Blazing Star – 1998 Developer Interview
These two Blazing Star interviews from 1998 discuss the stage design, characters, and its relationship with Pulstar. The first interview was featured in Neo Geo Freak magazine, and the second was conducted by Japanese fans at an old forum. I've also included the story and character descriptions. The character info has never been available in English before, and helps clarify the cool Matrix-y story, which actually informed much of the stage and boss design.
—Please tell us about what makes Blazing Star special: its basic concept, selling point, etc.
yumekobo: Well, the finished version of Blazing Star is quite different from what we first planned, but some of our design premises from the get-go were: a unified world, lots of cool scenes, a hardcore gameplay system, and a charge shot. The selling point of Blazing Star, as well as it’s charm, is probably the supremely detailed, beautiful graphics. They’re so pretty, people will probably see them and think “Is this really the NEOGEO?” I really want players to enjoy taking the graphics in.
—As a sequel to Pulstar, was there anything you paid special attention to, or were particularly aware of, in developing Blazing Star?
yumekobo: There wasn’t anything in particular that we tried to carry over from Pulstar, but we were careful to not make Blazing Star too difficult. The director of Pulstar told us “this time, let’s make an easy STG with a charge shot, that anyone can clear.” Strangely enough he completely ignored Pulstar, and wanted us to develop Blazing Star as its own, different game.
So please don’t think of it as a direct sequel; it’s more of a “gaiden” (side story). That’s also partly why we changed the title. Pulstar was complete and perfect in its own right, and was a fun game, but on reflection our director probably thought it was too difficult, too “hardcore.”
—What was the biggest thing you struggled with during the development of Blazing Star?
yumekobo: Being on the Neo Geo, the sprite limit meant we couldn’t have as many bullets as we wanted sometimes, and the resulting sprite flicker meant some ideas had to be abandoned. Even now there’s some flicker in places. I’m sorry if it looks bad. Other than that, finding the right balance for enemy placement and attacks was the most difficult thing: too easy and the game would be boring, but when we’d try to make things more interesting, we’d often end up making it too difficult.
—What were some of the challenges you faced when designing the mechs?
yumekobo: The designers’ biggest challenges were creating the textures, creating the animation, and reducing full-color sprites to 16 colors.1 They also complained about not getting design approval fast enough, and having to redraw the stage 1 boss three times! (sorry about that)
—Which of the ships do you recommend players try?
yumekobo: The ship I would recommend is the Aryustailm, which is the best for scoring. I encourage everyone to try that ship out and see how much you can score without dying. Personally I also really like the Windina, which I think has a lot of depth to it.
—Were the characters in Blazing Star modeled after anyone, real or fictional?
yumekobo: I’ll let our character designer Daikichi answer this.
“There was no particular model for Caster Mild. I tried to make his design look somewhat heroic, even though he’s a bad guy.
The model for JB was the super-famous actor Jean Reno. One of the staff members is a huge fan of him, and one of his sketches of Jean Reno had a really good vibe to it, so I used it for JB.
Asayuki came from an original character I made a long time ago, for a game that never got released. I thought it would be a real shame if she was just buried and lost forever, so I used her here.”
…and there you have it. I thought they told us not to reveal all that though…
—Do you have any interesting stories or anecdotes about how you designed the characters?
yumekobo: The characters’ profiles and backgrounds were almost all created arbitrarily, according to Daikichi’s hobbies and interests (Asayuki, especially).
—Which characters are your favorites?
yumekobo: I’ll let Daikichi answer this one too: “Definitely Asayuki, since I have a lot of attachment to her. I actually drew three times the amount of rough sketches of her, compared to the other characters.”
—Please give a final message to our readers.
yumekobo: Blazing Star isn’t just a game with improved graphics; it also presents a kind of gameplay distinct from Pulstar, fun in its own way. I hope everyone enjoys playing all the different ships.
And to all cosplayers: please cosplay these characters! (how in the world will you manage these costumes?!)
Blazing Star Story
The blue planet Lemuria and the crimson planet Mutras were embroiled in an interplanetary war that showed no sign of ending. Mutras, originally a terraformed colony of Lemuria, had risen in revolt against their mother planet.
As a result of the escalating arms race, both Mutras and Lemuria simultaneously developed “Automated Organic Weapon Production Facilities” that could produce intelligent, sentient weapons. Both planets were plunged further into the vortex of war due to the production of these new, superior weapons.
Beginning with the humans, soon all animal life was enslaved by the evil weapon known as Braushella. He then began transforming humans, one by one, into “demons” — living weapons. It took less than a week for “humanity” to be extinguished from existence.
Who are we fighting for?
What are we fighting for?
The things that had been transformed into “demons” were not capable of asking those questions. They mindlessly continued the history of their mutual warfare, upon which both their existences hung in the balance.
However, after several years, “the four” experienced an awakening and remembered their humanity. The other unawoken “demons” were delighted: here were four beings different than themselves–and who knew what their own future might hold, too. Yet the “demons” became conflicted: there was this joy that stirred in thier hearts, but there was also the duty they had been given, the task they must accomplish: eradicating this “humanity” that had reawoken.
Now, the final battle is about to begin…
Personality: Feminist; eager for destruction and domination; a person of firm character, in a certain sense.
Hobbies: Walking through the woods, collecting music boxes.
Favorite Colors: Black, light blue-violet
Lineage: Having been born in Folktown (a slum town dug into the earth 24 stories deep, where the lowest of society live) he doesn’t understand things like race (he is of mixed descent). Perhaps for that reason, he possess an unusual power to take other people’s experiences and memories and, through direct contact, make them his own.
Story: In order to obtain the ultimate power, Caster knowingly entered into a pact with his own “demon.” Now that he has given his new body a thorough test-run, he heads toward the demonic weapon Brawshella: for there can be only one.
Personality: Full of curiosity. Appears to be an optimist, but is actually a realist.
Hobbies: Aromatherapy, archery, swimming
Favorite Color: Crimson
Lineage: Leefa is the daughter of the President of the Corporation. The Corporation began in heavy industry, and expanded to all areas to become a massive conglomerate. It expended a major amount of its energy into military contracts, and it now accounts for approximately 70% of the military development on Remuria.
Story: Having been transformed into a living weapon and lost all her memories, Leefa the “demon” lived only to crush her enemies. The only thing that faintly remained in the bottom of her heart was an appetite for destruction. And yet, bit by bit she is beginning to recover parts of her “human heart”…
JB (Jean Bismarck)
Personality: Will use humour to defuse conflict and keep the peace. Exceptionally considerate.
Hobbies: Mountain climbing, tending to his family.
Favorite Color: Wine red
Lineage: Remuria Space Corps., Far East Division Colonel
Story: JB was transformed into a demon at the army’s order. He has recovered his human heart, but he cannot yet return to his wife and child. Not until he recovers his lost “time”…
Weight: 45kg (before being weaponized)
Personality: Gentle and warm. Pessimist (she is not aware of it herself though. after her transformation, this part of her surfaced and dominated her personality).
Hobbies: Knitting, indoor horticulture, crossword puzzles
Favorite Colors: White, Green
Story: Asayuki was finally released from a long, long nightmare. In her blood-drenched hands, she holds a small charm. So that there will be no more sacrifices to these demons, to rescue her own family, and finally, to find a new tomorrow for herself, she now turns towards the demonic weapon Brawshella, the root of all evil.
Personality: Optimist, looks out for others. Bit of a do-gooder, always tends to have some word of reproach. On the other hand, she lacks self-confidence, and is prone to days of depression if she enters a phase of self-loathing.
Hobbies: Cloisonne wares, cooking.
Favorite Color: Orange
Lineage: Terran Space Federation, Anti-Alien Defense Forces, Primary Attack Force. Rank: Lieutenant. The sister of Kaoru Yamazaki, the progtagonist of Pulstar.
Story: Fights as Lieutenant of the Anti-Alien Defense Forces’ Primary Attack Force. Naomi was on a mission deep in the heart of the Milky Way. She destroyed the energy core of an enemy planet, but was caught up in the ensuing blast. When she came to her senses, she found herself flying above some unknown planet. Believing it to be Earth, Naomi brings her Dino135 down for closer inspection…
Personality: Serious to a fault, a hard worker who applies herself diligently to anything she undertakes. Hates clean-freaks. Loves and respects her sister, but also has a bit of a complex about her.
Hobbies: Collecting brooches, music appreciation (mainly ambient music)
Favorite Color: Green
Lineage: Terran Space Federation, Anti-Alien Defense Forces, Secondary Attack Force. Rank: Major. The progtagonist of Pulstar.
Story: In response to the Aliens’ third assault, Kaoru sets out with a counterattack fleet to strike back, but she can only think of her missing sister. During the attack, Kaoru fortuitously discovers a clue about her sister in what looks to be one of the enemy’s Research Vessels… without thinking, she turns her Dino246 toward the ray of white light emanating from within the vessel. Inside the massive ship, a mysterious unknown landscape spreads out before her eyes.
1998 Blazing Star Developer Interview
with director Michio Sato
—What is the meaning behind the title, Blazing Star? Is it related to the flower?
Sato: It has nothing to do with the flower. I learned about that after the development was over.
Our company, yumekobo, didn’t know whether we would be able to make any more STGs after this, so I think that’s part of the meaning behind “Blazing Star” too. In the very beginning we were talking about this as a sequel to Pulstar, so “Pulstar Blast” and “Pulstar Plus” were other suggestions. But our team didn’t want to use the name Pulstar, because our new game had a different world and gameplay style. For business reasons, though, our President at the time ordered us to use Pulstar in the name.
However, SNK said that Pulstar hadn’t done very well overseas because it was too difficult, and they didn’t want this new game to be associated with that image, so they asked us to come up with a name for the overseas market. One of our ideas was Blazing Star. I remember some of the others were “ZERO HOUR” and “THE ZENITH.”
After that we changed the name for the overseas release to Blazing Star, but the President of SNK made the final call and said we might as well change the Japanese release to Blazing Star, too. Since Pulstar and Blazing Star make up a kind of “star” series, I’m glad we went with those names instead of the others.
—What is that thing sticking out in the background, right after the game starts? Is it a rocket, or maybe the ruins of a tower?
Sato: The concept for the first stage was “a desert, with the remnants of a past war strewn about the landscape.” Our first draft of the stage only had craters, but that seemed a little empty, so we added that falling battleship.
—The first boss appears after smashing through what looks like a tombstone, but what in the world is that thing?
Sato: I don’t think it’s actually connected to anything in the story. When we were developing Blazing Star, we felt like the appearance of the first boss lacked some oomph, so we asked the main designer of that stage to do something, and that stone is what he drew.
—What is that plasma ball thing in the background, right before the third boss?
Sato: Yeah… what is that? I don’t think that’s something I suggested or requested. Daikichi, who handled the background for stage 3, drew a lot of interesting things for it. I believe the concept for that stage was “a broken down space station (orbital elevator)”, so I think it’s some kind of energy release or discharge that’s out of control.
—What is that air fortress you see in the background of stage 5?
Sato: That’s actually where stage 6 (and stage 7) take place. It’s supposed to be this humongous structure, since a giant battleship can fit inside it. It’s where Brawshella lives. He made that fortress to protect himself.
—If J.B. loves his family so much, why did he become a demon?
Sato: I think this is something you’ll understand (I hope) if you read the story, but basically JB puts the orders of the army above his own personal desires.
—What do the cockpits of the various ships look like, given the strange bodies of the pilots?
Sato: The Windina’s cockpit is filled with water, and Leefa can swim around in it freely and control the ship. Part of her body is probably connected to the ship somehow.
This is a detailed part of the backstory that Daikichi and I never really fully decided on, but here’s some things I thought were interesting: the Hellhound has a mostly normal cockpit that Caster sits as you’d expect. The Aryustailm has a cockpit that one straddles like a motorcycle, and JB’s super long arms extend out, fitting snugly into the chassis of the ship. Asayuki was Daikichi’s pet character, so I can’t say what he had in mind for the Peplos, but personally I thought her cockpit would have all these cables, and Asayuki would look pretty pathetic there suspended by her wings.
—What is Braushella’s gender?
Sato: Braushella is a boy. My idea for him was that he innocently imagines all these “demons” and his Mother (the first form of the stage 7 boss) then gives birth to his fantasies… something like that. Speaking of which, did you notice the tubes on the ceiling are pulsating? Those are pumping through the capsules that you see there in the stage background. The capsules are filled with the melted down organic goo of various living creatures, and the Mother then uses them as fodder for her attacks, and to create the zako she spits out… now you know!
—Why do Leefa, JB, Caster, and Asayuki’s ships all have the “E.u.i.” marking on them?
Sato: Ah, that… I’m not sure when that was added, but when I asked our designer Daikichi about it, he said it was the “MADE IN BRAUSHELLA” trademark. (laughs)
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Despite having a wide range of colors, the Neo Geo still used limited palettes for sprites.↩