In this collection of brief interviews, several members of the SNK-affiliated developer ADK (formerly Alpha Denshi) discuss the origins of the company and some of their most memorable Neo Geo works, including the fighting game World Heroes, the hardcore action-platformer Magician Lord and the first-person fantasy combat game Crossed Swords, with special focus given to ADK’s unabashed and rather silly fixation with ninjas and their many ninja-laden titles, including Ninja Combat, Ninja Commando and Ninja Master’s.

Twinkle Star Sprites interview (’96)
TSS x Rival Megagun (2018)

ADK Ninja Games – 1998 Developer Interview

originally featured in the 1/99 issue of Game Hihyou

The Ninja Combat development began with the concept of remaking our older game Gang Wars with ninjas. I think the reason we chose ninjas was because Sho Kosugi’s movies had just become a big hit, and “American Ninja” and “mistaken Japanese culture” were hot-button topics then. Also, with a ninja setting, we could indulge ourselves in a lot of ridiculous, crazy stuff.

“Why is this part like this…?
“Because Ninjas”
“And why this setting…?”
“I said, because ninjas” (laughs)

For the same reasons, we made Ninja Commando about ninjas too. Originally there was no opening demo or subtitles, but the game was in need of some kind of visual pizazz, so we rushed to add them in. Because the designer wrote the dialogue in such a haste, it ended up feeling kind of forced and slapdash 1 People got way more into it than we expected, though, so it all worked out.

The concept for World Heroes was a fighting game that featured history’s greatest figures, but as the development progressed, before we knew it there were ninjas there again. (laughs)

For Ninja Masters we had two concepts: first, a fighting game where you could use a variety of different attacks depending on the situation you found yourself in. And the other was to make something with an atmosphere different from anything we’d done before. You see, somewhere along the line ADK became synonymous with “joke” games, so we thought we’d mix it up and go in a serious direction this time. Taking those two points into account, we designed serious characters who used real weapons… but, um, yeah… gotta have those ninjas. (laughs)

Originally, our game design was based around using whatever was convenient and at-hand at the time (laughs), but I guess at some point the mystical awesomeness of the ninja imprinted itself in the heads of our planers. Since World Heroes it’s been impossible to deny that Ninja Maniacs work at ADK. (laughs) Scheming in the shadows, these ninja-obsessed planners’ efforts finally culminated in Ninja Master’s, ADK’s homage to all things ninja.

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From an anonymous ADK staffer, a comic illustrating the relatively stoic Ninja Master’s characters’ reactions to their more outlandish ninja forebears.

ADK – 1994 Developer Interview

originally featured in volume 122 of Gamest magazine

Akira Ushizawa – Designer/Director/Producer. His work includes Magician Lord, World Heroes, Crossed Swords, and more.

—To begin, I’d like to confirm something, but Alpha Denshi’s very first game was Janputer in 1980, correct?

Ushizawa: That’s right. Alpha Denshi originally started out creating audio equipment, actually. From there we decided to give video game development a try.

—A company with roots in hardware, you could say.

Ushizawa: Yeah. We made all our PCBs and other hardware ourselves. In the early days a lot of our games were distributed by Sega. Later, we ended up forging a close relationship with SNK.

—And that’s how you got into NEO GEO development.

Ushizawa: Yeah.

—Can you tell us a bit about what led up to that?

Ushizawa: SNK was creating this new hardware, which promised a new way of doing game development. Thanks to our prior relationship with them, we ended up getting in on the ground floor.

—You were the first third party developer for the NEO GEO, right?

Ushizawa: Yeah. Our first game was Magician Lord. And it was one of the very first games released for the system, actually.

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Akira Ushizawa (1994)

—I remember it being very difficult.

Ushizawa: You remember correctly. (laughs) Being our first foray into NEO GEO development, we faced numerous challenges. It was a very different development environment back then, compared to today.

—I see. Now that you mention it, things were a lot different back in 1990. There were video rental places where you could rent video games then too. And I remember how before all that, ADK went through a sports game phase.

Ushizawa: Yeah. At the time, sports games were a rarity in the arcades. And our general plan, as a company, is to try and do things that no one else is doing.

—What would you say some of the hits were from that era?

Ushizawa: Probably Champion Baseball.

—You’ve also recently returned to STG development after a long absence.

Ushizawa: Yeah, we took a break for awhile. The NEO GEO basically isn’t very suited for vertical shooting games. That leaves horizontal shooters, but for whatever reason, right now those aren’t too popular overseas.

—Oh? Is that really true?

Ushizawa: Yeah, strangely enough, it’s a trend we’ve noticed. NEO GEO is a platform with worldwide distribution, so it makes STG development a particularly hard sell. We always have to make English and Spanish versions of our games, you see.

—Ah. Looking at NEO GEO’s action titles then, do you have any plans for further sequels to your “ninja series”, that is, games like Ninja Combat and ninja Commando?

Ushizawa: Not at present. However, the atmosphere and feel of those games really match the image of our company, so I can’t rule out the possibility.

—ADK’s love of ninjas is famous. (laughs)

Ushizawa: Is that so? (laughs) As characters ninjas are just very easy to use in your game. If we instead use “special forces” characters or something, we can’t stray very far from reality. On that point, ninjas allow for a certain degree of craziness.

—”Forget about it, it’s ninjas!” That kind of feeling?

Ushizawa: Yeah. (laughs)

—ADK has put out a lot of other action games too.

Ushizawa: The NEO GEO hardware is particularly suited for action games. That’s it’s strength, moreso than detailed sprites and things like that.

—For the World Heroes development, was that because you wanted to make a versus fighting game?

Ushizawa: Yeah, that’s right.

—Where did the whole time machine idea come from?

Ushizawa: It was when we were first working on the planning, and thinking of stages for each character. We wanted those stages to have a lot of individual personality, and someone suggested the idea of setting the stages in different eras.

—How did you decide which characters to select from history? It’s crazy to see both Rasputin and Janne de Arc in the same game there.

Ushizawa: Mostly it was just intuition. We just brainstormed and this list of characters came to us.

—The World Heroes series always includes interesting additions like the Death Match mode, with trap-like stage hazards.

Ushizawa: We make a point of adding stuff like that. We want to include some kind of variety for players.

A playthrough of World Heroes 2’s deathmatch mode. This trap-laden mode appeared in the first two World Heroes; with WH2’s version adding a unique “tug-of-war”-style shared health bar, with each player able to attempt to recover after a knockout by pressing buttons. Curious, both games’ deathmatch modes also feature a stage in which the losing character’s head is shaved in their end-of-match portrait.

—With that in mind, if you could sum up what the “ADK Style” is in a few words, what would you say?

Ushizawa: Hmm. It may sound a little strange for me to say it like this, but it’s sort of like, there’s something a little dodgy about our games… they often go off in weird directions. Take a character like Rasputin, he’s totally the kind of character you’d find in an ADK game.

—I see. Around the same time World Heroes was released, you also changed the company name from Alpha Denshi to ADK.

Ushizawa: Yeah. Our company was gaining notoriety from World Heroes. “Alpha Denshi” didn’t really sound like a game developer’s name either. It sounds like a manufacturer or something.

—Have ADK’s offices always been in Ageo in Saitama?

Ushizawa: They have, though for some reason, a ton of our employees are from Gunma.

—What’s the average age of the ADK staff?

Ushizawa: I’m not sure, but I think around 22 or 23.

—That’s young! Changing the subject, but do you have any concrete plans for the NEO GEO CD that’s coming out soon?

Ushizawa: For the moment, we’re moving forward with ports of our NEO GEO games to the CD.

—What ADK game has been the toughest development so far?

Ushizawa: Hmmm… maybe World Heroes 2. We experimented with a lot of new gameplay ideas for it, like counter-throws. It was a very short development too.

—And what ADK game has been the most memorable for you, personally?

Ushizawa: Because I was involved in the planning, Crossed Swords is very dear to me.

—I’d like to ask some questions about the individual games now, if you don’t mind. Starting with Magician Lord. It was so hard!

Ushizawa: I know, I know. In the initial location test it was actually quite easy. But we thought that would be boring so we upped the difficulty, resulting unfortunately in what you know today.

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The side-scrolling action game Magician Lord and the RPG-tinged first-person combat game Crossed Swords: parts one and two of a loosely-affiliated, Cthulu-tinged trilogy, with the then-unreleased Neo Geo CD title Crossed Swords II being part three.

—At the time it felt like you were trying to get people to buy the NEO GEO memory card.

Ushizawa: Well, you’re not wrong. (laughs) We had originally designed Magician Lord thinking it would one day make it to home consoles, you see. We didn’t think it would be played so widely in arcades either.

—Next up is Crossed Swords. It’s got a very different feeling to it, with the pseudo-3D and all.

Ushizawa: It’s a pretty dark world, isn’t it.

—Some of our editors are fans too. One thing that’s perplexed me for a long time: who is the protagonist? Is there only that line drawing of him?

Ushizawa: He’s just… a guy. (laughs) We didn’t think about it very deeply.

—Regarding the Ninja series, in these games we see a lot of the roots of ADK’s style today.

Ushizawa: Yeah, I think so. Lots of characteristically ADK touches, like the text messages that appear under the gauges, are found here. The cheerful, fun mood is another thing that’s been carried on from these games. It’s something different from Crossed Swords. I am a big fan of that stark, edgy mood of Crossed Swords though.

—When I actually play the ninja series games though, I’m never able to read the messages! By the way, this is slightly off-topic, but one thing I’m very curious about is the game arcade shooting game Flower… that was an amazing game. (laughs)

Ushizawa: That actually wasn’t developed by us, so I don’t know much about it.

—Oh, really? The enemies are all flowers, it’s really interesting. Even seeing it now, I’m duly impressed.

Ushizawa: Yeah, that sounds very different from our games. (laughs)

—Also, Colonel Cloud in Sky Soldiers. He seems like a progenitor of the ADK style.

Ushizawa: It was originally supposed to be an enemy rival of the main character, but somehow it ended up becoming that whacky character. We made a joke out of it, yeah.

—I see. How very ADK. (laughs) Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today!

ADK – 1992 Developer Interview

originally featured in Gamest magazine

Kenji Sawatari – Planner/Director

—Why did you add a female character to World Heroes?

Sawatari: We haven’t had many female characters in our games up to now, so we wanted to add a proper one. Kagerou, the white ninja you can use after stage 3 in Ninja Combat, was ADK’s only other female character to date.

—Was she always going to be Jeanne de Arc, or were there other candidates?

Sawatari: Yang Guifei from China, and Cleopatra, were also proposed, but because Jeanne de Arc has armor, and wields a sword, we chose her. Not a lot is known about her as a person. There are many theories though. Some say she was an angel, others say that she only thought of herself and had a vindictive personality. We tried to strike a middle ground between those, and our Jeanne has two sides. She’s a girl out looking to get married, but she also has an extremely domineering, high-handed way of speaking sometimes.

—Were there any women you used as models, when drawing her?

Sawatari: Our image of her was the girl from the Timotei shampoo commercials. (laughs)

—What were the challenges in designing her?

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From Gamest’s “Gal’s Island 2” mook, a look at the earlier, more titillating Janne design. (source, click to expand)

Sawatari: We re-drew her walking animation so many times, I had no idea what was going on with it. That was rough. Also, our developers had widely differing opinions about her appearance. Some wanted her to have short hair, others wanted it long… some thought she didn’t look cute at all, while others thought she looked great. We thought for awhile about whether we should remove her breastplate, too, but in the end we went for a middle-ground again, trying to strike a balance between “cute” and “cool”.

—I heard there was a more “sexy” version of her initially?

Sawatari: Actually, in the beginning, she didn’t have those black tights. The graphics for her legs were bare. Also, before that bare-legged version, she had tights that went to her thighs and a garter belt. Obviously this was no good so we quickly updated her, but I do wish we could have made her slightly more sexy.

—Who does Jeanne’s voice?

Sawatari: A girl at our company. In fact, almost all of the female voice acting in our games is done by her alone…

—Do you give her detailed instructions on how to voice the lines?

Sawatari: We’re huge fans of the way she voices them, so no, not really. I believe her lines for Jeanne were mostly done in one take.

—How do you convey the image of Jeanne’s character to the voice actor, then?

Sawatari: We just give her the initial planning documents, and otherwise rely on our judgment on what to keep, add, or change.