This interview is an in-depth look at the making of Streets of Rage 2 (Bare Knuckle II in Japan) with its designer Ayano Koshiro. Although a veteran of game design whose work has graced classics like Actraiser, Lunar, and Ys, in the West she is still largely unknown except as the sister of famous composer Yuzo Koshiro. In any event, this candid interview serves as an excellent introduction to her own significant contribution to gaming.

This interview appeared on Ancient’s blog as a celebration of the recent 3DS port of Streets of Rage 2. They also shared the planning docs for the game, including much of Ayano Koshiro’s original concept art. I’ve translated a selection of these for your enjoyment here!

SoR2 3DS port interview

Streets of Rage 2 – Developer Interview

with Ayano Koshiro (designer/planner) of Ancient

I. New Characters, New Moves

—Thank you for doing this interview today. To start off, what was your role in the development of Streets of Rage II?

Koshiro: Role? I’d probably say Chief Graphic Designer. Nowadays we’d call it something like “art direction” (deciding the overall look of the game). I also did character designs. I came up with all the special moves and attacks too—in their rough outline/draft form, that is.

—Oh, you did the moves/attacks too? Did the planners give you some general guidance about that?

Koshiro: No, I came up with them first. For setting the actual damage parameters, we had a head planner for that, but the approximate strength of each attack was something I wrote out. You know, like “jump attack does 1 damage, straight jab does 2, heavy jab does 3”, etc. For Max and Sammy, they were new characters, so I consulted with my brother Yuzo Koshiro about them.

—Oh, so you designed Max and Sammy from the ground up?

Koshiro: Yeah.

—It seems strange to me that there was no input from the planners on that…

Koshiro: Yeah, that was just how things were done back then!

url

Ayano Koshiro, circa 1991.

—Right, the graphic design took precedence. A lot of emphasis was placed on that visual impact.

Koshiro: Yeah, that is true, but there was also a certain flow to the fighting that we wanted. I’m sure you’ve played Street Fighter II—my brother and I did too. We liked it so much we bought a cabinet and had it installed in the office at Ancient. My brother and I liked the way they fought in SFII, and between the two of us, a shared vision of the fighting of Streets of Rage 2 arose: two jabs, followed by a straight punch, then some heavy hit, and the enemy goes flying! That kind of flow had to be in there.

We were also asking, “what would be fun for the sequel?” You had Axel, your standard fighter, then Blaze, the speedy character. But there was also Adam in the first game…. but Adam had no real speciality… (laughs) So he was out. (laughs)

—Ah, you were the one responsible for Adam’s disappearance?

Koshiro: Yes, that was me. (laughs) I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but of course I asked Sega for permission first.

—But you were the one who suggested it?

Koshiro: Hmm… I’m not sure. It might not have been me. It probably was more of a simultaneous thing, like, “we don’t really need Adam, do we?” “Nope!”

—That way you could add a more distinct character from Axel and Blaze.

Koshiro: Right, right. Since it was going to be the same amount of work either way, we might as well add someone new. Plus, you always want to do something novel with a sequel, right? The character sprites for SoR2 got bigger, so we wanted them to have more varied attacks and movements. Making a brand new character was just a quicker way to get there.

So Adam had to be put aside. But we did have him appear in the story. We thought, since he’s not here anymore, maybe Axel and Blaze have to go rescue him?

From there we got the idea for his younger brother, Sammy. He was going to be the super-maneuverable, tricky-style character. Using him requires some skill. We designed him as a character who experienced players would want to try.

As for Max…. he’s the power-style. My brother Yuzo loves throw-based characters. You know, the characters who are hard to use, but when you connect, it’s over with just one hit.

That roster seemed like a good balance to us: two standard style characters, and two with quirks.

Once we’d decided on the direction for the characters, their moves came naturally. Axel and Blaze were normal characters, so that went smoothly. We decided on flashy, colorful moves for Sammy. Since Max was the throw-style character, we went for pro-wrestler moves.

I created an index for their moves/attacks, and filled it in one-by-one. Nearly all of their moves were created by me. I had to think of ways to bring variety to their movesets, and I drew a lot of inspiration and nuance from the popular vs. fighting games of the time.

url

Concept art of Blaze, Axel, Max, and Sammy. (click to expand!)

—There’s this one move, where you hold the kick button down and then release it to do a quick double kick. Did you come up with that one too?

Koshiro: Yeah. Stuff like that was usually hashed out in random conversations with the developers. Someone would then code it right there on the spot, and if we liked it, we just went with it. (laughs)

Back then if you had an idea you wanted to try it, you just added it.

—Streets of Rage 2 has a large cast of characters. Who are your favorites, or the most memorable?

Koshiro: Hmm, who indeed? We made so many, I can’t remember them all now. I do remember that in the first Streets of Rage, Sega was saying it was a problem for the overseas market if females were being hit in the game. This time that wasn’t an issue. But I do remember them censoring the image of Mr. X in the final scene. I believe they removed the cigarette he was smoking.

Also, this might not be very related to Streets of Rage, but anything that was connected to religion was always a problem. If a window frame even looked too much like a crucifix, for instance, we’d be asked not to have enemies fight in front of it.

Our ideas for enemies started with how they would move.
Then we would add in different characters—tricky ones, ones with extra life—to fill in the gaps for variety.

—And did you have a favorite of those?

Koshiro: Hmm, maybe the kung fu enemies at the end? The black ones whose attacks are really strong, they’re almost like rivals for the player characters. Everyone loved reading the manga in Weekly Shounen Champion back then. We were into Baki and Kakugo no Susume, fighting comics like that. That stuff had a big influence on Streets of Rage 2… there’s a lot of manga references in there.

II. Working at Ancient

—But weren’t the schedules and deadlines harsh? I heard you only had half a year to work on SoR2?

Koshiro: Yeah, but I think the planning took less than a week. I believe we started it right around the time the first Streets of Rage was finished… so yeah, half a year? Something like that.

—This was Ancient’s first Megadrive game though, wasn’t it? I imagine getting the technical side down must have been very difficult in that timeframe.

Koshiro: Yeah, it worked out ok though. Probably because of the ace programmers we had. (laughs)

—Did they have Megadrive experience?

Koshiro: No, I think it was their first time. The programmers back then who were good were really good. Many of the outside subcontractors who assisted us were also very skilled. Ucchi-san (Kataru Uchimura, the main planner at Ancient from the beginning, who went on to make Story of Thor, Vatlva, and others) also joined the team at that time. Though I don’t think he was an official Ancient employee yet.

Basically I did the art design and planning, but the actual implementation and coding was handed off to others.

urlurl

Enemy concept art, with translated notes! (click to expand!)

—It sounds like you were both Designer and Planner for SoR2.

Koshiro: Yeah, maybe so. I did a lot of the communication with Sega, attending meetings, acting as a go-between, etc.

During the development, it was kind of like, half my time was spent obsessing over vs. fighting games, and half was spent making Streets of Rage 2. The times had changed, and vs. fighting games were the big thing now, so I really wanted to include those elements in SoR2. I wanted it to have that rich variety.

I really wanted to include an expanded versus mode, but we ran out of time and couldn’t do it. I wanted there to be more variety to the moves.

—Without a varied moveset, a versus mode wouldn’t have been very exciting, yeah.

Koshiro: Yeah, I think so too.

—How many employees did Ancient have back then?

Koshiro: Hmm, good question. Permanent employees? Probably just me, my brother, one programmer, and one other person, I think?

We eventually added some more designers, but other than that it was all outside staff, probably 10 people on the development in total? It was 20 years ago so I can’t exactly remember, but probably something like that.

—What was the biggest challenge you set for yourself with SoR2?

Koshiro: Definitely adding those vs. fighting elements. Also, in Super Famicom games you saw all these crazy stages full of creative ideas. How much variety could we jam into these stages? I knew that was going to be a make-or-break thing.

We also added diagonal scrolling to SoR2. I knew I wanted to have something impressive for that first stage.

—I see. What did you come up with? I’m trying to remember stage 1…

Koshiro: We ended up not doing any big trap or stage feature, since it was the first stage, and it would be too sudden. Instead we put that diagonal scrolling section in a little after the opening, to surprise players.

The second stage features the motorcycles, the third stage a pirate ship, and the fourth stage has an alien-theme. The biggest influence on that stage progression was probably the Contra series. Each stage in Contra is like, “whoaa!!”, and gives a sense of a backstory to the game. It’s not conveyed in words, of course, but I think you get a sense of it just from the stage progression.

url

Concept art for the alien stage. While the Alien/Giger influence is
obvious, apparently Contra played a big part in the stage designs.

—Yeah, I didn’t realize this until I saw your planning docs and concept art, but there was supposed to be a story to the events in the stages! Like in places where you were ambushed by enemies, you wrote stuff like “it’s a trap!” I didn’t realize any of that while playing. (laughs)

Koshiro: Yeah, I know, right? (laughs) Streets of Rage 2 was filled with things like that, references to things that my friends and I loved back then. You remember the enemy, Jack? The one with the knife. His palette swap is called Beano. Those names, Jack and Beano, came from this soybean candy we all loved. (laughs)

—That’s absurd. (laughs) Did you also add staff names?

Koshiro: Yeah. We did that in Story of Thor too, it’s sort of a convention. You’ll always find our names in there somewhere.

It would start with everyone sitting around and asking, “ok, who do you want to be?” In Story of Thor one of the programmers said he wanted the mouse to be named after him, and he spent all this extra time and effort on that guy. (laughs)

III. Changes from Streets of Rage

—There’s also a number of elements that were removed from the first Streets of Rage. Which were you involved with? Let’s start with the missing pepper spray!

Koshiro: Ah! Why did we get rid of it? Maybe because it was annoying to use? (laughs)

—Yeah, I guess it wasn’t very effective.

Koshiro: We might just have ran out of room? What with the steel pipe, the bat, the knife and the bottle…

—I liked that bottle, especially when you break it.

Koshiro: Yeah, it has the two different ways to attack with it: first an overhand strike, then when it’s broken, a stabbing motion. The steel pipe also had multiple hitboxes—it hits behind you when you brandish it overhead.

—Oh yeah! Who thought of that?

Koshiro: That was something we just figured out as we went. Someone just added the data, then we did a test play of it. You add something, test it, then re-adjust… that kind of process. We all participated in it, and it went really smoothly. It was a quick way to do things and really fun.

We’d all stand around the computer, and someone would suggest, “how about putting the hitbox over there?” Then we’d just directly add it in the editor. (laughs) With the sound added it was hilarious. We were like, “this is it!” (laughs)

url

Translated design notes from Ayano’s files, showing some
of the restrictions that developers had to work within,
especially in light of the American market.

—What happened to the special attack from the first game, with the patrol car and the bazooka?

Koshiro: We had to take that out since we were using diagonal scrolling now. In exchange we gave a dedicated button for the characters’ special attacks.

—I’m guessing you would have removed the patrol car attack anyway though, right?

Koshiro: Yeah, probably. That was something that really stood out to players in the first game. We needed a different way to get out a pinch this time.

—I see. But the new moves aren’t as flashy as the patrol car, don’t you think?

Koshiro: Yes, but I think being able to strategize and decide how to use your special is more fun. Like in a STG game, I like having some special attack that requires thought, instead of just having a bomb that destroys everything.

—It helps distinguish each character too. By the way, were there any incidents during the development that, now that some time has passed, you can talk freely about?

Koshiro: Incidents? I’m sure there were, hmmm… alright, here’s a really dumb one! One time Sega called me, and I got so angry at what they said I started crying. It was towards the end of the development. It probably had something to do with deadlines, or a quality issue. I remember discussing it on the phone while I was crying my eyes out.

—You mean it wasn’t just a few sniffles, but real bawling?

Koshiro: Yeah, I don’t know, I was so furious I was crying like that. But I can’t remember exactly what I was mad about! (laughs)

—But in the end it got resolved?

Koshiro: Yeah. They eventually understood what I was so upset about. I was really that serious about developing this game. I had put so much of my heart into it!

—And what was the most frustrating part of the development? I guess you might have just answered that…

Koshiro: Haha, no, it was all frustrating. (laughs) Probably one of the main things was the quality of the enemy pixel art we got back from the people we outsourced that work to. I had to have them redraw it so many times… somehow what I was saying just wasn’t getting through to them. In the end I had to do it myself.

I retouched a lot of the backgrounds myself too. But I will say that the backgrounds done by Nakai (Nakai Satoshi, known for Gynoug and his illustrations for Culdecept cards) were amazing. Stuff like the area where you’re inside the ship, that atmosphere of pipes and rust… I was amazed at what he pulled off with such a limited color palette!

—Which attack is your favorite, or the most memorable for you?

Koshiro: I like them all. I like Sammy’s moves because they’re all tricky. I like his throw move, for example. And I think his rollerblades and clothes are cool. That reminds me, for Streets of Rage our tradition was to add whatever was popular at the time into the game. Like lambada, Blaze’s hobby. (laughs) And we thought of giving Sammy roller skates at first, but then we heard roller blades were popular now. There was no internet, back then. So we had buy magazines and cut-out ads from them to turn into presentations at meetings and such.

url

Several attacks from Blaze’s moveset.

—I can see how if you were the person who made every move, you’d have an attachment to all of them!

Koshiro: Yeah. The ones that were strange or difficult to use were especially fun to make. Max has a lot of moves where the hitbox is in a weird place. His elbow chop for instance.

—It sounds like that was one that seemed kind of standard when you were creating it, but then turned out to be really fun when you playtested it.

Koshiro: Yeah, it was like that. And the weight of the hits, that feeling of impact, was something we’d all test out and adjust as a team.

—Everyone would?

Koshiro: We’d all gather together around the screen and work on it. While we talked the programmers would add things in on the spot. I think that style of game development leads to the best games. Maybe it was possible because the games were simpler back then… with today’s games, redoing things over and over like that would probably be too expensive.

Another issue is that with today’s game development, you don’t have a clear picture of the entire product while you’re working. Back then, everyone knew the gist of where things were, from the planning docs down to the programming itself.

—What are some of the more interesting or memorable ideas that had to be cut from Streets of Rage 2?

Koshiro: We had about 120% worth of ideas for every stage, and we had to downsize that to about 90%. So there was a lot that got removed.

—What about characters, anything interesting that had to be cut there?

Koshiro: I don’t think so…? It was more like we kept adding things.

—You must have had a lot of memory to work with, then.

Koshiro: Yeah. As long as we had the time to create and draw them, we just kept adding more characters and enemies. If we could add it, we did.

That crying incident with Sega probably had something to do with a deadline, now that I think of it. The deadline they wanted would have meant that all our work would be half-finished and rushed.

—By the way, how old were you then?

Koshiro: 22, I think? Because I remember that Ariga (manga artist Hitoshi Ariga, Ayano Koshiro’s husband. Character designer for Vatlva and other games. Involved in many of Ancient’s developments) was in his teens.

If I recall, we were so short on people then that we had to enlist Tomoharu Saitou (Culdecept creature designer) to help us out. He was working on another project at the time for another company, and as soon as that finished we asked him to help us. He spent everyday slaving over the pixel art, working until late into the night. (laughs)

urlurl

More enemy concept art drawn by Ayano.
With translated design notes (click to expand).

—That sounds sad. (laughs)

Koshiro: But back then that was just how things were. You worked on a game because you wanted to, not because someone made you.

—Doing what you loved.

Koshiro: Exactly. That’s why it would have sounded weird if someone called it a sweatshop company then. I think Ariga actually started working here because at the place he was working, someone had spoken ill of his artwork, so he thought Ancient might be a better fit for him.

—Really?

Koshiro: Yeah. He worked with us because he enjoyed it.

—Another secret to the the success of Streets of Rage 2 was the cheerful voice acting. Do you have any interesting episodes to share about that?

Koshiro: Cheerful, hah. You’d have to ask my brother about that.

—Was the vocal recording done at a different location from the development?

Koshiro: Yeah. It was done here, at our headquarters (the development actually took place in a different location). It was an old house, before the remodeling. I called my friends and some girls I knew and made them yell out Blaze’s lines. (laughs)

—Oh, so those were done by your friends? I thought I read somewhere that Yuzo did them all except a few that he gave to his male friends.

Koshiro: Nope. I know Blaze was different. Although I wasn’t there to see them record it.

—Were you excited once the voices were added, since they add so much energy to the game?

Koshiro: Ah, yeah. But I was actually more happy when the sound fx for the hits got added. All of a sudden everything had a weight behind it. There were also these two popular comics at the time, who had a routine where they’d make funny sounds when they hit each other. Bishii! We loved that, my brother and me. It was funny and there was something satisfying about it. So we really fussed over the sound fx for SoR2.

url

In addition to the soundtrack, Yuzo Koshiro also apparently did
some of the design work. These sketches are for the “Rocky Bear
sailor/boxer enemy. With translated notes (click to expand!)

IV. Developing for the Megadrive

—Streets of Rage 2 was Ancient’s first Megadrive game, but what was your impression of Megadrive development?

Koshiro: Well, I said SoR2 was the first, but technically we did the Game Gear Sonic before that, and developing for the Game Gear wasn’t all that different. The basic specs are different, but the underlying structure is similar (when compared to other systems at least).

—Ah. I believe the number of palettes available, and the processing speed and memory were different. The Megadrive had four 16-color palettes, right? So you could do a max of four different colored versions of the same enemy? I don’t think you actually did that though. Can you talk a little about how you handled the palettes?

Koshiro: We used two for character coloring, and two for the backgrounds. For the first palette, we used the left side of it for gradations of black and white, but this was just our own personal way of doing it. The first palette would be used for the characters, and then the second palette for palette-swapped (different color) enemies.

—So each enemy could only have two different colored versions?

Koshiro: Yeah, I think so?

—The Famicom was famous for always palette swapping enemy sprites.

Koshiro: Well yeah, the Famicom had a ton of palettes available.

url
url

—It sounds like that was hard to do on the Megadrive.

Koshiro: Yeah, it was.

—But I seem to remember certain sprites in SoR2 having more than two different versions? Like the enemy who keeps his back to you? I think there were purple, green, and yellow versions of him. Did you use the stage palettes there?

Koshiro: Ah, probably.

—When you were developing for the Megadrive, what was the one hardware feature you wished for most?

Koshiro: Transparencies!

—Hah, I knew it.

Koshiro: Transparencies. The Super Famicom had those. Luckily the Megadrive could achieve a dithering effect by having the colors of long, thin pixel lines blend into each other. That’s why when we first saw that transparent waterfall in Sonic we were all really impressed. How did he do it? Then when I looked closely it was like, “oh, I see.” (laughs) That waterfall effect in Sonic was so pretty.

—The Megadrive had sprite scaling and rotation, but you wanted transparencies more, eh?

Koshiro: Well, the scaling on the Megadrive, it was a little…

—Hey, the Megadrive CPU was doing its best. (laughs)

Koshiro: Yeah. But the scaling didn’t look that pretty so I didn’t like it much. It would have looked better with vector style lines and graphics, but we weren’t using those.

—You didn’t want more colors? 64 seems small.

Koshiro: We did, but we could manage that. Transparencies on the other hand… (laughs) In any event, the hardware had advanced a lot since the Famicom days in other ways, so we didn’t mind it that much.

—It sounds more like you wanted transparencies because the Super Famicom had them. (laughs)

Koshiro: Yeah. But truth be told, I didn’t like developing for the Super Famicom as much. The pixels were too big. And I didn’t like the coloring as much. I liked the Megadrive more. It just felt cooler. On the Super Famicom things felt… sluggish.

Yuzo Koshiro’s lasting contribution,
the Streets of Rage 2 OST.

—What was your favorite thing about Megadrive development?

Koshiro: The higher pixel resolution. Also, the speed, how snappy everything felt. Programmers have told me there’s not really that much of a speed difference between the two systems, but it just felt faster to me. Almost “lighter.”

—What were some of the Megadrive games of that era that had a strong influence on you?

Koshiro: Mickey Mouse, Sonic 1, The Super Shinobi? I liked the Megadrive games with big sprites that seemed to move more dynamically than in SFC games of that time.

—Was the Super Famicom too slow to handle big sprites?

Koshiro: It wasn’t a processing problem, it had to do with the narrowness of the screen. Because it had less resolution, there wasn’t much room for big sprites, and when you moved them around you’d quickly hit the edge of the screen.

—Ah. I believe the megadrive had 40 vertical rows for sprites, while the Super Famicom had 32, right? If you think about it that way, that’s 20% less space to work with. Even if you draw something the same, things will feel cramped.

Koshiro: Yeah, with the Super Famicom, things get crowded real fast. Whatever, it was good in its own right. (laughs)

—I imagine you must have developed some of your own in-house tricks and techniques for getting the most out of the Megadrive at Ancient. What were some of the most exciting ones?

Koshiro: Hmm.. probably the way we handled palettes? We would use one palette to draw everything. The secret technique was to make very subtle changes to that palette.

V. Imagining Streets of Rage 4

—If someone told you you could have carte blanche to make a Streets of Rage 4, what kind of game would you make?

Koshiro: 4? (laughs)

—Anyway you wanted it. (laughs)

Koshiro: Really? And what if I said I’d make it a puzzle game? (laughs)

—(laughs) Whatever you want.

Koshiro: Well… of course it wouldn’t be a puzzle game! Hmm, I’d probably make something that took advantage of modern hardware and allowed everyone to play together. Like an online multiplayer thing, where you and five of your friends could all swagger down the street like a gang.

—You’d have to make sure they all had the same walking speed! With net games today, someone is always faster and runs ahead.

Koshiro: Yeah, if you went alone you’d get pummeled. It would be like gang fights. Lots of enemies, but lots of player characters.

—Who would the characters be?

Koshiro: Well, one thing is for sure: no moe characters. Just old dudes and tough guys.

—And muscleheads, right?

Koshiro: Oh yes, muscles. Muscles, muscles, and more muscles! (laughs)

—Who exactly would buy this game? (laughs)

Koshiro: Me. (laughs) I think tastes are changing though and more people are getting into this kind of stuff again. These days everything is just little girls and I think people are getting tired of it.

—And I think Streets of Rage fans want that older style.

Koshiro: Yeah, definitely. I don’t think it would fly with little moeblobs.

—Yeah, this is Bare KNUCKLE after all. You fight with your fists!

Koshiro: Yeah, this is no place for teddy bears.

—What about the story?

Koshiro: Maybe they’d have to go rescue Axel. (laughs) I don’t really care what the story would be. Even zombies. (laughs)

—Hardware?

Koshiro: Computer, or 3DS? If it’s on the 3DS we can call it “Minna de Bare Knuckle” (laughs)

urlurl

“Muscles, muscles, and more muscles!”
Click to expand and read Ayano’s notes.

VI. Game Development, Then and Now

—Something sounds… off about that title. (laughs) Ayano, you’ve developed for the Game Gear, Megadrive, Famicom, Super Famicom, PC-9801, MSX, and PC Engine. Which was the most fun to work with?

Koshiro: Hmm, which indeed? The Megadrive was really enjoyable to work with. It had limitations, but it let you do just enough. You don’t want to have too much work to do, after all… (laughs)

—Ah. You’re saying that the Megadrive was your favorite because it was simple enough that you could get a bird’s eye view of the whole development?

Koshiro: Yes! If the hardware can do too much, and you get too ambitious, then you can easily lose sight of the bounds of the project, and people get their hopes way too high.

With new systems like the PS4, once everyone knows they can do amazing 3D modeling, then you’ve got to make something at that level. And I just can’t.

—It sounds like modern development is more irritating, and more exhausting.

Koshiro: Yeah. It ends up feeling like you’re not really working on a “game.”

—Well, of course that’s why they have to divide the labor among a big team.

Koshiro: And when that happens, it’s rare for all the pieces to come back together and add up to a satisfying game. Though when it does happen, those are the games that become legendary.

—Conversely, which hardware was your least favorite to work with?

Koshiro: The PC Engine.

—Why? Because there was no sprite rotation?

Koshiro: Yes. (laughs) That’s all.

—It seems like that would require a lot of memory then. Did it have a lot?

Koshiro: No, not that I remember.

—The PC Engine felt unusual in its time for its arcade quality graphics.

Koshiro: Yeah! People really expected a lot out of it. It had many palettes available too. I found it funny that they used a palette change to switch letters.

urlurl

More concept art from the alien stage, with translated design notes.

—Were there other systems you didn’t like?

Koshiro: Hmm, the Game Gear maybe? Because the screen was so small. (laughs) When the screen scrolled you’d run right into an enemy. (laughs)

—And yet you made Sonic for the Game Gear… that one moves fast! (laughs)

Koshiro: For the colors, too, there were only two palettes. I think it was about on par with the Master System in that regard?

—The impression I get of the Master System is that you could do a lot with it, if you put the effort in.

Koshiro: That’s right. I like systems like that, where the hardware made you work. It forced you to be nimble on your feet and creative with your ideas.

—What was the Famicom like?

Koshiro: Pixel art was always difficult on the Famicom, but the small sprites and limited colors were what people expected: “oh, it’s a Famicom game.” So no one had any big expectations above that.

—And you did MSX development too?

Koshiro: Yeah. The MSX2 version of Ys. Just the art though. In the shop portraits and such I think you can see the influence of The Bard’s Tale, which I was really into at the time. The interplay of light and shadow. I liked how you could use so many colors on the MSX2.

—It’s been 20 years since Streets of Rage 2 came out. What do you think the biggest difference is between game development now and then?

Koshiro: The size of the development staff. (laughs) If the past was like a craftsman’s home-run studio, today it’s more like the auto industry.

—Like a line-assembly factory.

Koshiro: Right. Even though you know what you’re making personally, you don’t have a clear idea how it’s going to be used in the game. I don’t know, I guess the games market has just matured, or grown up.

It’s no longer a thing you can control on your own. (laughs) Back then, a single person’s ideas could change things in a big way. We didn’t think that much about sales and profits, and if we did, it was pretty simplistic, just like “how can we make this look impressive.” Nowadays you have to think about things from a marketing perspective, like can we hit this sales target or not, etc.

—Back then players would buy a game even if it didn’t have all that marketing savvy behind it. The hardware wars were fun to be a part of, too.

Koshiro: Yeah, it was a period of growth for the industry. No matter what you released it felt new. Now it’s difficult to do that… maybe that’s the biggest difference?

But, the world turns, and maybe if we released a new Streets of Rage as an indies title, it would feel fresh and new to young people today.

urlurl

Concept art of the Eagle and Shirataka enemies.
With translated design notes (click to expand).

—This is a related question, but what did you like the most about game development back then?

Koshiro: The fact that we had so much control over everything.

—Yeah, you were more than just a “designer”—you got to have a say in many aspects of the development.

Koshiro: Yeah. And the clients didn’t try to run things or exert undue control over the project. They’d come once a week, play what we had of the game, then talk with us about it. There was no e-mail, so everything had to be done face-to-face. I think in that regard, we understood each other better back then. We could examine the planning docs together, actually point to things in a real hands-on way. That was a good thing I think.

—Yeah, in e-mail it’s often hard to gauge people’s emotions. You think you’ve understood someone, when in fact you haven’t understood them at all.

Koshiro: Another thing I liked back then was the solidarity among the staff. It was very congenial, everyone got along. Nowadays we use Skype, but back then there’d be faxes flying in and out everyday, and we would organize all our materials in filing cabinets on-site.

—That’s impressive—you must have saved many planning and design docs.

Koshiro: Well, we had worked so hard on them. Today all our files are stored on a computer, so they kind of just get ignored and forgotten about afterwards. Then before you know it, no one knows what computer or hard drive they’re on. (laughs)

In those days all our filing was on-site, so we could take things out and look at them immediately. That was nice.

As such all our planning documents were meticulously created. We all worked really hard to add our input to them—you can’t easily revise paper documents, after all.

The team would work late into the night, and even at midnight we’d all go out for food together, and come back and work more. That was really fun. It didn’t feel like work, or like we were being made to do it. We did get fat though. (laughs)

—Yes, the early 20s is a time of great weight gain for many. (laughs) But I can really feel the passion you had back then. A group of young developers in their early 20s, pouring all their youthful energy into their work: laughter, anger, and sometimes tears… and out of that, we got classic games like Streets of Rage 2. Well, shall we end it on that note? Thank you for taking the time today for such a long interview!

Koshiro: You got it. (laughs)

url

The enemy cast, hopefully to be reunited
someday in a (non-moe) Streets of Rage 4…