Please tell us what your thoughts are as Cave celebrates its 16th anniversary.
Ichimura: I've been involved with all the games, from Dodonpachi to Dangun Feveron, Guwange, Progear no Arashi, and everything after. So its a very deep feeling for me, to have been on the same path together for so long. For every project I have memories of struggles and challenges, but since this work is an extension of my hobbies, its all been fun. In game production, too, the final stage of development is always difficult, but when a project starts I'm able to work at my own rhythm. Of course as the deadline approaches I have to really focus and it can be stressful... (laughs)
From a layman's perspective, the work of a programmer is quite unique.
Ichimura: Generally speaking, it can be difficult to know what the work of a "programmer" is. While I might be the main programmer on a given project, other things like character programming will be handled by someone else, so there's a division of labor that goes on like that. Usually about 3 people will be involved total, though its also quite common for the ports to be done entirely by one person. Personally I think it can be problematic when you get too many programmers on one project, because programmers as a group are very straightforward, logical people. Its always "Its this way, so we have to do it like this." And programming itself is very much like that. People often say that programmers think too highly of themselves, or that they see everything in black and white and have no friends, but personally, I'm such a laid back person that I haven't noticed that. That may have something to do with the whole "takeyari kara kakuheiki" phrase, actually...
[[tr note: this literally means "from bamboo spears to nuclear bombs." Its isn't a set phrase in Japanese; Ichimura will explain its meaning and origin below.]]
Its the programmers who determine the difficulty of the game, right?
Ichimura: That is set by the programmers, yes. For the arcade games, it usually gets set after the first location test. We use about a 3 minute portion of the game as a base, and set the difficulty from there.
The difficult part is when the game doesn't stress the player's abilities enough and we have to adjust the balance to be more challenging. That's something that we really do by intuition, and it would be very difficult to imitate I think. Part of the game's appeal will be determined by the programmers, so we're involved in a lot of the planning as well.
I think some people may be familiar with the phrase "from bamboo spears to nuclear bombs," but that came about while we were designing one of the attacks of the bosses from Progear. People said they weren't satisfied with the danmaku patterns, so we really cranked up the difficulty on it, and that phrase "from bamboo spears to nuclear bombs" was born. So in that sense, it is indeed true that programmers have a huge effect on the difficulty level.
[[tr note: Japanese threads suggest it was the 5th boss or midboss, but its difficult to tell since it seems to have entered the "NicoDouga" lexicon and is used to describe any situation where the difficulty is suddenly ramped up]]
Starting with Ikeda, please tell us if there's anyone you've clashed with at Cave.
Ichimura: I don't think there's ever been anyone. Being so laid back, it might just be that I'm not noticing. It could be I'm too laid back, and possibly I've been annoying everyone around me all this time. When things get busy, there's times when being this laid back can really backfire. (laughs) When I'm making a new game, although I want pour all the accumulated know-how I've acquired into it, if that's all I do then I'm not satisfied personally. So I'm always wanting to try out and add new things. Of course challenging oneself is good, but if there are too many challenges, it can cause us to fall behind schedule. So I always want to set my challenges such that I just barely make the deadline. (laughs) But around the time I was developing Deathsmiles II, I wasn't involved in anything else and could focus on that game... or so I thought! Even though I really wanted to challenge myself with that project, it turned out there were deadlines that had to be met and I really couldn't. But for those parts in my games where I couldn't rise to the occasion, I always try and improve them for the next game.
Being so laid back, what are some of the projects you struggled with?
Ichimura: Probably Mushihimesama Futari... although it sold very well. (laughs) That title has so many game modes, and each one is quite substantial in terms of content, but we had a severe schedule with a very short development period. Up the very last minute before release it was still being worked on... it was really terrifying. We did make it though. (laughs)
If I were to name a project that was memorable, but not necessarily a struggle, it would be the first game I worked on, Dodonpachi, which really opened up the possibilities of danmaku shooting for me. Also Mushihimesama, I think. We had just decided to create a new pcb hardware, and I was involved with designing it from the beginning so that project left an impression on me. I don't have anything against danmaku shooting, but if that's all you make, you eventually end up wanting to try out something new. I've never been very good at danmaku games... I can't dodge the bullet patterns. (laughs) With danmaku games, the enjoyment comes from "seeing and dodging" the bullets. But I prefer a high speed, rhythmical game in which you get into a rhythm dodging different patterns. So it was like, aren't you guys getting tired of playing danmaku games?! I wanted to play something more intuitive and immediate. Shooting games can definitely be that way, but I think racing games have more of that rhythm and flow I like.
Yeah, that is definitely important for racing games.
Ichimura: I've actually been into racing games for a long time. And not just games, I also love real cars, and take my own to the circuit. I used to do cart racing too, though what I do at the circuit isn't as crazy. (laughs) Race carts run so close to the ground, so the sense of speed is intense. At the circuit I race at the speed itself is of course higher, but the sense of speed is more relaxed. The car I drive, by the way, is the standard 1600cc FF Levin. It just a normal car without any flashy paintjob or stickers. (laughs) Before I drove at the circuit, long ago I used to race downhill. That was before Initial D was popular, and I was living in Hiroshima at the time and would race in the hills around there. I don't do it anymore, but I still occasionally get the urge to.
Cave also released the racing game "Touge" for consoles, but were you involved in that?
Ichimura: I worked on "Touge 3," but only a little. I didn't do the main programming, but I helped out with the debugging. As someone who's actually raced, I thought it was a very fun game. It also features the 180SX, which my friend happens to own, and I've driven it and done drifting with it, so I made sure the game matched the actual car's handling. I've sort of got a thing for the 180SX. It just feels good when I drive it. My friend says the Silvia and the 180SX are both really solid cars for drifting. Saying all this probably makes you think I'm some street racer. (laughs) You often hear that when people get behind the wheel their personality changes, but I'm also laid back there, too. (laughs) On normal roads I'm the kind of relaxed driver that taxis get angry at. Of course on the circuit, its another story. (laughs) There's no one who wants to drive safely after paying their money to drive on the track.
Is your desktop at work crowded with racing and car stuff, then?
Ichimura: There's many people at Cave who adorn their desk and monitor with items from their hobbies, but I don't really do that much. Well, the truth is there's actually so much stuff scattered around my desk that I don't have the room. On the ground there's a monitor and X360 development materials, and there's so much stuff scattered all over the place the path to get to my desk looks like an animal trail or something. (laughs) And behind me there's a communal supply cabinet... or at least, it was supposed to be, until it got overtaken by all my clutter. Other employees have been getting mad at me about it so I've been cleaning it up little by little. (laughs) But for my work, when I do debugging, I have to have two sets of monitors and computer equipment, so it just gets cluttered.
Was it your love of cars that led you to the game industry?
Ichimura: When I was a student I didn't have any interest in cars; all I did was play games. I was looking for work in Hiroshima, where I lived at the time. As for cars, my friend at the time introduced me to them and that was the beginning of my interest. I was really into Ridge Racer at the time, too, so that might have been an influence.
I liked other games besides racing too, of course. Fighting games were really popular then and I played a lot of Garou Densetsu (fatal fury) and Street Fighter II. And in my third year of college I only had one lab class a week, so other than that I was completely free, and I went to the game center all the time. That pattern of slacking off while studying programming began in my second year of college.
The first company I worked at was a kind of surveying company, and since this was right after the bubble had burst, there were a lot of game designers working there. At that time I saw an advertisement that Cave had put out, and it said something like "The Company That Made Donpachi!" When I saw that I thought, "ah, this is calling me!" and it was like a shock ran through me. (laughs) Donpachi had just come out in the game centers and I played it a ton and liked it, and I thought this was the kind of company I wanted to work at. The X68000 and PC-98 computers were popular at that time, and I bought an X6800 in college and had been studying it. I had made some doujin shooters for it, and Cave's advertisement said they wanted someone who knew X68000 assembler, so it seemed like the perfect fit to me.
If you had a PC back then, you must have owned a lot of different game hardware by now?
Ichimura: Of the recent hardware, I own a PS3. The World Cup is going on right now so I've been playing nothing but "Winning Eleven." Yesterday I lost a match between Holland and Japan, and Japan ended up losing in real life too, so I'm refusing to play today's Japan vs. Paraguay match. (laughs) I watch the matches on TV, but I just to be safe I record them on my PS3 with the Torune software, too. In that sense I get a lot of use out of the PS3, not just with games. Torune is great. For 9800 yen, if you use it you won't need a video recorder anymore. I also own a PS2, which is still on active duty. I own a Wii, too, and lately I've been playing Metroid Prime on it.
I received an X360 recently, but I haven't opened it yet. (laughs) Since I use it at work all the time I had no intention of buying one myself, but I think someone gave it to me with a feeling of "you of all people should have one!" (laughs) There's some X360 games I want to play, but I don't really have a place to put the console right now. I'm at least planning to play Ridge Racer on it. For games, the X360 is quite good. The previous model hardware had a huge power supply, was noisy, and made me worry about how hot it got, but the new model seems to have solved these problems.
As for older hardware, the first I bought was a Sega Mark III. Actually, I had been into radio controlled cars for a long time, and I traded one with a friend for a Sega Mark III. (laughs) Buggy mode radio controlled cars were really popular in my area at the time, so much so that you could get a game system for one. Radio controlled cars is still one of my hobbies, actually, and since I can't go to the race circuit every week, I get my fill with my radio controlled cars. I have a PC at home, too, and I make libraries and middleware on it.
I have a lot of game consoles, and I still go to the game center occasionally too. Not to play anything specifically, but just to see what's new and what's going on. My friend is obsessed with the game "Border Break" right now, so lately I've been going there a lot with him. (laughs)
You like mecha and racing games, but how about moe?! Is there a character you'd like to marry?
Ichimura: Basically I just love mecha games, so there isn't a character like that for me. (laughs) Its also the case that making mecha characters is easier for me than human characters when I'm designing a shooting game. And the characters in Cave's games... they're all weird or strange in some way. (laughs) Hmm, if I had to name someone, it would be Reco from Mushihimesama. Now that I think of it, I want to try flying around on her beetle Kin'iro! As a racing fan I'm curious about how a flying beetle would feel.
When you say that, it makes me think you must have done some of the voices for Cave's games...
Ichimura: Its true that Cave has a long tradition of using employees or designers to help with the voice work, but I've never done it myself. I'm bad at that kind of thing so I don't even want to try. (laughs) People have asked and I've steadfastly refused. Actually, with Guwange, Inoue did ask for my help, but it was for some enemy character doing some weird "guohhhhh" voice thing, and I absolutely didn't want to do it. (laughs)
Speaking of the mecha titles you've done, please tell us about Ketsui, which I understand was very popular at Cave, too?
Ichimura: Yeah, when it comes to my love of mecha shooting, Ketsui is a game that was fun even when I was making it, so its very dear to me. I also still enjoy playing it, as the bullets are fast and I'd have to say it really emphasizes rhythm and flow. I didn't have much to do with the character and ship design, so I was able to focus all my energy on the bosses, and for each one I struggled to come up with cool attacks and bullet patterns. But it was also really fun thinking those up.
Speaking of boss characters, you've done so many, but are there some that you particularly like?
Ichimura: I'm very fond of the stage 5 boss of Dodonpachi, the first game I worked on at Cave. Also Hibachi from Daioujou. I had been wanting to make bullet patterns like that but I thought I wouldn't be able to do it. (laughs) Hibachi is Ikeda's creation, but Ikeda and I have entirely different styles when it comes to shooting games. While working on Hibachi I realized that it was impossible for me to try and imitate Ikeda, so I switched gears and followed my own path. I think that comes across most clearly in Ketsui.
With any endeavor, at first you start out trying to copy something as closely as possible, but at some point your differences start to come out. And I really think that the special something that attracts players to a game can't be easily imitated. Ikeda is very good at making the player dodge bullets. His games are built around players finding the correct path through danmaku bullet patterns, and therein lies their appeal. I, on the other hand, really like games that have a certain flow, where on-sight and reaction dodging are the main focus.
What do you think shooting will be like in 10 years?
Ichimura: I get the impression things will be more casual. There won't be many of the kind of hardcore games you see in game centers, but things will probably be more like the smartphone games you can casually play anywhere, which are popular right now. Ranking and scoreboards will also be different, with the focus shifting more to different ways to communicate with other players rather than individual scoring competition. I think it will be interesting when people on a train can be playing something like Time Pilot against each other.
There's a strong impression that shooting up till now is something for hardcore fans, and its difficult for beginners to get involved. As you can see with recent Cave titles, I think future shooting games will be made to have a wider appeal. So I think the direction we're moving in is more casual shooting games that anyone can pick up and play.
Are you interested in making casual shooting games in the future?
Ichimura: I'd like to make a shooting game that doesn't feel exactly like a shooting game. Lately all sorts of new things have been happening in line with new hardware coming out, and I think we have to start pursuing those avenues. But my hands are full right now with researching various things, and I don't have time to start planning something new. I'd like to spend more time thinking stuff up, but when you also have to consider that a game needs to be profitable it gets really difficult. So for now, please just let me devote myself to programming. (laughs) There are several things I'd like to experiment with, too, but they're for platforms Cave isn't developing for. I'm thinking to just work on them in my free time at home, at my own pace.
Please give us a final message.
Ichimura: I'm going to keep making shooting games with Cave, no matter what form they may take. I'd like to collaborate on more games with Ikeda... but lately he's been very busy and it might be difficult. And in the first place, its kind of weird to be talking about the Director actually programming games himself at the office. (laughs) I will keep making shooting games, so to all our fans, I hope you will keep coming along for the ride!