These two interviews cover the development of Taito’s high-spec ultra-wide shooting game, Darius, and its hotly-anticipated sequel, Darius II; in both interviews, the developers outline their ambitions to wow players with a combination of indomitable audiovisual finesse and hordes of unique, show-stopping bosses, many of which weren’t able to be realized in the original game.

I’ve also translated and appended a scan of the first chapter of the promotional “Darius Story” comic mentioned in the interview, which ran in the April 1986 issue of Gamest – click each image to view at full size.

Darius interview (1987)
Darius Odyssey Zuntata interview (2009)

Darius I&II – 1986/89 Developer Interviews

originally featured in Gamest magazine

Takeki Nakamura – Hardware Engineer
Natsuki Hirosawa – Cabinet Designer
Akira Fujita – Planner
Toru Sugawara – Programmer
Junji Yarita – Designer
Hisayoshi Ogura – Composer
Yasuhiko Tanaka – Sound Design

—To start things off, where did the idea for that 3-screen cabinet come from?

Nakamura: We were already familiar with the technique of using mirrors to visually connect two monitors. I believe one of our older games, Wyvern F-O, used this trick. We surmised that it should be possible to do the same thing with three monitors, so we tried it out. That hardware idea really came first. After we did some tests and saw it was indeed feasible to seamlessly link three screens, then we asked ourselves what kind of game would best fit a 3-screen format.

Fujita: At first we thought we’d link the monitors in a vertical (tate) orientation, or perhaps turn them on their side and stack them vertically (yokotate). But our eyes are laid out horizontally on our face to begin with, so we thought that vision-wise, a horizontal “cinema-scope”-like arrangement would be more effective.

—Where did the idea for the fish battleships come from?

Fujita: That was my idea. Before Darius, I had this idea of making a STG where you would fight a battleship at the end of each stage, and once we decided on the 3-screen setup, I suddenly had an additional insight: since mecha/machine designs have already been used a lot in STGs, using fish could be a really interesting way to spice things up…

Yarita: I worked as a character designer (bosses and enemies) on Darius. I sketched a number of different mecha-fish designs to see what everyone liked, and we went from there.

Fujita: We actually thought up 26 different battleships, and our artists created art and designs for all of them. There was an angelfish design, a moray eel, and some really bizarre crazy ones too. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we ended up whittling it down to only 11 different battleships for the game.

—Yeah, at the AM Show, I believe there were a couple bosses on display who didn’t make it into the final game… a shark, a stingray…

Fujita: There were. They didn’t look very good though, and we ended up dropping the tiger shark and the stingray…

Sugawara: I think we probably left the data for them in the ROM, those two at least.

Hirosawa: I didn’t have any extra time to draw the posters or other promo materials, so we outsourced that work. Unfortunately, characters that ended up getting dropped, like the ammonite and lionfish, got printed on the posters… that’s how they would have been colored too.

Fujita: Green Coronatus was originally supposed to appear as the Zone B boss too.

—Really? The final boss?

Sugawara: He was weaker back then. Even after we decided to make him the Zone W boss, he still just shot straight at you in a really simple pattern. But that meant even a really bad player like myself could beat the game, so I made the decision to change him and make him a lot harder.

Fujita: I made the whale intending for him to be the strongest boss. But I didn’t know we’d make the seahorse that strong!

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From left to right: Hyper Sting, Guard Savage, Big Rajarrn and Mystic Power, bosses who were depicted on promotional material for the original arcade game but are not present in the final product; the versions seen here are from the PC Engine conversion, Super Darius, which brought life to the original team’s scrapped and unfinished boss ideas and boasts a complete suite of 26 bosses.

—I wanted to ask about the sound also… where did the whole “body sonic” idea come from?

Tanaka: Good question, where did that first come from? It was an idea we’d had for awhile, and we’d been looking for something to use it on. We were planning to add body sonic to the F1 racing game Laser Grand Prix, but we dropped it at the last moment. It was just too costly when you added it all up.

With Darius we had some lofty aspirations, and in the beginning all manner of crazy ideas were floated. The Darius development was different from previous Taito developments, in that we had a lot of youthful energy, and younger people were now in the position of team leaders. I think that went a good way towards our accomplishing what we set out to do.

—I really liked the boss music. It totally fits the image of fighting some huge battleship.

Ogura: I basically composed the music. I first wrote 7 different boss themes, trying to give each one a distinct atmosphere. Then I matched each song up afterwards with the boss that it fit best.

—Which song is your personal favorite? We asked our readers, and Cosmic Air Way (the mountain theme) was the top choice.

Ogura: I’m partial to the Van Allen Belt theme

—Yeah, speaking of that stage, those meteor showers really blew me away.

Fujita: Oh yeah?! Meteor showers have long been a popular motif in STGs, in games like Salamander and whatnot. The first meteorite sprites we made for that stage didn’t look very realistic—it looked like chicken nuggets were falling from the sky. (laughs) We knew that wouldn’t do, so we revised them later into the sprites you see today.

—The enemy names in Darius are all really weird.

Fujita: I think many people have noticed it, but they’re people’s names spelled backwards. We used medicine names for the air enemies: holm, roloquin, and so forth. However, about halfway through we ran out of ideas (laughs) and realized we’d wrung all we were gonna get from that approach, so we decided to use the names of people who came to our development planning meetings, spelled backwards. I guess we tried to hide that by adding numbers like “Z17″… I guess stuff like “Bencer” may be ok, but “Niitasasa” (an backwards reading of programmer Sa-sa-ta-ni Hidenori) probably isn’t fooling anyone!

—And yet, it seems like hardly any of our readers noticed that Tiat and Proco were anagrams of “Taito Corp”!

Fujita: Is that so? In any event, in a big development like Darius with so many people (and so many different characters/enemies), if you don’t give them some name or other, then no one will know what to call them!

Ogura: Hey, I didn’t get anything named after me! (laughs)

Tanaka: Yeah, me neither.

Fujita: Well, the sound guys joined later in the development, so the enemy names are weighted more heavily with those who were there from the start.

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Taito’s “body sonic” setup for Darius and Darius II used subwoofers placed under the bench of the sit-down cabinet, as well as a dedicated sub-board located under the 2P seat that handles directional audio and additional sound filtration.

—I imagine on a project as big as Darius, there must have been a lot of struggles to overcome. Can you share some of them?

Ogura: I had to wear multiple hats on this development, so I’d often be in the middle of writing a song, really getting into it, when I’d get interrupted and have to switch to some other task. Then coming back later and trying to pick up the same energy where I left off… I hated that.

Sugawara: I was working on a different project at first too, and they came and got me when they needed more people.

Fujita: In the beginning, I was working on the maps, the power-ups, and more all on my own, which was tough. The power-ups changed during the development too: originally your weapon upgrades were going to be side pods that orbited your ship. They didn’t look good though, so we abandoned the idea.

—With so many different enemies and characters to create, how many people were on the development team?

Tanaka: It really took a lot of people. A single boss might take us 10 days to create… of all the bosses, I think King Fossil had the most people working on it. However, with so many different people working on a character, it made unifying the designs a lot harder.

—Our readers really loved the “Darius Story” comic which we featured in the April issue of Gamest.

Nakamura: Actually, we were planning to use that comic in our promotional ads for Darius, and I gave Yarita some subtle hints towards that end. He finished the illustrations we needed, but alas, he couldn’t get the comic finished in time…

—Ah, so that’s why it made its debut in Gamest, then. How long did it take you to make?

Yarita: It used up my entire New Year’s vacation. (laughs)

—Finally, will there be a sequel to Darius?

Nakamura: We’d like to make one right away. However, compared to a typical game development, Darius has about three times as many sprites and three times as much code, so naturally it takes about three times longer to create. Darius was truly a time-consuming project.

—Do you already have plans drawn up?

Fujita: Geez, should I be telling you this?! But yeah, we do have tentative planning docs now. I think it will be completely different from Darius though. The story has no connections, and the game takes place in a different world.

Nakamura: Management has asked us to have a sequel ready by this summer, but of course that’s impossible. Everything is still up in the air, but I think next January could be possible. Before that, we’ve been thinking about releasing an altered version of Darius, but to be honest, I’m not sure how that will play out either.

—Thank you for your time today!

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From left to right: Yasuhiko Tanaka (Sound Design), Hisayoshi “OGR” Ogura (Composer), Natsuki Hirosawa (Cabinet Designer), Junji Yarita (Designer), Akira Fujita (Planner), Toru Sagawara (Programmer), and Takeki Nakamura (Hardware Engineer)

Darius II – 1989 Developer Interview

taken from the GSLA archive

Hidehiro Fujiwara – Planner
Akira Otsuki – Programmer
Shinji Soyano – Programmer
Tatsuo Nakamura – Programmer
Hisakazu Kato – Designer
Masami Kikuchi – Designer

Fujiwara: With Darius II, we wanted to keep the same basic gameplay system in place, and as much as possible improve further on the attractive sprite art and graphics, which we feel was the biggest selling point of Darius. We added a little visual pizzazz to the front-firing weapon, but basically left the arms and bomb configuration the same. We also released a 2-screen version of Darius II because the original cab took up a lot of space in game centers, so this was our attempt to do something more compact.

Otsuki: Both versions (3-screen and 2-screen) are basically the same. Enemy placement and order, and the amount of power-up capsules are the same. There are a number of subtle differences owing to the screen size being different, though. The 3-screen cab gives you more room to dodge, and to that extent, I think it’s an easier game. Each version uses different hardware too. Because of a problem with the hardware, the items on the 3-screen cab have their vertical movements reversed. You’ll just have to make sure you shoot them in opportune places. (laughs)

Soyano: I remember we weren’t originally planning to use parallax scrolling there at the first boss…

Fujiwara: Right, with that wavering effect. The planning documents called for those kind of flames.

Soyano: At first, we had normal parallax scrolling there, but sometimes there was a bug when you got to the boss that made the backgrounds get all messed up and de-synced. We thought it looked cooled, we so we programmed in a similar-looking wavering effect at the stage 1 boss.

Kato: I tried to design the graphics so that the boundaries of the parallax layers wouldn’t stand out so obviously.

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The “broken” parallax behind Darius II’s first boss. (The most common version of Sagaia, the overseas version of Darius II, features an entirely different background graphic for the opening stage.)

Fujiwara: In the beginning, what is now the Easy difficulty was originally supposed to be Normal, but because players have become too good at STGs, it was causing a problem for the arcade operators. That’s why we shipped it out at B Rank difficulty, at the last minute. And during the location tests, most of the players either went to the above route or the bottom route. Seeing that, we thought we’d make the straight, middle route the easiest.

Kato: To create all the different sprites in Darius, the first thing we did was get everyone together and decide on what overall image we wanted to go with. We had to consider the look of the previous game, and there was also a need to make sure our designs were unified because many different people were working on the sprites. I drew a lot myself too, including some failures. One I specifically remember was the nuclear explosion animation I created… it was this huge mushroom cloud spanning all three screens, but unfortunately it got cut.

Fujiwara: It was amazingly detailed, but it took up too much data.

Kikuchi: All the sprites everyone drew were checked by a third party, and then handed back for corrections. Very few made it without needing any revisions. We also used some of the rejected characters from Darius 1, but we re-drew them for this game. The first stage boss, the Lionfish, for instance, was one design that we had leftover from the previous game.

Fujiwara: Killer Hijia was added at the end of the development. Having him just sit there and fire bullets at you, well, he might as well just be a stationary object… so I tried to do something with more visual impact, and added that second form where he opens up.

Nakamura: That part is cool.

Fujiwara: Driosaum, the moray eel boss, was also kind of boring at first, just flying around the screen. Then I added that behavior where he stops for a second, seems to recognize your ship, and darts at you. That made him much more interesting.

Red Crab does a good job of making the Silver Hawk move all around the screen. Even though Darius is a 3-screen game, I feel like the space you manuever in is still pretty limited, so I wanted to make a boss who allowed you to move around and behind him. As something of a gourmand, I also really wanted to add a crab boss, because crab is delicious. (laughs) The more tasty they are, the bigger hit they’ll be, I figured. I was also the one who pushed for Leadain, the uni (sea urchin) boss, though his attack pattern was created by the sprite designer.

Kikuchi: Yeah, it’s important to have a variety of attacks for the bosses. It’s boring if they just sit there and fire standard bullet patterns at you.

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Darius II’s Bio Strong. Among other changes, the PC Engine CD’s “Mech Bio Strong” sports a radically different design more akin to a R-Type boss.

Fujiwara: The hermit crab boss had a normal shell at first, but it was lacking in impact. I tried a lot of different things to spice it up, and ultimately came up with the idea of using the Yamato battleship for its shell. I think it’s important to not get too stuck in a “programmer” mindset when designing enemies—it’s better to let your imagination run free.

Compared with the bosses, the sprite for the player ship, the Silver Hawk, is quite small. I always felt that was a real shame because the original concept art was so detailed and well-drawn. That’s where the inspiration for the Mother Hawk came from, because I wanted to show the ship design in a bigger format. Also, in our original designs for the Silver Hawk, the top part of the ship could detach and attack enemies. We ended up not including that, so I thought I’d try using it for this boss.

As for Bio Strong, the whole fetus thing was inspired by the space baby from 2001. That’s where those rotating grey slabs come from too, the ones that look like the Monoliths from 2001. Of course, this being the world of Darius, we used a fish egg, not a human fetus, for Bio Strong.

Nakamura: We wanted to make Bio Strong a lot stronger, like a true “final boss”, but I guess he ended up kind of weak.

Kikuchi: There was also one boss we cut, who would have been featured in Zone X… this undulating, semi-transparent Jellyfish. It was going to be humongous, the length of 3 vertical screens.

Fujiwara: Yeah, it was just too big to include, realistically. But we included that message in the ending, “Your fight is not yet over…”, as a kind of hint for players about what might come next. We’d love to make a sequel if the demand from players is there. And thank you to everyone for your continuing support!

“Darius Story” Gamest comic

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