In this 1998 pre-release interview for Dreamcast launch title Blue Stinger, Climax Graphics president and designer Shinya Nishigaki shares how the project got started, thoughts about genre, and his approach to level and world design. I’ve also added composer Toshihiko Sahashi’s commentary from the Blue Stinger OST.

Being a pre-release interview, the commentary here is admittedly a bit light and promotional in nature, but in the course of translating these I discovered a more in-depth interview in the Blue Stinger jp strategy guide, which I hope to translate in the future!

Blue Stinger interview (gamasutra)

Blue Stinger – 1998 Developer Interview

sourced from the GSLA archive backup

Shinya Nishigaki – Producer/Dialogue/Story
Tomoaki Ogawa – Producer
Yuichirou Yokoyama – Assistant Producer

Beginnings

Nishigaki: Blue Stinger, to be honest, is the game that really established our company Climax Graphics. I could see that the next generation of gaming hardware was going to have incredible graphics, so in September of 1996, in order to capitalize on the know-how they’d accumulated at Climax, I decided to create a special “strike team” of designers and developers formed from the CG division that worked on Dark Savior. This became the core of Climax Graphics. Then there were talks with Sega, which led to the start of “Project BS.”

The Dreamcast itself had not yet been announced, but we knew “something” big was on the horizon, so we began laying the foundation for its coming. At that time we didn’t have any fancy CG software tools; instead, we all went to local power plants and supermarkets to do old-fashioned location shoots. (laughs) We put a lot of effort into the stage design—it was all we could do at that point, really. (laughs) But because we’d spent a great deal of time on the visual quality and the variety/richness of the stages, we had a lot of confidence going into the development.

We had also planned to work with American developers, and we had them send us reference materials, which we used to help us select textures. Back in 1985, I think, there was that first wave sci-fi boom in Japan, with movies like The Thing. I was super into it all of it. I had a part-time job on a TV production then, and I actually helped plan one of those sci-fi TV shows in Japan. A lot of special fx experts came to Japan then to help out. They were extremely friendly and I remember them saying how they’d like to work together someday. Of course I was just a student then so I didn’t take it very seriously, but here I was 12 years later, starting Project BS, so I called them up. “Hey… remember how we talked about working together?” And to my surprise they replied, “We remember! Let’s do it!”

Yokoyama: A plan 12 years in the making… amazing!

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Shinya Nishigaki, who
sadly passed away in 2004.

Nishigaki: Well, our conversation then didn’t get into any particulars. (laughs) But we were making a 3D game, and as with movie production, having real miniatures and models—things that give you that “analog” feel—is very important. Digital technology is continuing to evolve, but I still think its important to also have people on your team who are capable of creating things of an “analog”, or non-digital nature. They were also interested in the cutting edge technology of video games.

Unlike with Hollywood movies, Japanese video games are first released in Japan. So the Dreamcast came out here, but it wouldn’t be another year until it was released in America. That being the case, we decided to to do the Blue Stinger development here in Japan.

Movies create these awesome fantasy worlds… could we make a game that captures that feeling as-is, that makes you feel like you’re in a movie? That was our point-of-departure. Of course, the real-time CG technology isn’t quite there yet, so we still use pre-rendered movies in Blue Stinger as well. I’ve never felt that movies in games are bad per se—it all comes down to how you use them.

Movies have this magical ability to draw people into fantastical worlds that could never exist in reality—and wouldn’t it be amazing to have a game like that? Climax Graphics is only 18 people, so I knew it wasn’t realistic to expect that from us, but if a console ever came out that could handle it… that’s what I wanted to try. A seamless game without loading screens, or weirdly partitioned stages and foreground/backgrounds—in short, a truly “real-time” world to explore. A game with the same visual quality as a movie, where what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

Ogawa: The in-game events in Blue Stinger are, for the most part, rendered in real-time.

Nishigaki: Basically, yeah. The technology has gotten good enough now that you no longer need to use pre-rendered movies.

There’s a lot of different facial expressions in Blue Stinger, and we used 3D models for all that. The eyes, for example, are their own individual parts. That allows us to have blinking, or to have a character follow a creature with their eyes. We can move eyebrows independently too. Based on my previous experience with 3D graphics, these developments are significantly easier if you re-use models and textures. It’s a bit of an exaggeration but think of the way old RPGs would use the same background scenery for the entire dungeon. But for Blue Stinger, we decided not to re-use anything. Frankly that decision was a little unreasonable, but we wanted the player to experience new backgrounds and new scenery wherever he goes. In turn, I think simply seeing “what’s next” is one of this game’s strengths.

World Design and Immersion

Nishigaki: There’s been many wonderful games released with worlds full of personality and charm, and naturally those have influenced me, but I wanted Blue Stinger to have its own unique setting, something different from what we’ve seen in games up to now. After lots of experimentation I hit on the idea of a vaguely modern, fictional “town” for the setting. I hoped to depict a new reality and more expansive world by including realistic scenery like supermarkets and movie theatres. Not a cave-like, closed-off environment like a single mansion, but a whole island with a proper town, research facilities, caverns… a variety of open environments. There’s residences and hotels too.

Even before Blue Stinger, the way I’ve sought to create empathy and immersion for the player is through the skillful, careful placement of key locations which create the sense of a lived-in environment. I don’t just mean with cutscenes and events either—I want the whole game to have that kind of presence. In doing so, I hope to create a connection or link between you, the player (with the third-person, god-like perspective of events) and the in-game player character. By the same token, more realistic environments and visuals means we have to think about player immersion in a new way. To take dialogue as an example… in early adventure games, you could have NPCs say stuff like “Thank you. I will give you this as a reward!” But that kind of unrealistic, simplistic dialogue won’t work now.

As graphics become more and more realistic, I’m seeking a sense of tension that comports with that realism, something you would experience in your day-to-day life. That’s why we include details like toilets, bathtubs, and the like.

Ogawa: They’re not just there to be there, right?

Nishigaki: No, they’ve got a purpose. They’re supposed to make you feel like something could happen here… something. (laughs) How the player relates to the backgrounds in-game, that’s one of the key elements of interactivity. To that end we’ve included places like game centers, and drink vending machines. If you buy a juice from a vending machine and drink it, for instance, you..

Yokoyama: Hey! Don’t give everything away! (laughs)

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The vending machines in Blue Stinger, where healing items are dispensed. The Hassy energy drinks were re-used in Illbleed.

Nishigaki: All the actions are easy to perform, from basic controls like walking and running, to more complicated things like getting atop a table. Of course we couldn’t include everything, but there’s a wide variety of “everyday” movements and actions we’ve prepared. We’re doing motion capture for everything besides the creatures, so I hope players will take note of that too.

Themes and Genres

Ogawa: There’s many mysteries surrounding the Bermuda Triangle and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Nishigaki: Lately there’s been a lot of movies featuring apocalyptic themes and settings. I think it’s a reflection of the unconscious feelings we humans have towards our future… feelings of hope and expectation, but also some fear and dread. In order to pique that intellectual curiosity further, Blue Stinger takes place in modern times with a slightly futuristic setting. And this doesn’t only apply to games, but in any creative work, there’s a kind of balance between fictional and realistic elements. In Blue Stinger, for example, we’ve got these ridiculous flashy weapons, but we balance that by having the overall finish of the game be fairly frank and straightforward.

Ogawa: By the way, I consider the genre of Blue Stinger to be “monster adventure action”, not horror.

Nishigaki: Hah, yeah, officially it’s “real-time adventure movie action”… I guess? (laughs) It seems like the names of genres have been getting longer and longer lately. With more powerful hardware, it’s possible to have a single game that contains both adventure and action elements. I think the time has come to re-evaluate the old genre divisions in which a game could only belong to one genre by necessity. In that sense, I think Blue Stinger could be one possible direction for adventure games.

The story for Blue Stinger takes place over the course of a single day. There’s a heavy emphasis on action in this game, so I wanted to really put that sense of real-time suspense and pressure at the forefront, you know, to convey the feeling that you’re doing everything in real-time. Within that timeframe we’ve condensed an action movie’s worth of twists and turns: there’s drama, crises, mysteries to solve. As such we decided to make the maps in such a way that they flow into each other; you won’t have to do a lot of backtracking (though you’re free to revisit areas you’ve been to, of course).

Characters

Nishigaki: The Nephilim… to be honest, her addition to Blue Stinger adds a bit of fantasty and sci-fi to what is otherwise an action-horror game. I think it would be cool if this “sci-fi touch” or “light sci-fi” style becomes a new genre. It’s my hope that players will be excited to discover Nephilim’s secret.

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The enigmatic Nephilim, which Nishigaki felt added a sci-fi flair to Blue Stinger.

As for the rest of the characters, starting with Eliot… well, he’s basically a flirt. He’s not your orthodox stoic hero; in fact, he’s more of a fun-loving type just out to have a good time. Women quickly fall in love with him, and he’s just as quick to make a move. He’s an affable, good guy. Even in the rescue organization (ESER) he belongs to, he’s kind of a slacker.

Dogs is the more “hard-boiled”, serious foil to Eliot. As for Jeanine, her character is key to the game’s human interest and drama.

From the protagonist’s perspective, you find yourself on an island that’s completely unknown to you, and in the beginning, you have no idea what’s going on. The nature and source of the enemy threat is likewise unknown to you. It’s something you discover naturally as you progress through the course of the game.

The Dreamcast Audience

Nishigaki: Because Blue Stinger was going to be a Dreamcast game, we wanted to make it more appealing to a general audience. On the other hand, with the continuing evolution of console game hardware, and the influx of players coming from computer gaming, doesn’t it feel like gameplay systems are steadily getting more complicated? I think it’s just a byproduct of the evolution of games. However, in a game like Blue Stinger where the visuals and the camerawork are the main draw, I think it would be confusing for beginner players if we suddenly started throwing a lot of stats and parameters at them.

That’s why we decided to include easily understandable, everyday items as part of the gameplay systems in Blue Stinger. The food and drink scattered about that you can eat to get your health back is one example—intuitive, “daily life” items for the player to interface with. I also hoped that, on an aesthetic level, the simplicity of these items would be a nice bridge for beginners and non-gamers to help them get into the game. I wanted Blue Stinger to be a game you could play without needing to read the instruction manual. Just the analogue stick and a single button, that’s all you need. Either way, it had to be something accessible to everyone.

A New Level of 3D Realism

Ogawa: 3D games can have annoying control issues, like having your character unintentionally move in the direction you’re trying to look with the camera. But there’s none of that in Blue Stinger.

Yokoyama: The camera is amazing. We can’t reveal the details yet, but it automatically selects the most visually impressive angle for any given scene.

Nishigaki: It’s very difficult. (laughs) You need both impressive graphics and visual clarity for the gameplay. We struggled to find the right balance.

It’s really all about the polygon count, if you want to portray things realistically. We’re using about 2000 polygons per character. I think the Dreamcast hardware will be fully up to the task. It’s an amazing machine, and we don’t know yet how far we can push it.

In any event, I promise players that Blue Stinger will present real-time 3D visuals like you’ve never seen before. We’re still a small group at just 18 of us, but please show us your support.

Ogawa: Of the Dreamcast launch titles, I think ours will be the standout. With the incredible enthusiasm of our staff, and Sega pulling out all the stops for us, I promise we won’t let you down.

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Blue Stinger composer
Toshihiko Sahashi.

Composer Commentary
(from the Blue Stinger OST)

Toshihiko Sahashi

This was my first time working on a video game. Similar to movies and television scoring, I see game music as another kind of background music; for almost all the songs in Blue Stinger (and especially for the orchestral opening and ending themes) I treated the music as a movie score. They sent me pictures and in-game footage before I began composing, so all the music was created in accordance with the visuals for each scene. The opening and ending themes are quite long, which was exciting to me because it gave me a lot of room to play around with as a composer, and I felt this was very worthwhile work.

This was also my first experience handing over my finished work as “song data.” Normally I record in a studio, with strict limits on the number of days and the time of day I can work there. For Blue Stinger there were no such limits, and I had as much time as I wanted until the final deadline.

I’ve created lots of scores for film and television, but my approach to the composition didn’t really change much here—except for the fact that, as I mentioned, it’s been rare for me to have this much time to work on a score. Normally, with a film score, once I figure out a single motif, I can create a number of arrangements of that motif in a single day. But for Blue Stinger I really took my time. If I could get one song done in a day it was like, that’s good for today… (laughs)

Nishigaki was able to convey his overall vision to me with incredible ease, and that meant he didn’t have to give me any specific, detailed direction. For the opening and ending themes, I just looked at the visuals on-screen while I composed. Other than that, Nishigaki wrote very short memos for each song, about 20 lines or so. Those were my only references, but surprisingly, the team had very little criticism or revision requests for the finished pieces.

Most of the songs for Blue Stinger have a lot of tension, and I think they’re pretty well constructed. I got to use a live orchestra for the opening and ending themes too, and the Dreamcast’s internal sound chip turned out to be far more capable than I had thought. I think there’s a lot of variety in the songs here for listeners to enjoy.

Shinya Nishigaki

As a game, Blue Stinger is something of an entertaining crowd-pleaser, so we tried to include music that similarly has a broad, mass appeal.

Japanese culture and arts often rely on clearly delineated, traditional plot structures—much like Hollywood films—so it was natural that the music, too, should feature a Hollywood sound. That being the case, for the composition, I thought the expansive sound of a live orchestra would match Blue Stinger well, so I asked composer Toshihiko Sahashi to write the music. Sahashi is an incredibly prolific writer who can pump out 120 songs in a week, all of very high quality. I honestly think he’s a genius.

Blue Stinger OST

The opening and ending themes were recorded live, and are grand orchestral pieces and quite worth listening to in their own right. For the opening theme, we first gave Sahashi the 7.5 minute opening movie, and he matched his music to that… but it was amazing. He used quiet, gentle melodies for the quiet scenes, and really made everything match up perfectly. When I heard it I knew it would draw players into the world of Blue Stinger.