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“this may be the end”

Tsuneki Ikeda

Director

—As one of the founding members, please give your thoughts on Cave’s 16th anniversary.

Ikeda: Surprisingly, I don’t have any feelings like “its been so long.” Its more like we’ve been running and running, working hard at developing our knowledge the whole time. The history of shooting games is quite long, but even when I was a player people were saying “Shooting is dead.” When I became a developer, I had this wild ambition that I would expand people’s interest in shooting games! But in the end, nothing happened… and I am filled with a shameful feeling of my own impotence.

—Please tell us about your roles and duties as a team member on Cave’s projects. Also, please explain to us the origin of the “IKD” initials.

Ikeda: My main job is planning the games. I also do programming for the game system, which determines the particular character of a given game, and I work on enemy placement and boss attacks. I also make final adjustments to the game as a whole. But lately Ichimura has been handling most of the bosses, and I’ve been doing only the last boss, and in some extreme cases, simply the last bosses most crazed [[hakkyou]] attack patterns.

As for the IKD initials… I didn’t choose that name or anything. (bitter laugh) I think it probably began with my using IKD in the comments of the game code.

—You’ve been making shooting games for over 20 years and don’t seem to have grown bored with them. What do you feel the charm or appeal of shooting games is?

Ikeda: Hmmm… well, one has to have the space to even register a feeling of boredom… so I wonder if the reality isn’t that we’ve been so constantly busy with work that during a project we don’t even have the space to feel bored? (laughs) As for shooting games, I think the basic routine of shooting enemies and dodging bullets is extremely simple. I think the attraction for me comes from the challenge of mixing a curve ball into that routine to see if I can create something different and alluring within that simple framework.

—Are there titles that you feel “It would have been better if I had done more of this” after their completion?

Ikeda: There actually aren’t many games like that, because if the team didn’t add something I wanted, I usually added it on my own “after class.” (laughs) But with Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu, we were short on time and I couldn’t do that, so I was thinking I’d get to add my touches with the Black Label version. But in the end my schedule didn’t permit it and I could hardly participate at all. So in that sense, maybe Daifukkatsu.

—Do you have things you do, then, where you feel “ah, this is one of my habits…”?

Ikeda: Yeah, I do. For things like the enemy algorithms and attacks, and even the boss bullet patterns, I end up unconsciously repeating myself. And so during the playtesting, someone might say “I feel some deja vu with this attack…” and that’s the first time I become aware of it. (laughs) So as much as possible, I always try to be careful about that.

Also, this is unrelated to my habits, but Cave shooting games have a tendency to always be seen by people as danmaku games. Of course, we’ve done many danmaku games, so its only natural that many people see us that way. On the other hand, it may be that the reason our non-danmaku shooting games make such a slight impression is that users really aren’t all that attracted to non-danmaku games… this continues to be an issue for us.

—I’ve heard that if Dodonpachi failed to sell well, you were going to leave the game industry. Did you have a goal or plans for what to do next, in that event?

Ikeda: I wasn’t going to leave because I had some other plans in mind. It was because my ability to feel interested in games was at an all-time low, and if a person like that tries to lead a team, it will be a problem for the team, for the company, and ultimately for the shooting genre itself. So I simply felt I couldn’t be there anymore.

If I was going to do something other than the game industry, I think I’d do something related to cleaning? Not “sensha” [[tanks]], but “sensha” [[car wash]]… don’t they give you the same sense of achievement, after all? There is happiness both for the one who cleans and the one who gets cleaned. Its a total “win-win” situation, isn’t it? (laughs) 1

—Outside of business, what kind of game would you like to try making?

Ikeda: Probably shooting, I guess? (laughs)

—Please tell us about your new title, Akai Katana. What were the main parts you handled? Also, did you have any particular things you wanted to do with this game?

Ikeda: Akai Katana is the first brand new title we’ve done in awhile. We had been doing sequels for some time, but I think there may be players who are tired of that by now, so I hope they will look forward to this game.

My main work on Akai Katana was enemy placement. We did something different with the game system this time. It was done by the accomplished person who has done various arrange modes for our Xbox 360 ports, which all received good ratings. I’m looking forward to it too!

—The games Cave makes, as well as the content and atmosphere of the events you host, all seem to be markedly different from other companies. Has it been this way since the beginning of the company?

Ikeda: I don’t think it appeared that way in the beginning. However, our early game development was mainly directed to us by higher ups, so it may just be that it was simply too difficult to show any weirdness then.

But with our events and our games, we kept asking how we could distinguish ourselves and stand out from other companies. Compared with the big companies, we couldn’t spend lavish amounts on promotion, so we focused on how to stand out with low cost. The only way to do that was to have our games picked up by various locations and spread through word of mouth. So we tended to make games that you’d be hard pressed to say were stylish or fashionable, but it may be that therein lies their unique atmosphere.

—You’ve been involved with the programming for many games. Do you have any plans or wishes for how long you intend to continue working on site?

Ikeda: Creating games in itself is fun for me, even now. So I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop, but in terms of my managerial duties, I have many other things I have to do. And I’m also thinking that I need to train a successor, and in that sense I’m not sure how long I can keep working on site like this. So my contributions will gradually become more and more like that of a helper, I think? (laughs)

The game development team itself has, in these last years, begun a large change of direction. Although the projects I directly initiate and run are declining, this shift is something I’ve been wanting myself, so while its lonely to be doing less actual work on site, I’m also happy about it.

—You’ve also personally had less exposure in the media lately; is that related, too?

Ikeda: There aren’t currently any projects that I’m really at the center of, and I want to promote the new generation that is leading things even now. It think it would be wrong for me to do media appearances when I’m not really deeply involved.

—When you’re making a game, what part of the work do you find most enjoyable?

Ikeda: Creating the “game-ness” or appeal unique to that particular game. There are pains during that birthing, and it definitely isn’t all just fun, but when you’ve unearthed that new sensation in a game, and others tell you “this is fun!”, all your difficulties are transformed into the most supreme joy. Especially, when you do discover that new sensation and start the work of tweaking the system, it can easily become an endless loop of “if we do this, won’t it be more interesting?” –> “its now more interesting than before!” –> “but if we do this, won’t it be even MORE interesting!” and so on. You can end up never starting your other work (or even wanting to), and there’s a real danger in that.

—Speaking of that “new sensation”, it must have been a big thing when you began to develop your own arcade hardware.

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The PGM boards used by Cave before
they developed their SH-3 hardware.

Ikeda: Starting with “Dodonpachi Daioujou” we used another company’s hardware, but even at the time it had very low specs. But around this time, Cave had decided to do game development in-house, and using our current development platform was a condition of that decision, so it was the only hardware we could use.

However, around the time we developed Espgaluda we had secured enough profits, and many people were pointing out that the specs of the hardware were so low that we were looking bad compared with other companies, so it was decided that we would try to make our own arcade hardware. In order to keep costs down, we did the game development and the hardware development in parallel… a very dangerous pattern, but somehow or another we managed to finish things.

—What is your favorite Cave shooting game, and why?

Ikeda: I’ve answered this question countless times in the past, and I have the same answer today. (laughs) …its Dodonpachi. We had a lot of time to test and tweak things, and I was really satisfied with how much we were able to tune it. Also, Dodonpachi was a gamble for me whether I would make it or not in the game market, and even now its the title that showed me I could do the impossible. Thank goodness it wasn’t hated by everyone…

—Do you have favorite characters, or characters you don’t really care for? Are there any characters you really like, but for some reason they never became popular?

Ikeda: To speak only of boss characters, of the ones I’ve made I like Seseri from Espgaluda, and for ones not made by me, Kasumi of Ibara is my favorite. As for characters I liked but never became popular, Asagi of Espgaluda II. She was designed in the image of Eureka Anemone, and since she was a new character we really promoted her, even at the level of the gameplay, but I don’t think she was received very well in the end. By making her a megane musume, menhara, and a do-S type character, 2 I thought we had covered all our bases… its strange.

—Please tell us about the game hardware you own. I hear Asada gave you an X360 as a present?

Ikeda: I have all the major console systems out today. I also own a DS and PSP, so I believe that’s everything? As for the X360, after it was decided we would port Deathsmiles to it, Asada kept doggedly recommending it to me, but there weren’t any games I wanted to play on it at the time so I had no desire to own one. Then one day Asada suddenly just presented one to me… despite my previous lack of enthusiasm, within a few days I was fully absorbed in the X360. The X360 was the first game console where I was saying, “please, enough, just let me sleep now…”

My first interest in games was more through arcade games rather than shooting games particularly, if I had to say. I owned home consoles at that time as well, but my attention was drawn to the huge screen and impressiveness of arcade games. It was simply that feeling of “wow!” I got from arcade games that was the beginning of my interest in the world of games.

—Is there a game you feel complete confidence in, where you feel like a total master of it?

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Ikeda once said he could
score 10m in Tatsujin

Ikeda: No, I don’t think so. The games I can 1CC are only the relatively easy ones. And in this world, there’s always someone better than you, so there’s no game I can really say I have complete confidence in. If I was forced to choose, I’d say Tatsujin. I really tried hard to memorize all the patterns in that game, but I couldn’t do it completely, and even now the stage 1 boss and the stage 3 boss make me very nervous.

—Are there any game genres you like other than shooting?

Ikeda: Its not the case that I only play shooting games at home. During the Sega Saturn era there were a lot of high quality arcade ports, and I owned many games. “Tonight shall be Shooting/Biking!”… in that way I’d alternate genres and would pass an entire night. I don’t do that much anymore. Now I play a lot of action games, though I won’t play jumping platformers.

—Are there any non-shooting games or media that you think have influenced you?

Ikeda: Of course there are various things, but as for something more recent, Evangelion. In the movie version “Prologue”, in the final scene where Ayanami might die and she is protecting Shinji… when I saw that, I wondered if I could make a defensive system that makes your heart race, and convey the same sensation that this movie gave me? So I tried to make something along those lines, and the X360 arrange mode in Mushihimesama Futari was the result… but the excitment was lacking. When the shield was about to fail, I thought having Palm say something like, “Rego jan, jinjau yo~~” 3 would be good enough… that wasn’t really the problem though. I’m sorry.

—Lately there has been an increase in beginner shooting players. Can you give some advice to those who say, “I can’t do it!”

Ikeda: I would say its a matter of experience… in other words, you must practice. After you play enough you will understand the rules and patterns of the enemy placement and attacks. Also, in order to become better more quickly, you need to carefully analyze the spots where you died, and develop strategies to deal with those situations. If this kind of experimentation starts to become tedious, just do what feels right to you. Even if you become good, if you aren’t enjoying the game itself then there’s a chance you’re missing the point.

If you play enough so that you can clear the game on one credit, then you can watch other skilled players’ replays and start to find your own playing style, and the breadth of shooting games will open up for you, I think.

—Please give a message to all the fans who have supported Cave for these last 16 years.

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shinu ga yoi.

Ikeda: Thank you very much for your support all these years. It is because of you that we’ve been able to keep developing games as a team like this. All the people in our development team love games, and to be able to share this enjoyment with you is a great blessing and joy to us, and its all because of you that we’ve been able to continue.

I touched on the Dodonpachi Daioujou development period a little already, but for every arcade game we’ve developed since this title, the conditions have been that if its a business failure, the team will be disbanded. Especially with that first test, Dodonpachi Daioujou, this judgment hung over our heads, and our fate really rested in the success of that game. However, even though we worked ourselves to death on it, when compared with our previous titles, it clearly looked incomplete and miserable. As we headed towards the location test on the train, we gloomily thought “this may be the end.”

However, despite the unfinished state of the game, the location test numbers weren’t bad at all. The day before the end of the location tests we adjusted the game, which was, in our way, a small atonement to the players who had to play the previous unfinished version.

From this, we’ve been able to continue making shooting games to the present day. On the other hand, despite constantly releasing shooting games for the last 16 years, we haven’t been able to start the revolution in arcade shooting we were striving for. As the representative of our team, I want to apologize from my heart to the arcade industry, Cave, and all the users who have supported us. I’m very sorry.

However, as players of our recent games probably already know, Asada will be leading the next generation of Cave as we develop for new platforms. Right now we are focusing on arcade ports, but in the future we hope to also release original titles, so please look forward to our continuing efforts.

Times change, and Cave’s games must also greet this new era. I couldn’t accomplish it with my efforts alone, but we won’t stop with arcade development, and will develop on various platforms to share our games with even more players than before. Please continue to enjoy Cave’s games, both past and future.