These two short interviews, with Cave devgroup leader (and Toaplan alumni) Toshiaki Tomizawa and composer Manabu Namiki, cover the gameplay and music design of Ketsui. The Namiki portion was sourced from liner notes; the Tomizawa came from the GSLA and was most likely featured in Arcadia. There are no big surprises here, though given the notorious difficulty of Ketsui, it’s interesting to hear Tomizawa go on about attracting “casual” players.

Cave STG History Interviews

Ketsui – 2002 Developer/Composer Interview

with Toshiaki Tomizawa and composer Manabu Namiki

Toshiaki Tomizawa

Ketsui is basically an orthodox STG. Whereas Dodonpachi Daioujou had a more futuristic design, with Ketsui we wanted something a little more realistic and closer to the modern world. We wanted to emphasize the aspects that would appeal to a wider base of casual players, so the idea was to make the world somewhat more recognizable and easier to understand. We wanted people to see the game and immediately be able to understand, “oh, that’s a tank” or “that’s a plane.” Also, graphically speaking, one of our themes was “steel”. Since standard modern weaponry is being used, we wanted that to be realistic too.

As for the bosses, well… they aren’t something you’d actually see in reality, but the way they’re constructed, when you see each part—it feels like it could be real, like that’s how it would actually work. We got really detailed on what the bosses were made of, and how they were put together. One of our designers loves military stuff, so the bosses have a realistic mecha look. As I mentioned, this was also done so that it would be more recognizable to casual players. The danmaku patterns are still intense, though. (laughs)

With Ketsui, we’ve tried to appeal to casual players not by lowering the overall difficulty, but by making the game itself easier to understand, and making sure the first stages allowed you to ease into things. I don’t think that lowering the overall difficulty necessarily makes a game more fun, you see. I think the reason beginners have a hard time getting into STG has more to do with the game system being too hard to understand from the get-go, or there’s too many enemies that kill you instantly before you have any chance to react. We’ve tried hard to devise some ways around those problems in Ketsui.

In short, we want anyone to be able to understand what makes this game fun. It isn’t very friendly to new players if there are complicated gameplay mechanics that they need to understand before they can really enjoy the game. Simple controls, and an easy-to-understand system—that’s where the appeal of Ketsui lies, and to go deeper you need to play it many times.

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The modern military setting of Ketsui, contrasted with the more futuristic Dodonpachi Daioujou.

There are danmaku patterns in Ketsui, but they have a different flow from those in Dodonpachi Daioujou. Ketsui has an overall faster, speedier tempo. As a company, we always have to change such things like the gameplay and the flow, otherwise we would end up with every game being the same, just graphically re-skinned. You can’t fool players; if it’s just a rehash, they’ll pick up on that right away.

As for the title, we wanted something with impact, so we needed a good hook. We didn’t want it to be too extreme or silly sounding… just the right touch of flavoring. You could say all the characters have their own “bonds” (kizuna). But we don’t want the game to throw that right in the players face, it’s more in the background.

When we make a STG game, the most important thing for us is whether the gameplay is fun. For example, as far as graphics go, let’s say we were developing a game in 3D. Even if those 3D graphics were beautiful, if they resulted in the gameplay being less interesting, we would switch to 2D instead. We try to plan the worlds and stories of our games in such a way that they’ll make for a fun vertical STG gameplay experience. However, good characters are important to us too, and to an extent we tried to appeal to casual players with the characters of Ketsui, too.

The real core of our game—that which makes it interesting—is never known to us at the initial planning stage. We decide the general concept and weapons, but the “seasoning” that we ultimately add to the game isn’t something you can really get to until a certain amount of the game is playable, and that’s when we really dive in. This is the key to the way we make STGs at Cave. The work we do at that stage is where we figure out what will be the “special gameplay mechanic” of that individual game. Each Cave STG has its own special flavor, you see, something you come to understand the more you play the game.

Ketsui features some of Cave’s most outstanding danmaku patterns. My personal favorite is the stage 4 boss.

As for the danmaku patterns, our developers spend days on end researching and fine-tuning them, down to the smallest details. It’s about finding the ultimate expression of “the joy of dodging bullets.” If the screen gets too crowded with bullets I’m not sure anyone can dodge them, but the bullets are slower than you might expect, so as long as you stay focused and on top of it, you should be able to manage. That’s the kind of tension we want to maintain, and it’s the result of our programmers laboring over every moment.

It’s really subtle stuff—if we were talking ramen here, it would be like adding a little more salt than usual, or just the right amount of extra soy sauce… that kind of precision. Making all these fine adjustments is very slowgoing, painstaking work, and it doesn’t feel like you’re making much progress, but then, all at once—bam, it suddenly clicks. It’s like you’re wandering across some vast desert in search of a single diamond. (laughs)

Ketsui represents the culmination of all we’ve learned about STG design at Cave, so please look forward to its release!

Manabu Namiki, composer

It all began with an e-mail that alighted upon my inbox: “Namiki, will you write STG music for us?” I wasted no time in contacting Cave, and they handed me a pack of documents with the title “Dodonpachi 3” ! The details e intrigued me further: when I asked what data format we’d be using, they replied, “Mod format.” Huh? Mod? Yes, Dodonpachi Daioujou and Ketsui were composed in .mod format. For the hardcore among you, the exact tools I used were ProTracker for the tracking, with 8 available channels and 8-bit linear resolution. And the waveform memory for all the songs put together had to be less than 2MB. “Eh… I don’t know how I’m going to make this work for Dodonpachi 3″—that thought reoccurred to me day after day, as I experimented and struggled with the limitations. And the schedule left me little room…

“Noisy Town”, Ketsui OST

As with Daioujou, I remember really struggling with the recording in Ketsui. I couldn’t understand any of the documentation, which was all written in Taiwanese. I remember I finished creating all the music data on the PC, where it worked just fine. But when I took it into Cave’s offices to be loaded onto the PCB hardware, there was noise and it sounded off-key… I was puzzled as to why it didn’t play back properly. Still, one great memory I have is working with Cave programmer I-san,1 who improved the sound drivers and fixed various bugs.

I later learned that thanks to I-san’s efforts, they were able to expand the channels from 8 to 16 for Espgaluda. I really envy the Espgaluda composer. In fact, I’d like to go back and re-do Ketsui’s songs with a full 16 tracks. (laughs)

Ketsui was a new game, so unlike Dodonpachi Daioujou which had musical motifs from the first games for me to draw on, with Ketsui I aimed to create new motifs myself. I wanted to use the idea of “repetition”: simple repeating phrases that would form the core of each track. In doing so, I hoped to capture the atmosphere of Ketsui’s near-future, modern war setting. And I thought it would match the stoic gameplay centered around the lock-shot. Also, I wanted the sound, on first impression, to be rough and gritty—I took care not to get carried away with a too delicate or ornate sound like in Daioujou. Overall, I wanted simple, powerful music—music to get you pumped up! So how did I do?

As I have with the previous STGs I’ve scored, I tried again to sync and intertwine the music with the appearance of enemies and other stage events… but I do wish I had had a little more time to work on that.