Alien Soldier – 1995 Developer Interview
with programmer/artist/director Hideyuki Suganami
Alien Soldier is like my baby… no, strike that, it is my baby. And she’s very cute. It was a difficult birth. In the end we had to perform a dangerous C-section on the mother. So she’s a premature birth…
With Alien Soldier, I wanted to make an entire game by myself: all the programming, obviously, and just about all the graphics. The game system is uniquely fun, but after the development I thought of new things I could have added to make it even more interesting. If only I had spent more time on the programming, I could have made the attack animations and the multi-sprite boss movement more realistic.
Choosing the Megadrive, which is quite meager compared with next generation hardware, was like imposing an absurd set of restrictions on myself. I may have been a little too captivated by the general idea of making an “action shooting” game.
Even when the development of Alien Soldier ended, my idealized vision of it just kept growing. I would like to make an Alien Soldier game again. This is my game. It is my work. I want to complete the story I began. I want to program everything through to the end myself, and do all the art myself. I want to show the process of how Epsilon 2 grows into and becomes the Alien Soldier. The youthful love between Kaede and Fou (Epsilon 2’s name when he was in human form), a Seven Force with seven transformations, or perhaps a boss with a hundred transformations—no, even a thousand!—I want to create all of that. Perhaps these are trivial things unrelated to the game’s essential core. It’s a little outside the scope of a programmer’s normal work, but I don’t care. I want to make my ideal Alien Soldier. But to be honest, just as I love this incarnation of Seven Force even if it only has five transformations, in the same way I still love this incarnation of Alien Soldier too.
Alien Soldier. In the two years I worked on creating you, I never once tired of you. I’ve thrown my life away on the Megadrive, and gambled it all on Alien Soldier. The only one who can love you because of, not in spite of, your various flaws is me. What, is it unbecoming of a developer to say all this? Well, I want to say what I want to say. Should I not put such things in my game? Can you trust the self-praise of the developer? …Alien Soldier is mine. I don’t care if you believe me! Am I being… strange? Alien Soldier is my beloved, and I’m madly in love with her. Waking, sleeping, I only think of her… “Hey, who do you think you are?!” Call me Nami-sama.
Masato Maegawa and Alien Soldier – Interview Excerpt
from “The Style of Games” book
—How many people worked on Alien Soldier?
Maegawa: In the early 90s, for our Megadrive developments, all our developments were done with 2 programmers and 2 designers max. Alien Soldier, in fact, started out with just one person, NAMI, who took on the role of both designer and programmer.
—It almost sounds like a personal project.
Maegawa: Yeah, he would say stuff like, “I can draw, and I can program. You only need one person for this: me!” And hey, I’m the one who approved it… (laughs) Ultimately, as anyone could have predicted, he wasn’t able to finish it all in time on his own, and we added more people to the development towards the end. But I do remember thinking then, that if he had had a full 2 years, he really could have done it all by himself.
—Was 2 years the standard time for a Treasure development in those days?
Maegawa: No, I didn’t mean to imply that. In the Megadrive days we took about 10 months for a game; now it’s about 15 months. There were some titles that took us a full 2 years, though.
—Of all your Megadrive games, Alien Soldier is particularly intense.
Maegawa: It was stuff full of crazy, extreme ideas, like having a boss composed of 100 moving/multi-jointed parts. NAMI had prepared a huge backstory and world for Alien Soldier, too, but we ran out of time and the majority of it had to be cut from the game. The market for the Megadrive was quickly collapsing, and we had no choice but to release Alien Soldier in that half-finished state. The opening intro/demo had to be pared way down too…
For Megadrivers Custom.
Also, the deadline for Alien Soldier was January 3rd, and so NAMI and I had to spend our New Year’s vacation alone at the office finishing everything. I remember turning to him and casually remarking, “hey, it’s 1995 now!”
—The difficulty setting for Alien Soldier only has “Super Easy” and “Super Hard”…. for me, Super Easy was hard enough!
Maegawa: Yeah, people complained to us that it’s really just “hard” and “super hard.” We really did try to make it easier though. Before the playtesting and fine-tuning, it was actually much harder. I asked NAMI to change it, and at the very, very last minute he lowered the difficulty a little bit. Also, on January 3rd, the very day the final version was due, while NAMI was sleeping I went in and secretly altered the damage parameters of the weapons… shh, don’t tell anyone.
—Is there a certain penchant for difficult games at Treasure?
Maegawa: It’s more that, if we don’t find the game interesting ourselves, we won’t be satisfied with it. As a result, the developers set it at the difficulty they find fun, and players end up getting dragged along for the ride. Of course, I think that’s a negative thing if it severely limits the audience for the game. But for Alien Soldier, at least, from the beginning that game was always aimed at the hardcore gamer. With the “Super Hard” and “Super Easy” difficulties, we were trying to send a message: “If you’re a real Megadriver, you’ll pick Super Hard!” It’s written right there on the splash screen too, “For Megadrivers Custom”—we were trying to be as explicit as possible that this was a game for the hardcore Megadrive player.
—There’s something very “Treasure” about that.
Maegawa: Even more than usual, Alien Soldier was designed with that kind of gamer in mind. When you beat the game it shows you how much damage you took, and that too was a challenge to hardcore gamers: “We want you to keep playing until it says damage zero!” (laughs)
—For the true Megadriver, that’s a foregone conclusion.
Maegawa: Unfortunately, we didn’t include any kind of reward for a no-damage clear… we ran out of time. It feels like that kind of thing is always happening to us at Treasure. I want to really apologize to players for that.
Masato Maegawa and Alien Soldier – Interview Excerpt
from Game Hihyou, September 1995
—I feel you can always count on a Treasure game to be of a high quality.
Maegawa: With Alien Soldier (reviewed in issue #4), I think you may have given us too much praise!
—No, it had a great tempo, and I thought it was a really good game.
Maegawa: The thing that really makes me cringe when I hear praise like that for Alien Soldier, is that there were so many things we were unable to finish, but we still had to release it. The Megadrive market was vanishing, so we had to put it out, but only about 50% of our ideas got included. Even the boss Seven Force Kaede only has five transformations.
However, I still think our initial concept was cool: “let’s make a boss with 100 jointed parts!” It’s no exaggeration to say that this was the first game ever to feature that level of multi-jointed sprite animation. I’m proud of that.
—People often talk about the difficulty of Treasure’s games. How do you go about finding the right balance there?
Maegawa: Our games are known for being very difficult. Believe it or not, I had to lower the difficulty of Alien Soldier a lot before its release. (laughs)
—It only has “Super Easy” and “Super Hard”. (laughs) Is Super Easy supposed to be normal?
Maegawa: Yeah, people probably wonder what were thinking with those names. (laughs) It’s basically “hard” and “expert”. We thought it was more funny to name them the way we did, though. I remember that we got criticized for the difficulty in Dynamite Heady, too. The characters were so cute, but the game itself was devilish.
Difficulty is the eternal riddle for us. All of the staff at Treasure are gamers with tons of experience playing games, so around the office all you hear is people saying “this is too easy” and so forth. Furthermore, the developers playtest the game over and over, so they get to a point where they can easily clear it. In any event, people are always telling us our games are too difficult, so I think it’s something we’ll have to pay more attention to in the future. We can’t always be running wild… (laughs)
The winning entry (called “HAND HAMMER” here by its creator) was featured in Alien Soldier as “Sirene Force”, the fifth transformation of Seven Force Kaede. For the runner-ups, the first did a creature called the “Hedgehog Force”, the second modeled his directly after Sonic the Hedgehog, and the third is a take on Maruyama, a character from Treasure’s earlier Megadrive game Dynamite Headdy. Incidentally, the winning entrant now works as a graphic designer/illustrator in the game industry himself.