Soldier Blade – 2012 Developer Interview
originally featured in the SB 20th Anniversary Book
Ukiuki Uribo – Creator/Designer/Planner
To tell you the truth, I don’t really like to talk about the past. It’s not one of my strengths. However, encouraged perhaps by the infectious enthusiasm of Hideki Yamaguchi, one of Soldier Blade’s graphic designers (and this book’s editor), I’ve decided to do my part as stakeholder in this past and share what I can remember of those days.
If I cast my mind back to 1992, I believe Soldier Blade started with a conversation about what game we should use for that year’s Caravan Tournament. Nothing had been decided yet. Hikaru Aoyama, our genius programmer who drove an expensive sports car with gull wing doors, suddenly got a bee in his bonnet for this project. For my own part, however, even in the best of times I needed some material to start with, and I had never worked as head designer before… but the biggest problem was the limited amount of time we had to meet the deadline for the caravan event: just 6 months. So I was very hesitant to begin this, if I’m being honest. Nonetheless, decisions were made and we forged ahead despite starting from this unstable footing.
Despite the limitations mentioned by Uribo, Soldier Blade is regarded today as featuring some of the finest graphics to grace the PC Engine. Among STG fans it is generally considered quite easy, but considering the younger Caravan audience Hudson was aiming for, it was probably just right.
I quickly set to work on recruiting members for the development and enlisted the assistance of an amazing person who could unify the designers’ work. It was also at this time when I met Tatsuya “DOH” Doe and Hideki “Ruraboh” Yamaguchi, who would later become the shining stars of the development—though at this point, they were not officially part of the project team yet.
At that time, I was also working on art design and pitching ideas for several Game Boy titles, so my days were spent working on Caravan STG, while my nights were spent on Game Boy development. This continued for awhile. Eventually the Game Boy projects had their deadlines pushed off a ways into the future, and I could finally focus my whole attention on this new STG game.
With both time and memory limitations as our constant foes, I drafted some basic outlines for the stages. There were little to no “planning meetings”, and instead everyone just threw their ideas out on the spot, making it up as we went. That’s how Soldier Blade was built.
As for the game’s title, originally we were going to call it “Sonic Blaster F-92”, after the player ship Tatsuya Doe had designed—but this was another slapdash decision, and not really well-thought out… plus a certain famous developer had already reserved the rights to the name, so we had to abandon that idea. “Soldier Blade” was one of many candidates, and I suppose it expressed our numerous frustrations with Hudson, or perhaps it was just our rebelliousness seeping out. Since this was part of a series it had to have the title “Soldier” in it, but we at least wanted to avoid another “XXXX Soldier” title, and instead decided to put the word Soldier in front.
My regrets about Soldier Blade… well, there’s too many to count. I really wanted to have more variety and diversity in the enemy sprites, but the memory banks were crammed full of data for the player ship and enemy weapons, so that got dropped. We had no time to develop compression routines for all that.
Midway through stage 6, there are missile pods that appear and explode, spraying out bullets and causing the screen to flash white. Those were actually supposed to be homing bullets, but I wasn’t clear enough in the design documents about that detail, so they ended up far lamer than I had intended.
As for the “Bay Wolf” enemies which first appear in stage 1… they may big, but they’re total pushovers, and that was due to another miscommunication on my part. Also, when you defeat Deus Core v3.00, the stage 7 boss, there was supposed to be a cool scene where the screen whites out and you see him in silhouette as he breaks apart, but this too fell victim to the lack of time and memory.
I’m also embarassed by the reinforcement enemies, which are pretty much the saddest “reinforcements” you could imagine… then there’s also just the general lack of cohesion in the design… in any case, writing all this only serves to remind me of my many shortcomings as a developer, and now I just want to go in a hole somewhere and hang my head in shame. In that sense, I can only imagine how disappointed Tatsuya Doe must have felt, given the excellence of his mecha design work.
Originally we were going to include an asteroid belt stage, but that got axed again due to scheduling/memory. It was going to be a stage with diagonal scrolling, a high-speed chase as you pursue your target while dodging asteroids, but this leads you straight into the enemy’s trap, as it was all just a diversion. There would have been enemy troops hiding within the asteroids, and also enemies hiding behind the asteroids to take cover.
Regarding the sound and music, I took the advice of programmer Masaaki Inoue and designer S-guchi-san, and only conveyed my image of the stages to our composers, and (rather conveniently for me) let them do the rest. I did have one selfish request for a medley theme of every stage at the end. Composer Keita Hoshi rose to that challenge.
The caravan mode, in particular, was almost entirely the work of designer Atsushi Kakutani, with only the occasional meddling from me. In any event, we didn’t have enough time, and the memory was insufficient for our ambitions, so even though there were many things left that we wanted to fix or improve… with a mighty heave-ho, we pushed our game out into the world. If I could travel back in time, I would like to go back then and re-do at least some of those lingering regrets…
The concept art Tatsuya Doe created for Soldier Blade is amazing, and of a piece with the great Japanese “mecha designers” of the 80s (a lost art now, perhaps). In this image, Doe shows his idea for a boss battle above the clouds. Note the “mock-up” in-game shot in the bottom right corner (click to expand).
But, at the end of the day, I’m extremely grateful to the hard work of everyone who was involved in this development. The truth is… I actually drafted up, in secret, a whole set of plans for a Soldier Blade II (of course I would have wanted to change the title) on the off-chance it would get made someday. Sadly, that dream never came to pass.
Well, I had meant to make this a very short piece of writing, but in revisiting all those memories I found the old passions welling up in me again, and this ended up being way longer than I thought. So yeah, I hope I’ve written enough for you here Hideki!
Finally, I’ll end by sharing the names of all the bosses, which we had not published officialy.
Stage 1 midboss: “Deus Core Ver1.00”
Stage 1 boss: “Planet Bomber”
Stage 2 midboss: “Guns of Sight”
Stage 2 boss: “Dead End”
For the stage 3 boss, the rear part of the tank is called “Craft Carrier”, while the middle is called “Battle Carrier”, and the front is “Gravity Carrier”.
Stage 4 midboss: Deus Core Ver2.00. The stationary base after that is called “Divine Device”. The boss is named “Fire Elephant”.
For the stage 5 carrier ship, the independent part is called “Specular”… this was a little pun on the trump card game Speculation. The gigantic carrier itself is called “Superior”. The boss is named “Deathintegrate”.
The first midboss of stage 6 is named “Wildcat”. The second midboss is “Prototype”. The boss is named “Panta Rhei”. The meaning is “everything flows” and it’s taken from the ancient greek philosopher Heraclitus. The spinning gold container which houses the central control apparatus (which you encounter before Pantha Rhei appears) is called “Coffin”. After you destroy Panta Rhei, the brain part that escapes is called “Neoteny”.
The stage 7 midboss is “Deus Core Ver3.00”. The OS for PCs at the time was MS-DOS 3.00, so I just lifted it from there. The escape rocket is named “Orbit”. The final boss is “Deus Core v3.30C”.
One last small point: in stage 5, the area with all the rectangular transport ships before the midboss is called “Battery.” It’s named after “battery cages” for chickens, which is something farmers use for egg-laying hens. The ship that comes pick you up at the end we called “Gamosu”, because it looked like a moth to us.
Soldier Blade – Development Secrets
shared by Hideki “rurabou” Yamaguchi in 2011
Soldier Blade was originally being developed as a 6M rom card, but ultimately we had to shave it all down to fit into 4M. At that time, the B-part of the song that plays in the giant battleship stage was majorly re-written, as was the design of the Caravan stage.
In an early version of Soldier Blade, the width of the last boss’ (Deus Core v3.3C) beam rifle attack was much more difficult, and you could only escape it by going to the very top of the screen. Pretty much everyone died on it the first time, so we made it easier.
The boss voice and the “ALERT!” voice was done by the same foreigner who did the voices for Gates of Thunder. He loved Japanese idols, btw, and was a big fan of Wink at the time. (laughs)
It isn’t very widely known, but the packaging art was done by Yuji Kaida, the famous monster illustrator.
At the start of the development, stage 2 was supposed to be the first stage, but management requested that we make the first stage an outer space stage. Adding “Soldier” to the title was also something that sales/management supported, by the way.
The “Bias Drive” (ultra-high speed propulsion system) equipped on the Soldier Blade is described as mankind’s first warp drive, but it actually isn’t a warp drive; it’s more correct to say it manipulates space-time. And if you hear “bias drive” and immediately think of the U.N.S Blasty from Cruise Chaser Blasty… congratulations, you’ve confirmed your age old man.
After we finished Soldier Blade, the same staff started planning a new STG called “Knights of Fights”, but alas, the STG boom had passed, and the project was cancelled.
Someone asked about this earlier, so I’ll answer here: regarding the origins of the Zeograd enemies, we took the letters “ZG” from the hidden point panel “zegu” in Star Soldier… so there’s your connection to the Soldier series!
By the way, my favorite boss in Soldier Blade is Prototype. I did the pixel art for him myself, and he was my idea (including the way his pincher hands extend, the exposed pipes for his joints, etc).
The badge you might have received had you attended the 8th (and last!) Hudson Caravan STG event in 1992! Or perhaps it was only an in-house item, as Hideki Yamaguchi explains: “The emblem badge for Soldier Blade was created by the design staff ourselves, and we paid to have it made by ourselves, too.”