The R-Type Delta team discusses ship design, the transition from 2D to 3D, and the particularities of balancing difficulty for a console shmup. Koichi Kita went on to be the chief designer for 2004’s R-Type Final.

This interview was found at the GSLA, a Japanese a website that, among other things, preserves game developer interviews from older, now-defunct print sources. The GSLA often redacts the original interviewer questions, so the text ends up reading more like a narrative than an interview.

R-Type Delta in STG Weekly #9
R-Type Strategy Guide (Japanese)
R-Type wiki
R-Type 1987 Interview
R-Type Final Interview

1998 R-Type Delta Developer Interview

Hiroya Kita – Director
Takayasu Itou – Programmer
Koichi Kita – Designer

Project Origins and 3D Challenges

Takayasu: I believe we started development for R-Type Delta after the AOU show, at the time Raystorm was released.

Hiroya: Biohazard had just been released for the Playstation.

Koichi: Polygon STGs really started trickling in once Raystorm had been released.

Hiroya: There was this tacit understanding among the development staff that the “Playstation was superior for 3D,” and it was our first time doing full-scale work with polygons as well. So at first we had all these big ideas, but when we tried actually developing in 3D, we came to realize the limits of it… so in that sense as well, we were surprised at how high quality Raystorm was.

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R-Type in 3D.

Koichi: In 2D games the screen simply scrolls forward, so you can clearly distinguish between what you can and can’t see. But with polygons, the perspective changes.

Takayasu: It would be nice if everything could be fully rendered, but everything would become too slow then. I had to see where I could free up some processing speed.

Hiroya: In addition to those non-game concerns, issues with the 3D perspective came up in the gameplay. R-Type is a game with terrain, but with polygonal terrain its difficult to determine the hitbox and whether you’ll crash into the terrain or not. The Force made it even more difficult. In 2D the Force looked normal in relation to the terrain, but with polygons it looked fake no matter what we did. 3D is, in a certain sense, more realistic, but that very realism has a tendency to expose the illusion of the games. We faced this problem many times. Of course with R-Type Delta we did our best to get around this, but the gameplay ultimately takes precedence.

Ship Design

Hiroya: Increasing the number of ships was something we decided at the planning stage. We wanted the game to have replayability. But just adding a single ship and having two choices was somehow unsatisfying, and we didn’t like it much. But if there were 3, then it would have some relation to “delta” as well, since the symbol for delta is a triangle. Though, actually, we decided on the title Delta after that.

Our concept for the ships was “without changing the R-Type gameplay, do something completely different.” Our first goal was to make it feel like a totally different game whenever you chose a different ship. Rather than having branching stage paths, we felt we could expand the depth of the game by increasing your choices with ships.

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Drawing of the R-9A2 by nikuru

The standard R-9 is the normal ship, the mainstay of the R-Type series. We decided on that one right away, and creating the R-X was also relatively straightforward. But we really got lost on what to do for the third ship. We decided pretty early that it would use some kind of wire type weapon. But it wasn’t the finished product you see today, which can be swung around the ship… at first it was just a straight line extending from the ship. We then came up with the idea of the Force devouring enemies, and it became the ship you see today. We originally intended to make the R-13 with the most hardcore, skilled players in mind. As such we planned for it to be the most different of all the ships from the traditional R-Type design. I had the impression that this an evil ship, being closer to the Bydo organism, and wanted to give it a sinister feeling, so we added the unlucky number 13 to the ship designation. The people working on the story and setting got mad and told me I’d gone to far, to suddenly jump from the R-9 model to the R-13. They said it caused them problems. (laughs)

But the thing that actually gave us the most trouble in practice was the R-X. We couldn’t decide on the lasers that would fire from the Force tentacles. The red and yellow ones we did relatively quickly, but we just couldn’t figure out what to do for the blue laser. We revised it to death, over and over, finally arriving at what you see today. Though it is my favorite weapon, that laser.

Takayasu: I was begging for mercy by the end. (laughs)

Hiroya: You know, I had many other ideas for improvements and changes to the Force’s capabilities that I submitted, but they never got implemented. I wonder how it would have gone if we had tried…?

Koichi: We’d probably still be working on it. (laughs)

Hiroya: We were able to realize most of our plans, but during the development, the RX was like a child in school that kept being held back.

Takayasu: If it weren’t for him things would’ve been easy! (laughs)

Hiroya: Yeah, the R-9 was the basic ship, so we made the stages with it in mind first. Then, in reverse, when we designed the other ships they had to match the stages we had already made, so they were more difficult.

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Model of the R-13.

Koichi: The shape and design of the R-13 is supposed to convey the image of a villain. You could say the R-9 is from the Earth Federation, and the R-13 is from the Republic of Zeon

Hiroya: No, don’t say that! (laughs)

Koichi: For the R-X, we aimed for something new. We wanted it to look neutral, neither good nor bad, in comparison with the other two ships.

Hiroya: That said, in the end it came out looking pretty stylish.

Takayasu: It all turned out ok.

Koichi: Personally, I like the R-13 the most. It has that allure of the villain. And it looks like a Yakuza car or something. (laughs)

On the title “R-Type Delta”

Hiroya: I thought of the title myself. When we petitioned for ideas within the company and by email, no one responded.

Koichi: On the initial planning documents, the title was “R-Type EVE.” Everyone who saw that was like, “seriously?”

Hiroya: The person who wrote that was very serious. (laughs) It was “R-EVE” at first. It came from Hideaki Sena’s novel Parasite Eve. I really liked the combination of the words “parasite” and “eve.” But the “R-EVE” title was really poorly received by the staff. When I asked everyone’s opinions, unsurprisingly they said if the name wasn’t “R-Type” or “R-Type IV” or something similar, no one would recognize it. And R-EVE didn’t sound cool. So if we were going to do a straight, conventional title, it should be “R-Type IV”, but somehow we didn’t want to do something so straightforward.

In the meantime, with the title temporarily set to “R-Type something” in order to placate everyone, I was thinking of new titles. I wanted something that would sum up the previous history with an emphatic full-stop, while also conveying an entirely new sensation. And since it was a full polygon game, I wondered how it would be if the title had some kind of symbol in it. There were various ideas like R-Type ■ (square symbol), R-Type ● (circle symbol). I didn’t want a number, but rather a simple shape with the minimal planes and points necessary to form a polygon. I also knew that a symbol might be fine in a title, but it would be a problem if people didn’t know how to pronounce it, so in the end we settled on a triangle. When I thought of it, it struck me that there were three ships, and the delta symbol suggests the image of a polygon as well, so I sent the whole staff a questionnaire to get their feedback and they all agreed it was good–a very rare moment. But the producer alone objected a little. He thought it would be hard to say, and didn’t have any euphony when spoken. But I said most people wouldn’t pronounce the full title “R-Type Delta”, but would just call it “Delta.” And the delta symbol actually means “4”… in so many ways the title accorded with the project and felt like it was meant to be.

On the difficulty modes

Takayasu: This time we brought back the old Kid’s Mode, and difference between the modes is extreme. Naturally “Human Mode” is the standard difficulty setting. In Kid’s Mode, you always start with the Force even if you die. At first we thought that would be sufficient to make the difficulty easier, but after getting feedback, we realized it was still too hard. Regardless of whether you have the Force or not, there are still tough sections, so we made the enemies weaker, and just kept making things easier, and easier, and easier…

Hiroya: Yeah, so compared with Human mode, Kid’s Mode is far easier. Adjusting the difficulty in STGs is always the most difficult problem for us as developers. With arcades, you can always do multiple location tests to gather data, but the situation with console development is completely different. I’m a person who originally started out making arcade games, but at the arcade, when I put that 100 yen coin in, I become a customer, and I can clearly see things from the perspective of that customer. So we’re always trying to make games with the end users in mind, but for console games, you’re developing and testing the software before there’s been any commitment to purchase it. Even if you ask a person’s opinion about the game and make it according to their wishes, in the end, whether they’ll buy it or not is another story. Just making it easy won’t make them buy it, nor will just making it hard. Discerning the right difficulty level for console games is very tough. If you do make it difficult, you’ve got to keep in mind that it should be a “rewarding difficulty.”

R-Type Delta in STG Weekly #9!

During an interview for a gaming industry magazine, I was asked about the difficulty setting. “Why did you make it this difficult? Is everyone on the Irem development staff really good at STGs?” But that isn’t the case. For STG memorizers, there are certainly a lot of parts you have to memorize, and we tried to make a game where the player can experience the enjoyment of learning while he plays, applying his experience to overcome the challenges we’ve set for him.

Koichi: We kind of hoped that by the first day, players would reach the Awakening stage (stage 6) and stop there. Then, while sleeping, they’d be dreaming about how to get through it. That was the kind of difficulty balance we aimed for.

Hiroya: We tried to balance the recovery sections the same way. With arcades its often said that the more you die, the more money you have to spend to advance, and that kind of balance is ideal from the arcade operator’s perspective. But we’d like to hear from the users who have bought R-Type Delta what they think about the difficulty. In the end, the players’ opinions take precedence. So please send us your thoughts, and don’t hold back. (laughs)