Bushido Blade - 1997 Developer Interview
These Bushido Blade interviews were originally featured in Playstation Magazine and Dengeki Playstation. Bushido Blade was the debut production of developer Lightweight, who went on to make several other unorthodox fighting games before being relegated to the world of smartphone development. Here director Kunihiko Nakata and two of his key team members discuss their ideas about fighting games, the challenges of designing the arena maps, and some surprising influences.
Kunihiko Nakata - Director
Hiroaki Nakagawa - CG Designer
Yoichi Hayashi - Programmer
—What was the development concept for Bushido Blade?
Nakata: After we decided that our game would have people fighting with weapons, the question was how to design a system based around "ichigeki hissatsu" (one-hit takedowns) that would still feel fun. We wanted a system where, when you hit someone, it didn't just feel like "oh, I did a little damage to them…", but something more decisive—where the moment you have that "hah, I got you!" feeling is the moment you've won the match.
—So choosing swords as the operative weapon for Bushido Blade was more about making the system work, then?
Nakata: I'm not exactly sure which came first… I mean, I like fighting games with bare fists and staves and all, but I always felt it was weird when you'd take a bunch of damage in a match, and despite only having a sliver of life left, you could still fight with the same vigor. And that's why we wanted this to be a "one-hit kill" game. We could have accomplished that with just punching, but a cutting weapon is more visually convincing. It's easier to understand for players, so that's what we went with.
—Were the details of the system fleshed out by the designers and programmers as they went?
Nakata: Well, to take the graphics, for example, we had a partial idea of what we wanted. But certain things, like the idea of a castle ruins map, we came up with that along the way. So yeah, the details of the world were worked out while we made it. It was not all decided from the beginning.
—It seems that in terms of visual design, Bushido Blade didn't change drastically from your initial vision... but what challenges did you face during the production?
Nakagawa: From the start, we knew we wanted to get out of the "ring", to use a pro wrestling term, and take the fighting outdoors.
In other fighting games there's a ring, and the backgrounds are separate—you can still do a lot of things with that, but for Bushido Blade we wanted those backgrounds to be a part of the game. If we add something unnatural to the backgrounds, we have to think about how it will interact with the gameplay. So in that sense, although Bushido Blade may not seem that different visually, the way we approached the stage design was different. We couldn't work in the same way we're used to, and we decided to put a big emphasis on the atmosphere.
—Was it hard for the programmers to make the backgrounds interact with the gameplay?
Hayashi: In terms of new elements, the camera gave me a lot of trouble. Depending on the angle, characters would be hidden or appear sunk under the ground level. I tried a number of different methods to avoid this. There's a style of camerawork you can employ that's appropriate to games. You can't have invisible characters, or situations where the spacing between opponents is unclear. It was a technical challenge to avoid all that.
—Were the width and shape of the maps designed intentionally?
Nakata: After we'd completed and implemented the free-running system, we found that just running around the map was very fun. So we wanted some large maps where you could run around freely, and some long narrow maps, but other than that we didn't have any particular rules or guidelines in mind.
Nakagawa: This game is really all about the gameplay, so I would say more than visual design, we wanted them to be fun to play.
Nakata: I think the free running system is really great, how it allows you to run with one just hand. (laughs)
—How did you feel when you created the free running system?
Hayashi: We had something different in mind, originally, for the final form of this system. What you see is an intermediate stage we reached along the way, but it was very successful, so we decided to just go with this. (laughs)
—You'd planned even more then?
Nakata: If I list out all the ideas we had, we'd be here all day. There were tons. But there was the reality of time constraints to consider. So we got things to a certain level and decided to go with it, which is the system you see in Bushido Blade today. For example, in our current system, it's difficult to run straight. It works for this game—if we allowed players to run straight, I think it would probably become something else entirely.
—I get a sense of what to expect in your future efforts, from that statement.
Nakata: There are a lot of things we'd like to shape up, though.
—How do you feel about Bushido Blade, when you compare it to other fighting games?
Nakata: I mentioned this already, but other games which have a ring and background, they do some cool flashy stuff with those backgrounds. I regret that we couldn't do that for Bushido Blade. I think the choice we made to emphasize the atmosphere, though, was a very good one.
Hayashi: The fact that you can freely circle and maneuver around your opponent is something that really sets Bushido Blade apart from other games, I think.
—It certainly does feel like certain things which other fighting games have struggled with, Bushido Blade accomplishes with ease.
Nakata: That's because Bushido Blade isn't a pure fighting game…
Hayashi: We didn't think we were making a "fighting game" per se. Our mentality was different from the start.
—Would you say you were trying to make an action game within a FTG game frame, then?
Hayashi: No, we weren't thinking along those lines either. If we wanted to incorporate leg moves and kicks, for instance, that would be a whole other barrel of fish. In fact, if Nakata asked me to add kicks now, I'd have to say "sorry, impossible." (laughs)
—Did you develop any other weird gameplay modes?
Nakata: No, but the way you play is all up to you, the player.
—What parts of Bushido Blade do you feel a lot of pride for?
Nakagawa: Hm, probably the ability to move around the maps. Because we weren't overly preoccupied with making a "fighting game", I think that mindset actually helped us create a fighting game that's very fresh and new.
My original intention was to make a fighting game, but I should qualify that. For example, let's say you want to make rice. But then you go and add tons of spices and things to it, and before long, it's just a mess. So I wanted to make a fighting game, but from the ground up—as if no other fighting games had ever existed, and I was working from a fresh foundation.
Hayashi: The fact that we made the deadline. (everyone laughs) Also, the way the clothing flutters and blows in the wind properly. The snow, the wind, we've added a lot of touches to express those natural phenomena.
—And on the other end, what would you like to change or improve in the future?
Nakata: Ahh, I'm not going to talk about that! (laughs) Like, what am I supposed to say?!
—But having come so far with Bushido Blade, I'm sure you've thought about what's next...?
Nakata: To tell you the truth, even with the free running system, I think there's a lot of room for new ideas. Not just with fighting game tropes either.
Nakagawa: That's right. I think there's room to keep expanding the gameplay. With Bushido Blade, I think we've succeeded in presenting a kind of "chanbara in the park" feel. So if you think about it, there's probably a lot of other gameplay ideas you could implement in this kind of open park setting, right?
Hayashi: I'd like to try adding more varied terrain. Not just discrete elevations, but subtle slopes, low stairs, things like that. Swimming might be cool to add too.
—Having come this far then, there must be a sequel in the works...?!
Nakata: There's still a lot left that we didn't get to.
—From our conversation today I now understand that you didn't conceive of Bushido Blade as a fighting game in the normal sense. I can imagine your next game going in a different direction.
Nakata: I don't think even one of us ever insisted "It's a fighting game! A fighting game!" (laughs) In any event, please look forward to our future endeavors.
Bushido Blade - 1997 Developer Interview
originally featured in The Playstation magazine
Kunihiko Nakata - Director
Hiroaki Nakagawa - CG Designer
Yoichi Hayashi - Programmer
—First off, tell us where the idea came for Bushido Blade.
Nakata: It was a long time ago, so to tell you the truth, I don't really remember. (laughs) The one central idea, though, was that you would fight with weapons. From there, my thinking went from weapons to bushido and the knight's code of chivalry. 1
—Does that mean the word "Bushido" was part of the title from that early time?
Nakata: The earlier working title for this game was actually just Bushido. And overseas, "blade" seems to be a powerful word.
—So were you planning for an overseas release from the beginning?
Nakata: Not really, no. There's western-style weapons in Bushido Blade, and actually through most of the development we had many more weapons to choose from. Ultimately we narrowed it down to just eight.
—Did you have this system of mixing and matching characters plus weapons back then, too?
Nakata: In previous fighting games, the bosses' special moves are usually borrowed and re-used from other characters, right? 2 I could see that might happen here, so I thought instead, maybe it would be cool if we made all the weapons freely available from the start.
—With 6 characters and 8 weapons though, it's already a huge assortment of potential combinations.
Nakata: In the beginning we were planning to have eight characters too, actually… but that just wasn't going to be possible. (laughs)
—Why did you select these eight weapons?
Nakata: I wanted crowd-pleasers, nothing too weird or discordant… for example, we decided not to have whips or kusarigama as main weapons. We also thought about having just Japanese swords.
—You do use a naginata instead of a regular spear, I noticed.
Nakata: One of my original ideas was to use Heian-era weapons, and the naginata and nagamaki were often used then.
—What about the sledgehammer? It seems like the odd-man-out.
Nakata: That was actually inspired by the movie Streets of Fire. (laughs) There's a sledgehammer duel at the end. I really wanted to re-create that action in a game.
At first, the weapons were really the main characters. I was thinking the characters themselves would be like mere stand-ins, with a strong-but-slow type of character and a fast-but-weak type.
—You didn't give the characters any traits or personality?
Nakata: I didn't think about that, no. I thought it would be fine, but eventually I realized that maybe it felt too empty, so we made them real characters. However, since I'd started with the idea that the weapons were the characters, I also thought, "wait… isn't it weird if they don't die when they're slashed by a katana?" And from there I hit upon the idea of one-hit kills, and things were gradually fleshed out from there.
—One-hit kills render the life gauge meaningless too.
Nakata: Yeah. I didn't have the idea of one-hit kills in the beginning, but once we pegged that piece down, the rest of the game really took shape.
As for the game system, we were aiming for something simpler. Not a life gauge, but something more immediately intuitive. I wanted players to experience the tension of one-hit kills, the strategic aspect of spacing. This wouldn't be possible in an arcade game, so we focused on doing something that could only be done in a console game, and it became what you see today.
—I wanted to ask how you came up with these unique characters...
Nakata: That's owed to the designer. (laughs) At first it was just like, "anything's fine, just model something that looks good with the weapons." During those early explorations, we created a character wearing a hakama and wielding a slender blade. I liked how that looked, so I said "ok, let's go with this style." I wasn't very concerned about the characters in the beginning. Like I said, they were basically just data placeholders then.
—That's funny, because I would have thought you had a deep attachment to these characters from the very start...
Nakata: No, it wasn't like that. All their backstories and details were added after the fact.
—Nevertheless, they have a lot of visual impact. There's Red Shadow's thighs... and Utsusemi, he just seems like exactly the kind of old man you'd find in a game like this. When I first saw Black Lotus' Zorro costume, I hope you won't be offended, but I busted up laughing.
Nakata: Oh no, that's totally fine. I laughed too. (laughs) As for Red Shadow's thighs, I wonder if we overdid it a little there. (laughs) We wanted her to be memorable so we emphasized them.
—Who are the staff's favorite characters?
Nakata: The staff? Everyone has a different favorite. Some people love Tatsumi, others love Red Shadow. My personal favorite is Utsusemi.
—Was Tatsumi designed to appeal to female players?
Nakata: No, he wasn't. We never once thought, "let's try to make characters that will be popular". That's why it's actually been a pleasant suprise to see people take a shine to them. The reader feedback in your magazine has been overwhelmingly centered on Tatsumi… (laughs)
—Thank you for being a dedicated reader of our magazine. (laughs) The outfits for the characters in story mode and versus mode are very different too.
Nakata: In the beginning they all had black clothing, but as I talked with the designers, we decided to change that to more of a Japanese armor look. The versus matches are true life-and-death duels so they wear more formal clothing.
—Were you inspired by things like jidaigeki (Japanese historical dramas)?
Nakata: Yes, we looked at a lot of things and reference materials along those lines. But that was mainly for the motion capturing and visual direction… the visual aesthetic and story were actually more influenced by detective fiction and historical novels.
—Hayashi, as programmer, what were some of your struggles?
Hayashi: The roughest part was the schedule. (laughs) Otherwise, if I had to choose… maybe syncing up the motion capture. The motion footage was captured at a certain speed, and it was quite difficult to transform that into moves looked smooth in-game.
—Next I wanted to ask about the maps. Nakagawa, were the Castle Ruin maps created by you?
Nakagawa: We didn't have anyone else to do it. (laughs) So I had to create them entirely myself.
—Did you research castle design and construction?
Nakagawa: Well, I've loved castles since I was a kid. (laughs)
Nakata: I didn't know that! (laughs)
Nakagawa: Yeah, when I was a kid my parents wouldn't let me play with robot plastic models. So castles, armor, oden vendors… those were the only models I made.
—Having made these maps yourself, what are some of your favorite areas?
Nakagawa: Well, true castle otaku may take issue with various things they see, and there's parts I'm not fully satisfied with either… even the large size of the maps, ultimately I'm not sure whether it was a good thing or not to make them this big. I'm actually curious to hear how players felt about that. The maps are made with polygons, so it makes sense that you should be able to run right up to the edge of what you can see, right? If we'd gone for more traditional fighting game stages, though, perhaps it would have been visually better.
—But the way you did it, I do feel like it distinguishes Bushido Blade from previous fighting games.
Hayashi: That was our mentality as the creators, too—we didn't see this as a "fighting game" per se.
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!