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Wakabayashi presents a flyer
for a Capoera event.

Akira Wakabayashi

Manager / Designer

Central Works
Dodonpachi
Esp.ra.de
Guwange
Progear no Arashi
Dodonpachi Daioujou
Ketsui
Espgaluda
Mushihimesama
Ibara series
Muchi Muchi Pork!
Deathsmiles series
Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu

In Guwange he drafted the character designs. In Mushihimesama, Ibara, Muchi Muchi Pork, and Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu, he did the story and world/setting.

—What aspects of game development do you oversee?

Wakabayashi: As a designer I’m involved in various titles. I do character design drafts, and a number of other things like that.

—I heard you often fight with Tanaka, who is also a designer…

Wakabayashi: What, he said we fight?! Its definitely true that as we’re making a game, we say to each other “I want to do it this way,” or “I think it should be that way,” and there are some things Tanaka won’t compromise on. Tanaka really gets into things, and he expands and develops the image of the game in his head, so we occasionally clash when something doesn’t match the image he’s come up with. Also, if he works really hard on some animations, but in the end they don’t get used or are just quickly passed over, he’ll say something like “hey, you can’t see the animation!”

—And what are some of the things you are particular about in game design?

Wakabayashi: I don’t think I’m personally aware of them. As a designer, even if you say “I want it like this,” you have to consider the overall direction of the game, as well as the opinions of higher ups in the company, so its difficult if you’re too insistent about your desires.

There will always be complications, but I always try to listen to everyone’s different opinions and incorporate them into the game as much as possible. Though, in doing that, the things I wanted to do personally can get diluted, so sometimes I’m the one who ends up getting angry instead. (laughs)

—It sounds very trying. What games have you worked on so far that have been particularly difficult?

Wakabayashi: Ibara, Pink Sweets, Muchi Muchi Pork were all challenging. Now that I think of it, Daioujou and Daifukkatsu were also tough… I guess everything!

—Does the difficulty of the project change depending on who you’re working with?

Wakabayashi: I started out working with Ikeda, and that continued for a long time, but after that I teamed up with Yagawa. We are very different from each other. Yagawa is the type of person who blazes his own trail, and I struggled to match his style at first. But if I get too stressed out, I can’t really get into my work, so I don’t take things too personally. I also think that rather than pushing only my own ideas and having a really stiff, preconceived world, by including various ideas and opinions you can break new ground. I’m also not too smart so I tend to just laugh and let things slide. (laughs)

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One man’s vision come to life.

—But in reality, there’s all kinds of things swirling around in your head…

Wakabayashi: Oh, there is… there is! (laughs)

—Such as?

Wakabayashi: Well, for Muchi Muchi Pork!, that was originally a doujinshi comic I had made. There were things in my heart that I couldn’t put into a game, so I drew a doujinshi for them. For Muchi Muchi Pork, it started with a conversation I had about how to depict soldiers, so I tried drawing them with animal ears. It had a completely different feel from what ended up becoming the game. The idea for chubby characters came from me thinking, “chubby characters have needs too.” So my original character designs were completely cut for the game. I had first made typically cute characters, but I figured those wouldn’t sell very well. I liked them, though, and Comiket was fast approaching, so I drew and drew and drew to make it in time. (laughs)

—Do you often participate in Comiket?

Wakabayashi: Lately, yeah. I started about 5 years ago, because my needs as an illustrator weren’t being met at Cave. (laughs) I wanted to draw manga. Just like my characters in Muchi Muchi Pork, I thought “no one is meeting the needs of chubby characters!” There really aren’t too many people who are both shooting fans and fans of chubby girls. I think the game had an impact, but just so. When you watch anime and manga, sadly there still aren’t many chubby characters.

—The world of Muchi Muchi Pork is amazing. You even named the ships “ketta machines”… 1

Wakabayashi: Eh, I thought ketta machine was the normal word for bike? Well, I’m not from Nagoya, so I don’t say it myself… (laughs) A long time ago I had a friend at vocational school who lived in Nagoya, and he always said ketta machine, and I thought it was funny. Just calling them “jitensha” or “charinko” would have been boring.

But I really worked hard on Muchi Muchi Pork. There were problems with the bullets being hard to see. The world seemed to be really well received by players.

—It must take a long time for you to design characters.

Wakabayashi’s favorite
character, Perfect.

Wakabayashi: When His Excellency Junya Inoue gets involved in a project, he does all the work on the characters and the world and I can pretty much relax. But other than that, I have to listen to everyone’s ideas and try to make sense out of them. I also have to work with illustrators that I make requests to, and so it all takes a lot of time.

As for my favorite characters, that would be the stage 3 boss from Daifukkatsu, “Perfect.” She was fun to make and I personally am proud of my work on her. She was simply interesting to make, and since the main characters in the Dodonpachi are big loutish mechs, Perfect is a girl robot. I had actually wanted to make a robot that was in the shape of a little girl, but for various reasons, in the end she ended up with slightly robotic arms and legs.

Perfect is dressed like a maid, but in the story she’s supposed to have been made perfectly, or rather a little too perfect, and there’s supposed to be something strange about her. So we gave her category of element daughter the name “Pa-fekuto”, but that didn’t seem very cute or likable so we changed it to “Pafue.” While all the other bosses come out and say “yurushimasen!” 2 , Perfect, who is sheltered and naive, says “waittttt!” In a sense I felt I had upended that image people had of Dodonpachi being brusque and masculine, and that was fun to do.

—It sounds like you definitely prefer girl characters to mecha characters?

Wakabayashi: Just because I like girl characters doesn’t mean I dislike mecha characters. I like cool mecha stuff and enjoy making them. I like the shapes of all sorts of things… so in addition to mechs I also like things like statues of Buddha. So you can see on my desk there… ah, look, its overflowing with Ayanami Rei figures!

—Is that a hobby of yours, putting together models?

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Wakabayashi’s beloved
Ayanami Rei model.

Wakabayashi: I like drawing, and I like putting together models. I usually do plastic models only in my spare time… well, actually I make them whenever I can. I don’t like just drawing single images. I prefer to create a story and characters. When I joined Cave, I gradually started to feel like “I can’t do anything I want here!!!” You know, with shooting games, especially arcade ones, its extremely difficult to tell a story or develop characters, so I started doing that in my own time.

I tend to like things that aren’t very mainstream… if everyone is going, “ah, I love this!” then I’m like, “No thanks.” But lately I’ve been getting into those things, too.

—It sounds like you’re playing games on newer systems. How many do you own?

Wakabayashi: I own everything but a PS3. There wasn’t really anything on there I wanted to play, so I didn’t buy it. “Uncharted” was fun though. It had an Indiana Jones action feel to it, and was quite pretty. The PS3 is great, and you can watch blu-rays on it too. I still don’t own one though.

—Speaking of which, Yagawa and Tanaka don’t own any console systems…

Wakabayashi: That’s right! Even though they make games they don’t own a single system. The amount of games and systems I have is pretty normal, I think. If I play other games too much, I end up thinking “That game does this, so I should do this too,” and its problematic. But you also have to know whats happening in the game industry to a certain extent, I think. Then again, knowing too much can stifle your ideas too. I don’t really play a lot of shooting games though. I play them occasionally just for fun, but I don’t aim to clear games or anything.

—By the way, what are your favorite games?

Wakabayashi: Final Fight or Captain Commando. I like the belt scroll action games of that era. My desire to work in the game industry started with those games, actually.

I wasn’t initially planning to work in the game industry though. It was winter in my third year of high school. Being that old and not having decided what to do is a sort of “winter” in and of itself, actually. Up till then I had just been idly thinking I’d go to college or something, but at the last minute there I decided to immerse myself in drawing. Street Fighter II had come out, and it was a revolutionary period, with the game centers full of fighting games. I was constantly going to the game centers then.

After that, I studied animation at a vocational school and then joined an animation studio. But right as I was thinking I’d want to start working with games, Cave was hiring. I was at a convenience store thinking how difficult the animation industry was to work in when I saw a hiring advertisement for Cave. I read it and realized this was the company that made Donpachi. I knew that game, so I applied.

—I understand you’ve also done some voice acting for Cave?

Wakabayashi: Ah… yes, Dyne’s voice for Ibara! We weren’t planning to record voices for Dyne at first, but we thought it sounded kind of empty without it, so we decided to try and quickly record them. But we hadn’t hired any voice actors. There was a person at Cave who had dabbled a bit in sound engineering, so we asked him if we could record the voices in an office meeting room at Cave. It was just the two of us there on a weekend… (laughs)

Espgaluda was the first title that we hired voice actors for, and being our first time, we didn’t really know what we were doing. Going to the studio, recording the voices, and putting those files into the game is the process, but when we went to add the files to the game we had to shrink them to fit in memory. So the upper and lower extremes of the wav file would get cut off. So if you didn’t really add a lot of inflection to the performance, it would end sounding rather lifeless. When we actually added them to the game and everyone heard it, we all busted up laughing. (laughs) One line was, “kisamara no sonzai o keshite yaru!!” 3 and it sounded really cool when we recorded it, but when we played it back it sounded extremely monotone. (laughs) Even though we had went to the trouble of hiring a voice actor, it ended up feeling lifeless. It was a real disaster.

We weren’t planning it that way, but it sort of became a small legend. There were rumors that we had done it that way deliberately. Even now, the voice actor has never claimed the work or said “I did this right, how did it turn out this way?!” Well, maybe all this has contributed to Seseri becoming so popular… (laughs)

—Do Cave employees often record voices for the games?

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Seseri’s “kisamara no sonzai…”
line was so popular, Cave used it
to advertise the Espgaluda PS2 release.

Wakabayashi: To be frank, it usually happens for budget reasons. (laughs) Also, when voice actors do it, it can sound too perfect and normal, but when our employees record the voices it sounds kind of awkward, and its funny. Players hear it and think, “this doesn’t sound right,” and its more memorable.

So yeah, we’ve asked everyone but the general affairs department to record voices. In the past we didn’t have many female employees, so we’d steal them away from the other departments and have them record. So we’d often see people write on messageboards online things like “I can’t understand what they’re saying,” but that too is part of the appeal. Using very skilled or famous voice actors can definitely be a selling point, but I think its more fun to hear an amateur with a nasally voice or something.

—Is it difficult to have to come up with things that are “abnormal”?

Wakabayashi: It is! When I submit something thinking “This is great! Perfect!”, I end up getting scolded because its “normal.” That’s Cave for you. And sometimes I think, “Ah, it sounds great like this!!” and they’ll say instead, “you overdid it.” Its impossible to get it just right! There’s no standard or clear line for how far you should go.