This interview with Toshinobu Komazawa, CEO of Moss and former graphics designer at Seibu Kaihatsu, was (like this Viper Phase 1 interview) also found in the booklet accompanying the amazing INH Raiden III superplay.

Komazawa worked directly on the original Raiden, but he shares insights into the development of each game in the series, including its revival under MOSS. His comments on the late 80s arcade scene in Japan are especially interesting, too.

Seibu Kaihatsu homepage
INH Raiden III superplay
2006 Viper Phase 1 interview
1997 Seibu Kaihatsu interview

2006 Seibu Kaihatsu / MOSS Developer Interview

Toshinobu Komazawa – MOSS CEO, Seibu Kaihatsu Graphic Designer

—You joined Seibu Kaihatsu as a developer, didn’t you?

Komazawa: That’s right. I’ve continued my longstanding relationship with President Hamazawa of Seibu Kaihatsu, too. I think I began there about 18 years ago… I was 21, and joined Seibu Kaihatsu as a graphic designer. I saw their wanted ad for a CG designer, and I had experience with car design so I applied, had an interview, and was hired.

—What was the first project you worked on after being hired?

Komazawa: Graphics for Empire City. I did the graphics for the cars and garbage cans. At that time Seibu Kaihatsu only had 5 or 6 people working on game development.

—After that, Seibu Kaihatsu released Dynamite Duke, Raiden, and a string of other games. Did you work on those as well?

Komazawa: Yeah, I did.

—If you have any interesting episodes or stories about those games, please share them.

Komazawa: After Empire City we made Dynamite Duke in 1989. At that time, every developer was under the influence of “Major Title”-ism, and planned their games accordingly.

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Dynamite Duke, the hit that never was.

—What do you mean by that?

Komazawa: I mean that everyone was trying to emulate the big hits of the day, games like Street Fighter and Final Fight. Those games used lots of expensive ROMs and other high-tech hardware. It was an era when, following Capcom, every designer started releasing games on high-spec PCBs. Despite being a small developer, Seibu Kaihatsu also started designing such new hardware, heedless of the costs, and the first game we planned and designed for it was Dynamite Duke.

—As a pseudo-3D action fighting game, Dynamite Duke had a fresh, unique feel. The way the big character sprite moved and turned was great.

Komazawa: Yeah. Irrespective of the reception it got, in a certain sense I think it was an epoch-making title. In the end, despite the extravagant costs of producing the PCBs, the game was not a big hit. However, it was actually Dynamite Duke that afforded us the opportunity to begin developing Raiden.

—Really?! Please tell us the details!

Komazawa: Originally we had wanted to do a sequel to Dynamite Duke, another “big” title. But Dynamite Duke didn’t sell as well as we had hoped, so for the health of the company, we weren’t able to do that. The game we planned to make instead was the STG, Raiden.

—Wow… so, Raiden was a deviation from your original plans, something you made because you had no other choice?

Komazawa: That’s right. Because of that, there was a lot of negativity surrounding the decision to develop Raiden. At that time STGs were still relatively inexpensive to produce (and with our budget, it was all we could afford to make). We also needed to recoup some of the costs of making Dynamite Duke. In other words, Raiden was a financial decision for the company, a title we had to make.

—Do you have any interesting episodes from the development of Raiden, then?

Komazawa: As I mentioned, Raiden started with a very negative outlook. However, the STG genre was still the star of the game center at this time, and all of us on the Raiden team gave the development our full effort. We took production notes from the overseas market, and borrowed then-popular games like Twin Cobra (Kyuukyoku Tiger in Japan) for research. The PCB we planned to use for Raiden was far less powerful than Dynamite Duke and other big developer titles, but thankfully the programmers who were working for us were incredibly talented. And I think we were able to make a game on par with the major STGs from other developers.

—What part of the Raiden development did you work on?

Komazawa: Graphics. I did the explosions and other stuff.

—Really?! That’s awesome! The explosions in Raiden are so beautifully animated, they’re praised by fans even today. You must have put a lot of time into them, right?

Komazawa: It’s true, even today when I see that explosion I think it looks great. (laughs) Back then we didn’t have any convenient developer tools that would help us model natural phenomena. You first had to theorize it all in your head: “break apart — white light — red light — light contracts — smoke remains — disappears”. However, with the color capabilities of the PCBs we were using, even after animating it felt really flat. So I had to spend a lot of effort in trial and error: “after the first 3 animation frames, put a momentary pause”, “reduce the explosion animation by 3 frames, increase the smoke animation by 20 frames”… stuff like that. By and by we worked it into the final result you see today.

—I see. Then it’s just as I had thought, Raiden was carefully developed with a lot of time spent on the small details.

Komazawa: It’s hard to imagine in today’s development world, but back then at Seibu Kaihatsu, we were given enormous flexibility with the production schedule thanks to our President Hamada. His philosophy was “the game isn’t complete until it’s a good game.”

It’s no exaggeration to say that because of that environment, we were able to push our weak hardware to the limit in every regard: programming, animation, music. Regardless of whether it did well or not, this was the right stance to have for developing games.

—And how were the sales of Raiden after its release?

Komazawa: Actually, at first it wasn’t making much money, and we were honestly worried. The hardware was underpowered, and there were no flashy graphics or visuals to draw a player in on a casual credit. However, after some time had passed and it had been installed for a month or two, the income started going up. Then more requests from game centers and arcades to purchase the PCB started coming in. Worldwide, we ended up selling about 17,000 units.

—17,000…! It was common knowledge to game fans of the time that Raiden had done well, but that’s a truly impressive number.

Komazawa: Yeah. It wasn’t a hit straight out of the gates, but it gradually made money. It made steady sales for a year.

—It must have been a big success for Seibu Kaihatsu then. How did you feel then?

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Seibu Kaihatsu President
Hitoshi Hamada (circa 2008)

Komazawa: We were very happy. (laughs) All that unsold Dynamite Duke stock… with Raiden we were able to pay off all our debt from that game. It felt like a real comeback, and we were riding high on that feeling. (laughs) Even from a business standpoint, President Hamada thought we had achieved something great.

—If I can ask straightaway: what do you think the secret of Raiden’s success was?

Komazawa: It was, of course, a combination of things: the game design theory of Seibu Kaihatsu, the dedication of the programmers, the efforts of every staff member at Seibu that supported us, the demands of the market at the time, the timing of the release… and a little bit of luck didn’t hurt.

—After that 4 years passed, and Seibu Kaihatsu announced the sequel Raiden II. Were you working on Raiden II during that period?

Komazawa: We had been making progress on the game design and planning. In between we got caught up making Seibu Cup Soccer and Zero Team. During that time we were strengthening the company, but most of all we wanted to make a proper sequel to Raiden. Considering how successful it had been, we didn’t want to rush and put out something half-assed–we were going to spend the time and create a solid, proper sequel.

—And how did the development of Raiden II progress?

Komazawa: I know it sounds impossible today, but of those 4 years, we spent about 1.5 years on the PCB hardware specifications. It was also a time to think about the content of the game. As for what we were thinking about, first and foremost was: “What new weapons shall we add?”

To be honest, we came up with the Vulcan and the Laser in the original Raiden as the result of our thinking about weapons in STGs, and wanting to get to the ultimate basics, removing extraneous or useless weapons. That too was one of our design tenets for Raiden. So naturally, when it came time to think of a new weapon for Raiden II, it wasn’t easy at all. The Plasma Laser was created by one of our programmers, and he really struggled to come up with it.

—I see. But hearing that you took a year to come up with the idea for the Plasma Laser… I’m surprised at that.

Komazawa: Well, there was also the PCB design. We developed it ourselves so it would be perfectly suited for a Raiden sequel, and we spent a ton of time on all the custom chips for it. I remember there were also a bunch of changes and updates made along the way. Even if you exclude this “brainstorming” time, Raiden II still took nearly 3 years to release.

—And I understand that you weren’t involved in the Raiden II development yourself?

Komazawa: That’s right. My involvement in the development ended with Raiden. (laughs) At this time Seibu Kaihatsu had launched a subsidiary development group named “RISE.” Accordingly, my work shifted to an executive and director role there. I worked on the aforementioned Seibu Cop Soccer and other titles, keeping everything humming along. So I’m not directly connected to the development of Raiden II and later games.

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The ad in question. The phrasing
is actually slightly different, but it
directly calls out the “Raiden clones.”

—I understand. After you released Raiden II, you ran a bold ad campaign with the slogan “aryuu wa iranai.” 1 There was also the “All Will Be Revealed” party event you held at the Akasaka hotel. Those were some grand statements!

Komazawa: Well, as everyone probably knows, after we released Raiden a bunch of STGs were released that were called “Raiden Clones”. And it had taken us a while to release a proper sequel, so we wanted to appeal to people with a message that said: the originator is back in town.

As for the ad slogan, that has something of President Hamada’s personality in it. But the truth is, Raiden was such a success for us that it caused a sense of pride and confidence to well up in the entire staff, and the ad reflects that self-awareness.

—And how was Raiden II received by players?

Komazawa: There were some people saying it was very difficult, but overall it got good reviews. The income was really high in the city centers.

However, the original Raiden had been somewhat deified among the game center operators, and many of them were expecting Raiden II to perform exponentially better. In that sense there was a difference of opinion in how well it did, between us as developers and the expectations of the operators.

—Exponentially better? No matter how well it did, I don’t think anything could satisfy that hope. (laughs)

Komazawa: Of course we had heard about what the operators hoped for while Raiden II in development. So we made a series of adjustments to Raiden II, trying out this and that, with the intention of meeting their expectations. As a result, it became an incredibly difficult game, even compared with the other entries in the series. It was necessary to a certain extent that any Raiden sequel would have some boost in difficulty; nevertheless, a trend had now been clearly set for future Raiden games.

—Can you tell us about Raiden DX, which came out only a short 6 months after Raiden II?

Komazawa: Well, as I said, Raiden II ended up being a severely difficult game. It was doing well at game centers in big cities, but at other locations it was having a hard time.

At that time there were about 10,000 game centers in Japan. At Seibu Kaihatsu, our thinking was that whether those game centers be in the city, or in other locations, the income they drew was all the same. Our players were all equal to us. Accordingly, we felt the urgent need to release an updated version of Raiden II; we didn’t want to make a game whose success was dependent on the location of the game center–and that philosophy is still with us today. In other words, Raiden DX wasn’t designed as an original game per se, but was developed more to meet a marketing demand.

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Raiden DX concept art.

—I see. That’s some fascinating history there.

Komazawa: Our main priority with Raiden DX was adding the option to select your difficulty. It was an idea we had warmed up to during the development of Raiden II, but based on the trends in arcade games at the time, some thought it might seem unnatural. And there was no precedent for difficulty selection in other STGs, either, so we didn’t implement it then.

Of course, it wouldn’t do just to add a difficulty selection option and call it a new game, so we added new enemy placements and stages. As such, from our perspective as developers Raiden DX is of course a more polished, finished product than Raiden II. To put it in stronger terms, Raiden DX was the “true” version of Raiden II, incorporating the feedback of the market.

—So a STG with adjustable difficulty was an idea you had in mind for a while, then.

Komazawa: I think it originally came from our consideration of the fact that an arcade game has two sides: on the one hand, it’s the work of a game creator; on the other, it’s a coin-operated product that needs to make money. From the beginning at Seibu Kaihatsu, we didn’t spend undue time conceiving our games as blank canvases for the developer’s ideas or forms of personal expression. On the contrary, we spent a great deal of time trying to raise the quality of the game as a product, asking ourselves questions like: “How can we raise the income on this game? How can we get players to keep playing?” From those repeated exertions, a great many gameplay ideas were born.

—I see. What were some of the other ideas?

Komazawa: Well, in Raiden, for example, the way the game develops… in brief, I think the length of the stages and the tempo of the Raiden games had a big influence on many later STGs.

—Ah, definitely! There were many STGs before Raiden that had extremely lengthy stages.

Komazawa: Our idea was that STG games are firstly games where you fight bosses. If you put a coin in and don’t get to fight the boss, to us it was like paying for a ticket to a fight and being unable to even enter the venue. We asked ourselves, “How can we give beginners an equal chance at fighting the boss?” Our answer was to make the stages shorter. Nowadays the first stage of Raiden also feels rather long, but it was adjusted to what we felt was the best length at the time, based on our stats from the location test. At Seibu Kaihatsu we took great care with matters of income, even if it meant breaking with accepted ideas of game design.

—Hearing this, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the wide appeal of the Raiden series, not to mention its longevity–you can still find Raiden games installed in game centers today in 2006.

Komazawa: On the other hand, Seibu Kaihatsu wasn’t a developer who put out legendary video games like Xevious or, more recently, Tekken. But I think we achieved a very solid level of quality with Raiden, both as a game and as a product. The only explanation for it is the efforts of the staff and the implementation of our theories about game design, as I just described. That was how we excelled then, those were our real strengths.

—Thank you for sharing that. Well, after Raiden DX, Seibu Kaihatsu developed the SPI Board in 1995. You also released a new STG with a brand new title: Viper Phase 1.

Komazawa: At that time a large portion of the staff had changed. It was also the period where Sasaki, Sakai, Saito, and others who later form the team of Raiden III got together. The Viper Phase 1 development had two purposes: first, the Seibu Kaihatsu brand image dictated that we needed to regularly release STG games, and second, the developers wanted to challenged themselves with a style of STG different from the Raiden series.

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The history of Raiden ship design, I through IV.

—Could you explain more about that last part? What do you mean by “a style different from the Raiden series”?

Komazawa: Within Seibu Kaihatsu, the theme for the Raiden series was “realism.” The way enemy ships fly, the way tanks fire, and so on… every enemy and character in that game had a backstory and a realistic reason for being. Over time, it was obvious that this feature of Raiden had begun to feel like it was shackling us. Why not develop a more lighthearted, free-spirited STG? Wouldn’t it be fun to make something with a slightly unrealistic, flashy presentation? So if I had to put it into a single phrase, the development concept for Viper Phase 1 was “free expression.”

—That makes sense, and the word “free” is definitely an apt description for the graphics, music, and atmosphere of Viper Phase 1.

Komazawa: It’s not a title I was personally very involved with, but Sakai and Sasaki did a great job. Some of the graphic artists who had worked on earlier Raiden games also helped out. At the time, I have to admit I didn’t really understand what they were going for. (laughs) But when I look back on Viper Phase 1 now, I can appreciate how different it is from Raiden, and all the “free expression” it’s filled with.

—Moving along, from 1996 to 1998 you released three games in the Raiden Fighters series. What was the concept behind those games?

Komazawa: By this time in STGs, you couldn’t ignore the existence of “scoreplayers,” and the idea of a scoring system dominated the development of Raiden Fighters far more than in our earlier games. The series was headed by T. Saito, who was also the main programmer for Raiden III. The question was, how could we develop an interesting scoring system for the skilled players who had dedicated themselves to the STG genre all these years? How far could we develop the bonus feature idea from the previous games, an idea which had never been fully utilized? Those were the kinds of things we were thinking about with Raiden Fighters. I would say it represented a third pillar we wanted to establish, distinct from both the original Raiden and Viper Phase 1.

—Wow! So from the outset, the Raiden Fighters development was targeting scoreplayers?

Komazawa: That’s correct. The Raiden series took an enormous amount of time and labor to develop. At the same time, we were a game development company, and we couldn’t just stop developing games. So the new strategy was to diversify our STG offerings and be constantly releasing new games. That Raiden Fighters would be a series with a short development time was therefore a prerequisite.

—I see. Raiden Fighters also introduced the ship select concept to the series.

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Toshinobu Komazawa (circa 2012)

Komazawa: Yeah. While our core concept for Raiden Fighters was an appealing scoring system, we didn’t want new players and arcade operators to mistakenly think that the game was aimed a niche audience.

We were also influenced by other STG developers, and we wanted to include a variety of ships you could play as. Originally Raiden Fighters was going to be called “Gundogs.” We only changed the name at the very last minute, when it was decided (for similar reasons of appealing to a wide audience) to crown the game with the Raiden title. It would be the successor to the spirit of Raiden, but with different fighters… so we called it Raiden Fighters. We wanted something that would reach a lot of people and be easy to understand.

—In 1998, Seibu Kaihatsu released its final STG with Raiden Fighters JET. I imagine this is a period of Seibu history that players are quite curious to hear more about.

Komazawa: As everyone knows, the spotlight at the game center had shifted completely from STGs to FTGs. That is to say, STG games just weren’t selling at all then. Making a good game that will satisfy players takes a lot of money, and at a company, that which doesn’t make business cannot be done. Around the same year I too quit Seibu Kaihatsu to begin the work of founding MOSS. But my time at Seibu, from the founding of Raiden to the great success it achieved, was a truly invaluable and good experience. President Hamada wished me well in my new endeavors, and I’m still very grateful to him today.

—After leaving Seibu Kaihatsu, it would be 7 years before Raiden would be revived by MOSS. There are a lot of questions I’d like to ask about this period between the founding of MOSS and the release of Raiden III, but could you start by briefly explaining the history of how MOSS came to be?

Komazawa: The origin of MOSS was the desire to make games that appealed to the current spirit of the age and market–high quality games, but quickly made. Right after we formed MOSS, it was boom of the PlayStation and other next-gen hardware. There was a marked increase in the number of casual players, and you could clearly feel a change in the air: this was a new era for games. Of course we weren’t repudiating our original stance from Raiden, of spending a lot of time to make a high-quality game. But at the same time, we knew projects that spent too much time in development wouldn’t work.

—Were there many ex-Seibu Kaihatsu developers working at MOSS?

Komazawa: I was indebted and grateful to President Hamada, so I didn’t try to lure people away from Seibu Kaihatsu when I founded MOSS. However, several years later, with all my connections with President Hamada, it just naturally happened that a number of ex-Seibu employees joined MOSS.

—Can you list the titles MOSS has worked on?

Komazawa: I think everyone knows our work with Namco, the “Kosodate Quiz My Angel” series and “Derby Quiz My Dream House.” We also worked on Banpresto’s Macross Plus game, and even some medal games. My background is with arcade games, so naturally we focused more on those than console titles. In that sense I think we’re a somewhat specialized software developer.

—You also made several cell phone games, I believe.

Komazawa: That’s right. Such are the necessities of the age.

—There are also been a few original releases by MOSS that have stood out recently, Flip Maze and Azumanga Daiou Puzzle Bobble.

Komazawa: Yeah. Releasing things on your own always carries a bit more risk than doing subcontracted work, but you need to do it to grow the value of the company and expand its horizons. We plan to keep releasing our own games in the future.

—Raiden III was announced in 2004. Can you tell us how this revival of the Raiden series came about?

Komazawa: Well, for one, we were worried that if we didn’t revive the Raiden franchise now, it would never happen. We were very aware that the STG games were part of a waning genre, and that the style that was currently supporting that genre had changed to danmaku.

However, that fear–that Raiden would disappear if we don’t release a new game–was very strong in us. The other motivation was that we had a new hardware system that we believed could help us with the problem of a lengthy development period, which had always been the bottleneck issue with Raiden games. Our plan, therefore, was established with a clear vision: not “I wonder if we can bring Raiden back…” but rather “We will revive Raiden!!!” It was a sense of duty.

Komazawa: Yeah. I had no problem with releasing the older Raiden games for PC, just to keep the name alive. But if that were all we did, it would only be nostalgia. After talking with President Hamada of Seibu Kaihatsu, I came to the conclusion that if we were going to release something with the Raiden name, it needed to be a new game or it would be meaningless. And so we decided to create Raiden III.

—I see. What made you decide on the Type-X hardware for Raiden III?

Komazawa: It was the highest spec’d PCB hardware available in 2004. It also had very good development features, like the security and the functionality of the OS. Of course, whether we’d be able to make a game of comparable quality to original Raiden games, and in a short period, was a separate matter, but in either event, we wanted to convey a new experience to Raiden fans with this hardware.

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Raiden III concept art

—And did the development go smoothly?

Komazawa: The programming for Raiden III was handled by T. Saito of the Raiden Fighters series, and there were no major problems during the development. However, making a 2D shooter on 3D hardware did present certain difficulties… and also, to be frank, Taito had this master plan schedule for the Type X releases. We were using the latest OS and software updates, I can’t deny that it felt like we weren’t given enough time to do all the things we had wanted in Raiden III.

—And what were some of those things?

Komazawa: Well, my idea of a Raiden game includes certain things. We wanted to make the screen scroll left and right with the ship, and there were a lot of other adjustments to the feel of the game and the presentation that we couldn’t do. But within the schedule we were given, we had to make hard choices about what was possible and what was not. As a result, we leveraged ourselves to the max and were able to add new gameplay elements. In that sense I think we presented a finished product, given the constraints.

—The location test for Raiden III was in December 2004. How was the response?

Komazawa: There were some harsh opinions, but overall it was more positive than we expected. As I said, we felt it was a finished product–given the constraints–so the positive response was reassuring to us. I also got a chance to see anew what the fans are looking for in a Raiden game.

—Yeah, being such a long-running series with so many fans, there’s bound to be a lot of different opinions about what a new Raiden game should be. Some will want something for the new generation, others will want something nostalgic.

Komazawa: That’s very true. But as the creators of this product, we can’t ignore the player’s opinions, even the really biting criticism. So in a good sense, those issues in Raiden III will serve as homework and research for the next time.

—After the location test, Raiden III was finally released in March 2005. I heard it has been selling very well?

Komazawa: We’re extremely happy with the sales results so far. I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported us; I’m grateful beyond words. I hope Raiden III will be the first of many pages we’ll turn together in the continuing Raiden series.

—For my final question, I’d like to ask you directly: what does “Raiden” mean to you?

Komazawa: Raiden is a video game, Raiden is a STG, but if I had to sum Raiden up in one word, I’d say it encompasses our “theory” of game design. This is the theory of the original creators, Seibu Kaihatsu President Hamada and myself, but it also includes the spirit of all the staff who have worked on the series since. At MOSS we intend to continue nurturing this “theory”–and it shall be complete when Raiden IV is completed. Please look forward to it! And again, thank you to everyone’s continual support in this new chapter of the Raiden saga.