19XX – Developer Interviews and DevDiary
These interviews with the composers and developers of Capcom’s famous arcade shmup 19XX were sourced from the liner notes of the official ost and the secret file. The interviews include a track-by-track commentary for the stage bgm, as well as design details and anecdotes from the other programmers and planners. Finally, I’ve also included a funny development diary, full of the usual grumbling about crazy deadlines and crunch time.
Shun Nishigaki – Composer
Hello everyone, this is composer Shun. I’ve been asked to add a commentary to the music for each of these missions; what I wrote gets a little musically technical in places, but if you can get the gist of my image for these songs and the direction I wanted to take them in, I’ll be satisfied. I put a great deal of effort into the non-stage music too, such as the player select BGM. If you listen close, you can hear in the backing synth the same rhythm from 1942.
Also, the marching drum beat in the Map Display BGM—that’s actually something I studied in my grade school days, and I had the idea of including it somewhere here. In addition, for every song, I really focused on the bass: both the sequencing itself and the texture/programming of the patches. I worked hard to make every song on here enjoyable to listen to.
By the way, which is your favorite stage BGM? Mine is Mission 2!
Tatsuro Suzuki – Composer
After I got chosen to write the music for 19XX and I saw the game footage for the first time, my simple reaction was “Damn! Now this feels like flying!” I was really struck by the creativity of the background graphics and all the different scenes and locales you fly through. It was with those feelings in mind that I started composing; I wanted to make music that would let the player get lost in the world they’d created.
In fact, I spent a lot of time trying to make the music match up with what was happening on-screen in the stages, like in the Ayako Special fight or the latter half of Mission 3. And in the second half of Mission 5, there’s a musical phrase that the guitar, bass, and trumpet all repeat in unison. I was trying to add tension to the scene and get the player all fired up.
Well, those were my intentions… how did I do? If you got immersed in the joy of flying, then I feel very honored.
Hiroaki Kondo – Sound Designer
Hello! Hiroaki here. I handled the sound design for 19XX. Finally, the beloved 19-series gets the QSound treatment. This game is meant to be more of a standalone “side story” to the original series, but I still intended for the sound design to match the general mood of the other games.
Well, for these liner notes, in addition to a little self-introduction, I thought I’d take the time to share with everyone what it is that a sound designer actually does!
I’m sure many people are wondering, “what is ‘sound design’, exactly?” To sum it up briefly, it’s simply creating all the sounds that you hear in the game. You have to look at every scene and moment in the game and find what sound will fit best there. That might involve adjusting the timing of the sounds to match the particular graphics, or swapping out the individual sound itself… and sometimes, it entails changing an actual mechanic in the game system.
I don’t want players to hear a sound and think, “huh? what was that just now? that was weird.” No, I want them to think “Whoaa! That sounded awesome!” And sometimes the goal is to surprise or shock. Basically, I always have to be thinking about the impact the sounds will bring to each scene. Being a sound designer is about finding that perfect accord and synchronicity between the gameplay, the graphics, and the sounds.
A central mechanic of 19XX is the Marker Missile System, which involves charging your shot, locking onto an enemy, and then unleashing a barrage of rapid fire. Finding the right sounds for these different parts became the most important thing for me during this development. The charge sound needed to make you feel like your ship was full to the brim with energy. Then the missile you release, when it hits an enemy, it needed a satisfying “gotcha!” kind of sound. It also had to be something your ear could recognize, a kind of signal: fire, fire, fire! Blowing stuff up is pretty much the bread and butter of STG games, and it really elevates a game to have that sensation of destruction be something your ears can enjoy, too!
Stage BGM Commentary
Mission 1 – A bit of blue sky between the clouds
The super fast guitar picking in the very beginning here is meant to sync up and tie into the opening scene for 19XX. Then that whole-note melody opens up, capturing both the vastness of the blue pacific beneath you and the open sky above. For that melody, I spent a lot of time getting the right backing bass and drum sound to bring it to life. (Shun)
Mission 2 – The red naval port
I wanted this to have a cinematic feel, full of weight and tension, and I also tried to evoke the rich color of copper. The african cowbell at the start of the song, and the slap bass that’s always leaning on that beat… those two elements give the song a nice weight. (Shun)
Mission 3 – Dance of green gnome
Moving away from the man-made, artificial environments of the naval port, you enter a stage of nature. I tried to evoke the scent of soil and trees with conga, bongo, tambourine, and pandeiro. The bagpipe on top adds an unexpected timbre, giving the melody a “native” feel. (Shun)
Mission 4 – Silver ice sheet
I used vox and synth strings patches for chord backings to capture the glacial, icy image of this stage. The first half of the song features a 3/4 waltz beat, with the snare falling on the 2nd beat. Then, in the latter half of the song, I put the snare on the 3rd beat, a simple trick to pick up the excitement. But overall, I went for a cool, laid-back vibe. (Shun)
Mission 5 – City light in the black strait
For this one I thought I’d go for a jazz feel. After the little intro ends, a beautiful night scene spreads out beneath you, then as you dive down that wood bass starts to sing, and a 4-beat rythym keeps time as you chase the steam train. That’s how I organized it in my mind when I was writing, at least. Anyway, please pay attention to that wood bass! (Tatsuro)
Mission 6 – Glayish tornado
This starts with a slow, winding 6/8 beat, but by changing and evolving the drum pattern, it tricks the listener into thinking the tempo has increased. (Shun)
Mission 7 – The last ditch fight
I wrote this one with the intention that a certain bassist, whom I greatly respect, would play on it for me. After Mission 7 starts, and you destroy the missile defender miniboss, and the missiles go off… that all takes about 1 minute. I wrote the first half of the BGM to be about the same length, and tried to time it so the second half kicks in right when you ascend up into the sky there.
19XX Development Diary
☉ Month X Day ~ It’s been decided that we’re doing another 19-series STG game, and the devteam has been formed. But that’s all we’ve got so far—we don’t have an actual title yet. Provisionally, we’re calling it “19XX” (at that time, pronounced 19 BatsuBatsu)...1 no one could have guessed then that this would become the actual title!
A few days after our official start, a new planner/designer from another department was brought on the team. He’s short, acts kind of American. Listening to him, it sounds like he’s real loose with the ladies… is this gonna work? Add another worry to the heap!
△ Month X Day ~ We’re moving through the planning and design at a brisk pace, but it still feels like we’re going to be late. Everyone is being pestered to hurry it up: the character designers still need to turn in their sprite lists, and the programmers need to finish their designs for the gameplay system and enemies. “Tomorrow! It’ll be done tomorrow!” Now, our real work as Game Designers has begun…
☐ Month X Day ~ We’ve finally got something up on the screen. But we still need someone to check these sprites thoroughly and critically. We’ve done several revisions to everything now, and it’s looking more and more like this game isn’t going to turn out as we had initially planned. Well, what can we do? There’s just no end to these worries.
♣ Month X Day ~ The sound team has been chosen, and we’ve started meetings with them. However, because of the strict schedule, the only guidance the planners gave was a simple list with some accompanying visuals… everything else was left up to the sound team’s own discretion (of course, the planners did do a quick review and sign-off on the finished compositions). One of the composers has had experience with STG game music before—he did the music for Ultimate Ecology—so I think we can trust him. Phew.
Anyway, it’s also been decided that we’re going to showcase 19XX at the upcoming AM arcade expo show. For that, we’ve got to have the game finished to a certain extent, content-wise. It’s certainly not ready in the state it’s in now. We need to get it playable to the third stage… crunch time has begun.
▽ Month X Day ~ The show is over, and we’re now entering the final laps! The dreaded “location tests” also began this month… sort of snuck up on us. These were days of intense scrutiny, as we eyed every reaction, every move, every gasp of joy or sigh of boredom of the players who came to try out 19XX. Our basic concept for 19XX was to make a STG game that was not devilishly difficult. The easier difficulty meant that with each day, players were getting better and playing longer and longer. We did our best to keep it easy. Some players filled out and left comment cards for us. One person gave us a ton of feedback, writing all over the card in a tiny, tiny script! Another person—an 18 year old woman, actually—had played the game many times, and wrote “It’s REALLY easy!”
♢ Month X Day ~ Now we’re entering that final phase of the development, when night after night, everyone sleeps over at the office. We’re doing lots of bug checking, of course, but there’s still so many unfinished parts…! The days of pain and struggle seem to continue without end. Earlier in the development, we added more memory to the game because we needed more space for the sprites and graphics. But adding that memory gave us the chance to add a bunch of other stuff, and consequently multiplied the work…
And of course, of COURSE, that was exactly when all the bugs started popping up. Dying for no reason, not getting 100% despite destroying everything, or getting millions of points for destroying some random building… our pain reached new heights.
But somehow, we managed to cross the finish line and complete the game. All we can do now is pray that no more bugs come up. Now I can finally return home, and savor the delight of a full night’s sleep…
✠ Month X Day ~ Nooo!! Bugs!! We thought we were done, but over the last few weeks, bugs keeps getting discovered. If it were a one-time thing, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but we’ve now had to reprint the ROMs multiple times. Ugh… things are looking worse and worse for me at Capcom! I’ve got some travel planned, and now I’m going to forever be known as “that guy who went on vacation overseas” to escape this nightmare! “I leave the rest to your capable hands!” Heh… and the truth is, they found more bugs while I was gone.
X Month X Day ~ Here we are, at last: 19XX is released. Did you all play it? What do you think? Was it fun? With my heart racing, I went around to the various game centers in town to see everyone’s reactions.
Nice, they’re getting into it!
Whoa, look at these high scores… already!
Heh heh, fried by the last boss!
This might be my favorite part of developing a game. And so, thinking kind thoughts toward the player who had just got incinerated, I walked out and left that game center smiling.
19XX Secret File – Interview Questionnaire
Q1. What was your role in 19XX?
Q2. What was the hardest thing about the 19XX development?
Q3. Are there any interesting episodes or embarassing stories you can tell us, now that the game is complete?
Q4. Please say a final word or two (whatever you like!)
A2. Getting fat.
A3. I’m glad Lawson is open in the middle of the night, but the food… blegh!
A4. Time to go on a diet.
A1. Object (enemies, bosses) and enemy design.
A2. I wasn’t familiar with the universe of the 19-series games, so that was a challenge.
A3. There are many failures that, even now, I cannot speak of.
A4. I’ve got a potbelly now thanks to the lack of exercise and all this beer.
A1. Creating polygons (pre-renders), coloring, object creation.
A2. My Mac kept crashing. We didn’t have a very good setup for creating pre-rendered polygons.
A3. I lost the color data I had been creating 3 times… where did it go? Somewhere far away…
A4. Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men.
A1. Main illustrations, concept illustrations, opening demo, and more.
A2. Running out of clean clothes during the string of all-nighters we pulled.
A3. We used the same illustration for advertisements and the official game poster, but if you look closely, you’ll see there’s actually some subtle differences between the two.
A4. Whoops, I did it again!
A2. Having no planning documents.
A3. That expensive sake I got for 9500 yen at the celebration party was a rip-off!
A4. I sincerely thank you for your purchase.
A1. Stage design (3 and 4) and part of the opening demo!
A2. The game balancing was very challenging. But fun, too!
A3. I really wish I could have done one more stage (for real?!)
A4. See ya! I’m going snowboarding!
A1. Boss design (stages 3 and 5), misc. stuff with the enemies, the opening demo screens to each stage.
A2. With such a short development period, we had to really work fast.
A3. For the third boss, when he does his roll, I really wanted him to fire a big fat laser.
A4. Please buy our game!
A1. Stage background graphics.
A2. Summer slipped by without a word, giving leave to Autumn, knocking at the door of our hearts.
A3. I ate up all the extra memory we had. Sorry!
A4. Next game: “19XX ZERO: Vajrayana Armageddon!” …I’m gonna sit that one out.
A1. I did graphics for Mosquito, Sancho Pedro, Karbert Armor.
A2. Time and other humans. (I had only 3 months to finish my sprites…)
A3. “I’m finished!!”
A4. Can we make a game out of Shinji Mizushima’s manga Zenikko? I’ll do the graphics.
A1. Background graphics for stage 3, other misc. work.
A2. Getting too sucked into my work on the maps, and the waterfall graphics.
A3. Please don’t ask me that!
A4. I’m not going to write anything untowards here, either! 19XX is a great game!
19XX Secret File – Development Keywords
19XX – The title was a source of anxiety for us—it was too similar to certain ADK and Psikyo games…
“Liar!!” – What the programmers yelled out when the planners broke their promises. “You said these enemies didn’t need to fire anything… liar!!”
APEC – During the 19XX development, right at the height of our busyness, the big Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) was held in Osaka. A strange atmosphere settled over the city: all the illegally parked cars vanished without warning, and security was heightened with locked gates everywhere in the trains and subway stations. When night fell, there seemed to be more policemen out than normal people! I remember going to the convenience store at night and seeing a bunch of police vehicles stopped there in front of it. “Keeping Japan’s Conbini’s Safe!” It was a very weird time to be in Osaka.
Grantz – The name of the stage 4 boss. It was taken from the designer’s favorite scotch whiskey. That man can’t say no to the booze…
Demotion – The planners’ most feared word. Mainly used by the programmers when they’ve been troubled by the planners. Programmer: “Are you serious, another change to the planning docs!? ARGH! That’s it, you’ve been demoted 5 ranks!” Planner: “Eek, please forgive me! H, here, have this pudding!”
Letters – After the AM arcade expo show, we received a number of fan letters. They really encouraged us.
“Nan-chan, this suuuckkksss” – A certain planner kept saying this when he was running behind on his revisions. Afterwards, everyone else on the team started saying it as a joke.
“Goddamnitttt!!!” – A scream of anguish often heard from the programmers, in response to a certain indefatigable planner’s insane requests…
Pudding – The main programmer’s one true love. He especially loves the big size.
Rival – A name used among the developers for that “black guy” (the F. Blacker ship) that appears in every stage.
“I have a slightly selfish request to ask you…” – The way the planners introduced any totally unreasonable request to the programmers.
Mobi-chan – Nowadays he’s mostly known as Capcom’s secret character. Of course, he appears in 19XX too. For awhile, we actually were considering making him a playable character!
If you've enjoyed reading this interview and would like to be able to vote each month on what I translate, please consider supporting me on Patreon! I can't do it without your help!
‘Batsu’ is the common Japanese reading for the ‘X’ character.↩