Bangai-O – 1999 Developer Interview

Bangai-O – 1999 Developer Interview

Originally published in the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine, this 1999 interview saw Treasure alum Mitsuru “Yaiman” Yaida and Koichi “Kafuichi” Kimura discussing the conception and development of the frenetic side-view omnidirectional 2D shooting game Bakuretsu Muteki Bangai-O, with a particular focus given to the game’s deliberately classic and unadorned game design, as well as the inspiration behind the game’s notoriously off-the-wall characters and tone.

Mitsuru “Yaiman” Yaida – Programmer
Koichi “Kafuichi” Kimura – Map Editor/Graphic Designer

—How did the Bangai-O project get started?

Yaiman: This one was a personal passion project for me. The origin of the idea came from a shooting game I played way back in the day, and for its time, I was shocked at how many bullets that game could put on-screen. That got me thinking, I bet we could do something even more impressive with today’s technology.

I also had a bit of programming curiosity I wanted to satisfy. In games where the bullets can collide with each other, when there’s a lot happening on-screen, calculating all those hitboxes puts an incredible strain on the processor. I’d been wondering how to solve that problem for a long time. In fact, the very beginning of the project was just me trying to do that.

—It sounds like it was more of an experimental prototype then, in the beginning?

Yaiman: Yeah. Of course just having oodles of bullets on screen by itself doesn’t make for a game, so I started messing around with it, adding homing bullets and things like that. It was starting to look like something fun, so I got permission from our President to form a small guerilla team, and that’s how the production officially got started.

Kafuichi: So that’s why there were no planning documents. (laughs)

Yaiman: After Kafuichi joined the development, I had him create them. (laughs)

—But why, in this age of 3D games everywhere, did you decide to create such a staunchly 2D title?

Yaiman: The thing is, when I first suggested the game, not everything was 3D yet. (laughs) We were still making Guardian Heroes for the Saturn then. However, I realized that console hardware was getting better and better, and with this next generation, we could probably make the kind of game I was imagining…

—By the way, did you know it would be a mecha game from the start?

Yaiman: At one point, I was thinking of using fighting game-style characters. But to be honest, there was a long stretch of time where we had no title screen, no story or lore, nothing really.

Yaiman’s self-portrait; “The creator of Bangai-O who devised the general game system. Following on from the N64 version, he also served as the main programmer.

Kafuichi: Wasn’t it called “Muteki Robo 893 (yakuza)” at first though?1

Yaiman: Yes, yes, that’s right! Muteki Robo 893.

—Why “yakuza”…?

Yaiman: I wanted some kind of initial hook, is all. Revenge, payback, a simple theme like that. And when it came to the question of villains, for revenge, I immediately thought “yakuza”.

Kafuichi: Hey, watch it! You’re going to get stabbed someday talking like that, you know.

—It sounds like you wanted a simple motivation for the main character, something to spur them into action.

Yaiman: That’s it. I like those cheap hooks you find in old games, stuff like “your bride has been kidnapped, you’ve got to go rescue her!”

—Why did the title end up getting changed to Bangai-O, then?

Yaiman: I asked our team to come up with ideas for a name, and “Bangai-O” wasn’t originally one of the contenders, but I ended up falling in love with it. Ultimately I came back to everyone and said “Hey, how about this one guys?”, and they all sort of went silent and looked down, but…

Also, although we ended up with only two types of shots, we had initially planned to have a lot more. Those other shots were also solicited from the rest of the staff, but in the end, we decided to focus and limit ourselves to just those two types.

—The characters and sprites in Bangai-O are very small: was this also connected to the idea of having tons of bullets on-screen?

Yaiman: Partly, yes, but either way I wanted to have tons of characters on-screen, something active and almost chaotic. It’s true that making the sprites larger so they stand out more was the safer option, especially given today’s market. But I started this project by directly asking our President if I could produce an experimental game, and I wasn’t about to stray from that.By the same token, the development of Bangai-O took so long that by the time it was released, 3D was trending and Bangai-O unfortunately now had the negative stigma of being a “2D game”. (laughs) To be quite honest, though, I kind of wanted to cast a vote against this rising tide of 3D games that threatens to completely dominate the market.

—Kafuichi, you were responsible for all the planning of the world and characters. Was the overall vibe of Bangai-O pretty much the same from the beginning?

Kafuichi: When I first joined the team, Yaiman told me “there’s no scenario yet, but I’ve got some ideas…” and he whips out that yakuza thing. So I got the sense right off the bat, that this wasn’t going to be a super serious game.

Yaiman: All I had in the beginning was “revenge against the yakuza!” Kafuichi was the one who successfully fleshed it all out into a real game. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d added even more of his own personality to it, actually.

Kafuichi: Nah, I mean… did you really want me to go all the way?

Kafuichi’s self-portrait; “This is the dude who came up with the game’s oddball setting and character drafts. He’s concerned about the frogs that have begun residing in his shed…?”

Yaiman: Honestly I have no idea how far your “all the way” is, so… (laughs)

—Where did you get your inspiration from? Are these like… just your everyday thoughts?

Kafuichi: With this game, for my drawings I would sit in front of the monitor and improvise, so it was pretty much how ever I was feeling at the time. Sometimes I’d be randomly inspired by something I saw that day, but mostly it was just me improvising and messing around with the computer image tools, then showing that to the rest of the team and getting their approval.

Yaiman: That’s what’s amazing about you. Where the heck does he get these ideas from…? I’d like to take a peek inside your head. (laughs)

Kafuichi: I wrote the backstory and setting in the same sort of way, so if you look closely it’s actually riddled with typographical errors.

—Yeah, I’d like to see what’s going on in there too. (laughs)

Kafuichi: I never think about this stuff that deeply. Maybe I’ve got multiple personality disorder or something, but I imagine what each character would likely do and write it straight without overthinking it.

—And yet all the characters of Bangai-O are so very strange…

Kafuichi: Well, my method was this… the first time I showed everyone my designs, I led with some “light jabs”, and they were surprisingly cool with it. So next I went for it and threw in a straight punch or two. I was worried I overdid it and that everyone would be scared off by the weirdness, but no one showed any negativity, so then I really indulged myself and added whatever came to mind.

Yaiman: So what did *you* think about Bangai-O’s style?

—It’s crazy. Right off the bat it’s like, why is this planet called 男星?!2 (dansei)? (laughs)

Yaiman: Dansei is a planet that lies in the far reaches of the universe. (laughs)

Kafuichi: It doesn’t appear in the game, but there is a 女星 (josei, “woman-planet”) too! But my image for it was like, everything’s colored in pink for some reason, and there’s some annoying melody going “pa-ra-ra, pa-ra-ra-ra~” always playing in the background… and well, I thought we might be getting into sexual harassment territory here if we included this, so I dropped it. (laughs)

Yaiman: You were telling everyone about it though, and some of the staff actually started making it.

Kafuichi: I mean, if it’s something that will make the people who buy our games happy, I’m all for it. People have paid their own hard-earned money for our games though so I don’t want to include anything that’s going to make them feel bad…

—Yaiman, are any of your tastes reflected in Bangai-O’s designs?

Yaiman: Other than the yakuza thing, no, I left it entirely up to him. It’s more like, when I saw the crazy direction he was going in I was worried the gameplay itself might not have the same energy, so I did everything I could to create something that could rival it.

—You didn’t have meetings then, or anything?

Yaiman: Well, think about it… if someone puts characters like this in front of your face, what are you supposed to even say? (laughs)

Kafuichi: For this game we had another designer who produced the actual illustrations, and I did consult with them. I’d explain the basic concept, and left the rest up to them, more or less.

—Did you do all the dialogue by yourself, too?

Kafuichi: Yeah, basically.

Thumbnail portraits of Bangai-O’s off-the-wall cast of characters, many of whom were new additions to the Dreamcast version; the US manual features these character profiles in black-and-white.

—Where did the idea to use fruits as score items come from?

Kafuichi: That came from Yaiman, who one day, out of the blue, said “You should collect oranges.” (laughs)

Yaiman: When I think “scoring” stuff, I immediately picture fruits.

—It sounds like an homage to older games.

Yaiman: In my case, yeah, it was. But for Kafu who doesn’t know those games, it seems he perceived it as something new and fresh.

Kafuichi: Yeah, “that’s a wonderful idea!”, I thought. (laughs)

Yaiman: There’s definitely a “throwback” aspect to things like that. You could maybe say that about the entire game, actually.

—Where did the ideas for things like the all-directional bomb and counters come from?

Yaiman: The bomb was something I had from the beginning, but if it’s always the same number of shots that comes out every time, that felt boring to me, so I was trying to come up with something more dynamic for it…

—So did you have it written in the planning docs then, the idea for an ability where cancelling the bullets around you lets you counter?

Kafuichi: The docs said it was one of the robot’s abilities, wasn’t it?

Yaiman: What, really? (laughs)

Kafuichi: For more details please inquire with the space yakuza.

Yaiman: Hah, yeah, it originally belonged to them, after all.

—I thought Riki’s Dad, Ban, created the Bangai-O mech by hacking one of the enemy robots?

Yaiman: Well, before the events of the game, the yakuza had been working to create a “super strong robot”…

—And Ban then stole that data, hacked it, and created the Bangai-O for the good guys…

Yaiman: You can think of it like Kamen Rider, where he escaped just before being brainwashed. (laughs)

—I know exactly what you mean. (laughs) Let’s see, another thing that I’ve been wondering about for awhile now… what’s up with the cars being tougher than the enemies and buildings?!

Kafuichi: They’re luxury cars. (laughs)

Yaiman: Foreign-made cars are tough!

Kafuichi: When we asked each other, ok… what’s the strongest, toughest thing the yakuza would possess? Yaiman shot back, “the benz.” Isn’t that amazing?!

—What’s amazing is that you actually had a whole conversation about “the strongest thing a yakuza would own”… well, let’s wrap things up. What would you say are the key selling points of Bangai-O?

Yaiman: I think this goes against the trends in gaming today, but we put a big emphasis on that pick-up-and-play quality. A game you can quickly get into (and just as quickly put down). Lately there’s so many games where you have to level up your characters before going on to the next area, and this is my personal taste, but I was determined to have “independent stages” for Bangai-O. I don’t know how players will react to that, but…

—You mean the ability to freely select any stage?

Yaiman: If all you ever play are these epic-length massive games I think you can get burnt out easily. So it’s good to have something like this as a refresher, you know.

—But if you get into the scoring in Bangai-O, it really does become a neverending battle.

Yaiman: Yeah, Bangai-O certainly has an insane, crazy style going on, but as a game it’s very tightly made, so please check out the scoring system too.

—And how about you Kafuichi? Or if you want to tell us what you’re up to lately, that’s cool too.

Kafuichi: So this frog has gotten stuck in the wallspace between my house and my storage shed. I know it’s alive, but it’s just out there under the blazing midday sun, the poor thing. I sometimes use my hose and spray some cool mist over it, but I also feel like I probably shouldn’t indulge it too much, you know… oh wait, you meant games.

Bangai-O is something of an experiment for me too, so please look forward to it. Let me ask though, what did you think of these characters?

—I liked them. They reminded somehow of those older, nostalgic anime characters.

Kafuichi: The designer who illustrated them did a great job there. My original designs were, honestly, pretty hard to work with. There were a lot of risqué notes in there too, “they’re naked”, stuff like that. The designer showed good sense in what to cut, “Sorry Kafuichi, I’m not going to put their bare ass in this picture”… which I was a little sad about, but what can you do. (laughs) I said hey, you don’t have to show their face…!

Yaiman: Yeah, and then it would get pulled off the shelves. (laughs)

A side-by-side of the Japanese and North American versions of Bangai-O’s infamous continue screen, with one being significantly less “risqué” than the other. (source)

Bangai-O – 1999 Developer Interview

originally featured in Nice Games magazine

Masato Maegawa – President

—What was the development concept for Bangai-O?

Maegawa: Exhilarating visuals were the main priority. Tons of enemies, tons of bullets, glitz and flash… pretty simple in that sense. Today’s next-gen hardware allows us to display loads of 2D sprites, so it seemed like a good time for this game.

—How many people worked on the development?

Maegawa: In the beginning it was just one programmer and one designer, and they told me they wanted to do a small-scale “guerilla”-style development. The project concept was for a “low-budget project.” There aren’t many games made like that anymore, but we feel there is something significant and meaningful about making a game in the old-school classic development style. If the industry only focuses on sales figures, 3D, and RPGs, then games like Bangai-O will cease to exist. I think it’s important to develop those commercial genres, of course, and Treasure also thinks about commercial titles from that perspective, but that’s not all we do.

—How has the response from players been?

Maegawa: It’s been mixed, and some people have asked “why did they make a game like this now…?” I understand that. However, we’ve also had a lot of people tell us thank you for making such an interesting game, for those players who get what we’re trying to do. I admit I was genuinely surprised when we were given such high marks by Famitsu, though.

—You seem to be taking it all in stride, in either event.

Maegawa: It’s the spirit of Treasure, I guess? It doesn’t embarrass us if some people don’t like our game. We felt enough pride in it ourselves, to put it out there into the world. 3D is flourishing right now, so going against the grain and tossing this decidedly 2D game out there, I think that’s an interesting thing in and of itself. And while 3D may be far more immersive, it’s still easier to create solid, quality gameplay in a 2D title. We think there’s a lot of value in releasing games like this.

—Please give a final word for readers.

Maegawa: If any of the things I’ve said resonate with you today as a player, please be sure to pick up Bangai-O. I think you will recognize it as “something different”. I also think it’s a fun game that anyone can enjoy.

An impressive Bangai-O speedrun from Summer Games Done Quick 2018.

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!

  1. 893 can be read ya-ku-za in Japanese; it’s actually the origin of the term and comes from the hanafuda card game known as oichokaba.

  2. Literally “male planet”, but really a play-on-words for dansei, which simply means “man.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *