Compile STG – 1993 Developer Interview
with president/director Masamitsu “MOO” Niitani
Masamitsu Niitani, president
and founder of Compile.
Compile was founded and spent its first year as a normal software developer. But there was no work for us and we were in trouble… it was then that Sega approached us and asked us to make games for SG series hardware. N-SUB and Safari Hunting… these were Sega’s cartridges #1 and #2, and they gave us #3, called Borderline, to create. I did all the work on it myself, and it was the start of everything for Compile.1 Through Borderline and the MSX game Hussle Chumy, I learned the basics of how to create games.
At that time we were mostly making MSX games, but the MSX actually shares the same VDP chip as Sega’s SG. So just by changing a few basic things in the program, we were able to create a single game and sell it for both Sega and the MSX. Compile’s basic strategy then was limiting ourselves to developing only for sprite-based hardware, so we favored Sega and the MSX. Through that work we ended up meeting and befriending a variety of other game development companies.
The “Disk Station” omnibus concept was a turning point for us, also. After we thought of that we made it the focal point of our developing and growing company.
Our first STG was the 1983 MSX game Devil’s Heaven. It came out right when the MSX and Famicom were released. Sega was just putting out their hardware too. It was during that time that we decided we wanted to make STG games at Compile, so we developed our first: Devil’s Heaven. That led us to Aleste, which in turn led us to Zanac, I suppose.
With the release of Zanac we realized “the world wants games like this,” and we’ve continued making new Zanac games for quite awhile now. However, the circumstances that made the Zanac series viable changed, and we realized we needed to create a new brand: thus we created Aleste. Later we put out Musha Aleste and Dennin Aleste for Megadrive and Mega CD, respectively. People were also asking us to make a STG for the PC Engine, so we did Gunhed and Spriggan. Shortly after we made Super Aleste for the Super Famicom. We created Super Aleste simply because we wanted to make an Aleste game for SFC.
Borderline and Hustle Chumy, two of Compile’s earliest games made for Sega.
Super Aleste 2
As for Super Aleste 2, basically, we’re at the point where we’re about to start development on it. At first we couldn’t decide on a concept for the game. Then we noticed how popular dinosaur and kaijuu (giant monsters) have become recently. I’m thinking something like that would work really well in an Aleste game. We should be able to finish the game within the year, so it’ll probably go on sale around next March. It’ll be Aleste vs. Kaijuu… and it looks like we’ll be able to release it for every system.
There’s one other game I’m thinking about making–I want to bring back that original Compile masterpiece on the SFC. I can’t announce the title yet though.2
STGs aren’t very popular right now, so I think you have no choice but to try and find a catchy concept for your game. A hook, something people will talk about–that’s important. Ultimately, though, I think STGs, as a genre, aren’t very good at generating that kind of buzz. I too felt that our original idea for Super Aleste 2 was kind of weak, but if we use this Aleste vs. Kaijuu theme, who knows, maybe it will become popular enough for us to be able to make a third one. I think it would go some way to re-establishing the SFC as a console with good STGs.
But yeah, you’ve got to to have a hook, theme, or concept. No matter how many times we remake Gradius, it will never generate the kind of buzz and popularity it had in the past.
Many of our games have had a Japanese aesthetic lately, and that came from us thinking about the problem of themes/concepts. When we considered the American market, we thought that Americans would be excited by traditional “Japanese” stuff, so we decided on that aesethetic for Musha Alesete. Then when it came time to make a game for the Mega CD, we wanted to build on all the good reviews that Musha Aleste had received. That was our starting point for Dennin Aleste (Robo Aleste).
We already have plans to create Dennin Aleste 2, also. My idea for our schedule is to create one title in the Aleste series each year, whether its Denin Aleste or “____ Aleste.” I also want to help support the CD game market. But I especially want to see the Aleste series championed on every console.
Compile at the 2001 TCS, promoting Zanac x Zanac.
L-R: producers Takayuki Hirono and Masamitsu Niitani,
and pr rep Naoyuki Sawa. Note the matching Zanac hats.
The Programmer behind Zanac
Aleste and Zanac are made by one of our programmers who loves the STG genre.3 They’re all made to his tastes, and everything in them is the gift of his technical expertise. Although we let the other staff create basic parts of the game, the final cut is always left to him. He’s one of our oldest employees–I think its his 7th year with us now? He’s the brains behind our vertical STG. That’s why if he were to disappear, we couldn’t make any Aleste games. (laughs)
The Compile STG Philosophy
Our current staff is 55 people, working in about 5 or 6 different development groups. We’d like to make arcade STG games too, but in the end it becomes a problem of having too many development groups.
We’ve never intended to to keep making the same game over and over. I think our entire staff shares this feeling. For example, when we make a game we often decide to port it to every system we can. However, something like the creator’s pride or spirit starts to come out, and the ports end up becoming unique games in their own right. In a sense the creators are asserting their own identity. So like I said, everyone at Compile has that feeling that if I create something, I want to do something different from what others have done.
I think what makes our STGs special is, first of all, the fast scrolling. It gives you that sensation of high speed. Even in the MSX days our games were about that speed, as you see in Aleste. Another thing would be the fun weapons, and the thrill of destroying enemies. Those weapon systems in Gunhed (Blazing Lazers) and other games show a kind of unconscious spirit of service to players on behalf of our programmers. During the design of a game, if you think up 10 different power up systems, normally a company will only select one of them. But our programmer will put in all 10! That’s one of the things that we spend a lot of time on in our developments.
I think the reason STG isn’t doing well today is that there aren’t any developers today with that spirit of service, or with the attention to detail that these games need. At Compile we’ve maintained and nurtured a large contingent of staff with personal potential and talent; the same staff that made Zanac also made Super Aleste, after all. But there probably aren’t many people like that in the games industry overall.
MUSHA fanart by pixiv user kawasaking.
For other companies, when it comes time to make a sequel to one of their games, it seems like it’s very common for the staff to be changed. But if you keep making games in the same genre, sooner or later you will become a master at it, right? But other developers don’t have that faith. They think “oh, I still could do something different, I have all this other potential” and they go try their hand at something new. In this world, it’s easy to become a master at something–provided you stick to just that one thing. It seems like no one understands this. Since they don’t understand it, the developers are allowed to do whatever they want, and in the end they produce half-baked games.
So yeah, I think the responsibility for STG being an unpopular genre on the Super Famicom lies entirely with the developers. Especially in the early days of the SFC, with those SFC ports of famous arcade STGs. 4 If things had been different then I don’t think the situation would be so pathetic today. I mean that those developers had no sense of responsibility with the games they were pushing out onto the market. Things weren’t much better with the other companies. They should at least respect the genre, and at the very least make STGs that are more fun. In short, what I want to say to other developers is: why are you flooding the market with such inferior releases? I wish developers like that would just quit altogether. When a new system has just come out, be it the SFC, Megadrive, or PC Engine–it’s imperative that you make games that are going to help cultivate that system’s growth and vitality.