Aconcagua - 2000 Developer Interview
In this Aconcagua interview from the official guide, director Hiromichi Takahashi is joined by two other staff to discuss the making of their late PS1 adventure game. The team seems to be aware of its obscurity, citing the unmarketability of realistic political dramas, but an English fan translation released last month now allows Western audiences to enjoy it.
Hiromichi Takahashi - Director (SCEJ)
Taku Nishijima - Promotion (SCEJ)
Yasutaka Masuda- Planning/Writing (WACWAC!)
The development staff of Aconcagua told us the secrets behind the production. How did the game come about?
—First of all, where did the idea for the game come from?
Masuda: Three years ago [ed: 1997], when I qualified for the SCE-sponsored program “Let’s play games!” (official name: Game Creator Support Program). The concept behind that program was to try and create something brand new, and I thought a game like Aconcagua would be good. I’ve always liked adventure novels, but at the same time, I did wonder whether your average person would find something like this interesting. (laughs)
—Why did you choose a real mountain as the scenario of the story?
Masuda: Because I liked the sound of the name. (laughs) In fact, I had already decided to set the game in South America so I wanted the title to be an easy-to-understand mountain name.
Takahashi: Yeah, "rocky" would make people think of a mountain range, and Kilimanjaro, well… (laughs)
—Aconcagua's story has a strong political flavor. Was that decided at the beginning?
Masuda: Well, I don't know. For me personally, it was more that I wanted to tell a gritty, realistic story...
Takahashi: At the beginning of the project, there was only the idea of "descending the mountain." There was nothing about Independence Day, etc. so I didn’t understand the reason why you had to rush down the mountain. (laughs)
Masuda: The relationships of all the characters hadn’t been decided either.
Nishijima: Yeah, and with Julia too, we didn't know why she was protecting Pachamama. (laughs)
Masuda: Anyway, I had a really hard time in creating the scenario. I shouldn’t have made it as realistic. (laughs) Even when you write a fictional story, it still has to be logical. In the case of science fiction, you can make any number of excuses such as “because I have this kind of superpower” or “because there is a new good medicine”. But if you're going for realism, and you place items carelessly players will end up thinking “wait, what is this thing doing up here on this high mountain?!” (laughs)
Takahashi: A snowy mountain, no less. (laughs)
Masuda: Yes, it starts with an airplane crash in a snowy mountain so there’s nothing there. (laughs) But when I said that, everyone said “You said you wanted to set the game in a situation like this!”
Nishijima: The story also made it hard to introduce the game in magazines. It's hard to succinctly express the appeal of a human drama, you know? Games with monsters are easy to explain but unfortunately there are no such things in Aconcagua. (laughs)
—It seems that you had a lot of troubles in creating the scenario, but what about the characters?
Masuda: I had a hard time. (laughs)
Takahashi: At first, there were eight characters in total. (laughs)
Masuda: That's right! (laughs)
Takahashi: There was a guy who was a local and a traitor on board. Also, there was a handsome man who wore a soft white suit even though we was on a mountain in the middle of winter. He didn’t have a name and was just called “CIA”. (laughs) Julia and Lopez used to have different stories with Lopez being Pachamama’s bodyguard. At that time, he wasn’t a traitor. (laughs) I think Julia was a former Olympic rifle competitor who was good at shooting.
Masuda: The current characters were also quite different from the beginning. Kato couldn’t climb either. (laughs)
Nishijima: Was that so?
Masuda: There was another climber. A German guy called Rohinistin. (laughs) It didn't work with the structure of the game though so we abandoned that character.
Takahashi: He was the first to disappear. (laughs)
Masuda: The very first. (laughs) Someone pointed out how ill-defined his character was. “I don’t know if Kato can do anything or if he can’t do anything!” So Kato became a mountain climber. And the next to disappear was...
Takahashi: CIA. (laughs)
Masuda: Finally, we ended up with six characters: Kato, Pachamama, Julia, Steve, Lopez, and Nieve, who was set as the “local and traitor”. Eventually, Nieve got cut and the current five-member cast was formed.
Takahashi: After cutting that much, it felt so much neater. (laughs)
Masuda: At this point, Lopez was a character that actively attacked with weapons, but it would be difficult to build a game if he could attack freely so we settled on his current design.
—Every character has a different setting. By the way, what was Steve’s setup before?
Takahashi: Steve didn’t change from the beginning to the end. He used to be a character who was strong with computers and could hack things, but now he’s more like a mechanical engineer. His original item was a laptop.
Masuda: You've got to have a character with that kind of personality, so we never changed him (laughs)
Nishijima: Steve is the best. He’s the most human. He kind of reminds me of someone you'd see in the manga Tsuribaka Nisshi.
Takahashi: He’s the staff’s favorite character. Besides, the story itself is like “Steve’s coming-of-age story”. (everyone laughs)
Masuda: Compared to Steve, Kato’s character became less defined as the development went on.
Takahashi: Well, the other characters are strong, and Kato is more like the player’s character so it only made sense to make him a bit more neutral.
Masuda: We definitely had the idea from the beginning of making Kato the main character and creating a story centering on him, so it was exactly what we wanted. But even so, I think he's a little bland. (laughs)
Takahashi: That’s why it would have been nice if there was a love interest between Kato and Pachamama.
—Did you originally plan for him to have a love interest?
Takahashi: Although I didn't work directly on the game, I kept telling them to include a love element. In Hollywood movies and adventure novels, the hero is always tied to the heroine, isn’t he? It would have been nice if the tone of their conversations changed depending on the number of times they spoke with each other, without changing the main plot of the game. Since there are two women, I thought he could also have a dangerous affair with Julia, but they wouldn't add that for me. (laughs)
Masuda: I’m just not very good at writing romance stories. I try to write them but nothing comes out. (laughs) Besides, it would be impossible with Julia, with her personality. (laughs)
Takahashi: It was funny when Julia and Steve got together.
Nishijima: Steve was very active in the final stage, like when he crashes into the enemy with a truck. (laughs)
Masuda: When I motion-captured that, I thought it wouldn't translate to graphic form very well. But when I saw the finished product in motion I was surprised how good it looked. (laughs)
Nishijima: It was a little too cool. (laughs)
—Aside from the romantic elements, are there any other ideas that were not realized in the game?
Takahashi: Actually, there are two stages that were rejected. We got pretty far with them and they were starting to take shape, but I just didn't feel that they really fit with the story, so I cut them.
—Specifically, what kind of ideas got rejected?
Takahashi: One thing that disappeared during the planning phase was the military dog event. To deal with the military dogs chasing the group, Kato first climbs a cliff and draws the dogs away, giving his companions a chance to get through.
Takahashi: On the other hand, there were also ideas that weren't included initially but the staff contributed later.
Masuda: An explosion scene of the steel frame was added at some point in “Road to Escape” [ed: Mission 24, the last very mission of the game]. (laughs)
Takahashi: One last explosion at the end. (laughs)
Masuda: Similarly, regarding “Road to Escape”, at first it was just a matter of avoiding the bullets that Lopez shot but in the beta version we made it so you had to lure Lopez out and then pass behind him. When I was checking it out I remember being worried: “Huh? I can’t figure this out!” (laughs)
Takahashi: As director I only decided on the general flow of things, and left the finer details, including what to cut, to the programmers. As a result, everyone kept adding stuff they personally thought was cool, right up to the very end. (laughs)
—Finally, please give a word to the players reading this book.
Masuda: I would be happy if people could enjoy the game in the spirit of a B-movie. I like the feeling of B-movies, where there's no budget so they have to squeeze out every last drop of ingenuity. Having said that, this production cost a lot of money. (laughs) I also want players to watch the movie scenes. The entire game contains nearly 80 minutes of cutscenes. I worked especially hard on the first helicopter scene. I kept nitpicking until we got it just right. (laughs)
Nishijima: I would like people to enjoy the story. It has a lot of personality. Also, if you're someone who usually gives up on games halfway through, I really want you to try Aconcagua. I think people who aren’t very familiar with games will actually have an easier time solving these puzzles.
Takahashi: For now, just get hooked. (laughs) We put a lot of effort into making the movies and the BGM so I think you’ll enjoy if you turn off the lights and put on headphones while you play.
—Thank you for today.
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