Akumajou Dracula x68000 – 1993 Developer Interview

Akumajou Dracula x68000 – 1993 Developer Interview

Originally featured in the December 1993 edition of Oh!X, a Japanese magazine that focused on Japanese home computers, this interview offers an interesting look at the development as well as some insight into the x68k computer, which is still mostly unknown to the west. I’ve also appended the light-hearted developer comments that were included on a text file on the original floppy disks.

Hideo Ueda – Director

—In deciding to release a Castlevania game for the x68000, what was your overall design concept?

Hideo: First, we all thought that the original Castlevania for the Famicom was the best one. So while were aware that this would, in terms of its system, be a rather old-fashioned game, throughout the development we kept in our sights the goal of taking the best elements of the Famicom Castlevania. Another design concept was to fully utilize the abilities of the x68000 hardware, for graphics and so forth. In the middle of the development the x68030 model was released, so naturally we wanted it to work on that system too. As such there’s a few sections where some subtle differences will be apparent to new owners of the x68030, like places where the animation is smoother.

—Ah, like the gears in the clock tower, for instance.

Hideo: Right. Another good example is the fountain. The water in the fountain will flow more quickly depending on the speed of the x68000 processor. The sparkles of flame before that part also look smoother with a faster processor. We paid attention to a lot of little details like that.

—How long did Akumajou Dracula x68000 take to develop?

Hideo: Normally we don’t give an answer to that question at Konami. What I mean is, it takes as long as it takes. As for the number of people on the development, we don’t usually give concrete details about that either, but it was about the same as your typical console game development. We didn’t need a bunch of extra staff just because it was the x68000, but on the other hand, it wasn’t developed with a skeleton crew either.

—I took a quick look at the developer postscript comments you included on the disks, and it seems like a lot was going on during this development at Konami…

Hideo: Yeah, I mean, there’s a big variety of stuff written there. In their comments, some people shared thoughts that are the same as mine; others of a more technological inclination wrote about that one impressive thing they really wanted to add; still others focused on the gameplay. It just shows you how different people are, and how developing a game is the task of taking all these developers’ ideas and balancing and shaping them into a final product.

The familiar throne room stage background for Akumajou Dracula x68000. Apparently some of the animations (like the flames) took advantage of the x68030's processor, though few players likely experienced the improvements.

—The presentation of Akumajou Dracula x68000 (the cutscenes, etc) are very visually impressive. Were those ideas something you all came up with together as a team?

Hideo: It was more like the person who created a given scene would present it to the team, and if the reception was negative they’d be asked to go fix this or that, or to shelve the idea. We didn’t have some master design plan that we had to strictly follow; if someone had an idea, we’d actually try it out, and if it failed we’d discuss how to make it work. That was the process, practically speaking. Of course we had a planning stage where we established certain basic lines, but naturally there were times when something we had planned actually turned out to be uninteresting, so we’d revise it, abandon it, or suddenly shift gears with a different idea. From all that work, only the best ideas were left in at the end.

—In light of that, do you have any interesting anecdotes about specific things you struggled with?

Hideo: Well, there have been instances at Konami where the developers have added their own private in-jokes, the kind of thing where if you saw it in a commercial game you’d be like “DON’T DO THIS!”… those things would get discovered only at the very last stage of development. Until I find out about it everyone’s just laughing it up and having fun. Of course most of it is just done as a joke among the developers. You know, in a development there’s times when the work is really fun, and times when it’s very difficult. This kind of light-hearted joking around has the effect of keeping everyone’s spirits lifted. But if you aren’t persistent as a director in sussing out all these little things, you can easily lose track of what’s been hidden away in the code. You’ve got to sit down with everyone at the end and be like: “Confession time! What did you add?!” If you just let everyone be, the results could be scary…

A cutscene from Akumajou Dracula x68000.

—Yeah, and most of the inside jokes that get left in don’t make a lot of sense to outsiders.

Hideo: Yeah, but the upside is that from all that joking around during the development, really interesting ideas can sometimes emerge. They’re playing around, but they’re also challenging themselves in different ways, and good ideas come from that, you know.

In any event, our basic idea for Akumajou Dracula x68000 was an updated, more beautiful version of the original Famicom game, and contending with that was where most of our struggles lied. We didn’t want people to see the finished game and say “what the hell? this is supposed to be an x68000 game?” Preventing that was something we worked on at every stage, from early planning to the fine-tuning.

—How has the reception been from x68000 owners so far?

Hideo: It’s been good. The feedback we’ve gotten from the mail-in comment postcards has been very good too. However, when we made Akumajou Dracula x68000, our idea of the average x68000 user was a hardcore game player, someone who’s really good at games. So there have been some complaints from users who have found it too hard and can’t get past the second stage. But the majority of the responses have said they were able to clear the game after so many hours of practice, and had a lot of fun. As developers we’re extremely grateful to see people enjoying the game like this. Whenever you release a game, some of the people who buy it will respond “why did they make this…?” People have different tastes, so it all depends on the proportion of negative to postive reviews, but if it’s one person or many, we’re just happy to see the game being enjoyed.

—The x68000 userbase is different from other consoles, it sounds like.

Hideo: Yeah, as we imagined, its a machine with a lot of hardcore, devoted players. That I can say without reservation. One thing I was very pleased with: among x68000 users, there’s been a lot of clamor for arcade conversions. “I won’t buy anything else!” is the kind of image we had. But instead of simply porting another Castlevania game, we decided to create a new, highly original Castlevania, and seeing it so well-received by the players made me proud of that decision.

—Does this mean we’ll be seeing more original games developed for the x68000 from Konami?

Hideo: As long as the games live up to x68000 players expectations and aren’t simple ports, I see no problem with originality.

—Also, the x68030 is out now, but will you continue to use the older 10MHz processor as the development standard?

Hideo: Yeah, when you’re talking about a commercial release for the x68000 series, you’ve pretty much got to do that. If a game came out exclusively for the x68030 and almost everyone bought it instead of the 10MHz version, then that’d be another story, but right now its a question of the userbase being large enough, and I don’t think we’re there yet.

A lovingly preserved x68000.
Akumajou Dracula x68000 Developer Notes

included on the original x68000 floppy disks

Hideo Ueda – Director/Programmer

Hello everyone.

I’m the director and battle programmer, H. ‘axelay’ UEDA. Have you been enjoying the x68000 version of Castlevania? This is the first time the team and I have done x68000 development together, so there were a variety of issues. Still, I’ve been a fan of Sharp since the MZ-40k, so I’ve been using the x68000 as a game console (?) for a while…

As expected, using semi-transparency is difficult. It can’t do addition/subtraction like the SNES, although it’d be easy if you could flip the palette’s lowest-order (intensity) bit. (I thought this was certain at the beginning, so I lied about it to the designer.)

So, in order to make the most of the original x68000’s resources, I tried to put in all sorts of dubious functions. (Speaking of “dubious functions”, I thought we’d do also use that lens effect and a mosaic effect… But a certain company beat us to it! sob)

Also, Akumajou Dracula x68000 is intended to not slow down much on a 10MHz machine, but then the X68030 came out, and the XVI and ’30 are 25MHz. So we tried to make it so that the in-game refresh rate would speed up depending on the machine’s power. Please play using the fastest system possible if you can. At the beginning, our motto was “There’s still life left in this 10MHz processor!”, but halfway through it changed to “Wow, look what we can do with 30MHz!”… But I guess it could’ve been a great game if it was exclusive to the ’30. Everyone across the country, “I leave my regrets to you.”1 Good luck.

And now, about the difficulty. How was it? Is it too hard? Once you get used to it you should be able to clear the first loop without a continue, and I’ll repeat what one designer here said: don’t be afraid to credit feed. We knew people would, so we worked hard to make sure you could continue without any disk loading time.

As for the difficulty, there’s 99 stages spread across 6 loops. And if you come back to the game after several months and clear the first loop again, you might discover something interesting.

Let’s see, what else? Definitely, Akumajou Dracula is meant to be played on a joypad. I’m normally more of a joystick guy myself, but a joypad seems easier for Akumajou Dracula. A certain rumour-monger below actually cleared all six loops with a keyboard. Unbelievable!

Wellll… hmmm… oh! If you haven’t bought Axelay, dash out to the store right now and pick it up!

Compare Ayami Kojima's art with the original x68k cover, which wanted to evoke the tough, old-school Simon.

Manabu Furuya – Programmer

Ah, hello. I’m M. FuRuRu.

What do you know, this is my first project at Konami! After a year of causing trouble for everyone I’ve finally made it to the end. I could tell you some personal stories, but it would just end up being a bunch of rumours, so let’s just get down to it: here are some of the rumours and stories surrounding the development of Akumajou Dracula x68000…

I’ll start with something light. That medusa’s laughing voice was done by that Oba-san everyone knows. <-- Of course! Anyone can tell that from one listen.2

If you change the sampling rate and then enter the Tower of Dolls, you might feel as if you’re suddenly attacked by a horde of okama. With their throaty voices, “IIiiyaaaa”…

No one under 18 is permitted in the Tower of Dolls. When people came here during the bug checking everything suddenly got quiet…

When the She-wolf returns to human form she looks directly at the player. That was a request from a certain honorable fellow. At first we had her just lying face down. The tragic She-Wolf.

The skull knight doing chun-li cosplay… that enemy we based off Capcom’s super-famous character.

The archer guy in the garden has his junk swaying in the breeze. And yet there’s no wind… this was censored and removed.

When we first saw the cover illustration, it looked like Simon had a 5 o’clock shadow. And he appeared to have a stupid grin on his face too. It was actually an issue with the colors on the fax copy we received.

Dracula should be having a drink even though its the final battle! We talked about that. The idea was he would be lounging around when Simon comes and drags him into a fight.3

Those bats on the title screen are moving at supersonic speed. This is just an estimate. They could be moving even faster.

On the Sunday night just before the final master app was due, I heard a rapping sound at the door. This is true. It’s true, it’s true I tell you… but none of the other staff believed me. They said I was lying. But it wasn’t a lie–’twas merely a ruuumourrr….

This enemy concept art was hidden away on the original floppy disks.

Hiroyuki Itou – Graphic Designer

I’m Ito-chan, resident graphic artist. First I’d like to say thanks to everyone who bought Akumajou Dracula x68000. My heart is awash with gratefulness to you. V(^o^)V

This long development has finally come to an end. (phewwww!)
I was rushing so much, dashing through my work, drenched in pixels, that I honestly don’t remember what transpired. What was I talking about again? (‘。’)?

Ah yes, the Akumajou Dracula x68000 development. When I first joined the team, every time I looked at the x68000 specs my eyes would grow wide with amazement. That’s just my B-type personality.

But with the help of my two favorite mottos, “Where there’s a will there’s a way” and “Que sera sera”, I somehow made it through.

Since starting the review some new things became normal. I never got any sleep at night so I was constantly dozing off at work. My 3 meals a day became 4 meals a day. I’d have a drink with dinner and a drink before bed. Thanks to that lifestyle I gained 10 kilos. Take responsibility, Konami!! (;_;)

The final phase of the development… sleeping was dream, and waking was reality… or its illusion. Time seemed to keep on accelerating as the days went by in a blur. The sleep deprivation was insane too.

But after this and that, somehow or another, before I knew it we had a finished Akumajou Dracula x68000 there before us.

If you can, don’t just stop at the first loop… some interesting things may await you if you can make it to all 6, hehehehehe…

Tsunenari Yada – Graphic Designer

Hello, character designer Yadabon here. Thank you for purchasing Drac-chan 68k. Right now I’m in the middle of bug checking, and ughhh… it’s tough. Everyone is always telling me how I’m the worst player on the development team. In such trying circumstances, it took me 3 days to beat Dracula. In my heart I planted a philosophical seed: “what man wills, he can do”… and now I am watering that seed with my endless tears. Wahhhh.

You x68000 owners probably only needed three days to clear all 6 loops: “eh, it was easy.” By the way, did you notice the strange phenomenon with the Goddess on the 6th loop? Blood… blood… well, for those who haven’t experienced it yet, I better stop.

During the development, I went and bought some horror movies to get more inspiration, but then I remembered that I can’t handle horror movies, so I never watched any of them. In the end they never got used.

ShinChan – Sound Design

Hello, I’m the young 30 year old programmer, ShinChan. Sound for Akumajou Dracula x68000 was handled by we merry three known as the “BackVergins”, and this was our premiere work. For this development, it was the ’30 implementation that brought tears of frustration to our eyes. We *finally* got it working, but good god, did we have a hard time with the cache and processor speed. We were about one day away from just completely giving up, seriously.

Remember, its Akumajou, not Akumejou Dracula.4 In addition to the internal sound, MT-32, and SC-55 midi support, we also added general midi via a hidden option (press XF1+G). Don’t tell anyone, but the reason we couldn’t do it officially is because the instrument and sound balance changes in general midi depending on the device, and it didn’t sound professional.

Hiroshi Kobayashi – Composer

Hello, all you hardcore gamers out there. I am Kobayashi. I did about half the composing and arranging for Akumajou Dracula x68000. I’m no great talent.

You know, ever since I joined Konami, I’ve thought “man, wouldn’t it be great to work on a castlevania game at least once.” Who knew my very first game at Konami would be Akumajou Dracula x68000…

The x68000 sure has incredible games, just as everybody says… but they sure are mean bastards, and so difficult! If it weren’t for the developer invincibility mode, I wouldn’t have a chance in hell of seeing the final boss’ face. But then I know there’s people in the world who can clear this game with no trouble…

Akumajou Dracula X68k OST

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  1. This is a quote from Samurai, a 1980 Sega arcade game.

  2. Oba-san means older woman, and probably is referring to some unnamed person at Konami.

  3. Interestingly, this idea would be used a few years later in Symphony of the Night.

  4. A play on words: akume means “orgasm” and “jou” means young woman.

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