Caladrius Developer Interview – STG Gameside #7
with Hoshino Hitoshi, MOSS Director
—Caladrius commemorates 20 years since MOSS’ founding. What made you choose the vertical STG genre for your 20th anniversary project?
Hoshino: Our company developed the Raiden series. On the occasion of our 20th anniversary, we figured a STG game was the only choice for a new game, and everyone at MOSS agreed that a vertical STG would be good. Frankly, I think its winter for the STG genre, but we thought we might be able to create a new kind of STG, and so began work on our 20th anniversary title.
—What is the meaning and origin of the title “Caladrius” ?
Hoshino: Its closely connected to the world of the game, but Caladrius is the name of a bird thought to be a divine messenger of God in medieval Europe. It would appear before those who were ill, and if there was a chance for recovery, it would fly away, carrying the illness away with it. In the game, the character ships are like the bird, and the title conveys that question: will there be any salvation or not?
—Caladrius is being released for both the arcade and X360. Could you tell us why you chose the X360 as the console platform?
Hoshino: There were already many STG titles on the X360, and MOSS had also developed for it previously. With regard to the platform, there were certainly other options, but the X360 was the natural choice given the many STG fans already there.
—Caladrius is a vertical STG, but you chose the vertizontal (3:4 aspect ratio) screen format for it, which is a rather square-ish size. What was the reason for choosing this screen size?
Hoshino: If you removed the wallpaper on the sides of the screen, it wouldn’t have been a problem, technically speaking, to make Caladrius a 16:9 game. But doing so would mean the area for the characters to move around would become too large and the tempo of the game would consequently become much slower. We wanted to make a game that proceeds at a quick tempo so we chose the 3:4 aspect ratio.
The reason we chose a vertizontal rather than pure vertical format is that most people are playing games on widescreen monitors these days. A vertical format would leave too much space on the left and right and we thought it would be a real waste.
Also, for this STG we wanted to retain some of the Raiden style gameplay while also doing something new. If we had chosen a vertical format, it would have ended up being too Raiden-ish. It was that and our desire to make something new that led us to select the 3:4 vertizontal format.
—In Caladrius, each character has three different kinds of powerful Element Shoot weaponry. However, these aren’t acquired by picking up different item power-ups, but are instead freely available to use from the beginning. What was your thinking behind this gameplay decision?
Hoshino: STG as a genre tends to have many elements that are geared towards the hardcore players. I think the players themselves would agree with that.
I think switching out weapons and finding the right weapon for the right section is an extremely fun part of STGs, but we were thinking about the perspective of someone new to the genre who might be unduly stressed by not having picked up the right power-up.
In Caladrius, whenever you press a button “something cool happens”, and its like, “wow, I can use all these different weapons!” Our design put an emphasis on that fun experience. So even those who aren’t accustomed to the STG genre can enjoy themselves.
—Caladrius has a lot of dynamic ideas that you don’t see in many STGs today, like Alex’s support Element Shoot weapon that makes lasers shoot from off-screen. Its quite impressive, but how did you come up with these weapons?
Hoshino: They came from our early design concept for Caladrius, that it would be a game where you can use a variety of different weapons. When it comes to weapons in STGs, things like missiles and lasers that just shoot straight ahead are very common. So if we had just made a bunch of different weapons of that type, the player wouldn’t feel like anything new was happening.
We also made sure Caladrius retained the fun of using all the weapons, such that any weapon could be used anywhere, and no specific weapon was required to get past any area.
—The bosses have a wide range of actions, and they’ve got a lot of visual impact as well. Were there any things you especially focused on when designing them?
Hoshino: In Raiden the stages themselves are relatively long while the boss fights are short. This time we wanted players to enjoy boss fights that were longer. So the bosses in Caladrius are gigantic, and are supposed to convey the feeling that they’re far more powerful than you. We spent a lot of time on their movements and the sense of scale.
—Is there a score attack or other additional modes available?
Hoshino: There are score attack and boss rush modes. There’s also a gallery mode with close to 100 illustrations, though they have to be unlocked. The shuuchi break pictures (the ultimate selling point?) can also be unlocked, but you have to have performed the shuuchi break on each boss to unlock them. 2
And for players who aren’t interested in the illustrations, once you clear the game with a character, you can then use that character’s three Element Shoot weapons with other characters, combining them as you see fit. Special scoring strategies can be achieved through the combination of different weapons.
—In a two player game, there’s a very useful shield that forms when the players are near each other. How did you come up with that idea?
Hoshino: In a certain sense there’s a culture of STG, that these are stoic games you play by yourself. But in the past there were many games where it was exciting and fun to play together, competing for bells 1 or ramming into the other player ship and causing him to die.
In Caladrius, a two-player game allows you to see more of the story and world depending on the two characters chosen. Being a console game, we hope people enjoy the two-player mode. Regarding the merits of a two-player game, obviously the most fun comes from helping each other out, but we also want people to experience that sadness you get from failing. We’ve also added a barrier which forms around the players when they’re close to each other. As the distance between the players grows, the gaps in the barrier grow larger and bullets can get through. We wanted players to enjoy that experience of teamwork where you’re calling out to each other while you play.
—In the stages, there are these strange protuberances that look like the Sol towers from Xevious… what could they be?
Hoshino: These are actually the hidden items from the Raiden series. Since we made Raiden, we were just having some fun there. You get bonus points for finding and destroying them.
—I noticed that as the difficulty increases in Caladrius, rather than increasing the bullet count, it causes the bullet speed to get faster. With regard to the issue of difficulty in STGs, what things did you pay careful attention to in Caladrius?
Hoshino: We want people who aren’t used to the STG genre to enjoy Caladrius too, so the first half of the game is very simple. The bullet count and speed in the second half of the game both increase, but by using mechanics like the Element Shoot which can cancel bullets, players can keep the difficulty at a manageable level.
As for the difficulty, you can select 6 different levels of difficulty at the start of the game, so you can choose the difficulty most suited to your abilities.
—I thought the “Practice” difficulty mode enemies don’t fire bullets at all and the “No Damage Mode” where your ship is invincible were very refreshing ideas for a STG. What was your aim in adding those modes?
Hoshino: We think its good if STGs can be played more casually and relaxed. Normally, if you aren’t skilled then you can’t advance in the game, and we were concerned that those bad players who can’t formulate a proper strategy on how to get through may just abandon the game then and there.
There’s infinite continues, so if you’re just trying to get to the end you can. But the appeal of Caladrius, I think, comes from progressing through the stages while managing the bombs and your gauge. So in “No Damage Mode” colliding with a bullet won’t kill you, but a counter will show you how many times you got hit, so it can be a good way to test out new strategies and test your skills.
Also, in both Practice and No Damage modes, colliding with an enemy ship will still kill you, so some degree of tension remains.
—Do you have any recommended characters or Element Shoot selections for new players and beginners?
Hoshino: At MOSS we thought Kei was the easiest to clear the game with. Of course, he’s a man, so perhaps choosing him isn’t very exciting for players… anyway. Kei’s protective tornado Element Shoot “tempest willow” cancels bullets, and if you level it up it can clear most of the upper screen, allowing you to progress very easily.
For Alex, her attacks have penetrative bullets, so if you power them up you can take out midsized enemies very quickly. So if you play aggressively with her and shoot enemies down as soon as they appear, it will also make things easier.
Maria’s firepower is weaker, so powering up her homing laser attack-style Element Shoot “tellus rage” will help you.
—There are many vertical STGs which use two or three buttons, but Caladrius has a main shot button, three different element shoot buttons, an Element Burst button, and a bomber button, for six buttons in total. Were there any difficulties in dividing up and assigning the different attacks to the controls?
Hoshino: There are six buttons, but in practice you can think of it more simply as: main shot, element shoot (and burst), and bomb. When we actually tried it we weren’t really bothered by the amount of buttons. As I mentioned above, we set it up so that pressing any of the element shoot buttons causes something interesting and useful to happen. So even if you accidentally press the wrong button, it shouldn’t cause your instant death or anything.
—Caladrius has a “gothic horror” theme. What were you going for in terms of visuals, the world, etc?
Hoshino: We wanted to create a new gothic horror game. We liked older, more classic stuff, but when we asked Suzuhito Yasuda to do the design for us, he told us “I want to create characters for a new, never-before-seen style of gothic horror.” Hearing that, our company also went to work on creating a sophisticated design for Caladrius, and the development went forward from there.
—Caladrius features a unique fantasy world where alchemy and machines co-exist. What other works–games or otherwise–influenced the setting of Caladrius?
Hoshino: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I re-read for this project, was an influence. In terms of the lush visual beauty we were aiming for, we loved The Lord of the Rings film and the game God of War.
—The popular and esteemed manga artist Suzuhito Yasuda did the character designs. How did he come to work on this project? Also, what is the target demographic you were hoping to attract with Caladrius?
Hoshino: There were many longtime fans of Yasuda’s work at MOSS, especially among our younger employees.
We want people to play Caladrius who have never been very good at STGs, or young people who haven’t had much exposure to the genre. For that reason too, we really wanted Yasuda to work with us. We didn’t have much hope, but we figured we had nothing to lose by asking him, and I remember we were very happy when his answer was a very casual “yes.”
The shuuchi break “system.”
—In Caladrius the character’s pictures change as they take damage in what is called the “shuuchi break” system. Where did the idea for that come from?
Hoshino: It came about as we were trying to come up with ways to bring the characters to life. As the conversation progressed and we laid out our ideas, we finally arrived at this system. We thought it was the perfect fit for that desire of “I want to see further!” and “I want to see more!” that accompanies STGs.
—In the in-game conversations, the shuuchi break system, and elsewhere there is a lot of full CG images, and the characters are featured very prominently in Caladrius. Have you thought about other media for Caladrius, like manga, novelizations, drama cds, or anime?
Hoshino: The story, world, setting, and characters naturally expand as you flesh out the atmosphere of the game. We’re glad to see people who already like STGs pick up a copy of Caladrius, of course, but we’re also equally happy if people who aren’t good at STG buy Caladrius because they like the character art and the world/setting. Similarly we’d be happy if people bought the game because they liked a drama CD or manga, so if we have the chance we’d love to create those things for the world of Caladrius.
—Basiscape composed the music for Caladrius. Did you give them any specific guidance, or have any conceptual requests for the songs?
Hoshino: There were things we requested for each song, and overall we asked for a grandiose, majestic, spacious sound. They returned to us with many more songs than we had requested, and when I first heard the soundtrack I was very moved.
—There’s plans to port Caladrius to the arcades as well, but what new platforms and new games would you like MOSS to pursue?
Hoshino: The platforms that work for STG today are the X360 and the arcade, but we have no special attachment to these formats. I think we will continue to make STGs in the future, and I hope we can make games that the players themselves find fun.
—Its been said that its a very difficult time for STG developers today, commercially speaking. What approach do you take to succeed in this business environment?
Hoshino: I think STG is a simple genre, but a fun one. But I also feel that, as a genre, it hasn’t changed too much in the last couple decades. But doujin STGs have continued to thrive, and many of them are interesting, so there are still people out there that are playing STGs.
I wouldn’t say the general public has no interest in STGs, but due to a variety of factors, the games that get commercial releases are widely seen as being difficult, stoic games that require an aescetic dedication to enjoy. As a genre it’s become unapproachable, I think. The game mechanics and scoring system are still important, but I think in the future its going to be important to include mechanics that are easy and rewarding for those who have found STGs difficult to get into.
—What do you think is important to invest a lot of time and effort in, with regard to STG development?
Hoshino: In addition to simple gameplay, the game’s difficulty balance is very important. Its important to design bullet patterns and enemy placement such that when you die, the feeling shouldn’t be “I got killed” but rather “I failed.” On top of that, I think STGs need something catchy, so that when you see the screen you feel “how about I give this a go?”
—Finally, please give a parting message to our readers.
Hoshino: Caladrius was made not just for STG fans, but also for those who like the story/world/characters. It was made to be easy to pick up and play, and let you experience those feeelings: “I want to see more of this world!” and “I want to get better at this!” If you’ve been wary about trying out a STG, I hope Caladrius can give you a chance to enjoy the genre. Thank you!