Battle Mania – 2004 Developer Interview

Battle Mania – 2004 Developer Interview

This long interview with VIC Tokai alumnus “Takayan” details the history of the cult developer and sheds light on several of their more well-remembered games. Originally featured in the book "Lost Games", the main focus here is on Takayan’s own Battle Mania series, a pair of off-the-wall Mega Drive shooting games that defied adversity to establish themselves as VIC Tokai’s most beloved and sought-after titles.

—Firstly could you tell us a bit about yourself? I know you’re multi-talented, having been involved in many different areas of game development from art to design and programming. How did that come about? I understand that VIC Tokai was actually a division of the Tokai Gas Company in Shizuoka. Why did such a serious company suddenly diverge into a market like Game Development? Could you tell us what it was like to work there at the time? What was the culture and atmosphere like, and how large was the company?

Takayan: I studied Law and graduated university in Shikoku. I always hated games and the little snot-nosed kids who played them, but while I was studying I took a job doing menial work at a Mitsukoshi rooftop amusement park which was also a Namco location. That was where I discovered Mappy, and my eyes were opened to the joy of video games.

Before graduating I contacted Namco asking for a job, and they said “there aren’t any openings at the main office but there are openings in the Shikoku sales department”, to which I replied. “Sales… no thanks” and gave up.

I was always a modeler so brimming with confidence I applied for a job at Tamiya models in my hometown and was promptly rejected. As a last resort, I applied to Tokai Gas who lured me in by saying “You know we’re creating a games division soon so you should come and work here. You don’t even have to worry about taking a test”. It was a tempting offer. I had never even touched a computer until I started working there. At that time we didn’t have MS-DOS so I did everything on a 4MHz CP/M machine.

I’d always loved traditional games and played everything from chess to Gin Rummy, although that was a long time ago so I can’t remember the rules now.

The developer known as VIC Tokai is the CG and toy division of the Tokai Gas company. Although one half of the company was made up of the SEGA distributor Sunseibu (known at the time as Nishibu Risu). We came together to form a specialist game development division and were able to take advantage of our pre-existing ties with the local computer and amusement companies.

“Takayan”, as depicted in Vic Tokai’s Kakefu-Kun no Jump Tengoku (1988)

It’s certainly not a situation I can see arising today. Because we were made up of two separate companies people had completely different work schedules and pay structures. But because of that unique situation, I was able to work in multiple areas of game development, so looking back I’m thankful.

—I’d like you to tell us a bit about what you did before Battle Mania. I have a list of some of VIC Tokai’s games here, could you say a few words about each one?

Baluba-Louk No Densetsu
This was a Tecmo (Then known as Tekhan) game. When the VIC games division was first established Tecmo gave us a lot of tech support. I believe it was thanks to that connection that they asked us to port the Famicom version of Aighina no Yougen (Aighina’s prophecy) which was completed by some contemporaries of mine.

Nannokoreshiki/UFO Senshi Yuko chan
I designed and programmed this. Absolutely no-one else touched the project so I’d work on it late into the night. The budget, materials and conditions were extremely severe and I was still very green at the time. Sadly this was the arcade team’s final game.

At the time there was an excess of SEGA system 1 boards. I was a fan of Yoko Minamino so I just started making the game by myself. By that time, the rest of the company had moved over to the Famicom. I had some guys from the Tokyo PR office contact her management and try to get the license, they went back and forth but in the end, we weren’t able to secure it. It’s really a little bit of an embarrassing project that I don’t like to put on my resume.

Calorie-kun vs Moguranian
Programming the enemies and sound effects was actually my first job. In this game, the enemies line up horizontally so the game wasn’t possible with the Famicom’s sprite limit and the project was cancelled.

Chester Field
This was designed by Umehara who also made Odessaelya on the Super Famicom. I had nothing to do with it.

Kakefu-kun no Jump Tengoku: Speed Jigoku/ Kid Kool and the Quest for the Seven Wonder Herbs
This was made by the Aighina team. I appear as the king’s butler.

Psycho Fox
This was another one made by the Aighina team.

Dengeki Big Bang!/Clash at Demonhead
All of the strange people who worked at VIC just threw together all their weird ideas. Of course, I’m completely normal so I had nothing to do with it.

Totsuzen Macho Man!/Amagon
This was contract work for another company.

AKA "The Krion Conquest" overseas.

Magical Kids Doropie/The Krion Conquest
This was made by Seki Tomoki, who did the graphics on the first Battle Mania. The minor characters were designed by Ashika Sakura the renowned manga artist.

Zenbei Pro Basket/All America Pro Basketball
More contract work.

Another of Umehara’s projects

Golgo 13: Daiisho Kamigami no Tasogare/Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode
I get on well with the lead and we talked together about the game design but they didn’t implement any of my ideas. (laughs)

Golgo 13: Dainisho Ikarosu no Nazo/The Mafat Conspiracy
More contract work.

Magical hat no buttobi Tabo! Daibouken/Decap Attack
This was the Aighina team. I’m proud of those guys. Starting with Kakefu-kun they spent a total of 5 years refining the physics on those swinging poles.

I don’t like Nintendo so after they broke up the arcade team I got this Mega Drive game into production. I was the main programmer but the design was done by someone else.

—Do you remember what the VIC in VIC Tokai stands for?

Takayan: Visual and information and the C stands for either company or communication I think. I’m not 100% clear. It’s not an officially trademarked name, it was just decided by the company after the fact.

—One stand-out feature of VIC Tokai games is the memorable music. The soundtrack in games like Golgo 13 and Dengeki/Clash have a unique quality that sets them apart from other games of the time. Who was responsible for composing the music? Did they also contribute to Battle Mania by any chance?

Takayan: Up until Golgo 1, the sound was all handled by Hasuya-san who previously worked at Tecmo. For Dengeki/Clash, it was handled by a junior who quit once work on the game was completed. After that our sound was outsourced to specialist sound companies before we moved over to Graphic Research for all our sound. All games after battle mania are the work of the sound team at Graphic Research (now known as Studio Cliche).

VIC Tokai’s unofficial platformer tetralogy: Kid Kool/Kakefu-kun, Psycho Fox, Magical Hat Daibouken and Decap Attack.

—Why was it that VIC Tokai chose to make games around slightly obscure properties like Kakefu-kun, Yoko Minamino and Golgo 13? The basic game design of Kakefu-kun was used in both Psycho Fox and Magical Hat/Decap attack, two games for SEGA systems. Could you tell us a little about why that happened?

Takayan: The Kakefu-kun license was cheap, it’s as simple as that.
For Golgo 13, Shogakukan (the publisher) just happened to be selling off the rights at that time. And Yoko Minamino (Also known as Nanno) was because I was a big fan.

Psycho Fox and Magical Hat were both projects suggested By SEGA. We were basically asked to re-make Kakefu-kun but with those characters instead.

—Carrying on from my earlier question, I feel like the atmosphere created by the graphics and story of games like Dengeki/Clash is fantastically memorable. I can’t help but feel you had some influence as they seem to match your personal tastes. Did you have any input?

Takayan: None at all, although the creator and I were drinking buddies at the time.

—I forgot to include it in my list but I can’t forget Shinseiki Odessaelya on the Super Famicom, it felt very different to other VIC Tokai games (Laughs). It was a more serious game with a different appeal. SFC versus Mega drive, Serious vs Frivolous. Was there any rivalry between you and Mr Umehara who directed the game?

Takayan: No, it’s always been a senpai-kohai1 relationship. I’ve worked together with Ume-chan longer than anyone else during my time in the industry. When I left VIC I wanted to pass the torch to him, but he wasn’t interested (laughs)

A few years later when I created my company (Toiuka Game Kaihatsubusyo) I got him back as the project manager. He worked there until last year when he moved to Studio Cliche. These days he spends all his weekends taking pictures of trains and animals.

—Okay, what we’ve all been waiting for, it’s time to ask you about Battle Mania. Firstly, please tell us about the early stages of the game when you were putting the design together. I believe it was VIC Tokai’s first self-published game on the Megadrive. Did anything carry over from your previous Megadrive project Whip Rush? I heard at first it was developed as an arcade game, could you tell us a bit more about that?

Takayan: On Whip Rush I wasn’t really able to express myself and make the game I wanted to make.

Battle Mania was a project that I kicked and screamed to get into production. It was based on a prototype arcade game we’d made years before. The company wasn’t thrilled with the idea of me working on it so I started off by myself doing absolutely everything. As time went by more brave souls joined me to help out with the project.

I'm not surprised to hear that Whip Rush didn't satisfy Takayan's ambitions, but it's considered a well-made, solid Megadrive shmup by genre aficionados.

—Could you tell us about the staff who helped, your role on the project and how long development took? It’s impressive for a 4 meg game, did you have any difficulties during development?

Takayan: There were actually very few man-hours spent on the project, although it’s impossible to know exactly how many now. Because of its slightly strange development process, I finished the game in 1990 but it didn’t get released until 1991. I was in charge of design, scheduling, programming, graphics, music, PR and sales. Of course, most of the work was done by my team of rebel developers so I was mainly acting as support. I did do the pixel art for the player character though.

The staff were; Main programmer, Takada; Boss programmer, Watanabe; Enemy programmer, Sugimura; Graphics, Seki and another junior, and Sound by team Hyakuman-Goku. I think that’s everyone. From a technological point of view, there were no real problems. I was never very good at compression technology but my junior employee Ishihara worked some magic and made something really special (a ring buffer using dynamic Huffman coding).

—Maria’s invincible option is a strange looking thing, isn’t it. Could you tell us a little bit about that, also is there a reason she never get’s damaged?

Takayan: The game would be very difficult if the options had a hitbox, that’s all there is to it. We made all kinds of adjustments during development but this just seemed to work so that’s what we went with.

—The ‘Ha ha ha’ on the first stage is made by changing the playback speed of the PCM to make it sound more like laughter. It’s a great technique, but whose voice is it?

Takayan: That’s Mr Tamayama from the sound team. Incidentally, he also made the “Kyaa” sound when Mania dies in the sequel.

—I’ve heard the woman standing at the end of stage 1 is in-fact Noriko Sakai (Nickname Noripi) is that true?

Takayan: Yes, it’s her, Seki was a big fan at the time.

80s idol Noriko Sakai

—From the start, you named your characters Ootorii Mania and Haneda Maria, were you trying to appeal to the hardcore SEGA fans or, is it you yourself showing your love for the company?

Takayan: It was initially designed as a SEGA arcade game, and I’ve only ever used SEGA boards in development so I’m a SEGA man through and through.

—I’m not sure many people would have known that the SEGA headquarters were near Otorii station on the Keikyu Haneda airport line. Had you ever been there at the time?

Takayan: Yes, when I was making arcade games. I’d met with president Nakayama and members of AM1 and AM3. Well, it would be more accurate to say I annoyed them endlessly when I was trying to burn ROMs.

—Could you tell us about the scene at the start of the game where Mania is seen jumping on a Super Famicom? It caused quite a stir at the time. Did you have some anger towards Nintendo?

Takayan: I wasn’t happy that most of the development budget was going to the SFC team. After I put that in, a FAX was sent to all the SEGA development studios asking them to refrain from using imagery that hurt other companies trademarks or characters.

I think the only reason nothing happened at the time was the power of the Sunseibu president and the fact that SEGA themselves didn’t like Nintendo all that much.

—It looks like there’s a mouse on Don Morgstein’s head. Where did that image come from?

Takayan: There’s a fantasy novel called The Gaming Magi, in it there was a wizard called Don Morgstein who transformed into a brown rat. This was just my representation of that.

—If you have any other similar references or motifs please tell us about them.

Takayan: Hmm, I’m probably just forgetting but I don’t think there were really any motifs as such…

Holding down the C button on controller 2 during boot reveals this secret animation, which was removed from the US release.

Although, on the option select screen Maria tells you about the weapons but originally it was a character called Fugu. Fugu was the coordinator of the international trouble shooting organization that Mania is a member of and also the owner of a toy shop in Kamata. He was always holding a black cat with one eye. He’d replaced its back legs with wheels and its front legs with pincers. He was balding and wore a scarf even in summer so he was always sweating.

The QA team at SEGA hated him so I cut the character but I wish I hadn’t now! He was modelled on the weapons dealer Fugu from Sekikawa Natsuo and Taniguchi Jiro’s manga Jikenyakagyou (Trouble is my Business).

—Please tell us about moving from the original Battle Mania onto Daiginjo. Were you given the go-ahead to work on the sequel as soon as the original started receiving good reviews?

Takayan: Well, the managers didn’t want to release the original game, so when I told them I wanted to make a sequel they said “No”, I asked why and they replied “Just no”. So nothing happened for around six months.

But when sales started doing market research they found that people loved the original and I was told to make another. By that time I’d thrown out my original design document so I had to piece together what I could remember to make a new one.

—There’s a lot more to this game than in the original. Did the company put more resources behind this project? Did you get more people on the dev team while you were making it?

Takayan: The company didn’t do anything (laughs) and there was no change in the development time or team size. (laughs) There was some change in the members though.

—You had a female artist do the graphics on the second game, was there any directorial reason for this?

Takayan: Well, Seki quit. (laughs) For both Battle Mania games, the art team was two people. I did the basic designs and they did the rest.

—You didn’t decide to add something like ‘Zwei’ or ‘Second’ for the sequel, but instead went with ‘Daiginjo’ why was that? Wasn’t it difficult to get that unusual name approved?

Takayan: For Daiginjo, deciding on a name was the single most difficult thing as I was dead set on not simply adding ‘2’. During development, we used 95 (because the game is set in an alternate Tokyo in 1995) but I wasn’t fond of it. Still, rather than adding something generic I wanted something interesting like “La Grande Vadrouille” or “Nostalgic forget-me-nots” I deliberated over it for around 2 months until one day I thought “Wait, I love sake” so I’m going to call it ‘Daiginjo’ (the highest quality sake). When I told PR they thought I was joking around like normal. Some less imaginative members of the sales and development teams didn’t like it but they realized I wouldn’t listen to them even if they told me to change it, so in the end, they caved in.

—There are some really original ideas in the game like the scene where they talk about transplanting Mania’s brain into the demon tank. Where did ideas like that come from?

Takayan: We completed the stages first so all the stuff in the cutscenes was just random ideas I threw together. The demon tank was originally going to be driven by hundreds of stray cats which you would have to shoot to bring the tank to a halt, but my conscience got the better of me and I decided not to do it.

The Demon Tank from Daiginjo

—When you’re chasing the demon train there’s an advertisement for Time Dominator/Socket in the background. Was there any connection between the two games?

Takayan: It was just a VIC product on the same system so I put in an advertisement.

—At the start of the game, we see the text. Studio Uchu Tetsu Jin (Lit. Studio Space Iron Man) and Gareji Kitto de Akarui Kurashi (Lit. Happier Living through Garage Kits). What exactly is that? Is it like a name for the Battle Mania team?

Takayan: It’s a craft circle we’ve maintained since my junior high school days, we make picture books, model kits, and things like that. All the things which combine to make me.

—Please tell us about Tetsujin 28 and the game-over countdown screen with Maria undressing. I understand SEGA wasn’t happy about it.

Takayan: The boss of stage 2 looked exactly like Shotaro Kaneda from Testujin 28 and Sega QA was constantly telling me to remove him. I added an eye mask but it didn’t do much to disguise it. Finally, I told them “SEGA isn’t making this game, I am!” (albeit using slightly more colorful language) and they let it through.

The Maria continue screen took place in the shower room. She would undress as the timer counted down and Morgstein was trying to watch. There was a bucket in the rafters which wobbled from side to side. On zero it would spill water all over his head so he didn’t get to see. During development, a magazine came to write a feature on the game and mentioned something about the screen to SEGA so we had to remove it.

—There is some really exceptional programming in Daiginjo, I think there were very few teams at the time who could achieve such impressive things from the Megadrive. The background in the first stage is especially extravagant. (laughs) Using all that sprite scaling it almost seems like you’re trying to compete with teams like Treasure and Technosoft, or were you just enjoying yourselves?

Takayan: We were just playing, the theme of the game was cram in as much flashy stuff as possible.

Stage 4’s Giger-esque backgrounds feature flashy vertical parallax scrolling.

—During Daiginjo you travel to Enoshima, I found it interesting that you took such care to represent landmarks like the Shonan Monorail. Did you travel there for location scouting?

Takayan: Yes! Although I paid for it myself. I took a lot of pictures while I was there, which I also paid for myself.

—That’s amazing! It’s surprisingly uncommon for games of the era. I was living in Kamakura and was really impressed how well you captured the location and distance from Tokyo. It was also a fair way from Shizuoka, wasn’t it?

Takayan: Nishimura the artist was originally from Yokohama and would tell me about all the interesting landmarks “They have this cool monorail, there’s also Tsuruokahachi mangu and the Sake barrels and all these escalators”.

So one day I just casually said: “Alright, I’ll go this Sunday and take some pictures” and that’s what I did. I wanted to show the monorail and the escalators. The first stage is a mix between the government offices and those landmarks.

—The Battle Mania games always contain button checks and sound tests, little-added extras outside the main game. Were you responsible for their inclusion?

Takayan: Yes, I actually added those to the original game but removed them before release so I wanted to leave them in for the sequel.

—I’d like to ask about the model kits featured in Beep Megadrive at the time. What did the kits actually look like and how many did you make?

Takayan: I made the original for Mania and Nishimura the artist on Daiginjo made Maria. I was something of a model dealer so I applied to my contacts at a vacuum molding company and had 50 of each made. Nishimura and I both have the first unpainted test models but all the others were given away as presents.

—It’s impressive that you had all those contacts. Is there a modelling scene in Shizuoka? If there are any other models you’ve made or put together could you tell us about them?

Takayan: I’ve been making models for many years. I attended the second wonder festival as a fan and then became a dealer for General Products until the company closed. I’ve had models featured by Kaiyodo, but once I joined Studio Cliche I decided I wouldn’t make any until the company was established so I’m probably pretty rusty.

At the time I rented a workshop to make models which happened to be near a famous modelling company so they gave me all kinds of useful advice.

—When you think about it, the events of the two Battle Mania games take place over just 3 days. Is that world always so full of excitement?

Takayan: The original Battle Mania was based on an idea I had for a manga set between ’95 and ’97. I think that paced it a little better but at the time it was very common for games and manga to use the phrase “3 years later…” so I poked fun at it. Originally it was my intention to have it take place over a longer period.

From the February ’93 issue of BEEP! Mega Drive: a small breakdown of the Battle Mania TV ad, the footage of which was sadly lost to time.

—So there’s a much grander overarching story? I’d like to hear more about that…

Takayan: I really like the novels of authors like Yahagi Toshihiko and Funato Yoichi. In truth Mania is based on those stories, with just a little more familiarity.

At the start of the story Mania worked alone completing assignments and eventually, she’s tasked with protecting Maria. After that, the two become partners and go on more adventures. In the final arc Mania goes missing until years later she suddenly appears at Maria’s wedding and the two are reunited. That’s a very abridged version so it might be difficult to understand.

—Mania and Maria are very different to your average beautiful heroines, they’re both very eccentric. Are girls like that your type? Also, the pursuit cars and the Fiat 500 remind me of Lupin the 3rd, is there something to that?

Takayan: From the beginning, I could tell that Mania and I would be working together for a long time and I didn’t want to suddenly change her character part way through so I just based her personality on my own. And, it’s not a FIAT, it’s a Messerschmitt KR250.

—Oh, I’m sorry. In the intro, they’re driving a Fiat so I just assumed it was the same car. When something contains both a Fiat and a Messerschmitt I assumed it came from Lupin.

Takayan: Ah, you mean the car with the number MA28 (can be read as ma-ni-ya) don’t you? Oto-chan who did the graphics on Daiginjo knew nothing about cars so I gave her all kinds of models, magazines and manga to base the design on. I think she mixed together many different cars to make that one. (I seem to remember she also didn’t know guns had a trigger…)

Now you mention it Pycal from Lupin did drive a Messerschmitt, didn’t he? Although it was a 4 door without the hatch. In Daiginjo I originally wanted them to drive an Isetta but that had also been in Lupin so I decided against it. Then I wanted to put them in a Kurogane 4×4 like the Japanese army used but there wasn’t enough reference material so I went with the Messerschmitt which had a plastic model available. I’m not a car enthusiast but I am a modeler so I get very hung up on small details.

—I understand there was a TV commercial made for the game, with its own original animation and a voiceover by none other than Daniel Kahl. That sounds interesting. Do you have any behind-the-scenes information?

Takayan: Yes, we made a commercial. The J-league had just been established and Shizuoka S-pulse was just starting out. At that time Tokai were putting money into local businesses (the gas company not the game division) and S-pulse was sponsored by Shizuoka Television. VIC used Shizuoka Television to make the commercial and asked if it would be possible to air it during the S-pulse show. In the end, we made a short 15-second ad and It was only broadcast twice during that show. There’s no copy of the commercial remaining, but it was only 15 seconds, half game footage and half animation so there really are only a few seconds of original material. I seem to remember the heroines bursting through a wall and firing their guns.

I actually put more effort into the promo for Daiginjo. I wrote the script and had the amazing Ginga Banjo do the narration in the style of his character Captain Rochina from Armored Trooper Votoms. (I don’t have a copy of this either, but I have the audio back at my parents’ place.)

—Please tell us a bit about what happened after Daiginjo. You brought a design document for the legendary unreleased Dreamcast game Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou but on the cover, there are Saturn and Playstation logos, does that mean you proposed this project during the 32-bit generation?

Takayan: Nope, they wouldn’t let me make it. I’m a big SEGA fan and just as I was thinking I’ll quit if they don’t let me make games for the Megadrive or Saturn, they put me in charge of the SFC division. That’s why I had to step away from Daiginjo right at the end of development.

When I made this I’d already left VIC and the next company I’d worked at, and the company I was at was starting to look a little unstable. It’s a pitch for an arcade game but I had hardly any time to spend on it. (Laughs)

—It’s amazing for the fans to be able to see Mania in 3d, could you tell us a bit about that?

Takayan: The pictures were drawn by fellow VIC survivors. One of them made the Softimage assets to go with the gameplay explanations. I made the 3d models of Mania and the picture of the heroines on the cover and the main artist on Odessaelya made the screens that go with the stage explanations. Add to that the artist who drew the giant robot and the queen and I think it was 4 people in all, I’m not sure whether that’s a lot or very few.

—Please tell us about what happened after you left VIC Tokai. It was around that time that they got out of the game development business, was it connected in any way?

Takayan: No, not at all. I quit a little before that all happened. I went to the guys who did the sound for Battle Mania and helped them form their game development division. I was there until the end of last year when I returned to the drifter life.

—Recently Vodafone has been porting VIC Tokai games to their Java platform. There’s a version of Magical Doropie/The Kaion Conquest and Battle Mania. How did that come about? Also if you’ve played them what did you think?

Takayan: There’s an ex-VIC Tokai staff member who works at Genki network contents. As part of an initiative to port old games, they ported over some of the VIC games they were involved in. They’re much better ports than I would have expected on a phone. You can still pull off all the old tricks!

—Mania and Maria make a cameo appearance in the climax of the DC game Segagaga. Did you know they were going to be in the game? What did you think when you saw them?

Takayan: As a SEGA fanboy, I bought the special edition immediately!!
I thought “Oh, I guess they thought my games were good after all!” I was so proud. I only wish someone at VIC would have told me about it.

—Lastly, do you have any message for all the Battle Mania fans out there?

Takayan: Well, I’m not sure there are any fans of the game left but, Mania loves you all, and to all Maria’s fans, she loves you too.

The cover to Takayan’s unused pitch documents for Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou, which definitely deserve a full translation in the future!

Translated by Peter Barnard

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  1. The traditional “senior-junior” relationship in Japanese organizations.

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