This 1991 Capcom retrospective catches the arcade all-star team of Okamoto, Nishitani, and Funamizu just before the runaway success of Street Fighter II. The candid talk features design details of their earliest games and anecdotes about the old days at Capcom.

This interview was found at the GSLA, a Japanese a website that, among other things, preserves game developer interviews from older, now-defunct print sources. The GSLA often redacts the original interviewer questions, so the text ends up reading more like a narrative than an interview.

Street Fighter II interview
Psikyo vs. Capcom interview

Capcom 1991 Retrospective

with Yoshiki Okamoto, Noritaka Funamizu, and Akira Nishitani

Arcade Origins

Okamoto: When Capcom was making our first game, Vulgus, we had about 8 people working in the development group. Half of them worked on Vulgus, and the other half on SonSon.

At that time we were renting the first floor of a building, and I remember the floor was badly warped. We rented out two rooms, but one of those rooms had been used as a training room for baseball teams when the weather was rainy. It was a huge room: if two people stood on opposite corners, you could play catch. Those were the developers who worked at Capcom in the early days, who came to be called “game designers.” All the designers back then could draw, too, and they made posters and scrolls for our early games.

url

Yoshiki Okamoto, Akira Nishitani, and Noritaka Funamizu.

I liked STG games, and another developer, Tokuro “Professor F” Fujiwara’s specialty was action games. We decided we’d try switching things up, and I would make SonSon, and he would make Vulgus. But I guess neither of us were suited for those genres; Vulgus ended up being a STG that played more like an action game, with lots of ingredients from that genre, and SonSon played more like a STG, with the player shooting bullets and so on. SonSon and Exed Exes both fell a little short of the mark, I’m afraid. Exed Exes was outdone by Konami’s Twinbee.

Funamizu: That was right around the time I joined Capcom. During the location test for 1942, I think.

Okamoto: He came to Capcom with a group of other interviewees. When we brought him in to the room and said it was his turn, he looked at an arcade cabinet we had in the corner and said “Oh, I know this game!” and just started playing it right there! A bold manuever—he got hired!

Funamizu: At the time I didn’t really know what a “game company” was.

Okamoto: Nishitani was a writer for another company, and I called him up one day and asked him bluntly, “Wanna join us?”, and he replied in kind: “I’m in.” It was a quick decision. Even though we had never seen his face, Capcom paid his travel expenses, and he zipped right over from Tokyo to our building in Osaka.

url

SonSon and Vulgus, Capcom’s first two arcade games.

Nishitani: I got the call, and just haphazardly threw my stuff into some luggage and went over. Capcom was in the middle of developing Side Arms. I remember the first time I saw Vulgus, with the “POW” blocks and the explosion graphics that looked like fireballs in Mario, I thought it was a game made by Nintendo! Before I joined Capcom, I played a lot of Gunsmoke and Ghosts and Goblins in the game center.

The Capcom Fan Club

When the Capcom Fan Club started way back in the day, we used to send t-shirts and handwritten responses from the developers to anyone who wrote us a letter. If someone sent us an idea that was helpful, we’d send them a t-shirt or a poster; if someone asked for something, we’d give it! After that we started getting too many letters and couldn’t keep it up, but we really value our fans at Capcom.

Back then we were a no-name company, and we were desperate to do something to get the public to recognize and remember our name. The fan club, as well as the yashichi symbol, were all strategies to get our name out there.

Gunsmoke

Okamoto: Gunsmoke, which we did after Exed Exes, was a very difficult game to make. It literally took me weeks to think of the movement patterns for a single enemy. Also, while I was trying to come up with graphics and patterns for the characters, I got hit by a bike and broke some bones in my hand. I had to do all the drawing with a red pen that was easy to write with, since I couldn’t press down with a pencil.

Funamizu: I still have that pen in my desk. It writes really well.

Okamoto: Damn! (laughs)

url

Exed Exes (L) and Gunsmoke (R). Okamoto frequently talks about how
disappointed he was with Exed Exes, but Gunsmoke was a huge success.

Tenchi wo Kurau series

Funamizu: The two games I directly created the plans/designs for are Tenchi o Kurau and Tenchi o Kurau II. In between those, I also helped out on Area 88, 1941, Chiki Chiki Boys, and others.

Okamoto: We call Funamizu our “reliever.” He always comes in at the end of a development and makes various fine-tuning adjustments. Like a relief pitcher, he’s not the type who starts a game, but rather one who is good at finishing.

Funamizu: In the ending of Tenchi wo Kurau, it says in red letters, “Stay Tuned for Part 2!” Tenchi of Kurau was actually extremely popular in Southeast Asia. We sold a ton of boards there. On the other hand, it didn’t do so well in America or Europe…

Okamoto: I think our games feature a lot of horses because the planner is something of a country boy himself…

Funamizu: At first, for Tenchi wo Kurau II, I wanted to have every character riding horses. But if I did that, 2/3 of the screen would have been covered up by the player sprites, so I reduced the number, finally ending up with only the one character riding a horse. The early version of my planning documents called for things like jousting, and there was a “horse attack” button too.

Nishitani: That way if the player died, the horse could just keep fighting…

Funamizu: Speaking of horses, with Knights of the Round, at the location test we hadn’t yet decided to call the special move “Uma Crush!” (horse crush!), but as we played it at Capcom, everyone called it “Uma Crush!” and that became the official name.

url

Horses feature prominently in Tenchi wo Kurau (top) and its sequel (bottom).

Final Fight and Street Fighter II

Nishitani: Final Fight was targeted at the American market from the very beginning. Fighting stuff sells really well in America, and with this game we were trying to check off all the boxes for a successful American game. For example, we tried to keep the flow of the game going (no interruptions), and we added a map so you could know where you are, and how far you had to go in the stage.

Everyone on the development thought Final Fight was going to be made on hardware with a large memory capacity, but that turned out not to be true. That’s why the final boss Belger hops around like that: we didn’t have enough memory to add more graphics for a walking pattern. However, making something cool with limited resources is like a puzzle to me, so I thought it was fun. As for the bonus stage, at first it was just about destroying the car, but while I was gone that “oh! my god!!” somehow got added in. (laughs)

Final Fight originally began as a sequel to Street Fighter. But Double Dragon was very popular at the time, so we decided to make it that type of game. We made it for the American market, but I remember when I went to America on a business trip later and people told me “Actually, fighting games like Street Fighter are selling more here right now,” and I was like, whattt?

Belger’s movement in Final Fight
was due to memory limitations.

Okamoto: Street Fighter II may look like a sequel to Street Fighter, but we actually challenged ourselves to create a new genre: competitive fighting. You can think of playing against the computer as something similar. When we decided to take on the challenge of a new genre, we aimed for something that would be free of all our previous shortcomings and dissatisfaction—we wanted to make the greatest game ever. Until we have a good grasp of the potential problems and know we can overcome them, we won’t get started.

Trivia and Miscellany

Okamoto: In SonSon, with the bamboo shoots that come out the ground, I was thinking of the Sol towers in Xevious. There’s about 46 Sol towers in Xevious. I tried to make the number of bamboo shoots match that, but there was some kind of misunderstanding abou the number, and we made 64, so the original meaning was kind of lost.

There’s a lot of items to devour in Exed Exes. By getting the POW all the enemies will change into fruit. You know, there’s a really huge strawberry in there too. I wanted there to be a little trail left behind your ship if you took it. It was a related idea to something in “Don’t Pull”, one of the games in 3 Wonders. We had memory problems with Exed Exes, so it was something I had been wanting to do.

The “Megacrush” in 1943 Kai was a name I came up with when I was thinking about whether I could make something even more awesome than the “Crush” from Exed Exes. After using the Megacrush, no bullets will be fired at you for awhile. I was trying to make good use of the typical invincibility mechanic from bombs. My goal with game design is always to be improving, no matter how small the shortcoming.

Favorite Games and Future Ambitions

Funamizu: Of Capcom’s games, I really like Gunsmoke. For other companies, definitely Konami’s Gradius series. I like to develop routes and memorize patterns with the spread bomb. In the future I’d like to make a hit game like that myself, without being interrupted for another project. A lot of my work has been on the revision side, you see, improving games that are already mostly complete. Street Fighter II and Final Fight needed a lot of work.

Nishitani: My favorite game would be Crazy Climber. As for Capcom’s games, it’s difficult for me to choose between Gunsmoke and Ghosts and Goblins. I want other companies to put out good games. (laughs) But, at the same time, when I see a new game it’s often like, “Damn, they beat us to it. So much for my ideas…” I want to keep striving to beat the other game companies though.

Okamoto: I love Dig Dug and Xevious. To be frank, I was a huge Namco fan, but I couldn’t get into their company. (laughs) As for Capcom’s games, I like 1943 kai. It has the perfect balance for a STG game, for me.

In the future at Capcom, I want us to solidify our strengths, and steadily make inroads into various new areas. If you only keep making one kind of popular game, people will eventually think poorly of you. I hope we can continue to present a variety of games with a competitive level of quality.