Time Crisis – 1997 Developer Interview
originally featured in The Playstation magazine
Masanori Kato – Project Chief (also chief of Ace Combat 2)
Naoto Kumagai – Programmer
Hiroyuki Onoda – Planner
Mamoru Takahashi – Special Stage Enemy Graphics
Koichiro Maeda – Special Stage Graphics
Takaaki Okuda – Arcade Mode Graphics
—To begin, let’s look at the timeline of the Time Crisis development for Playstation. Am I right in thinking that this project started as a straight port of the arcade version?
Kato: Yeah. We were also told by Namco that they were developing a new, highly accurate lightgun called the “GunCon”, and they wanted us to make something that would take full advantage of it.
—I’d like to ask about the arcade mode first. How much overlap was there between the original arcade development team, and yours?
Kato: None at all. (laughs)
—Does that mean you had to do everything from scratch…?
Kumagai: No, we received the game data and source code… well, the programming language was different so we had to port that, but the original code helped us follow the programming logic.
—What was the hardest part of porting Time Crisis?
Kumagai: Well, speaking as a programmer, games like Tekken and Soul Edge used the Playstation-like System 11 arcade hardware , and while I wouldn’t call those “easy” to port, it’s relatively straightforward. But Time Crisis used Namco’s System 22, which features the most cutting-edge arcade tech, and we faced a lot of obstacles in porting that down to the Playstation… speed, the amount of data, various other things. The Playstation uses CD-ROMs, so the amount of data that you can store in the RAM from a single read of the CD is limited. That restriction vexed us throughout the development.
Onoda: When you create a console port there’s things you’re going to have to cut, and also things that you know must be retained. Besides that, we try to find areas we can improve, while maintaining fidelity to the original, of course. You have to be able to see and delineate those areas. That holds for the graphics, the programming, basic game design issues, really everything…
The Time Crisis PSX development team: Top (L-R): Naoto Kumagai, Hiroyuki Onoda, Masanori Kato. Bottom (L-R): Mamoru Takahashi, Koichiro Maeda, and Takaaki Okuda.
—I’m not sure how to say it without sounding rude, but… would you say porting to the Playstation is somewhat easier work? (laughs)
Onoda: No, it’s not like that. (laughs) The original has too much data to be ported as-is, you see.
Kato: Yeah, it’s especially true for the graphics designers. They have to find ways to trim down the original data, make it lighter, all while making sure there’s no drop in visual quality from the original.
Okuda: Yeah, maintaining that original arcade visual fidelity, that’s the big thing for us. The System 22 and the Playstation have very different hardware features. How do you sort of “fake it” to look good for the home console? That’s the question. So I would say that porting actually involves more detailed-oriented, nitty-gritty work going on under the hood, compared with the original development.
—This is just my impression, but I feel like the difficulty on the Playstation version has been raised a little bit.
Kato: For the console port, we changed it so that when you get a Game Over, you’re sent back to the start of the area. The way we enjoy arcade games and console games is different, I think. With arcade games, it’s all about how much punch you can get out of a single 100-yen coin. But when you buy a home console game, you want it to be something you can enjoy playing for a long time. Time Crisis is a game in which the player needs to find the various “patterns” in order to defeat the enemies; if we let players just credit feed straight to the end in one go, what would be the fun in that? By sending players back a bit after their death, they get to try out different patterns to advance.
Kumagai: The difficulty of the individual enemies, though, is ported over exactly from the original source code. There may be some tiny differences, like the percentile likelihood of a single enemy’s shot hitting you, for instance, but it’s almost an exact port in that regard.
—To change the subject slightly, the Special Stage is unique to the Playstation port. What made you add this?
Kato: Well, first of all, I think it was added out of concern for players whose first experience with Time Crisis would be this Playstation port, and worrying that some of them might be disappointed if it was just a straight port of the arcade gameplay like I mentioned above. Collecting, discovering, and finding stuff is a style of gameplay that’s unique to console games, and we wanted to see if we couldn’t include those elements in a lightgun game too.
The “Kantaris Deal” Special Mission for the Playstation edition of Time Crisis.
—A lot of action games feature things like that. Hidden stages and stuff. I thought maybe it came from there.
Kato: That mechanic of branching stage routes can be found in many games. But I think it’s something very important to the console experience: you know, that feeling of finding something new, of talking about it with your friends. So we felt like if we’re going to make a console game, those “console-friendly” features were probably necessary, even for a lightgun game.
—There’s a lot of fresh, visually interesting stages as well. Like the one where you’re travelling down these dark corridors for a long time, then suddenly a pool appears.
Maeda: At first, the special stages were divided up in a more basic way, according to branches in the story. But being set in a hotel, there’s certain visuals you’re expecting to see, and we figured dividing it up that way (by specific locations) would be more fun for players too. The arcade mode presents a more continuous, unbroken atmosphere. I suppose in that sense, our port actually has more volume to it than the original arcade game! Visual volume, you could say… We want players to feel like, “yeah I went there, oh I went and explored that place too.”
—I think there were some rather drab stages too, though. (laughs)
Maeda: (laughs) There’s nothing as showy as that first Hotel area, yeah. It’s just a lot of dark spaces that look like they’re straight out of some terrorists’ hideout. So I’m afraid we kind of feel the same way ourselves. (laughs)
Kato: “Light” was one of the themes for the graphic artists in this game. “Light” can mean different things… it can include light from the sun, or artificial light from lightbulbs. The arcade version of Time Crisis features more of that outdoors, sun-drenched lighting. So for the special stages our concept was to constrast that with indoor stages featuring more electric lighting. The light that shines from the water in the pool, for instance, and “horizon” lighting effects that illuminate from below.
—Isn’t Time Crisis kind of a macho, sweaty game? (laughs)
Kato: It’s stoic for sure. It’s not something we selected ourselves, but yeah, Time Crisis as well as Ace Combat 2 are both like that.
Maeda: Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Kantaris character. I’ll be happy if she’s popular with the guys… there’s an event where she wears an “appealing” outfit, too. Wait till you see that. (laughs)
Takahashi: She looks like an older lady though. (laughs) I don’t get that “young girl” vibe from her, she’s drawn more like someone older in her 30s.
Maeda: Her age is not disclosed. (laughs)
It’s easy to see the influence of Die Hard and other classic action movies on Time Crisis, though the developers suggest it wasn’t a direct cribbing.
—Time Crisis kind of has an action-movie vibe, it reminds me of Die Hard a bit.
Kato: There are things we learned from western action movies, to be sure. You’ve got to have stuff that conveys that kind of visceral impact if you’re going to leave players satisfied.
Onoda: Well, I wouldn’t say we were especially conscious of it, but yeah, it does have that vibe. Though the reason we included the Hotel special stage was more because we didn’t want to overlap with the original version’s “old castle” mood, where everything is constructed out of stone. We also asked, what kind of indoor structure would allow us to insert a bunch of hidden stuff… and a hotel fit that perfectly, it would be fun to explore all the different rooms.
—Are there any things you really want players to see, or parts you feel are especially fun?
Maeda: I don’t know, I mean, we worked hard on everything. (laughs) So I want them to see all of it. Anyone should be able to clear the first stage, but once you get better, you’ll be able to choose more varied routes. There will be stages that are initially too hard for you, but I want players to eventually see those too.
Takahashi: The special stages have really long boss fights. They’re mostly one-on-one, without many underlings joining in. That was something we programmers and planners had wanted to add: serious, 1v1 boss fights. Many of the bosses have strange movement patterns too.
—That final robot boss, Antlion, moves in a really freaky way.
Takahashi: Yeah, when he stands up despite being on those tank treads… (laughs) That little gimmick originally came from the planner responsible for the bosses… it’s kind of amazing. He prioritized the impact of the visuals, you could say. Tricky movements which try to deceive the player—I think that became the central focus of Time Crisis’ gameplay.
—There’s also a charming “B-movie” quality to bosses like Web Spinner (the boomerang midboss guy), which I personally love. (laughs)
Takahashi: The entire game has that vibe, doesn’t it? “Let’s make the most awesome B-movie game ever”, we said. (laughs)
Kumagai: The people who really suffered from those plans were the programmers though. If you want tricky, clever movement patterns, it’s something that’s got to be crafted carefully from the get-go.