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Yagawa, as drawn
by Wakabayashi.

Shinobu Yagawa

Arcade Group Technical Leader

Central Works
Ibara
Pink Sweets
Muchi Muchi Pork!
Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu Black Label
Espgaluda II Black Label (360 version)

Primarily works as the main programmer.

—What kind of work does a main programmer do?

Ikeda (who was sitting beside him): Our work, as the name suggests, is the game programming that ties everything together. Within that, the work is divided into two types, with one group handling requests to “program such and such a section” and another group that actually does the main core programming.

Yagawa: My job as main programmer is to create the game.

Ikeda: That’s a vague response. (laughs)

Yagawa: Not it isn’t. Its right on.

—To your fans you are also known by the initials “YGW.” Was this a name you used in response to Ikeda’s “IKD”?

Yagawa: No, it was nothing like that. (laughs) I also didn’t make that name, the players just chose to call me it on their own.

Ikeda: In my case, it was also to hide my name, but if you look at the staff roll it all comes out anyway. (laughs)

—It seems programming is very important work–the heart of the game.

Yagawa: I don’t think its the heart of the game. Its merely one part that makes up a game. I definitely think its important, but the graphics and sound are both equally important. However you look at it, the total design and the properly adjusted balance are the most important things when creating a game. That is the thing that decides whether a game is interesting or not.

—Is an evolving difficulty system (rank) the hallmark of the “Yagawa style” ?

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Recca, one of Yagawa’s non-rank games.

Yagawa: People often say that, but I think its an exaggeration. I’ve also done games without rank, after all. But its certainly the case that my arcade games have that feature. Its not because of some particular insistence on my part, but rather because income at the arcades is equivalent with the amount of time one spends playing. It sounds bad, but it was one of my methods for increasing income for arcade operators.

—In doing so, the difference between skilled and poor players really becomes apparent.

Yagawa: Well, that’s why skilled players spend a lot of money. (laughs) On the other hand, if you practice a game, and despite getting better you don’t get to play for very long, I don’t think you would want to keep playing. Personally, I’ve always liked shooting games, and I think being able to play longer and longer as you improve at the game is enjoyable. If you spend all this time improving at a game, only to have it gradually end more and more quickly, then I don’t think its very fun and it won’t be played.

—Does your own level of skill affect how you adjust the difficulty in a game?

Yagawa: I’m not really playing shooting games like this anymore, but in the past I think I was pretty good. (laughs) Naturally, when you make a game you test play it, and I think there ends up being a relationship between the programmer’s skill and the skill required by the game. Though I’m not sure if that’s apparent to other people. Actually, among programmers, there are plenty of people who aren’t very skilled, and when those people are forced to make a “difficult stage”, they unfortunately have to rely on their imaginations to create it. If you don’t understand how to make something difficult interesting, it ends up being guesswork. There is such a thing as “interesting difficulty”, and when programmers tried to just guess what that was, it never turned out very good. I don’t have much fun when I play games that are said to be “for beginners”… even though I’m not that good anymore. (laughs) When I was really into it I would finish simple games very quickly. If there were something after the first loop it would be fine, but if not, it would stop being interesting and I’d stop playing there. If the game doesn’t have something past the first loop, or something else about it I can sink my teeth into, then I probably won’t play it.

—You said you aren’t playing games anymore, but does that mean you aren’t going to the game center, either?

Yagawa: Not too often, but I still go from time to time. I don’t go to do market research or for anything related to work… just to play. Though if I had fun playing something I have ended up remembering it for future reference. But I never go to the game center for the purpose of doing research like that. Lately I don’t play any games other than shooting there. When I was going to the game center often, I liked versus fighting games as well.

—What do you play at the game center now then?

Yagawa: Shooting. (laughs)

—Do you play Muchi Muchi Pork, your own creation?!

Yagawa: No, as you’d expect, I don’t play that now. (laughs) I play what we now call “retro” games, I guess. When I happen to see old shooting games there I get nostalgic and end up playing them. Sometimes there are games that I was obsessed with back in the day, but when I play them now… I can’t believe how boring they are! I wonder why I loved this so much? Why did I spend so much money on this? …alone in the game center, I ponder these things. I certainly thought they were interesting at the time. Games themselves are gradually able to do more and more interesting things, but old games must always remain old games, just as they are.

I only stop by the game center on occasion, so the lineup is always changing and there’s no game I’m really into right now. And I can’t tell you what I’ve actually been playing or it will reveal the identity of the game center I go to. (laughs) If that happens, like it has with Ikeda, it will be difficult for me to go play there. Everyone knows Ikeda’s face, so when he goes to the game center he’s always approached by a bunch of people. He should try wearing a disguise or something…

Ikeda: I don’t want to go that badly. (laughs)

—Do you feel like the shooting games you made are the best?

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Gun Frontier, a favorite of Yagawa’s
and inspiration for Battle Garegga.

Yagawa: That’s not entirely untrue. (laughs) But if I said Battle Garegga, I’d sound like a weirdo. (laughs) For people who like shooting games or are interested in them and want to have a lighter experience, Armed Police Batrider is preferred, whereas Battle Garegga is more for when you want a disciplined, focused experience. Also, people often say this on the internet, but Gun Frontier… I’ve pretty much fully exhausted it now, but its the game I played the most. Hmm… I’ve played so many games.. I can’t remember the titles! Ah, its not shooting, but I liked Samurai Spirits. But I didn’t play Street Fighter II. By the time I thought I’d play it, I had missed the boat, and just kept getting destroyed. (laughs)

—Since you love games so much, you must have a lot of hardware?!

Yagawa: I don’t own any. There isn’t a single console set up at my house. The last ones I purchased were the Sega Saturn and the Playstation. I’m glad I bought the Saturn, but I only own one game for it. (laughs) That game, by the way, is Virtual Fighter. But since then I haven’t bought a single game… as for my Playstation, I lent it to someone, I wonder where it went. As you can see from the state of my Saturn, there aren’t any recent games I’ve wanted to play, so I don’t own any consoles. Speaking of shooting games only, the Saturn had a lot of arcade perfect ports. But I’d rather go to the game center or buy the pcb. I have about 150 pcbs of shooting games alone. So if something is an original game I’d buy it, but I won’t buy ports.

—You own that many pcbs?!

Yagawa: Yeah, and its definitely inconvenient owning this many. (laughs) I have no place to put them all. Many of them were bought for cheaper than you’d buy a new console game today. I don’t have many in my bedroom, I keep them in a separate location…

—Why don’t you open a game center?

Yagawa: Everyone says that. (laughs) Opening a game center now would be a big gamble. I’m can’t spend the rest of my life that way! (laughs)

—How about this… you could sell cheap candy to little kids and have each credit cost a mere 10 yen!

Yagawa: Any way you look at it, it’d be bankruptcy! And I’m bad with kids to begin with! Do you know how much the electricity and the rent alone would cost… if I could make a profit I’d do it, but its clearly an unwinnable fight. (laughs) If you don’t have something other than games there, its really tough.

—Well, how about having “Yagawa’s Shooting 101” classes held there, too?

Yagawa: There are many people more skilled and qualified than myself to host such a class. And I’m not even that good in the first place. (laughs) Now if we had some cute girls teaching it, we might get somewhere. Though if it were packed with shooting-loving young men, it might be a little… (laughs) So I’m sorry, but I won’t open a game center!

—It seems that if you could get more women who play games to come to the game center, then you’d naturally have more men come, too.

Yagawa: Yeah, there’s always been very few women. To relieve stress, it may be that people prefer music games and fighting games to shooting games. You know, when you play a shooting game, you actually get more stressed out. When you can say you love shooting games, I get the sense you’re no longer a normal person. (laughs) And of course I include myself in that. Everyone around me who likes shooting is a weirdo.

—That means the people at Cave must also be full of weirdos too, then?

Yagawa: If we’re talking about the development team… well, I can’t deny it. (laughs) There are definite boundaries in our office… there’s “over there” (the other departments) and “over here” (development), and the atmosphere is very different between us. Its like “normal people” and “strange people.” When an inspector visited our offices, he said something like “The game development division is the most dirty.” He said there were monitors strewn across the floor. (laughs) Even I wonder why they’re on the floor? Its not like you normally play games with a monitor on the floor, right?

In the midst of all that disorganization, my workspace is actually the clean one, I think. (laughs) You can clearly see the top of the desk, and there are no weird figures decorating it either. Even Ikeda has all these weird Tarako figures on his desk.

Ikeda: Tarako Kyuupii figures. For some reason everyone gives them to me. (laughs)

Yagawa: I don’t really have any hobby items that I collect like that.

—It seems like collecting pcbs exclusively would qualify? (laughs)

Yagawa: But they’re too expensive now, so I don’t buy them anymore. And its a pain finding a place to store them all, and I don’t have free time to play them at home anyway.

—Wouldn’t playing on your cell phone be convenient then? You could play it anywhere.

Yagawa: By the time cell phone games had become popular, I had already mostly lost my interest. (laughs) The screen size is also too small. The controls can’t be very complicated for them, and the response is bad… that’s the deathblow for me. I’ve played shooting games on them, and to be honest, it wasn’t very interesting. So I’m not interested in the PSP or DS either. Ah, I do own a DS though. I bought it only to play “Gundam Mahjong.” (laughs)

—Ah hah, you do own a game console!

Yagawa: I actually own Mario for it too, but I had my fill by the second level and threw it down, “I’m done, I’m not doing this!” Long ago, Mario was popular on the Famicom and I have fond memories of it so I bought the DS version. I thought it was cool at first, but I couldn’t take it after awhile… I personally have no interest in making games for a system with a small screen like the DS or PSP. So when people say, but can’t it be fun even with a small screen? For me, no. (laughs)

—Yagawa, you should apply your powers to make it interesting!

Yagawa: Nothing I or anyone can do will make that screen bigger! You know, its not that I have a particular fixation with arcade hardware and games, but it does seem that if you don’t release a shooting game in the arcade first it won’t sell well.

—Do you have any preferences for platforms to develop on?

Yagawa: Not personally, but it is true that if you suddenly release a shooting game for a console system it won’t sell well. Outside of that business perspective, I don’t have any particular preferences. I do rather like older hardware though. I like the challenge of “doing the impossible” with older hardware, and pushing it as far as it can go. Hardware today is too powerful, and the threshold for someone to make a game has really gone down. With graphics too, even a relative amateur can pump stuff out. In the past you couldn’t just start doing pixel art right away, and with programming as well, it used to be that you had to learn assembler first.

Now with the PC and other development tools being so powerful, anyone, even untalented people, can just go ahead and make a game. So that’s all the more reason for me to want to work with hardware around the same level as Cave’s current hardware.

—We’re in the 3D era now.

Yagawa: 2D is the foundation of shooting games, and there are almost no 3D games. Of all that I’ve tried, I’ve played very few 3D shooting games that were interesting. Graphically I think they are interesting, but its very difficult to tell whether a bullet will hit you or not.

Ikeda: Today the arcade market of the game industry has really shrunk, and the focus is on consoles and the overseas market. Overseas fans know shooting games as 3D FPS games. That type is the focus of the market, but our speciality is 2D shooting… that doesn’t mean we aren’t targeting the overseas market, but its a fact that its a woefully small market for us. Well, the truth is its always been that way… (laughs)

—Do you think shooting game fans themselves are changing?

Ikeda: They might not be decreasing, but they aren’t really increasing either. Though I think we gained a new class of players with the console version of Deathsmiles.

—It seems like more than the games, there are people who became fans because they like the characters.

Yagawa: I think its a good thing for characters to become popular, but personally I have no interest in characters, I don’t care either way. (laughs) I don’t need them! Or rather, I don’t care if they’re there, but they aren’t necessary to make a good game. Though from a business perspective, I’m not sure. (laughs)

—Do you think there is a trend in making games easier, not only in the shooting genre?

Yagawa: I don’t really pay much attention to that… though maybe that’s why people say my games are difficult. (laughs) In the past it was normal to play and the memorize parts, or to watch someone else play and memorize what they did. Well, even back then, there was definitely a trend with making games easier, though I didn’t want them to. (laughs) I think its natural that players should actively work at things themselves.

To say it somewhat negatively, I make games for myself, and if I think its good then its fine, and this goes for difficulty settings as well. So I don’t give much concern to what fans will think. It isn’t that I don’t hear others opinions, but that I listen to and reflect on them, but to what degree I incorporate their ideas is up to me.

—Does that mean you often fight with others at Cave?

Yagawa: It does! Actually, the only one I’ve clashed with till now is Cave itself. Its not Ikeda that I’ve fought with… its a little a hard to explain. (laughs) When I talk with Ikeda, its an exchange of opinions. But… we don’t fight, since I too am just an employee. (laughs) I have a friend who likes shooting games and wants to make them, but he says he couldn’t handle an office, and not being able to make what he wanted. And that’s definitely how things are normally, I think. So those are the people who start their own company. However, I’m not really like that, and I can’t do that. (laughs) I can’t support so many people like that. Seeing how difficult everyone here is, I think its a real feat to be able to do that.

—Is there anything you’d like to put on the record for Cave’s 16th anniversary?

Yagawa: Give me a raise. (laughs) Also, please give me more vacation time. And put some air conditioning or something in here! I know these are rather plain things, but they’re important. With all this hardware on all the time, it gets excruciatingly hot depending on where you sit. People are always fighting over whether to turn the air conditioner on or off!

Ikeda: Well, let’s change your seat then.

Yagawa: Also, please move the office closer to my house!

Ikeda: That’s not possible.

Yagawa: It used to be at Kagurazaka, but now since moving to Shinjuku Gyouen its gotten even farther for me. I want them to build a tunnel from my house to the office.

Ikeda: That is also not possible.

Yagawa: But even when I’m busy, I never sleep over at the office, since the next day I’m just going to have to come in again. Even if it takes a little time, its better to go home I think. So please move the office closer to my house.

Ikeda: Impossible. (laughs)

—What kind of shooting games will you make in the future?

Yagawa: Well.. I don’t think I’ll make any more. (laughs) I don’t actually know for sure, but I do have my ideal project, which is to make something that I think is interesting.

But I’m not sure how well that would be received. Its like what I said above, about how the games I used to play back then aren’t interesting to me anymore. There used to be a lot of games that were challenging, but that if you memorized them enough you could make progress. These were fun games in their day. But if you play those games today, they feel more like work, and quickly become dull. 10 years from now, if things continue like this, commercial shooting games will probably disappear, and only doujins made by dedicated fans will remain. Its certain to be difficult, but I don’t think shooting fans will ever disappear, as shooting games are easier than others to create on your own. Also, with PC development now, the things needed to start creating a game are more available, and in that regard shooting will not disappear, I think. I also want to do more events like the Cave Matsuri to promote shooting games.

Ikeda: I really want to have more interaction with our players at those kinds of events, to strengthen the bond between the players and the creators. Right now it just feels like a place where we sell things, but I think it would be good to do other things.

—Please give a final message to Cave fans!

Yagawa: I am very grateful. But… I wish you had spent more money on our games. (laughs) Also, regarding pirated copies that people have been talking about lately… if you don’t buy the game, there will be fewer and fewer people making them.

Arcades are also fading away, you know. Speaking of that, if Cave opens their own arcade, I’ll lend them my PCBs.

Ikeda: But, those aren’t Cave games! (laughs)

Yagawa: Well, I have V-V, so it should be alright.

Ikeda: Please don’t touch that one…