...
Kimura: The game would refuse to start (smile). This time around we were into minimizing loading time for the XBOX, as well as ergonomics. It should be far more manageable than previous titles even without installing to the HDD.
Fujioka: Yes - we wanted to prevent "Now Loading" from appearing in the first stage.
Kimura: Not to flatter myself but I really think we did a good job on the menus. I’m especially impressed by the part when the cherry blossoms scatter as the scenes change.
Fujioka: We showed the basic menu form in the first PV "An Important Message from Cave." But that and the product version are totally different. It was tough (smile).
How was it working with people who were working on different areas of the game on different platforms?
Kimura: This is an opinion by someone who had dealt with consumer games, but the directing part was really hard. On arcade games you feel you have to keep playing a game as long as the one coin you put in allows you to - but on consumer games you can always pause the game. you’re playing.. For instance, “bust up”* of after-battle commentary, there is nothing strange about doing that on a consumer game but it would be annoying to be shown that over and over again in an arcade game.
Koizumi: Indeed playing with or without pausing means completely different things between consumer games and arcade games.
Kimura: This time it is not a cut-in, but eye gazing is there. That was my strong request, and it's been put in without stopping time... I think that is exactly what consumers really care about. The names appear on the arcade versions too, but I wanted to include those close-ups factors into the Xbox 360 version.
In contrast, how was creating this game as someone who came from an arcade game field?
Yagawa: How was it? Well, I don't think the final product is bad at all. It might sound like a complaint, but I deeply regret that I couldn't put in what I wanted to do partly because of the limited production time. There’s a lot of regulation when making a consumer game, so needless to say but it is unavoidable for the software to occasionally crash. In order to give enough time to deal with it, there were a lot of features that had to be cut out, but replay and 2P simultaneous play were preserved. But the rest had to be cut.
Koizumi: True, there is definitely more freedom in making arcade games in that regard.
Yagawa: On the drawing boards, 2P simultaneous play was possible in "Akai Katana Shin" too. Nonetheless, there were so many hurdles that would need to be overcome to include it. The fastest way to meet the requirements was to limit the game to 1P play only. Well, we didn't find out about the regulations until we didn't have enough time to make changes according to the provisions, plus Fujioka was very frustrated (smile).
Fujioka: I had a lot of work to do...
Yagawa: Therefore, we gave up on realizing 2P simultaneous play in the game. And we also wanted to implement an online ranking with a replay function, but this too we’ll have to postpone for another game.
Had you already planned to have the hidden ending and Shin Bashou as additional features in the "Shin mode" from the very first stage of the production?
Kimura: Regarding the "Shin" ending, yes it was planned from the very beginning... To tell you the truth Shin Bashou part was not planned (smile). Let’s just say that “someone” forcefully included that character...
Yagawa: “Someone”? Who?
Kimura: That would of course be Asada. Had it been someone like IDK, he would have not suggested such a thing so out of the blue. I didn't even know that it had been created and I was then all of a sudden told "this is to be included, and this is the appearing condition!" "Zetsu" was a secret too. “Someone” should not have revealed it (smile).
Koizumi: That is right. He should not have said it (smile).
Kimura: I asked, "Can I put it in?" And then the very next day the whole wide world knew about it (smile). It was so finely made, you will agree if you actually play "Zetsu." That was why we didn't want anyone to think it was only a matter of time.
Koizumi: I didn't want users to think, "what was the arcade version all about?" rather than it's been a result of the process.
Kimura: After all, it was not created based on the impressions playing the arcade version. It was merely an adjustment made thinking, "what could happen if we took out the restrictions of the 19:9 screen?" It was adjusted beyond the potentials of the base hardware... If we made it too apparent, we thought it would not give users a good impression, but honestly, we wanted to keep it. Our games often have things you can do with hidden commands. We were planning to incorporate more challenging things but we ended the ambition as soon as they were found out. Didn't it even already have commands in it?
Fujioka: That's right. If you input the arcade version's removal command "Death Smiles II," "Zetsu" was to be released, but it was set aside indefinitely.
Had you also planned the stage added as of "Shin" mode from the start?
Kimura: In terms of the new stage, it existed from the very beginning of the production. It is supposed to be depicting the scene on the way to attack the enemy's secret base, but I never expected it to be so long.
Yagawa: That level takes way too much memory (smile). "What the hell is this?" was my first impression of the huge map that comes up, I hope somebody can sympathize with the person who had to make that...
Koizumi: I heard that that was the result of Tanaka who was in charge of the background art and getting into it too much.
Kimura: Well, I heard that it was a battle requiring the highest concentration. Right when your concentration weakens, the huge boss shows up.
Koizumi: Tell me about it, it is really huge. It didn't even fit in the screen...
Kimura: The very fact the boss is taking up most of the screen page and tries to crush the character right when a player loses his full attention is exactly the style of Ichimura. He admits it’s not supposed to be that hard to clear since you don't even need to use Nenshin... By the way, as far as "Shin" goes, he adjusted it so that a player can clear the game without using Nenshin.
This might be a rather arbitrary question, but what is one the one feature that cannot be excluded from "Akai Katana" for each of you?
Koizumi: The "Ah, it is really huge" factor of the ending - I was impressed by the size of Suzuran standing at the ending of the third machine. That is something you cannot find in any other game. The ending of the arcade version was added in the very last minute, but the impact I got from looking at the illustration of the scene was something I still cannot forget (smile).
Kimura: Concerning Gennin, that size has been always the final size, and it is not an exaggeration but the actual size. Without a doubt, it is an indispensable factor when you talk about "Akai Katana (smile)."
Koizumi: Another attraction worth mentioning is undeniably the humongous Nensou weapons the boss character summons. Was it Yagawa who created the battleships that fall down one after another?
Yagawa: Yeah I did, but still asked to include it in the game. Initially the graphic was to be used for the first boss, somehow Ichimura neglected that plan (smile). First of all, I was going be in charge of the basic parts, and Ichimura was working on the actual attack patterns - when I noticed that whole parts from our initial plans were being eliminated. I thought, "wtf?" and the person who was drawing the sprites was also confused - we were both upset by this – to put it lightly. Then by chance - on the path in the stage 5 vertical fighting scene - we had to tell IKD about that "we really need you to include our parts!" At first he hesitated, but after continually bothering him, he eventually put them in the game.
OK – I see that there were far more features that Yagawa couldn’t live without (smile).
Yagawa: It is not necessarily true but since we’re being asked, we just told you how they came about. The factors may be impossible to delete, what would they be...
If nothing comes to mind, tell me things even not related to the game directly.
Yagawa: There were many aspects we had a trouble with... On top of the large memory requirements, there were so many unreasonable requests - like how we were told the boss should have a certain “look” while we were in the middle of the production. Basically I look back on the creation of this game as an insane feat. There were so many challenging parts in terms of programming! Even with the Xbox 360 version, because the programming was transferred in the original form and rather hastily done in some parts, the whole thing is really taxing on the system memory. And to fix all the problem we discussed earlier would have resulted in the lack of necessary RAM for the actual game to run - it was an extremely tough task as we had to spend more than a month on bug squashing alone. I handled the replay function by reprogramming the entire thing from scratch in order to reduce the program size down to one tenth of the original.
OK, so what was it for Fujioka?
Fujioka: Even though I am personally not so good at making shooting games, I am confident that the game is done in the way I can think loud, "want to earn!" I think one can easily say Akai Katana is a game that guarantees each shot will evoke the player with an exhilarating feeling... In "Dodonpachi" you can always go eagerly in a hyper mode, while in "Akai Katana" with a single shot enemy missiles vanish by an induced explosion, and in "Akai Katana Shin" they vanish by thrown katanas, I think those factors expressed by a single shot cannot be omitted. We hope users can enjoy the game because those points have been finely tuned.
Once Mr. Kimura took over as director, what elements changed?
Kimura: Before I took over as director the game was much more action oriented. I added some opportunities for dialogue during the battles. I think that would be seen as my main contribution was taking over the position. Another aspect I’m proud of was the interaction of visuals and sound within the game. A lot of time was spent ensuring that not only are you seeing explosions but hopefully with the right audio setup you’re feeling them as well! (laughs). One difference you may notice between the arcade and ported version is that the backgrounds aren’t as animate in the arcade. For example – on stage 2 the moons reflection is animated in the xbox version. It looks very different in the arcade. This is because of the massive amounts of power available from the XBOX. With all of this being said, I don't want the player to only listen to what I have to say – telling you all of the things that we accomplished as a team – I hope that the emotions come across through the game without anyone having to tell you “why” it’s special, or what you should be feeling at certain points. I had worked before on the arcade version and compared to that I can honestly say the new systems included in the port are crazy fun. I can’t explain to you how to become an expert at this game – you just have to play it for yourself and find out what happens next.
Yagawa: Wait – lets go back – you said that the XBOX is so much more powerful than our arcade boards – that is true - , but it wasn’t a problem of the arcade boards being underpowered, its just that we had a lot more time to spend on the XBOX version so of course it looks better. It had nothing to do with the system performance of arcade boards vs. the XBOX 360.
Ok! Final question! Do you have any parting thoughts for those reading the interview?
Kimura: I feel very proud having been part of this latest release. Cave will continue to put out the highest quality shooting games as long as our customers stay interested! I hope that in the future the readers of this interview will have a chance to play the games we currently have in development.
Koizumi: Coming from the arcade side, I hope that players will give the new XBOX port a chance – it really is good!
Fujioka: Personally I was scared about releasing this game. As anyone familiar with our history knows, we don't have the greatest experience in releasing horizontal STGs. I was honestly worried what the fans would think and how they would receive it, but by all accounts the game has been relatively successful. I’m glad I got the chance to work on this rare side of CAVE and hope the experience will bring fun and opportunity to the fans as well as the company.
Yagawa: This year at CAVE more titles than ever – across many platforms – will be released. We’d like to apologize to customers on a limited budget in advance – but please buy our titles!