Cave Shooting History Interview Collection

Cave Shooting History Interview Collection

These ten interviews first appeared in the Cave Shooting History book, which was sold directly by Cave in 2010 to commemorate their 16 years of STG development. In addition to interviews, it also contains an extensive collection of design art and annotated photos from their various matsuri events. The book is long since out of print now, but used copies still appear on ebay from time to time. Also note: given the length, I've added a sub-menu for easier navigation.

Makoto Asada | Junya Inoue | Manabu Namiki | Takashi Ichimura | Hiroyuki Tanaka | Shinobu Yagawa | Hideki Nomura | Akira Wakabayashi | Tsuneki Ikeda | Bonus! Cave Facts!

Makoto Asada
Makoto Asada


Central Works
Mushihimesama Futari
Espgaluda II Black Label
Deathsmiles IIX
Mushihimesama HD

—This year is Cave's 16th anniversary. How do you feel about it?

Asada: I’ve only been at Cave for the last two years, so I really cant comment on the 14 years prior to my arriving here. However, I can now look at Cave from the point of view of a staff member and also from the point of view of a fan – and I can see many things. To most of our fans, this company seems to be making only shooting games – but the size of the department responsible for this is actually relatively small when compared to other departments.

When I came to Cave I felt strange because what people think is going on here is actually very different from the way things actually are. Honestly, with the way the market for shooting games is these days, how long do you imagine we as a company could survive in this world? I’m not speaking only of this section, but the company as a whole may not exist in the future. I can’t deny the possibility. I think it would be difficult for Cave as a company to continue if they only published shooting games in the future.

We need to be creating new genres of games in the next two or three years in order to survive. I’m currently in the process of thinking of new ideas for the coming years. Coming up with new ideas and making new games is one of our attempts at growing.

—What did you do before you started working at Cave?

Asada: I did many things. When I first got into the world of programming games I had a lot of worries because I didn’t have a direction. “Making games looks like fun” was my entire reason for entering this world, but the reality is very difficult. In the beginning I was often too busy to even get a nights sleep. I think the only reason I got through this early period in my career is because of the “Power of Youth”. When I first joined Cave my job was to test completed games. This was all day, everyday. People thought I was lucky because not only could I play a lot of games, but I also made my living doing it. However, I only felt agony.

Now I don’t even play the games I make because of this agonizing past experience – never mind the games of others. I’ve made many games in my career here at Cave, but honestly I’ve played very few of them. Since I began working at this company, I don’t have any videogames in my house. I think if I were to play the games that I make I would only feel regret for the things that I could have or should have done. I’m far too critical of the way things turn out. It’s better to turn this energy into creating new games rather than dwelling on what I could have done with games I have finished.

—You’ve lost a lot of weight, haven’t you? Is this a result of working for Cave?

Asada: Yeah, it’s true – I have lost a lot of weight since I started here. This happened during my first project because I just had too much stress. When I joined the team, there was no direction, I was given no advice, not even an outline of what I should be doing or what management was expecting. During that period of time I used all of my life energy either working or worrying. I was a bit chubby then, so perhaps the weight loss was for the best.

The culture here at Cave is such that when we finish one title, we immediately move on to our next project. We honestly don’t have a break between releases. Cave doesn’t give us any breaks, so it’s difficult to stay healthy. In my case I never have only one game that I’m working on – it’s usually two or three so I’m probably busy beyond what you can imagine.

Without a doubt, the most difficult point in my life here at Cave so far was between September 2009 and May 2010. This was during the XBOX 360 releases of Mushihime-sama, Galuda II Black, and Deathsmiles IIX. Not only was I behind the scenes programming these games, but I also had to attend our matsuri events as well as attend press conferences and game conventions. You’ll notice that the time I mentioned falls within “Golden Week” (Japans week long national holiday) but even then I was in the warehouse packing CDs for FedEX. I honestly have no vacation time here. I wish that we as a company weren’t doing so many things at once, because I’d really like to have some time off.

—You sound like a busy guy, do you have any personal time?

Asada: Honestly, no. I didn’t have a single day off from October 2009 to May 2010. I was here at work on New Years Eve. Even with so much work, the only game I’ve ever delivered on schedule has been Galuda II Black.

—Sounds like you’ve given up a lot to work at Cave. Do you have time for any hobbies?

Asada: No. No time for hobbies. I liked playing games before, but I really don’t feel like playing any now. When I was younger, I was really into video games. Actually, I take that back – my hobby is horse racing. I’ve written about horse racing, and I even wrote a horse racing game. I really got into it when I was about 20 years old. Once, when I was working for another company I got an 800,000 yen bonus ($10,000 USD) and I blew it all at the horse races. Well, I didn’t “blow” it, because I ended up winning about 4 times that amount.

I spent all of the money that night going to Ginza with 20-30 of my closest friends. Actually, not only did I spend all of the money by the following morning, but I was actually in debt. These days I’m not so foolish with my money, but if there’s a horse I’m sure of I’ll throw in a bit of money on him. A while back there was a horse that I really liked to bet on but he retired. My friend owns a horse, and I went to the celebration of his first win. (sigh) That was a happy time in my life.

Now you know who to blame for this!

—That’s a great hobby! So when did you start playing games?

Asada: I played my first video game in Kindergarten. It was one of Nintendo’s “Game and Watch” handhelds. Looking back now, these were very simple games with easy patterns and yet I was completely absorbed by it. After I played it so much and it became too easy I began to make my own rules such as “don’t jump more than twice”. With those new rules I felt as if I had created a new game. In addition to the Game and Watch, my family had a series of home computers such as the MSX, SG-1000 II and the Sega Mark III. I played many types of games on these systems, but I had never played shooting games such as what I make now. When I was hired by Cave I played a shooting game for the first time, and I actually didn’t know what to do.

—Being a producer now, what do you put emphasis on?

Asada: The most important thought to a producer is “How many games can we sell?” A producer doesn’t make games, but I am responsible for the budget and sales. If these sales can’t support the budget than we go into the red. You obviously can’t run a company that way. We must sell as many games as possible in order to keep our company profitable. If we can’t release games on schedule and sell them in significant numbers then we need to cut the budget. I’m constantly worrying about the budget because I’m the one responsible for it. My title is producer, but in fact I do all sorts of odd jobs as well.

—Would you say that you and IKD both do work beyond your job titles?

Asada: Well, everyone in this section does! In my case I must budget, plan the games as well as organize public events. It’s probably fairly easy for most people to understand what making a game is like. Think about the construction industry. Even with people being hired and fired, people going on vacation, etc buildings still must be constructed on time. When one construction project is finished they move on to the next with little to no interest at looking back on what they have completed. Maybe a construction worker will have a bit of time off between one project and the next, but here at Cave we get absolutely no vacation time. When we we’re making Deathsmiles II X, I actually stayed here at the company offices for more than 100 days. Sleeping here, eating here, everything.

Asada and Ikeda goofing off at a Cave Matsuri event.

I wish that our company policy were to concentrate on one project at a time. I feel like when I’m so busy I can’t pay proper attention to catching problems or squashing bugs. Each time a project is finished I reflect a bit on my faults and promise myself I wont make the same mistakes again. As you can probably guess, this is much easier said than done. When I’m asked to tackle so many tasks at once I try to prioritize them by how important they are, but I feel that I can’t do any of the tasks well.

—It seems like everyone here at the Cave offices are really friendly with each other. Is this true?

Asada: I really don’t get to see my team so much these days because I’m not spending so much time at the office anymore. When I do get a chance to check in it’s usually at night when I go for my walk. My house is actually quite close to the Cave offices and is quite well equipped for business these days, so most anything that needs to be done I feel I can do better from home.

It’s not we don’t get along. I’m their manager, and I don’t want to have this air of importance about me. My staff are all much more experienced than me. Most of them have worked here at Cave for more than 10 years, so they work well together and have learned each others rhythms and mannerism. I can say that my staff members are a very earnest group of people. If there’s anyone here that neglects their duties, it’s without a doubt myself. But they’re a good group. When people come to the Cave festivals they may think that working at Cave is this crazy experience and that the staff are all wildmen, but the truth is that we are all working very earnestly and quietly . It’s bad business to quarrel with the people you work with, so I never do.

Our staff works very well together, and the beginning of a project usually goes something like this: At first I tell the staff my overall plan that I hope we can accomplish. After that they get to work and fulfill their duties. I sometimes check their work, sometimes I don’t. If their work is different from my overall intention I’ll pull them aside and let them know that they are straying from the intended goal.

—So would you say you meddle in other peoples affairs?

Asada: Yes, I do! In fact, just the other day I took some photos of my staff during my break time and I ordered some custom Tirol chocolates with the wrappers being these photographs. I wanted to start making them in bulk and sell these chocolates at the last Cave matsuri, but they all refused to allow me. Those things cost me 3000 yen to make!

Cosplaying Asada plays DDP with the Kinect.

—You’re the main event planner for the Cave matsuris now, if given a chance are there any other events you would like to hold?

Asada: Currently we only have two chances a year to interact in a somewhat direct manner with our fans. I’d like to do something where the staff directly interacts with the people who support us. I was in the early stages of planning a sports festival where our staff would compete in various events against our fans, but the legal department informed me that this was definitely not happening as we couldn’t afford the liability of someone getting injured.

Just the other day Mr. Inoue held a sports festival with his friends in the park. He even had trophies to hand out! If they were playing a sport and didn’t have some item of equipment they needed, they would just ask strangers if they could borrow them. Japan is unique in that adults hold these silly events that don’t mean anything and yet they take them so seriously. It’s completely crazy, I admit. I want to do crazy things like that.

—Is it difficult to keep the fans of Cave happy?

Asada: Our customers are constantly telling us to improve their online experience during the Cave internet matsuris. We’ve changed the system several times but it’s difficult to affect any meaningful change. When so many people around the world are accessing the site at the same time, our systems quite literally freeze up. We’ve spent a lot of money recently trying to improve the system, but it looks as if nothing has changed. We sell products during the Cave online matsuri because we recognize that not everyone lives near Tokyo and can access our products easily. I’m always considering how can we improve our users online experience. After all, if there weren’t fans willing to part with their money in our interest there would be no Cave. We really need to address this problem, but I’m only a lowly producer in the shooting games section.

Makoto Asada | Junya Inoue | Manabu Namiki | Takashi Ichimura | Hiroyuki Tanaka | Shinobu Yagawa | Hideki Nomura | Akira Wakabayashi | Tsuneki Ikeda | Bonus! Cave Facts!

Inoue’s latest self-portrait.
Junya Inoue

Manga Artist

Central Works
Progear no Arashi
Dodonpachi Daioujou (illustrations)
Deathsmiles series

Mainly oversees character design, game setting, and story. On Deathsmiles he also directed as “graphics president.”

—Please share your thoughts regarding Cave’s 16th anniversary.

Inoue: It feels like the child who was so small is finally all grown up! (laughs) I joined Cave about 2 years after they had started, in the middle of Dodonpachi. Since they were in the middle of it, I wasn’t given too much of the main work. Judging from the style of the team making Dodonpachi at that time, the main work was the bosses and stages, and things like the story, opening, ending, and ship select weren’t thought of as very important. So my boss at the time told me, “It's not that important, so Inoue, you do it.” Since I had essentially been told “do whatever” with the story and ending, I was really lost as what I was even supposed to do. (laughs) I mean, since the stages and the protagonists and the ships were all already completed, how in the world am I supposed to come up with a story after the fact?! Even now I wonder about that.

Anyway, I ended up studying up on the prequel, Donpachi, and realized it didn’t have that deep of a story. Well, now I could relax a little… and with that feeling my work at Cave began. I’ve since quit the company but I’m still connected to them even now, with my work on Deathsmiles II this year. Its been a long, lasting relationship. Though Deathsmiles II will be my final game with Cave… (laughs)

—Weren’t you saying the same thing when Deathsmiles was released?

Inoue: I… am a liar. (laughs) The truth is, I hadn’t been involved in any of Cave’s sequels so I was interested this time. From the start I had wanted to do sequels to the various projects I had worked on; there’s ideas you just couldn’t fit into the first game, and new ideas keep coming up even after its finished, and I wanted to somehow bring those to life. It ended up that when I talked with Ikeda about all this he was like, “Ok, you do it then,” so the direction became my responsibility for Deathsmiles II. I was busy with my work as a manga artist, and I wanted to change the atmosphere from the first game, so I was going to hire a different illustrator and focus on direction myself… that was the plan, but somewhere along the way it turned out that I had come up with all these new design ideas, so in the end I did the illustration myself. Its controversial to change the visual design like this, but if I can’t get the feeling of satisfaction I’m seeking from the first and second designs, I will change it again for Deathsmiles III. (this is also a lie)

A Tale of Two Caspars: Deathsmiles II (L), Deathsmiles (R).

—In Dodonpachi, how did you come up with lines like shinu ga yoi?1

Inoue: There’s always various tensions when you make a game, but with Dodonpachi I was pretty relaxed. So I think that’s why that kind of catchphrase and character came about. I touched on this before, but I think that for each game you work on you have to take things according to their circumstances, and not be too hung up on particular ideas. I think that in a game’s characters and background, you find the core of the story, and the world of the game flows from there.

Many games at the time which were called “masterpieces” had a world and story which were closely intertwined, after all. But with Donpachi and Dodonpachi, that wasn’t the case at all. So no matter how seriously I tried to create a backstory I thought I would never reach something on the level of the Raystorm games. With that being the case, I had a very blasé attitude about it and the result was that I just worked on things in a very casual way, not taking it too seriously. (laughs)

After I had finished working on Dodonpachi, sometime later when I saw the words that come up before the last boss, saishuu kichiku heiki,2 I exclaimed, “Ikeda!! Yet again you’ve put more of your insane pillow talk3 into this game!” To which Ikeda replied, “YOU wrote that!” (laughs) I guess I was so relaxed I forgot what I even did. (laughs) So please don’t give me too much credit or respect for Dodonpachi.

The one who deserves that is Ikeda, for the feat of designing those charismatic bosses. Only in doing so we’d end up adding some strange language to the game. At the time a senior employee at Cave (he was something like a director) was announcing to the development team that his image for the game was Uchuu Senkan Yamato, and I thought that here was a Star Wars lover who’d just revealed his true colors. With that, I told him I was thinking about refining the story for Dodonpachi to be more like 70s era sci-fi, and the phrase “shinu ga yoi” just came out naturally. I’d completely forgot about all that… (laughs) They seemed like phrases that Battleship Yamato villains like Lord Desler or Emperor Zwoda would say.

—Speaking of Ikeda, from your perspective, what kind of person is he?

Inoue: I probably shouldn’t say too many weird things about him in public like this. But I have nothing to say but weird things! Strange people seem to always be drawn to him. One time, on the train he saw a man in a tank top who looked like he was about to be kissed by another man standing behind him. This guy in the tanktop was really well built, and the guy behind him seemed to have his lips puckered up as if to say “What a wonderful back! <3” Ikeda saw him posing luridly like this, as if he were waiting for the brakes on the train to suddenly be pulled so the man would fall into his waiting lips. Ikeda’s always seeing weird things like that.

He observes mysterious things too. On the last train of the night, he saw an old man go “UGH” as if he was about to upchuck the entire contents of his stomach, and yet he never threw up, but his mouth kept getting fuller and fuller, almost to bursting. Ikeda observes many things that one would just normally ignore. There’s something in him that seems to attract these kind of strange people. Its a quality that can’t be mimicked!

Cave (a Cave staff member who was sitting next to Inoue at the interview, hereafter “Cave”): Ikeda is always saying “Junya is strange.”

Inoue: He doesn’t call me Junya! Ah, that’s creepy!

Cave: It would be funny at an event if you both did a routine with “Jun-chan” and “Ike-chan.” I bet the fans would like to see that.

Inoue: Yeah, it would be funny to see those two arguing. And with 1 mic between them. Ughhh, I’m disturbed! (laughs)

—Do you often butt heads with Ikeda?

Inoue: Quite often. If Ikeda is the King, then I am the Prince… neither of us will back down. But lately Ikeda seems to have withdrawn and is not too involved with development, so I haven’t had much feedback from him.

Cave: Whenever Ikeda calls me the phone calls go on and on. It gets to the point where even he says “I don’t want to talk on the phone anymore.”

Inoue: Its worst when he’s in high spirits, isn’t it? Lately I’ve been keeping his number blocked. (laughs)

Cave: When it happens that Ikeda has been talking for an hour and I can’t believe he’s still going on, I suddenly realize from the content of the conversation that its Junya he really wants to talk with. If only he’d just use email. (laughs)

Inoue: Hey, these are important conversations! If you tried to do this in email it would take 8 times as long! Talking all these things over is the key to a good game.

Cave: Why not just come to the office? Well, actually, then the meeting would never end… (laughs) It would be like, I’m STILL here?! There he goes again, just talking on and on with no consideration for his fellow man…

Inoue: Oh, but there is. These are important conversations that will determine the basis of the game. “On men’s moe obsession with girls” and so forth. When I first heard Ikeda say such things I thought, “what the hell did he just say,” but due to his excellent powers of persuasion I have come around and sensed something very deep… he introduced me to some research materials, and I ordered them from Amazon…

Cave: … (embarrassment)

Inoue: Ikeda called me one night at 11PM and shared his wisdom, “You can’t make dressing in drag look so free and easy! You’ve got to make him look all frustrated, like he’s saying ‘No, no!'” As a result of that session I realized, “Yes! I’ve got it!” and the character Lei was born!

—So that’s how it was… by the way, which Cave character would you take as a bride?

Inoue: Well, I’m not familiar with the characters of Cave’s other titles, but if I had to choose one, I would say Windia or Irori. I have a lot of affection for the characters I’ve made, you know. You’ve got to love your own work, first and foremost. Though if that feeling is too strong, other people won’t like it, you’ve got to be mindful of the balance. (laughs) So I feel I should say “daughter” rather than “bride,” right? (I’m taking this too seriously)

Inoue’s waifu, Irori of

—…ok then. Of the games you’ve developed, which ones have a special emotional significance for you?

Inoue: In their own way I feel a strong connection to various things, but in the sense of which one was the most challenging, I felt inside that I had changed Cave with this game. Also, Guwange, for showing me that I could draw pictures like that. These two are most significant for me because I feel like I was able to express myself with them most fully. Deathsmiles, on the other hand, was more like “how do I make others happy?”, and as far as my personal attachment goes, is therefore lower than Guwange and

Cave: The world of Guwange is very unique.

Inoue: Cave made a big fuss about the Japanese aesthetic at first… I wasn’t at the Guwange team at first. One day I took a peek at what they were doing, and they were saying the Japanese style would come from mechs with Japanese roof tiles as armor… and then I exclaimed something like “How exactly is that ‘Japanese’ style shooting?!” Well, after that, you know how it is… once you speak out you’ve got to help out, and I joined the Guwange team.

I aimed for a Japanese style that would include things like youkai, yuurei, the awe of sakura blossoms, the beauty of blood, the excitement of summer, and so on. To achieve this, I felt the image of Edo and Sengoku (warring states) periods were too close to current human civilization to be effective. The more ancient Heian, Kamakura, and Muromachi eras would really give a more “youkai” feeling to things. The divine presence of the kami and the sense of mystery would be greater, too.

Cave: There aren’t that many games with such a Japanese taste to them.

Inoue: Within the already small genre of shooting, the number of games with a Japanese aesthetic is yet smaller. Speaking broadly there’s the Shikigami no Shiro series, but that Japanese aesthetic is rather slight there.

There’s also the Vasara games. Ikeda loved the image of Tokugawa Ieyasu smoking a cigar in that game, and he said to me, “I want to blown away like this.”

—You did some fine voice performance in those games too.

Inoue: That was just playing around. I absolutely can’t do vocal performances. Like Hitchcock or Tarantino, I wanted to leave my… fingerprints? (laughs) on my work. Its an expression of the feeling I have as a kind of director, wanting to shower my work with love! On the other hand, projects that I haven’t had much attachment to don’t have my voice in them… like Yanya Caballista… right? I tried doing some voicework for Satan Claws, but we found someone perfect for that role. And we’ve been doing full voice work for our games lately, so the pretense for me adding my voice is gone. I stepped back a bit for Deathsmiles IIX and only recorded my voice for the boss Tamekosu. I’m really bad at vocal performance. You know, my lies always get found out, so my acting sucks. My specialty lies more in coming up with lies.

Cave: I think its funnier with Junya’s monotone readings!

Inoue: It makes the passionate fans happy when they see little chinks in the armor like that. They like to find our little faults and enjoy brandishing them about and teasing us. “Haha, look at this dialogue!!” kind of thing. They’re laughing at us!

Cave: I know (laughs). As soon as you say “Cave” they start grinning.

Inoue: We can use that to our advantage, in a sense. After all, our games are pretty slapped together… (laughs) You now, at a live event recently SawaXXXX-san’s ass was half-revealed, and it was kind of chubby, and he was jokingly scolded “you’ve been slacking off!!” But I say, that’s good! Because you can see the little flaws. If you can’t see those, its lacks charm. When you get down to it, Cave also has a strength not unlike SawaXXXXsan’s ass. How do you like it, my “ass theory” (shiririron)? Or “shiriron,”4 to say it like Ikeda!

—Speaking of Deathsmiles, I hear you forgot the name of your own characters…

Inoue: You must be referring to the time we were creating merchandise for Deathsmiles… Cave didn’t know the name of the character’s magic. So they asked me “What was the name of Suupi’s magic again?” I’m really bad at remembering names so I always choose things that are easy to remember. The magic names were based off what they yell out: “ho, ho!”, “ki ki ki ki…” “boo boo”, that kind of thing. So I was trying to remember what Suupi called out when she used her magic, and I thought, “gaago”, that’s it! and emailed Cave back. Later I learned that it was actually “gyaasu”. (laughs) Because of that I think we had to reprint some things. (laughs) Please, don’t trust me!

—Are there other names you came up with in a similarly convenient way?

Inoue: At this age, I have a hard time remembering those names. You try remembering something like “Colonel Schwarlitz Longhena”!! If there were some keywords or something it’d be easier to remember. With “Irori” from, there’s the common word “irori” (“sunken hearth/fireplace”) that everyone knows, and it conveys an image of Kyoto, where she’s from, and it also evokes the winter setting of… with all these allusions, its the perfect name. And it has “rori” [[“loli” or lolita]] in it! Perfect! It has absolutely nothing to do with the Okonomiyaki restaurant near Cave’s offices. Other than that, most of the names I choose are named after something already existing. I think Its easier to remember that way.

For example, in Progear everything is named after parts like “Ring,” “Bolt,” “Chain,” “Nail,” and “Rivet.” Deathsmiles too, there’s kazedukai -> kaze -> wind -> Windia. Shireidukai -> yuurei -> a movie example -> Casper. The fire user was faia -> foia -> Folette. For Suupi, based on an image of an impoverished girl selling matches, it went: himojii (hungry) –> nemui (sleepy) –> su~pi~ –> Suupi. There’s not much to it, you see? When I was at Toaplan and Batsugun came out, people complained that they couldn’t remember the names of Beltiana and Alteeno.. “is that German?” So it comes from a reaction to that. (laughs)

Makaimura, Inoue’s introduction to the world of arcade games.

—How did you get into manga and games?

Inoue: I’ve always liked manga, but for games, when I saw Makaimura at a game center, my destiny was changed. And it was in my second year of junior high, when you’re most vulnerable to obsessions, so I really got addicted. Thus began my disreputable life of going to game centers. After that, I temporarily set aside my goal of becoming a manga artist because I entered the game industry.

Lately I haven’t been able to play games at the game center, but I do occasionally play “Tomb Raider: Underworld” at home. As for manga, I draw at home and in the office for my own pleasure and to keep my skills sharp. (laughs)

—Do you think making games and drawing manga have anything in common?

Inoue: To me, they’re pretty much the same. There’s a world, and characters, and you’re thinking of the best way to show all that as you create. You imagine characters and scenes, and you’re trying to figure out what their goals, how they act, and finally you decide to show the best parts in this or that way. I really get into all that so its interesting for me. Following that logic, I think making games and making manga are the same to me. My style is to create a world and setting, and from that a story, so I don’t spend too much effort establishing the characters (laughs).

The Colonel was made much more deliberately, so that’s a different story. But and Guwange were that way. I place a lot of importance on the packaging and the coloring. As there’s 3 or 4 heroes in those games, I can’t spend an inordinate amount of time drawing any single one. This story-centric way of doing things causes the same kind of things to happen in manga too. Though in today’s era, its not really a good thing, but…

—I imagine its very difficult to work on both manga and games at the same time.

Inoue: I’m the type of author who really gets absorbed in one thing, and if I can’t develop the world even deeper than the players and readers end up seeing, then I feel like I can’t present it. So if I end up having to do too much, I can’t focus on one thing at a time deeply and I end up losing interest entirely. When that happens the work falls apart. I’m always afraid of that.

—Will you be attending future Cave festivals, where you get to mingle with your fans?

Inoue: If I do some work with manga, then maybe… when I release something new I feel like I should attend, but it seems a little strange when I’m a guest everytime. When I think about how others might see my attendance it seems somehow improper, so I’m planning not to come for awhile. (laughs) That reminds me though, last year at the Cave Matsuri I met a guy who told me he had met his girlfriend because of Deathsmiles. I was very happy to meet someone like this. I was curious how it happened. I worked hard on making Deathsmiles a cute game that a girl could look at and not feel weirded out by, and wanted it to be a game that people who don’t normally play shooting games could get into. So when I heard some two people got together through Deathsmiles I was like, “I did it!”

Cave: Fans of your manga and fans of your games both come to Cave Matsuri events.

Inoue: Yeah, there are many Cave fans who keep an eye on my work. When I did a signing event in Oosaka, close to 80% of the fans said they were fans since my Cave days. Those are the people who support me and my work. I have fun drawing pictures and such at the Cave Matsuri events, too.

—If there’s anything you’d like to say about Cave, please take the occasion now to speak freely.

Inoue: I’d like them to make major games, like the kind you see on commercials. Doing that, of course, would mean graduating from the world of 2D shooting. But Ikeda is a person who operates on the logic of “is it interesting?”, so I think its a waste for him to be so bound by 2D shooting games. I’ve been saying this for 15 years now. In the future the world of shooting games is going to get smaller and smaller, but I think it will remain without disappearing. It has a kind of strength, being a genre with a solid fanbase, and the games aren’t expensive to create either. Even if it shrinks, I don’t suppose it will completely disappear.

Cave: Well, how about Deathsmiles III then? Windia’s children’s generation?

Inoue: Don’t tell lies! (laughs) That would change the setting in a strange way because it would have to happen before Windia went to Gilverado. I’d rather remake Esprade. I’d update the graphics and world and call it “Esupriredo” or something. “Guwange RPG” sounds interesting too. The character wouldn’t be Shishin and them, but would be the player’s own customizable avatar. I’d keep the stages short and increase their number and get to draw a bunch of different motifs. It would be like going on a pilgrimage through ancient Japan. Well, I should stop now. If I say any more they’ll ask me to start drafting a design plan.

—Please give any final message for your fans.

Inoue: I, Junya Inoue, and Cave, are supported by the love of all our shooting fans. We will keep this devotion close to our hearts as we continue to do our best. Thank you for everything.

Makoto Asada | Junya Inoue | Manabu Namiki | Takashi Ichimura | Hiroyuki Tanaka | Shinobu Yagawa | Hideki Nomura | Akira Wakabayashi | Tsuneki Ikeda | Bonus! Cave Facts!

Manabu Namiki
Manabu Namiki

Basiscape Composer

Central Works
Dodonpachi Daioujou
Espgaluda II
Mushihimesama Futari
Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu + Black Label
Deathsmiles II

—Please share your feelings about Cave as they welcome their 16th anniversary.

Namiki: Shooting games have been around since the dawning of the game centers. I think its amazing the way Cave has shaped and pursued the evolution of the gameplay of “dodging and firing bullets.” I also love these kinds of games, so I’m very happy that I’ve been able to support Cave through my music. I was employed by Cave before working with Basiscape, so our relationship goes back a long way.

—Starting with your older titles, please tell us how you got involved with game production and writing music.

Namiki: My first plunge into the game industry was a part-time job designing pixel art graphics. But I didn’t have any artistic talent and never studied art. I just knew how to get the computer to display certain images and worked like that. It was the first time I learned color theory and such, from an art school professional who taught me while I worked. I was 19 then, and it was 1990.

Listening to music had always been a hobby for me. When it comes making music, I had never studied, I didn’t know piano, and I never went to music school. About all I had done was help a friend out a bit who had a band when I was a student. But I was a young kid who earnestly loved games, so I had all these personal ideas about how game music should be, or how the music should match the graphics of a game. I wrote music just with my imagination. Through my part time job, I painfully realized that I had no talent with drawing. (laughs)

So I thought, if I’m no good at drawing, how about music? I started making chiptune style game music with a synthesizer I had on-hand, and I kept diligently working at it until I finally had something worth hearing, which I then showed it to my friends. While I was doing all that, I sent a demo tape to a company, and they hired me. That was my professional start, in April of 1992. Later I joined the company as a “pro,” and while I made music there I also studied music, so the order was all wrong. (laughs) So, if anyone reading this has something they love to do, I want them to challenge themselves and remember that you can always pick up the technical stuff later. I think if you really love something, even the difficult parts won’t seem painful.

—Having worked on so many games, there must be some where the setting and world were very difficult for you to write music to.

Namiki: When it comes to writing music that fits a shooting game, its different from normal music. I have to always keep in mind that it has to be a certain kind of music to work for a shooting game. I think this is a fundamental thing to remember, in a sense even coming ahead of the graphics and the setting.

For example, to compare it with cooking, in cooking the ingredients are already decided, and the setting of the game is like the spice or flavor. In Dodonpachi Daioujou, when I heard the world was a retro-future sci-fi setting, I thought I’d give the music the same color and style, but a fundamental premise that I have to remember is that this is music for a shooting game.

Another example, Mushihimesama, takes place in a fantasy world, and the feeling of nature flows through it, so musically I wanted to include folk music rhythms, and use flutes and drums as instruments. For each game I add all sorts of things to diversify the game world. All these different “spices” have to be added while I hold fast to the premise of it as a shooting game… to say it another way, how do I work it out with such limitations. In that sense, its a difficulty I have to face for every game I work on.

—When you’re creating the music for a game, what kind of things do you pay special attention to?

Namiki: I’ve always really loved games. I’ve been playing what we would now call “retro” games since I was in elementary school. When I’d listen to the sound effects and music of those games, I’d think about how it could be made more enjoyable, or how it could better excite the listener as he played. I continue to research those things now, with my work, and its something I keep close to me everytime I’m writing. I’m making “music for video games” so I really focus on how to make the music synergize with the game and make it more exciting.

—It must be difficult to achieve that effect in the noisy environment of a game center!

Namiki: Like many kids, when I was young, I’d often ride my bike to the game center, and when I stopped my bike in front, and the automatic doors opened, and I heard all the music flow out… I was like, “Alright, let’s play!” and it would really get me excited. I’d like it if I could recreate that excitement in my music.

In game centers, there aren’t only video games… there’s also medal games, crane games, photo sticker booths, tv displays… its a place where all these sounds and more are jumbled together. I’ve been involved in making music for games in game centers for almost 18 years now, and I still find it hard to hear a game’s music in the flood of all that sound. Its something you just can’t get away from.

But when I write music, I think if I can at least match the mood of the music to the game’s progression, even if you can’t hear it properly with headphones, the basic parts of the rhythm and melody won’t get lost as you play, even in that noise-saturated environment. When I play my favorite games, too, if I get overwhelmed by the other sounds in the game I get disinterested and will soon end up dying. (laughs) And its further disappointing then, not even being able to hear my own explosion!

So that sense of excitement and tension from the music is important. When you’ve cleared a stage and hear music that feels good, you get pumped up and think, “Alright, what’s next!” When you can’t hear it, though, its like there’s no response from the game and its lonely. I feel like even now I’m still fighting against the flood of sound in the game center to avoid that. (laughs)

—Its true that your music really gets people excited to play, starting with the character select screens.

Namiki: Players who aren’t very good at shooting games will still always hear certain music: the stage, ship, and character select screens, and the music you hear before you start playing and take-off. Before I start composing I always get some hints from the graphics and rules of the game, in order to understand what I should be emphasizing. Each time I work hard at this aspect of the composition. I consciously try to write the stage select screen so that it gets players excited, and to make it feel like an inviting door into the world of the game. Of course the more stage select screens I make, the more I exhaust my tricks. (laughs)

I haven’t counted exactly yet, but I think its been… 9 games? If you add in arrange versions and console ports its probably well over 10. For Daioujou, Ketsui, and Deathsmiles I did all the music myself, but for the other games, in order to keep on schedule, I’ve asked for help from other Basiscape staff for several songs. Of course I’d like to do everything myself, but its just too difficult.

Sally from DFK:BL, a rousing select theme.

—The CD soundtracks for those titles were also very popular.

Namiki: Before I started working at Cave I worked for another company making shooting game music, but almost all that music has never been put out on cd. When the soundtracks for the Cave games came out on CD, I got inquiries about putting out my older work on CD, too. My response was, please ask Cave about that. (laughs) But after that things became more open, and I participated in the Cave Matsuri events, too.

The truth is, people then were saying the outlook for shooting games doesn’t look good, and that fewer and fewer game centers are carrying shooting games. There was a feeling of danger that, at this rate, shooting games would disappear. I made my music then with the feeling that, if I write good music, the people who love it will carry the torch forward. That was all around the time of Daioujou and Ketsui.

—You must have a lot of attachment to the music from those games, then?

Namiki: I feel that way for all the music I’ve written, but those early days were particularly memorable because they were full of trial and error. Back then the music couldn’t be realized with the same level of quality as a CD, and the waveforms for the different instruments all had to fit on the space of a floppy disk. Now that I think of it, I remember that the music score had to all fit on the same floppy, too.

Its not exact, but I believe we had about 1.2MB of space. When the music got recorded for the CD soundtrack, that was the first time we even heard them in stereo. Even now, pcbs with stereo capability aren’t common. That’s another difference between normal music and music you hear in a game center, you know. Lately there’s been an increase in stereo capable arcade games, but the influence of that older time is still strong. After all, its already been 8 or 9 years since Ketsui and Daioujou were released.

I believe it was December of 2001 at my first meeting with Cave that I was told about the space and sound limitations, and I was shocked. It was a real struggle but somehow we managed to release Daioujou in April. I remember staying up late all night sometime in February and delivering the finished product to the office.

—Daioujou also has a lot of tracks, and you were on such a tight schedule!

Namiki: More than the number of tracks, the development environment and the technical specs were special and difficult to deal with, and it was really frantic. But for Ketsui and Daioujou, I felt I had really grasped the essence and feel of “Cave shooting,” and that it was very clear to me how a shooting game should be, so my vigor came back. Since then, the hardware has been improved for games like Mushihimesama, Espgaluda II, Mushihimesama Futari, Daifukkatsu, and Deathsmiles…and each game has brought its own new challenges, but it was my experience with Daioujou that formed the firm base for me.

Everything since then has been about how can I build off that base, and it has never once failed me, except once. That was for Daifukkatsu Black Label. Well, I shouldn’t say it failed, but rather that I wanted a different taste there. Everyone who plays shooters seems to have really good ears, so its very difficult meeting their expectations each time. (laughs) I think the graphics and design teams, and everyone involved in our games, has to face that same dilemma anew with each game.

In particular, I have a strong impression from Junya Inoue saying during Deathsmiles, “I want to make something that isn’t ‘Cave style’.” The way the difficulty and stages can be selected, and how players can choose their favorite stages, the way it scrolls horizontally and you don’t die when you run into something… Deathsmiles, looked at objectively, really is different from Cave’s normal style.

At the first meeting for it, I heard from Inoue himself that the world was a “gothic horror, gothic lolita.” That news came at just the right time because I too had been wanting to change the style I’d become set in. Inoue and I were kindred spirits in the sense that we both saw a lot of new ideas in that setting. So Ketsui, Daioujou, and Deathsmiles were all turning points to me, and I have a very special attachment to them.

—In Deathsmiles, the “Halloweentown” song is very impressive.

Namiki: That song came out very easily. It was very different from the music I’d written up till then, a sort of gothic style with classical airs, so of course I studied up on those things in order to incorporate them. I’d never written for that kind of a world, and to be honest, I felt I wasn’t very good at it. The music of old Europe like Bach, pipe organ music and such… its famous, but I feel like the respect people pay it is sometimes not entirely genuine. I get the sense people are forced to listen to it for their musical training, and it often gets used in a hackneyed, cliché way whenever anyone wants to evoke churches or old Europe. But if I wanted to give players an image of a horror game, that was the way to go.

Burning Halloweentown from Deathsmiles.

Even if I didn’t reference Bach, if I wanted something with that kind of feeling I was going to have to make my own “gothic horror shooting” style music in this way. It became easier when I realized I could put my own twist on it. After I wrote the Halloweentown song, like a picture scroll, the music for the other stages came easily.

From the experience I felt how important a game’s world was. For a SF, mecha shooting like Dodonpachi, where the world is already firmly set in stone, its become very difficult to add variety through the music. Using just a synthesizer and figuring out how to keep things interesting for each new game… I’ve finally hit a stalemate. When I hear other mecha style shooting games, it always cliched rock and techno, and it doesn’t enhance or enlarge the world of the game. Since I’ve been given the distinction of writing music for Cave, after all, I’ve never wanted to cop out with some generic rock and techno cliche. I’ve always wanted to write music that really reflects the true core of the game’s world, filtered through my own sensibilities. And I here I am today. (laughs)

—Is there anything you’ve been wanting to do in the future?

Namiki: By now I’ve made so many songs for boss fights that I’m really worried how I will make future ones interesting. Such worries are the fate of the creator, but I want new challenges without narrowing my ambitions and releasing something mediocre. I want Cave to make a shooting games with no boss music. (laughs) A boss-less shooting game… could it be the next big thing!? (laughs)

—Are you saying a shooting game without stages?!

Namiki: Yeah, the accomplishment from clearing stages would be lost… (laughs) Well, in place of bosses, just put some kind of boss-like obstruction in the way!

—That’s what a “boss” is. (laughs)

Namiki: Ok then, let’s have Ikeda make a new shooting game with no bosses at all. I only ask the world that they please stop making boss rush games. These games where its just one boss fight after the other from the get-go just end up giving you ulcers, anyway. So instead, please make a “journey shooting” game with no bosses. (laughs) Because that’s what I’ve been saying about not getting trapped by mediocrity. I want Cave, and myself, to challenge ourselves by making games that aren’t just rehashes of preexisting ideas. In shooting games there’s a certain basic set of promises that games fulfill: zako come out, then a midboss appears, then you defeat the boss and clear the stage. I want to overturn such “common sense”… with a no-boss shooting game! (laughs) Or maybe we could do a single, really well-hidden boss.

—If you do that, then the boss will have to have 5 phases or so, and with each phase the music will also have to change…

Namiki: Why are you torturing me!! (laughs) Well, I know that’s a joke, but it would be a new challenge, something different from anything we’ve done, like Deathsmiles was. Shooting has this reputation as a hardcore genre, and I know Ikeda too has wanted to sweep that image away. It's difficult, you know, to make something that different people can all enjoy. That challenge will be an eternal theme for shooting developers.

Please, no more bosses.

—Do you still go to game centers to relax or get ideas?

Namiki: I go a lot. But I like older games, when there were more diverse genres. The number of new arcade games has really decreased, and there’s almost no new large arcade machines5 at all. So if I want to play something like that it always ends up being something older.

By the way, I have two children, and my son is a big fan of Cave’s shooting games. He’s in his third year of elementary school now, but he can clear their games. He 1cc’d Deathsmiles Mega Black Label at the game center. (laughs) It began with him listening to the roms I’d bring home from work, and him asking “Can I hear Dad’s music on this?” but lately, rather than hear Dad’s music, he’s awoken to the intrigue of Cave’s games. I thought there’s no way he’ll spend enough time to clear these, and that he’d just give up after awhile, but I was shocked when I saw him weaving through these danmaku patterns! He cleared Deathsmiles II with about 60 million points! Someone saw his score ranked on the Xbox Live leaderboards around 100th place and said to me, “Namiki, your score is amazing!” and I replied, “That’s not me, that’s my son!” (laughs)

—Your son shows great promise as a future shooter. (laughs)

Namiki: If there are more kids like him, then I think a way will open up for the next generation of shooting. I also want to hear what shooting music sounds like in 10 years. I wonder if I’ll still be writing shooting game music then? I’d like to still be writing and be included in the 25th Anniversary Cave shooting book. (laughs) I’m excited for however it will turn out, but please let everything be in stereo by then. Maybe we’ll even have “live orchestra” shooting music. I know it would be exciting to have a live orchestra playing shooting music at some future event! I hope there are more events and such in the future. I’d like to involve kids more, like with a caravan shooting competition. If you do that you’ll get kids named “Naniwa Casper” gathering in Shinjuku Gyoen.6

You know, the original shooting game generation is now in their 30s and 40s. Soon we’ll be Grandmothers and Grandfathers! When our eyesight starts to go bad, there’s no way we’re going to see these danmaku patterns… it’ll be “Oohh, where’s my ship?!” and the arcade cabs may start needing reading glasses or handrails attached to them. (laughs) “Barrier Free Shooting” won’t be referring to a shooting game with no barrier!7 And since our hands will be shaking all the time, they’ll have to add “shake correction” to the games to keep the ships from moving about… ok, I’ll stop thinking of all these ways our bodies will degenerate. (laughs) So please, show your children ages 10 and below the wonder of shooting games.

—And the music too should appeal to the younger generation as well.

Namiki: Maybe we’ll start seeing bouncy punk music by 10 year old girls be added to shooting games. (laughs) Let’s sign some of these girl bands for production! You’ll hear them screaming out while you struggle with the boss! I was saying I wanted boss music to have an impact, so I’ve got to try some strange things, you know. (laughs)

Back when boss music was still fun to write.

—Looks like we’ve finally come back to the subject of bosses… you really do hate them. (laughs)

Namiki: When I first started writing boss music it was fun. But gradually I started running out of new things to do. (laughs) Now that it's come to this I just have to keep trying new things. It gets hard to write music when the bpm is over 200 though.

And at 300 or 400 everything just sounds like a drill. I’m really at an impasse here. When I’m trying to write boss music at my PC I’m just grinding my teeth with frustration, and its raising my blood pressure!

If you don’t get the right tension to make it feel imposing like “I’m the BOSS!” , then the song ends up being more appropriate for a mid-boss or something. If I can just convey to the readers of this book the terribleness of bosses, I will be saved. (laughs) Its terrible making their music, its terrible for players struggling to defeat them, its terrible for Cave from start to finish creating them… everything about bosses is terrible. Who benefits from this madness?! (laughs) So please, think about a shooting game without bosses!

—Please give all your fans a final message.

Namiki: As everyone knows, shooting is a very interesting genre. While you can naturally enjoy it on your own, please also share it with your friends. Or if you have children, please don’t think it will be bad influence on them, add playing together as one of his/her activities. And as a composer it would make me happy to see parents and children playing together and getting excited. Also, if you’ve understood how terrible the work involving bosses is, despite all this, please crush them. (laughs) Shooting games will surely be decreasing, and there will be less chances to play them, but I think Cave will continue to put out high quality shooting games, so please keep watching us.

Makoto Asada | Junya Inoue | Manabu Namiki | Takashi Ichimura | Hiroyuki Tanaka | Shinobu Yagawa | Hideki Nomura | Akira Wakabayashi | Tsuneki Ikeda | Bonus! Cave Facts!

Ichimura’s beloved Levin, which he still drives today.
Takashi Ichimura

Specialist / Programmer

Dodonpachi series
Dangun Feveron
Ketsui / Guwange
Progear no Arashi
Espgaluda series
Mushihimesama series
Deathsmiles series

—Please tell us your thoughts as Cave celebrates its 16th anniversary.

Ichimura: I’ve been involved with all the games, from Dodonpachi to Dangun Feveron, Guwange, Progear no Arashi, and everything after. So its a very deep feeling for me, to have been on the same path together for so long. For every project I have memories of struggles and challenges, but since this work is an extension of my hobbies, its all been fun. In game production, too, the final stage of development is always difficult, but when a project starts I’m able to work at my own rhythm. Of course as the deadline approaches I have to really focus and it can be stressful… (laughs)

—From a layman’s perspective, the work of a programmer is quite unique.

Ichimura: Generally speaking, it can be difficult to know what the work of a “programmer” is. While I might be the main programmer on a given project, other things like character programming will be handled by someone else, so there’s a division of labor that goes on like that. Usually about 3 people will be involved total, though its also quite common for the ports to be done entirely by one person. Personally I think it can be problematic when you get too many programmers on one project, because programmers as a group are very straightforward, logical people. Its always “Its this way, so we have to do it like this.” And programming itself is very much like that. People often say that programmers think too highly of themselves, or that they see everything in black and white and have no friends, but personally, I’m such a laid back person that I haven’t noticed that. That may have something to do with the whole “takeyari kara kakuheiki” phrase,8 actually…

—Its the programmers who determine the difficulty of the game, right?

Ichimura: That is set by the programmers, yes. For the arcade games, it usually gets set after the first location test. We use about a 3 minute portion of the game as a base, and set the difficulty from there.

The difficult part is when the game doesn’t stress the player’s abilities enough and we have to adjust the balance to be more challenging. That’s something that we really do by intuition, and it would be very difficult to imitate I think. Part of the game’s appeal will be determined by the programmers, so we’re involved in a lot of the planning as well.

I think some people may be familiar with the phrase “from bamboo spears to nuclear bombs,” but that came about while we were designing one of the attacks of the bosses from Progear. People said they weren’t satisfied with the danmaku patterns, so we really cranked up the difficulty on it, and that phrase “from bamboo spears to nuclear bombs” was born.9 So in that sense, it is indeed true that programmers have a huge effect on the difficulty level.

—Starting with Ikeda, please tell us if there’s anyone you’ve clashed with at Cave.

Ichimura: I don’t think there’s ever been anyone. Being so laid back, it might just be that I’m not noticing. It could be I’m too laid back, and possibly I’ve been annoying everyone around me all this time. When things get busy, there’s times when being this laid back can really backfire. (laughs) When I’m making a new game, although I want pour all the accumulated know-how I’ve acquired into it, if that’s all I do then I’m not satisfied personally. So I’m always wanting to try out and add new things. Of course challenging oneself is good, but if there are too many challenges, it can cause us to fall behind schedule. So I always want to set my challenges such that I just barely make the deadline. (laughs) But around the time I was developing Deathsmiles II, I wasn’t involved in anything else and could focus on that game… or so I thought! Even though I really wanted to challenge myself with that project, it turned out there were deadlines that had to be met and I really couldn’t. But for those parts in my games where I couldn’t rise to the occasion, I always try and improve them for the next game.

—Being so laid back, what are some of the projects you struggled with?

Ichimura: Probably Mushihimesama Futari… although it sold very well. (laughs) That title has so many game modes, and each one is quite substantial in terms of content, but we had a severe schedule with a very short development period. Up the very last minute before release it was still being worked on… it was really terrifying. We did make it though. (laughs)

If I were to name a project that was memorable, but not necessarily a struggle, it would be the first game I worked on, Dodonpachi, which really opened up the possibilities of danmaku shooting for me. Also Mushihimesama, I think. We had just decided to create a new pcb hardware, and I was involved with designing it from the beginning so that project left an impression on me. I don’t have anything against danmaku shooting, but if that’s all you make, you eventually end up wanting to try out something new. I’ve never been very good at danmaku games… I can’t dodge the bullet patterns. (laughs) With danmaku games, the enjoyment comes from “seeing and dodging” the bullets. But I prefer a high speed, rhythmical game in which you get into a rhythm dodging different patterns. So it was like, aren’t you guys getting tired of playing danmaku games?! I wanted to play something more intuitive and immediate. Shooting games can definitely be that way, but I think racing games have more of that rhythm and flow I like.

—Yeah, that is definitely important for racing games.

Ichimura: I’ve actually been into racing games for a long time. And not just games, I also love real cars, and take my own to the circuit. I used to do cart racing too, though what I do at the circuit isn’t as crazy. (laughs) Race carts run so close to the ground, so the sense of speed is intense. At the circuit I race at the speed itself is of course higher, but the sense of speed is more relaxed. The car I drive, by the way, is the standard 1600cc FF Levin. It just a normal car without any flashy paintjob or stickers. (laughs) Before I drove at the circuit, long ago I used to race downhill. That was before Initial D was popular, and I was living in Hiroshima at the time and would race in the hills around there. I don’t do it anymore, but I still occasionally get the urge to.

—Cave also released the racing game “Touge” for consoles, but were you involved in that?

Ichimura: I worked on “Touge 3,” but only a little. I didn’t do the main programming, but I helped out with the debugging. As someone who’s actually raced, I thought it was a very fun game. It also features the 180SX, which my friend happens to own, and I’ve driven it and done drifting with it, so I made sure the game matched the actual car’s handling. I’ve sort of got a thing for the 180SX. It just feels good when I drive it. My friend says the Silvia and the 180SX are both really solid cars for drifting.

Saying all this probably makes you think I’m some street racer. (laughs) You often hear that when people get behind the wheel their personality changes, but I’m also laid back there, too. (laughs) On normal roads I’m the kind of relaxed driver that taxis get angry at. Of course on the circuit, its another story. (laughs) There’s no one who wants to drive safely after paying their money to drive on the track.

Cave’s Touge 3 for the PS2.

—Is your desktop at work crowded with racing and car stuff, then?

Ichimura: There’s many people at Cave who adorn their desk and monitor with items from their hobbies, but I don’t really do that much. Well, the truth is there’s actually so much stuff scattered around my desk that I don’t have the room. On the ground there’s a monitor and X360 development materials, and there’s so much stuff scattered all over the place the path to get to my desk looks like an animal trail or something. (laughs) And behind me there’s a communal supply cabinet… or at least, it was supposed to be, until it got overtaken by all my clutter. Other employees have been getting mad at me about it so I’ve been cleaning it up little by little. (laughs) But for my work, when I do debugging, I have to have two sets of monitors and computer equipment, so it just gets cluttered.

—Was it your love of cars that led you to the game industry?

Ichimura: When I was a student I didn’t have any interest in cars; all I did was play games. I was looking for work in Hiroshima, where I lived at the time. As for cars, my friend at the time introduced me to them and that was the beginning of my interest. I was really into Ridge Racer at the time, too, so that might have been an influence.

I liked other games besides racing too, of course. Fighting games were really popular then and I played a lot of Garou Densetsu (fatal fury) and Street Fighter II. And in my third year of college I only had one lab class a week, so other than that I was completely free, and I went to the game center all the time. That pattern of slacking off while studying programming began in my second year of college.

The first company I worked at was a kind of surveying company, and since this was right after the bubble had burst, there were a lot of game designers working there. At that time I saw an advertisement that Cave had put out, and it said something like “The Company That Made Donpachi!” When I saw that I thought, “ah, this is calling me!” and it was like a shock ran through me. (laughs) Donpachi had just come out in the game centers and I played it a ton and liked it, and I thought this was the kind of company I wanted to work at. The X68000 and PC-98 computers were popular at that time, and I bought an X6800 in college and had been studying it. I had made some doujin shooters for it, and Cave’s advertisement said they wanted someone who knew X68000 assembler, so it seemed like the perfect fit to me.

—If you had a PC back then, you must have owned a lot of different game hardware by now?

Ichimura: Of the recent hardware, I own a PS3. The World Cup is going on right now so I’ve been playing nothing but “Winning Eleven.” Yesterday I lost a match between Holland and Japan, and Japan ended up losing in real life too, so I’m refusing to play today’s Japan vs. Paraguay match. (laughs) I watch the matches on TV, but I just to be safe I record them on my PS3 with the Torune software, too. In that sense I get a lot of use out of the PS3, not just with games. Torune is great. For 9800 yen, if you use it you won’t need a video recorder anymore. I also own a PS2, which is still on active duty. I own a Wii, too, and lately I’ve been playing Metroid Prime on it.

I received an X360 recently, but I haven’t opened it yet. (laughs) Since I use it at work all the time I had no intention of buying one myself, but I think someone gave it to me with a feeling of “you of all people should have one!” (laughs) There’s some X360 games I want to play, but I don’t really have a place to put the console right now. I’m at least planning to play Ridge Racer on it. For games, the X360 is quite good. The previous model hardware had a huge power supply, was noisy, and made me worry about how hot it got, but the new model seems to have solved these problems.

As for older hardware, the first I bought was a Sega Mark III. Actually, I had been into radio controlled cars for a long time, and I traded one with a friend for a Sega Mark III. (laughs) Buggy mode radio controlled cars were really popular in my area at the time, so much so that you could get a game system for one. Radio controlled cars is still one of my hobbies, actually, and since I can’t go to the race circuit every week, I get my fill with my radio controlled cars. I have a PC at home, too, and I make libraries and middleware on it.

I have a lot of game consoles, and I still go to the game center occasionally too. Not to play anything specifically, but just to see what’s new and what’s going on. My friend is obsessed with the game “Border Break” right now, so lately I’ve been going there a lot with him. (laughs)

—You like mecha and racing games, but how about moe?! Is there a character you’d like to marry?

Ichimura: Basically I just love mecha games, so there isn’t a character like that for me. (laughs) Its also the case that making mecha characters is easier for me than human characters when I’m designing a shooting game. And the characters in Cave’s games… they’re all weird or strange in some way. (laughs) Hmm, if I had to name someone, it would be Reco from Mushihimesama. Now that I think of it, I want to try flying around on her beetle Kin’iro! As a racing fan I’m curious about how a flying beetle would feel.

—When you say that, it makes me think you must have done some of the voices for Cave’s games…

Ichimura: Its true that Cave has a long tradition of using employees or designers to help with the voice work, but I’ve never done it myself. I’m bad at that kind of thing so I don’t even want to try. (laughs) People have asked and I’ve steadfastly refused. Actually, with Guwange, Inoue did ask for my help, but it was for some enemy character doing some weird “guohhhhh” voice thing, and I absolutely didn’t want to do it. (laughs)

—Speaking of the mecha titles you’ve done, please tell us about Ketsui, which I understand was very popular at Cave, too?

Ichimura: Yeah, when it comes to my love of mecha shooting, Ketsui is a game that was fun even when I was making it, so its very dear to me. I also still enjoy playing it, as the bullets are fast and I’d have to say it really emphasizes rhythm and flow. I didn’t have much to do with the character and ship design, so I was able to focus all my energy on the bosses, and for each one I struggled to come up with cool attacks and bullet patterns. But it was also really fun thinking those up.

—You’ve done so many bosses, but are there some that you particularly like?

Ichimura: I’m very fond of the stage 5 boss of Dodonpachi, the first game I worked on at Cave. Also Hibachi from Daioujou. I had been wanting to make bullet patterns like that but I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. (laughs) Hibachi is Ikeda’s creation, but Ikeda and I have entirely different styles when it comes to shooting games. While working on Hibachi I realized that it was impossible for me to try and imitate Ikeda, so I switched gears and followed my own path. I think that comes across most clearly in Ketsui.

The st5 boss of Dodonpachi.

With any endeavor, at first you start out trying to copy something as closely as possible, but at some point your differences start to come out. And I really think that the special something that attracts players to a game can’t be easily imitated. Ikeda is very good at making the player dodge bullets. His games are built around players finding the correct path through danmaku bullet patterns, and therein lies their appeal. I, on the other hand, really like games that have a certain flow, where on-sight and reaction dodging are the main focus.

—What do you think shooting will be like in 10 years?

Ichimura: I get the impression things will be more casual. There won’t be many of the kind of hardcore games you see in game centers, but things will probably be more like the smartphone games you can casually play anywhere, which are popular right now. Ranking and scoreboards will also be different, with the focus shifting more to different ways to communicate with other players rather than individual scoring competition. I think it will be interesting when people on a train can be playing something like Time Pilot against each other.

There’s a strong impression that shooting up till now is something for hardcore fans, and its difficult for beginners to get involved. As you can see with recent Cave titles, I think future shooting games will be made to have a wider appeal. So I think the direction we’re moving in is more casual shooting games that anyone can pick up and play.

—Are you interested in making casual shooting games in the future?

Ichimura: I’d like to make a shooting game that doesn’t feel exactly like a shooting game. Lately all sorts of new things have been happening in line with new hardware coming out, and I think we have to start pursuing those avenues. But my hands are full right now with researching various things, and I don’t have time to start planning something new. I’d like to spend more time thinking stuff up, but when you also have to consider that a game needs to be profitable it gets really difficult. So for now, please just let me devote myself to programming. (laughs) There are several things I’d like to experiment with, too, but they’re for platforms Cave isn’t developing for. I’m thinking to just work on them in my free time at home, at my own pace.

—Please give us a final message.

Ichimura: I’m going to keep making shooting games with Cave, no matter what form they may take. I’d like to collaborate on more games with Ikeda… but lately he’s been very busy and it might be difficult. And in the first place, its kind of weird to be talking about the Director actually programming games himself at the office. (laughs) I will keep making shooting games, so to all our fans, I hope you will keep coming along for the ride!

Makoto Asada | Junya Inoue | Manabu Namiki | Takashi Ichimura | Hiroyuki Tanaka | Shinobu Yagawa | Hideki Nomura | Akira Wakabayashi | Tsuneki Ikeda | Bonus! Cave Facts!

Tanaka’s reference materials
for map and enemy design.
Hiroyuki Tanaka


Central Works
Dodonpachi series
Dangun Feveron
Progear no Arashi
Espgaluda series
Ibara series
Deathsmiles series

Primarily works on maps. Also did enemies for Daioujou, and ship design in Ketsui and Daifukkatsu.

—What part of the game design process do you oversee?

Tanaka: I primarily work on the backgrounds for our shooting games. I think the backgrounds are something you don’t have much of a chance to look at closely while you’re playing. Especially in Cave games, you’re so focused on the danmaku patterns, you can’t really give the backgrounds much attention. And in many instances the bullet patterns obscure the background. (laughs)

—When you make a map, what kind of things do you like to do, and what do you try to avoid?

Tanaka: The first thing I’m careful to do when designing a map is to make sure that the bullet patterns, which are Cave’s games’ selling point, are easy to see. Your ship, the enemies, and the bullets all have to very clear or you won’t be able to dodge, so I always make sure my maps don’t interfere with that. Our games use a lot of pink, blue, and colorful bullet patterns, so I try not to use those colors in the backgrounds. I also avoid using the orange colors of explosions. But if you do that too much the backgrounds become kind of bland, and balancing the colors well is a difficult part of the work.

—It sounds like very specialized work. Please tell us about the titles you’ve struggled with.

Tanaka: Daifukkatsu. That title has very little natural scenery in it. The Dodonpachi series in general has a lot of mecha elements in the background and it really takes a lot of time. With natural scenery I can take pictures of trees and such with my digital camera and use those as models, but mecha designs have to be drawn from scratch. Because of that the hours you have to put in are crazy.

A normal stage map will generally take me about a month to complete. If the map is really long, then it might take about a month and a half. For vertical shooting games, they’re quite long, but they are basically just one large picture. For older games it was typical to draw it in small parts, but lately it feels more like creating a long picture scroll. (laughs) In our early days there wasn’t a lot of memory space, so we’d have no choice but to do things block by block, but now you can put it all in there at once.

A section of Daifukkatsu stage 5, designed to look like an actual pcb.

So compared with the past, its easier to express things now, but as a result it takes a lot more time to get one complete map done. And generally making the backgrounds is a one-person job. I don’t always do everything… I might give one stage to someone else, but other than that I do it all. Though lately I’ve been doing everything by myself a lot. So please, hire more people. (laughs)

—Yeah, you can’t be collapsing now! You must keep yourself in tip-top shape then, to do such work?

Tanaka: Actually, now that you mention it, a doctor did give me several dietary restrictions once. It got so bad he had to order me like that. (laughs) Its gotten a lot better recently so I’m ok now.

Ikeda (sitting beside Tanaka): He has a very unbalanced diet.

Tanaka: I don’t think that’s the case; I have no special love for food. When the doctor told me I had to eat fish eggs, it became a famous story at the office how I just kept eating seafood cup ramen… to make a long story short, I got gout. I would eat the same thing for lunch for almost a month or two. Sometimes for half a year.

Ikeda: Don’t you think that was the reason you got sick?!

Tanaka: Yeah, maybe so… I was living a lifestyle where I’d eat the same thing for lunch, and if I had free time I’d eat at night too. I ate candy too, but since it doesn’t fill me up, I only eat it when I have the time. I’m also really picky. Since I didn’t have a lot of time to eat, instead I’d really stuff myself on the weekends, eating like 5 times in one day.

—Now I see how you destroyed your health…

Tanaka: Yes, so you can see how badly I need some backup here!

Ikeda: That’s not possible. (laughs)

Tanaka: This is a dangerous highwire you’ve got me on here!

Ikeda: Its the same for us all. (laughs)

—Making sure the maps match the world of the game is very important, it would seem.

Tanaka: After hearing about the story at an initial meeting, I take that and start expanding on ideas of my own. For me a game is a success if I’m able to fill it with all those personal ideas I’ve come up with in my head. They don’t always relate to what’s officially been decided in the story… I develop the story in my head by myself. In doing so, my ideas can end up differing from the official story and setting, but I take care not to let them get too far off. I don’t think anything I’ve added has strayed too far, right?

Ikeda: Yeah, we rarely have to ask you to revise anything because of that. This is a tendency of our games, but enemy placement really depends on the backgrounds for us, so the background design is directly connected to the appeal of the game. Revisions are generally things like move this castle over here, or shift this road over here.

—It doesn’t sound like work that just anyone can do.

Ikeda: That’s true. So even if you ask for backup, I don’t think this work can easily be given to someone else. For example, say we’re doing a European world like in Deathsmiles II, and someone gives us a map with castle and cliffs and such… but we don’t end up using them because they don’t work for enemy or item placement, so we have to ask for it to be redone. But that isn’t to say we just want a wide empty road or something, either. The know-how required for map creation is very important, and its not the kind of thing you can just easily pick up.

In fact, we did have an outside subcontractor working under Tanaka at one point, but he got overwhelmed and asked to quit. Although he felt confident about Tanaka’s leadership, he left saying “I can’t do what Tanaka does.” (laughs)

—Practically speaking, what are some of the skills required for this work?

Tanaka: For a tate scrolling game, you have to place things while remembering that the screen will be scrolling right and left a lot. These aren’t games where you can just stick things in one place and be done with it. So keeping those things in mind, roads shouldn’t be straight but should wind around, and if you want a road to go off to the left, you need to think of having a side road going to the right… and so on. You have to always be aware of how the player will be moving left and right. Daioujou was the first game where I started doing all the map design on my own. The others before that were done by Junya Inoue. During that time I saw how he would place enemies, and it turned out to be invaluable experience for me.

Ikeda: The left/right aspect of map design is something that, if you don’t have experience, you won’t know how to do. How to make the backgrounds beautiful, and the balance and tempo of the left/right placement are very important. Its difficult to describe… until you’ve done it 2 or 3 times. And it would be easier if we didn’t have ground-based enemies in our games, but we have many such enemies to place. So working on the backgrounds takes a lot of skill.

Tanaka: And that’s precisely why when you finish a map you’ve been slaving over its a really joyous feeling. While you’re making it you’re just stressed out the whole time. But finishing something that matches the game’s atmosphere feels great.

—By the way, do you play any games?

Tanaka: Yeah, just to pass the time. Lately I’ve just been going straight to bed when I get home though. Playing a little Metroid on the train is about all I’ve been able to do. I’ve been playing that one for awhile… the gameboy version.

—The Gameboy version, that old?!

Tanaka: Is there something strange about that? (laughs) Its the color model, not the huge monochrome gameboy! Its a Gameboy Advance SP. Though on the train all I see are people playing the DS…

I play some older shooting games, but I don’t really play any newer ones. I suck at danmaku games… (laughs) With all the different bullets, there’s too many vectors to keep track of and I can’t handle it. And the maps that I’ve worked so hard on disappear beneath all these bullets, so danmaku games are my natural enemy. (laughs) On that note, I like older shooting games because you could see how pretty the backgrounds were. The game I really liked a lot is Volguard II. I played it so much I had to be told to stop.

Volguard II, an old favorite.

—It sounds like you’re into old hardware and old games.

Tanaka: Like with food, I tend to be partial to one thing. I don’t know new things… I don’t know anything about the PS3. I’ve never touched an X360. (laughs) They're all over the office but it would interfere with work to play them there. And I don’t really like 3D or realistic games. The parts of them that don’t look realistic always end up standing out too much to me.

Actually, I do play Metroid on the Gamecube. I could probably just play Metroid for 80% of my time and be happy. For the remaining 20%, give me Volguard II and I’m set for life. I know its two rather narrow choices, but eh, I don’t miss what I don’t know. And if I ever need to really know something for work I can just study up a bit. For example, if someone says at a meeting they want something “like xxx scene in xxx game”, then I just go to Yodobashi or something and take notes as as I stand behind and watch some kids play. I don’t buy anything. Since I don’t have the systems it wouldn’t be any use anyway. I just stand behind those kids and go “Ahh, hmmm, I see, like that…”

—Is there anything you’re into other than games?

Tanaka: I actually really love bicycles. But lately I haven’t been riding because I’ve been I’m afraid of getting in a terrible accident.

Ikeda: He rides a really nice bike. The kind you wouldn’t want to lock up outside. (laughs)

Tanaka: Right now in my room I have six in total. I buy the basic parts. This week I bought a frame, and I’ll be looking for pedals next time… doing it this way it can take me about a year to put something together. I also like plastic model kits, but I don’t have any painting skills so I like to buy the ones you can just put together.

—How much have you spent on bikes, out of curiosity?

Tanaka: Hmm, should I say this? I don’t think as much as a car or anything, but maybe if you put all 6 together… Each bike is anywhere from 100000 to 600000 yen.

—For 100000 yen you could get an electric bike! (laughs)

Tanaka: There’s no way I’d ride an electric bike! Its heresy! That’s what Moms ride! I climb hills with my own two legs–though I prefer flat terrain like valleys and open plains to mountains. Please think of an electric bike as a different kind of vehicle from a bicycle.

—Speaking of bicycles, there’s the “ketta-machine” ships in Muchi Muchi Pork.

Tanaka: I was working on Deathsmiles at the time so I wasn’t involved in that game. I would have liked to work on it, but it was finished before I knew it. (laughs) Actually, in addition to bikes I also like ships and boats. As a kid my Grandfather got me into boats as soon as I was old enough to understand things. (laughs) My Grandfather loved everything having to do with boats, and he had brought me all kinds of World War II books. I think from that experience I’ve acquired a certain way of thinking about boats and ships in games. When we have meetings about designing the world and setting, if things start to get too far from my real-world knowledge of ships, I end up having to speak out: “Don’t you know ships can’t move backwards like that?!” When I see other companies’ games, and see actual ships used as characters it can irritate me too.

—The world of Ketsui has things like that in it.

Tanaka: That’s right. I demanded a lot of things for that setting. I came up with the basic ideas for the setting, and Wakabayashi tied it all together. Ketsui is a game I’m extremely fond of, but I regret that it wasn’t very well-received at the time. It was a major blow to my confidence and I felt like the world wasn’t interested in my ideas. (laughs) I had a lot of ideas for Ketsui’s setting that went beyond what was included in the game… things that weren’t really necessary for it. For example, the history of EVAC industries is really developed in my mind.

—You didn’t write them out for the official setting?

Tanaka: There was no need to. I gave little hints about them by things I’d place in the maps.

Ikeda: I didn’t know that.

Tanaka: I also had the idea to tie the story into other games as well. There’s no strict borders around the world of the games I design, so I wanted to secretly link things together.

—Please make “Ketsui II” then!

Tanaka: When we do a sequel, we try to make it something that expands on the world of the original like a branch from a tree. Personally I would love to do a sequel to Ketsui if we could, but… I don’t think there’s much to add.

Ikeda: I don’t think so either. (laughs) Though I also would like to do it.

Tanaka: The story is already complete!

Ikeda: Yes, I agree. (laughs)

Tanaka: It really is the case that we did all we wanted to with the story of Ketsui. And I don’t have any literary talent for developing it further, and I can’t do illustrations well anymore either. Over the last 20 years my drawing skills have withered away… but I can still make maps! If you saw me just casually drawing it would probably look “Cave”ish, like I was a fan of Ketsui or something. That’s how much I’ve dreamed and imagined about Ketsui. Though if you asked me to talk about it, it would probably be strange, like “that’s not in the game!” (laughs) When I see people talk about the world of Ketsui on messageboards and such, I enjoy seeing how they’ve taken my ideas in a different direction.

—We’ll leave Ketsui at that. Can you tell us about the other games you’ve worked on?

Tanaka: Daifukkatsu took a lot of effort. I did the ship designs, so I have a special attachment to it. I really don’t like it when the ship in a shooting game is a human character. However, in Espgaluda it fits the world of the game well, so I like it there. When it comes to battleships in our games, that’s where I draw the line.

Ikeda: He does argue a lot about battleships. As I’m sure you can tell now from asking him, he has all these rules about ships. Try asking him about putting cannons on fighter planes… (laughs)

Tanaka: They’re for firing at other boats! Fighter jets don’t fire cannons!

Ikeda: Of course in a game it's no problem, but.

Tanaka: This is why I assuage my pride by imagining all these alternative scenarios and settings. By the way, my favorite battleship is the Bismark. It has big cannons, and I just love the thorny, armored look it has. And I also like the Uchuu Senkan Yamato for the same reason.

The Bismark, Tanaka’s favorite battleship.

—It seems like you’d also like strategy games for their real world weapons.

Tanaka: I don’t like those at all. There’s all these games out with ships that the designers have just freely edited. When I see these childish edits I get annoyed… “why did they put so many cannons on the ship!” Or when there’s smoke coming out a rail gun! I can’t help but think about all that, so I’ve never played them.

—With your particularities, have you ever clashed with anyone at Cave?

Tanaka: I work alone, so there’s really no one to fight with. Our recent games have been conceptualized by one person, so my work has been mostly receiving his ideas. It has been difficult when some unreasonable demand comes and I have to say “this is impossible.” I get requests that are impossible to complete within our schedule, any way you look at it. The other thing is when I’m asked to animate the background, like when a snowy mountain gets shot, they want it to cause an avalanche. Just making a single animation like that would consume the entire schedule, so I always strongly object to those requests.

—Do you ever object to Ikeda’s ideas?

Tanaka: Its probably rather the case that he objects to mine. (laughs) He asks me for revisions and such, but I might be hard to work with.

Ikeda: Its not like that. (laughs) When a game has so many cool things in it, its because someone like you spent all the time obsessing over adding them. On Ketsui and Dodonpachi, the person Tanaka clashed with a lot was Wakabayashi. They both joined Cave at about the same time and are my two main designers whom our games depend on. During Daifukkatsu, too, they’d have exchanges where Wakabayashi would say “I think it will look good if we do it like this,” and Tanaka would reply, “No, that’s not how a Dodonpachi game is!” When I saw that Tanaka had such particular ideas I knew he would work out here. (laughs) And also, even though he works alone, he’s never been late on a project. Even with revisions he always keeps on schedule.

Tanaka: Its because I bring my work home… I can’t take all the data from the office home, but I bring a part of it home and keep working. Then I bring it back and seam everything together.

Ikeda: Do you have the same development environment there? He also uses a touch screen tablet that he bought on his own. “With that I could double my efficiency!” We would have bought it for him… though he’s the only employee who uses it. And with that tablet, if there’s light from above it reflects off the screen, so Tanaka doesn’t use a lamp at his desk, and he moved his desk to a dark corner of the office. People who don’t know must see him and think “Why is Tanaka so alienated from everyone…” (laughs)

Tanaka’s beloved tablet.

Tanaka: Working in a space so dark hasn’t affected my eyesight, which is better than 20/20. I only look at a screen at work or on the train. When my eyes are tired I go for a bike ride and look into the distance.

Ikeda: Tanaka has been working in the game industry for a long time. Longer than me, I think. Actually we’ve been working together for many years now.

Tanaka: How long has it been… I can’t remember anymore. (laughs) About 5 years before Dodonpachi was released, I think. I first started out with a part time job at a Shibuya game center, right at the end of the Shouwa period… about a year after that I interviewed with my previous company, so yeah, about 20 years. I was attending a technical school and taking some animation classes, and thought I might end up doing that in the future, but I ended up getting hired by my previous company. So yeah, my relationship with Cave has been quite long.

—Please leave a message for your fans.

Tanaka: To all our fans, please remember to occasionally look between the bullets and see the backgrounds. Please continue to support us, and don’t let Cave’s shooting game division disappear! I feel like they are the last fortress standing for shooting game fans.

Ikeda: When Tanaka joined Cave around the time of Dodonpachi, he said to me, “I joined Cave because I wanted to make shooting games”, and I remember how happy that made me to hear. I want to answer that by redoubling our efforts and giving our very best as a company. (laughs)

Makoto Asada | Junya Inoue | Manabu Namiki | Takashi Ichimura | Hiroyuki Tanaka | Shinobu Yagawa | Hideki Nomura | Akira Wakabayashi | Tsuneki Ikeda | Bonus! Cave Facts!

Yagawa, as drawn
by Wakabayashi.
Shinobu Yagawa

Arcade Group Technical Leader

Central Works
Pink Sweets
Muchi Muchi Pork!
Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu Black Label
Espgaluda II Black Label (360 version)

Primarily works as the main programmer.

—What kind of work does a main programmer do?

Ikeda (who was sitting beside him): Our work, as the name suggests, is the game programming that ties everything together. Within that, the work is divided into two types, with one group handling requests to “program such and such a section” and another group that actually does the main core programming.

Yagawa: My job as main programmer is to create the game.

Ikeda: That’s a vague response. (laughs)

Yagawa: Not it isn’t. Its right on.

—To your fans you are also known by the initials “YGW.” Was this a name you used in response to Ikeda’s “IKD”?

Yagawa: No, it was nothing like that. (laughs) I also didn’t make that name, the players just chose to call me it on their own.

Ikeda: In my case, it was also to hide my name, but if you look at the staff roll it all comes out anyway. (laughs)

—It seems programming is very important work–the heart of the game.

Yagawa: I don’t think its the heart of the game. Its merely one part that makes up a game. I definitely think its important, but the graphics and sound are both equally important. However you look at it, the total design and the properly adjusted balance are the most important things when creating a game. That is the thing that decides whether a game is interesting or not.

—Is an evolving difficulty system (rank) the hallmark of the “Yagawa style” ?

Yagawa: People often say that, but I think its an exaggeration. I’ve also done games without rank, after all. But its certainly the case that my arcade games have that feature. Its not because of some particular insistence on my part, but rather because income at the arcades is equivalent with the amount of time one spends playing. It sounds bad, but it was one of my methods for increasing income for arcade operators.

Recca, a classic Famicom shmup and one of Yagawa’s non-rank games.

—In doing so, the difference between skilled and poor players really becomes apparent.

Yagawa: Well, that’s why skilled players spend a lot of money. (laughs) On the other hand, if you practice a game, and despite getting better you don’t get to play for very long, I don’t think you would want to keep playing. Personally, I’ve always liked shooting games, and I think being able to play longer and longer as you improve at the game is enjoyable. If you spend all this time improving at a game, only to have it gradually end more and more quickly, then I don’t think its very fun and it won’t be played.

—Does your own level of skill affect how you adjust the difficulty in a game?

Yagawa: I’m not really playing shooting games like this anymore, but in the past I think I was pretty good. (laughs) Naturally, when you make a game you test play it, and I think there ends up being a relationship between the programmer’s skill and the skill required by the game. Though I’m not sure if that’s apparent to other people. Actually, among programmers, there are plenty of people who aren’t very skilled, and when those people are forced to make a “difficult stage”, they unfortunately have to rely on their imaginations to create it. If you don’t understand how to make something difficult interesting, it ends up being guesswork. There is such a thing as “interesting difficulty”, and when programmers tried to just guess what that was, it never turned out very good.

I don’t have much fun when I play games that are said to be “for beginners”… even though I’m not that good anymore. (laughs) When I was really into it I would finish simple games very quickly. If there were something after the first loop it would be fine, but if not, it would stop being interesting and I’d stop playing there. If the game doesn’t have something past the first loop, or something else about it I can sink my teeth into, then I probably won’t play it.

—You said you aren’t playing games anymore, but does that mean you aren’t going to the game center, either?

Yagawa: Not too often, but I still go from time to time. I don’t go to do market research or for anything related to work… just to play. Though if I had fun playing something I have ended up remembering it for future reference. But I never go to the game center for the purpose of doing research like that. Lately I don’t play any games other than shooting there. When I was going to the game center often, I liked versus fighting games as well.

—What do you play at the game center now then?

Yagawa: Shooting. (laughs)

—Do you play Muchi Muchi Pork, your own creation?!

Yagawa: No, as you’d expect, I don’t play that now. (laughs) I play what we now call “retro” games, I guess. When I happen to see old shooting games there I get nostalgic and end up playing them. Sometimes there are games that I was obsessed with back in the day, but when I play them now… I can’t believe how boring they are! I wonder why I loved this so much? Why did I spend so much money on this? …alone in the game center, I ponder these things. I certainly thought they were interesting at the time. Games themselves are gradually able to do more and more interesting things, but old games must always remain old games, just as they are.

I only stop by the game center on occasion, so the lineup is always changing and there’s no game I’m really into right now. And I can’t tell you what I’ve actually been playing or it will reveal the identity of the game center I go to. (laughs) If that happens, like it has with Ikeda, it will be difficult for me to go play there. Everyone knows Ikeda’s face, so when he goes to the game center he’s always approached by a bunch of people. He should try wearing a disguise or something…

Ikeda: I don’t want to go that badly. (laughs)

—Do you feel like the shooting games you made are the best?

Yagawa: That’s not entirely untrue. (laughs) But if I said Battle Garegga, I’d sound like a weirdo. (laughs) For people who like shooting games or are interested in them and want to have a lighter experience, Armed Police Batrider is preferred, whereas Battle Garegga is more for when you want a disciplined, focused experience. Also, people often say this on the internet, but Gun Frontier… I’ve pretty much fully exhausted it now, but its the game I played the most. Hmm… I’ve played so many games.. I can’t remember the titles! Ah, its not shooting, but I liked Samurai Spirits. But I didn’t play Street Fighter II. By the time I thought I’d play it, I had missed the boat, and just kept getting destroyed. (laughs)

Gun Frontier, a favorite of Yagawa’s and inspiration for Battle Garegga.

—Since you love games so much, you must have a lot of hardware?!

Yagawa: I don’t own any. There isn’t a single console set up at my house. The last ones I purchased were the Sega Saturn and the Playstation. I’m glad I bought the Saturn, but I only own one game for it. (laughs) That game, by the way, is Virtual Fighter. But since then I haven’t bought a single game… as for my Playstation, I lent it to someone, I wonder where it went. As you can see from the state of my Saturn, there aren’t any recent games I’ve wanted to play, so I don’t own any consoles.

Speaking of shooting games only, the Saturn had a lot of arcade perfect ports. But I’d rather go to the game center or buy the pcb. I have about 150 pcbs of shooting games alone. So if something is an original game I’d buy it, but I won’t buy ports.

—You own that many pcbs?!

Yagawa: Yeah, and its definitely inconvenient owning this many. (laughs) I have no place to put them all. Many of them were bought for cheaper than you’d buy a new console game today. I don’t have many in my bedroom, I keep them in a separate location…

—Why don’t you open a game center?

Yagawa: Everyone says that. (laughs) Opening a game center now would be a big gamble. I’m can’t spend the rest of my life that way! (laughs)

—How about this… you could sell cheap candy to little kids and have each credit cost a mere 10 yen!

Yagawa: Any way you look at it, it’d be bankruptcy! And I’m bad with kids to begin with! Do you know how much the electricity and the rent alone would cost… if I could make a profit I’d do it, but its clearly an unwinnable fight. (laughs) If you don’t have something other than games there, its really tough.

—Well, how about having “Yagawa’s Shooting 101” classes held there, too?

Yagawa: There are many people more skilled and qualified than myself to host such a class. And I’m not even that good in the first place. (laughs) Now if we had some cute girls teaching it, we might get somewhere. Though if it were packed with shooting-loving young men, it might be a little… (laughs) So I’m sorry, but I won’t open a game center!

—It seems that if you could get more women who play games to come to the game center, then you’d naturally have more men come, too.

Yagawa: Yeah, there’s always been very few women. To relieve stress, it may be that people prefer music games and fighting games to shooting games. You know, when you play a shooting game, you actually get more stressed out. When you can say you love shooting games, I get the sense you’re no longer a normal person. (laughs) And of course I include myself in that. Everyone around me who likes shooting is a weirdo.

—That means the people at Cave must also be full of weirdos too, then?

Yagawa: If we’re talking about the development team… well, I can’t deny it. (laughs) There are definite boundaries in our office… there’s “over there” (the other departments) and “over here” (development), and the atmosphere is very different between us. Its like “normal people” and “strange people.” When an inspector visited our offices, he said something like “The game development division is the most dirty.” He said there were monitors strewn across the floor. (laughs) Even I wonder why they’re on the floor? Its not like you normally play games with a monitor on the floor, right?

In the midst of all that disorganization, my workspace is actually the clean one, I think. (laughs) You can clearly see the top of the desk, and there are no weird figures decorating it either. Even Ikeda has all these weird Tarako figures on his desk.

Ikeda: Tarako Kyuupii figures. For some reason everyone gives them to me. (laughs)

Yagawa: I don’t really have any hobby items that I collect like that.

—It seems like collecting pcbs exclusively would qualify? (laughs)

Yagawa: But they’re too expensive now, so I don’t buy them anymore. And its a pain finding a place to store them all, and I don’t have free time to play them at home anyway.

—Wouldn’t playing on your cell phone be convenient then? You could play it anywhere.

Yagawa: By the time cell phone games had become popular, I had already mostly lost my interest. (laughs) The screen size is also too small. The controls can’t be very complicated for them, and the response is bad… that’s the deathblow for me. I’ve played shooting games on them, and to be honest, it wasn’t very interesting. So I’m not interested in the PSP or DS either. Ah, I do own a DS though. I bought it only to play “Gundam Mahjong.” (laughs)

—Ah hah, you do own a game console!

Yagawa: I actually own Mario for it too, but I had my fill by the second level and threw it down, “I’m done, I’m not doing this!” Long ago, Mario was popular on the Famicom and I have fond memories of it so I bought the DS version. I thought it was cool at first, but I couldn’t take it after awhile… I personally have no interest in making games for a system with a small screen like the DS or PSP. So when people say, but can’t it be fun even with a small screen? For me, no. (laughs)

—Yagawa, you should apply your powers to make it interesting!

Yagawa: Nothing I or anyone can do will make that screen bigger! You know, its not that I have a particular fixation with arcade hardware and games, but it does seem that if you don’t release a shooting game in the arcade first it won’t sell well.

—Do you have any preferences for platforms to develop on?

Yagawa: Not personally, but it is true that if you suddenly release a shooting game for a console system it won’t sell well. Outside of that business perspective, I don’t have any particular preferences. I do rather like older hardware though. I like the challenge of “doing the impossible” with older hardware, and pushing it as far as it can go. Hardware today is too powerful, and the threshold for someone to make a game has really gone down. With graphics too, even a relative amateur can pump stuff out. In the past you couldn’t just start doing pixel art right away, and with programming as well, it used to be that you had to learn assembler first.

Now with the PC and other development tools being so powerful, anyone, even untalented people, can just go ahead and make a game. So that’s all the more reason for me to want to work with hardware around the same level as Cave’s current hardware.

—We’re in the 3D era now.

Yagawa: 2D is the foundation of shooting games, and there are almost no 3D games. Of all that I’ve tried, I’ve played very few 3D shooting games that were interesting. Graphically I think they are interesting, but its very difficult to tell whether a bullet will hit you or not.

Ikeda: Today the arcade market of the game industry has really shrunk, and the focus is on consoles and the overseas market. Overseas fans know shooting games as 3D FPS games. That type is the focus of the market, but our speciality is 2D shooting… that doesn’t mean we aren’t targeting the overseas market, but its a fact that its a woefully small market for us. Well, the truth is its always been that way… (laughs)

—Do you think shooting game fans themselves are changing?

Ikeda: They might not be decreasing, but they aren’t really increasing either. Though I think we gained a new class of players with the console version of Deathsmiles.

—It seems like more than the games, there are people who became fans because they like the characters.

Yagawa: I think its a good thing for characters to become popular, but personally I have no interest in characters, I don’t care either way. (laughs) I don’t need them! Or rather, I don’t care if they’re there, but they aren’t necessary to make a good game. Though from a business perspective, I’m not sure. (laughs)

—Do you think there is a trend in making games easier, not only in the shooting genre?

Yagawa: I don’t really pay much attention to that… though maybe that’s why people say my games are difficult. (laughs) In the past it was normal to play and the memorize parts, or to watch someone else play and memorize what they did. Well, even back then, there was definitely a trend with making games easier, though I didn’t want them to. (laughs) I think its natural that players should actively work at things themselves.

To say it somewhat negatively, I make games for myself, and if I think its good then its fine, and this goes for difficulty settings as well. So I don’t give much concern to what fans will think. It isn’t that I don’t hear others opinions, but that I listen to and reflect on them, but to what degree I incorporate their ideas is up to me.

—Does that mean you often fight with others at Cave?

Yagawa: It does! Actually, the only one I’ve clashed with till now is Cave itself. Its not Ikeda that I’ve fought with… its a little a hard to explain. (laughs) When I talk with Ikeda, its an exchange of opinions. But… we don’t fight, since I too am just an employee. (laughs) I have a friend who likes shooting games and wants to make them, but he says he couldn’t handle an office, and not being able to make what he wanted. And that’s definitely how things are normally, I think. So those are the people who start their own company. However, I’m not really like that, and I can’t do that. (laughs) I can’t support so many people like that. Seeing how difficult everyone here is, I think its a real feat to be able to do that.

—Is there anything you’d like to put on the record for Cave’s 16th anniversary?

Yagawa: Give me a raise. (laughs) Also, please give me more vacation time. And put some air conditioning or something in here! I know these are rather plain things, but they’re important. With all this hardware on all the time, it gets excruciatingly hot depending on where you sit. People are always fighting over whether to turn the air conditioner on or off!

Ikeda: Well, let’s change your seat then.

Yagawa: Also, please move the office closer to my house!

Ikeda: That’s not possible.

Yagawa: It used to be at Kagurazaka, but now since moving to Shinjuku Gyouen its gotten even farther for me. I want them to build a tunnel from my house to the office.

Ikeda: That is also not possible.

Yagawa: But even when I’m busy, I never sleep over at the office, since the next day I’m just going to have to come in again. Even if it takes a little time, its better to go home I think. So please move the office closer to my house.

Ikeda: Impossible. (laughs)

—What kind of shooting games will you make in the future?

Yagawa: Well.. I don’t think I’ll make any more. (laughs) I don’t actually know for sure, but I do have my ideal project, which is to make something that I think is interesting.

But I’m not sure how well that would be received. Its like what I said above, about how the games I used to play back then aren’t interesting to me anymore. There used to be a lot of games that were challenging, but that if you memorized them enough you could make progress. These were fun games in their day. But if you play those games today, they feel more like work, and quickly become dull. 10 years from now, if things continue like this, commercial shooting games will probably disappear, and only doujins made by dedicated fans will remain. Its certain to be difficult, but I don’t think shooting fans will ever disappear, as shooting games are easier than others to create on your own. Also, with PC development now, the things needed to start creating a game are more available, and in that regard shooting will not disappear, I think. I also want to do more events like the Cave Matsuri to promote shooting games.

Ikeda: I really want to have more interaction with our players at those kinds of events, to strengthen the bond between the players and the creators. Right now it just feels like a place where we sell things, but I think it would be good to do other things.

—Please give a final message to Cave fans!

Yagawa: I am very grateful. But… I wish you had spent more money on our games. (laughs) Also, regarding pirated copies that people have been talking about lately… if you don’t buy the game, there will be fewer and fewer people making them.

Arcades are also fading away, you know. Speaking of that, if Cave opens their own arcade, I’ll lend them my PCBs.

Ikeda: But, those aren’t Cave games! (laughs)

Yagawa: Well, I have V-V, so it should be alright.

Ikeda: Please don’t touch that one…

Makoto Asada | Junya Inoue | Manabu Namiki | Takashi Ichimura | Hiroyuki Tanaka | Shinobu Yagawa | Hideki Nomura | Akira Wakabayashi | Tsuneki Ikeda | Bonus! Cave Facts!

Nomura, lover of Nanoblocks.
Hideki Nomura

Design Leader

Central Works
Espgaluda series
Mushihimesama series
Ibara series
Muchi Muchi Pork!
Deathsmiles II
Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu

Primarily does character design and the interface/menus. On Ketsui he did part of the maps, and on Espgaluda II and Futari he did the world/setting.

—It looks like you’re very busy right now, but how are things going?

Nomura: The project I’m working on right now, Akai Katana, is at the final critical stage. Everything has to be completed within one week. Normally I’d have more time, but I have so much other work to get to… Right now, I-san of our subcontracted staff is sitting next to me, and he works very quickly, so I’ve had to hand the next design drafting work to him. I want to get started on the modeling, but without the design drafts the team is stuck… but they aren’t something you can just come up with in an instant, they take time. You have to look at all the materials we’ve come up with for the game and draw new patterns too, and when you finally think its right you can hand it over. So while I’m waiting for all that, I’m not doing anything at all. Only when I-san returns can I finally get to work. (laughs) So I can’t even really get started on my work until the evening.

—You also work on the interface and menus. What kind of difficulties arise there?

Nomura: The world of the game and the menus are connected, I think. For instance, if its a mecha game, it would be strange to have a Japanese aesthetic in the menus… a mecha game should have mecha styled menus to make the game consistent, so I always work on them myself. The truth is I should probably give that kind of work to someone else, but I always end up doing it. I’d like to give more work to others, but we don’t have enough employees. (laughs) And I feel bad giving so much work to the subcontractors, knowing they’ll be stuck here all night. So I usually portion a certain amount of time for it and then just do it myself.

Once its decided whether the game will be mecha or character style, and the general world and setting of the game are known, then I put the menus together. Because without any kind of motifs or themes I can’t do anything. For this game, the katana is the motif, so I try out different backgrounds and search for interesting visual materials until I find something that fits. The truth is I don’t have enough time to do it all, with only two weeks to make the character select screen, name entry screen, and ranking screen. I’m barely able to keep on schedule. I always say I’m not going to do anything else while I work on the menus, but in the end something extra always gets put on my plate.

—With all that work, how have you not collapsed?!

Nomura: While I’m working on a project, its somewhat mysterious, but my body never breaks down. Even now, I can’t remember the last time I took a break, and for days and days now I just go home and go straight to bed. Somehow, I just keep going on… because if I collapse now, its all over for the project. (laughs) Though, it has happened that I collapse the moment a project is over. (laughs) Its probably because I’m so tense and keyed up while I’m working. After a project is completed I’ll sleep for over 12 hours. Well, actually, the truth is that we’re always crunched for time. Location tests, game shows and events, release deadlines… it never lets up.

Projects don’t always start out busy. Lately the busiest part has been all the initial planning, and once that is over, to a certain degree you can decide your own schedule, and work on the things you want at your own pace. Of course, in the final stretch its always hell. That reminds me, I had my health checkup today, and I’ve lost a ton of weight. (laughs) Aside from not eating much at night, I haven’t changed anything in my diet but I’m still losing weight… it might be from never taking a real break. And yet the doctor said to me, “you’ve gotten a lot better!” I had mixed feelings about that. (laughs) I moved not long ago, and I’m close enough to walk to the train station, so that’s good.

—Maintaining your health seems difficult…

Nomura: During our last project I had some free time, so I would go running at night. I’d run to the Tama river, but I never lost any weight. No matter how much I ran I didn’t lose weight, though I know why that is. After you exercise food becomes a lot tastier… I’d get back and have a beer and such. I figured since I was sweating it was ok. (laughs) When I was running crazy distances in the middle of the night I lost nothing, but now with all the hard work I’ve been doing at the office, I’ve lost 5kg. Its a mystery to me.

When I was running, before coming back for overtime I’d go have dinner at a place nearby. They didn’t have fish there, it was only meat. I was eating a lot of heavy food then, and it probably wasn’t good for my health. I’d have an American burger one day, and a Japanese style burger the next… you can’t lose weight like that. (laughs)

Now that my wife and I live together, I think that’s had a very positive effect on my health as well.

—You’ve definitely been working hard for quite awhile. What are some of the more memorable titles you’ve enjoyed working on?

Nomura: Ketsui was very memorable. I joined Cave because I wanted to work on shooting games, but at first, fate seemed to be against me. I wanted to make shooting games, so I brought a bunch of my mecha design drawings with me to the interview, but after the interview they told me, “Ok, well, starting tomorrow, you’ll be working on our snowboard game.” I was very surprised… “What, snowboards?!” (laughs)

Lost in snowboard development purgatory.

Well, I figured it was good that I had even passed the interview. My first project was with the snowboard team, and my next three projects were all snowboard games as well. While making those games I started to think, “Am I only capable of drawing snow…?” At this rate I was thinking of quitting, but then like a godsend a space on the shooting team opened up, and that was for the project Ketsui. I was told to work with Tanaka, who was managing the backgrounds and maps for the game, but when I was all of a sudden asked to draw like him, I couldn’t do it right away. So at first, for many days I stayed up all night, and I slept at the office for 9 straight days. Though I did go home to take a bath each day.

—Weren’t there any sentou (public baths) near the office?!

Nomura: I don’t like those for some reason… my routine was to go home, take a bath, eat dinner, and come back to the office around 11PM, and work until morning, getting some quick rest before the next day. It was tough when I couldn’t go home for my own birthday though. I spent that birthday all alone at the office with a bentou lunch. (laughs) But a nice employee from the mobile content division did bring me a cake. I was happy to make that connection, but the game development team at Cave is full of people who work very quietly and keep to themselves, so I was a little worried at first. Working on the backgrounds for Ketsui, I did the maps for stage 2, the final stage, and the menus. It was very memorable for me, being entrusted with work that was so hard and challenging. If only I could have started doing work like that from the beginning.

Espgaluda II was the first project I was the lead on, so in a different sense that was very memorable. I had to think of all the character names, but there aren’t too many names that will sound cool if you take them from butterfly names. (laughs)

I think Espgaluda was a very complete work, so I struggled with thinking how I would connect a sequel to it. There were many difficulties, and at first I fought with the programmers. (laughs) It was over a development tool I needed. Before Galuda II, when I created the data, I’d have to compress everything by hand so it could fit into memory. But if I was going to do all that for Espgaluda II, it was going to take over 6 months of work, so I asked them to make a tool to automate the compression. They came back and told me they couldn’t really do it, to which I replied, “well, I can’t do my job either then!” It was a stubborn back and forth like that. (laughs) Finally, the tool did get completed, and without it I don’t think the game would have been finished. (laughs) Because of that one fight, everything, including the console port, went smoothly, so I’m glad it happened.

The development time for Espgaluda II was only 6 months, which was rather short. So during that time I rented a futon and slept over at the office. I set it up in the corner of the office, but that was near an emergency exit so it was problematic and the security guard made me move. (laughs) I had no choice so I moved to another part of the office, but that was where other, non-game development staff were working. When they’d arrive for work in the morning I’d be forced to wake up, so I couldn’t really get any respite anywhere… I’d end up going to sleep at 7 and waking up at 8. That was my life.

—Did you also fight with other employees about everyday things?

Nomura: No, not at all. You can’t really work with people if you have bad relations with them like that. Of course there’s been times when I’ve had to force a smile and hold my tongue. On the project we’re working on now, I blew up once. Though when I look back at it now, it was probably for the best, too. (laughs) Basically there haven’t been any real conflicts between everyone… just the normal extent of “well, I’m not sure if this is the best way to do it” and so on. I don’t think its good to completely criticize another person’s ideas.

When we have meetings to decide on new titles to develop, Ikeda will come up with some insane idea and I’m left wondering who the hell these people are I’m working with. (laughs) I really like Dodonpachi, and when I’d bring some “normal” ideas inspired by that design I was told “its too normal.”

To mention some weirder ideas of mine, for Espgaluda II I made a character that only had a head and neck, and everything below was a tank. When we brought that out at the AM show, the players said, “It looks like he’s speaking, but I don’t see his lips moving…” That’s because his face is actually elsewhere. (laughs) After people understood that, in a weird sense he became a popular character. The idea for him was “a man who abandoned his flesh to become powerful”, and having spent so much time on this idea, I had a lot of fun and really went all out with designing him. I even designed parts of his body that you can’t see onscreen when he transforms.

Madara, Espgaluda II boss, in tank form.

—Speaking of transformations, was anime a big influence on your love for the mecha style?

Nomura: For mecha stuff I love Gundam, but the transformations were largely influenced by the Valkyries from Macross. In addition to buying Valkyrie plastic kits, I also did a lot of papercraft and made them transformable. I’ve always like arts and crafts like that. I also liked mecha stuff, but originally I was obsessed with Gundam and wanted to become an animator.

But in high school I played a lot of different games and started wanting to work in that field instead. That was around the time I started drawing pixel art. The first company I joined had a pixel art test, and because I passed it I was hired. At first there were tons of things I didn’t know, and the closest person to my age was seven years older than me, so I had many difficulties. Even though I learned the fundamentals of pixel art there, before I knew it pixel art was fading away, and 3D rendering became the mainstay. I occasionally still do cute pixel art for nostalgia’s sake.

—Is there a connection between your interest in pixel art and Gundam?

Nomura: Yes, I was wanting to talk about that. (laughs) There are these really small building blocks called “Nano Blocks,” and I am beyond obsessed with them. They’re about 1/4 the size of legos and they make various different shapes. When they first came out almost no one knew about them and I thought it was rather lonely, but I’ve been posting my creations on my website and lots of people have come to see them.

—And that relates to Gundam…?

Nomura: It will be quicker if I just show you. (shows a picture of his Gundam nanoblock creations on his cell phone) You can see stuff like this on my blog, too. I generally spend about three hours working on them before bed. They’re very small, so you can only make things you already have a general idea about. I can finish roughing in a piece in about 3 hours, and then I enjoy touching it up here and there. The things on my homepage are often too big to display elsewhere, so I post them there for posterity before breaking them down.

—You should sell them at the Cave Matsuri event!

Nomura: I’ve made all kinds of things, including characters and crafts from Cave’s games. But the problem is I can only make one; I can never make the same thing twice. (laughs) So I can’t sell them. It's also difficult. My hands have gotten all swollen before. Tweezers are hard to use and if you can’t use your hands, it just doesn’t work. Sometimes when I’m working, I’ll drop the piece and it will crash to the floor… then I’ll be on my hands and knees searching for nano blocks under my desk in the middle of the night. (laughs)

One of Tanaka’s nano block creations.

—Your talent for pixel art must help you out here.

Nomura: Yeah, it might be true that my pixel art experience of long ago allows me to make these now. I used to build with legos too, but they were too expensive for what you could do with them. But when I saw nano blocks I thought, “this is it!” I became so obsessed with them, it was like this was my life’s work. For a period I thought I might even try doing it professionally. I actually really want to release some things for Wonder_Festival, but I haven’t made any building recipes. After you’ve built something, you can’t really deconstruct it and make a recipe after the fact. I would love to see nano blocks become more popular.

—For Cave’s characters then, you must surely favor the mecha ones?

Nomura: When it comes to drawing, I actually prefer the creatures in Mushihimesama, like the dragons. I like things that I can draw in one burst of inspiration like that. With mecha, I start to get stressed out trying to make the parts fit together. I love dragons, so in Mushihimesama I thought, well, its not insects, but maybe I’ll add some dragons… and really enjoyed drawing those.

—Was it drawing pixel art that attracted you to the game industry?

Nomura: I started doing pixel art in my third year of junior high. In high school I got my motorcycle license and soon started spending all my time at the game center. Around then Ys on the MSX2 came out, and playing that was the thing that made me think I wanted to work with games. I was then employed by my previous company, and when I went to the interview it was in a small, 8-cho apartment. I was surprised, but when I went in and saw game hardware all over the place I finally realized, “Aaa, this is a game company!”

Ys for the MSX2, one of
Nomura’s first inspirations.

I thought there would be a lot of fresh high school graduates like me there, but as soon as I got in they immediately gave me boss characters to draw! I thought of myself as an amateur, but it turned out I was able to do a good job, and I was very happy when I saw a commercial for our game on TV. At Cave, Ketsui was my first shooting game, but shooting games had been my first official work in the game industry, as well.

At that time an amusement park had just been built near me, but everyone went to the game center. Even though Disneyland was within walking distance, everyone went to the game center anyway. So its pretty sad to me now, seeing the game centers dying out. I moved recently, but there’s no game center near me so I haven’t been able to go. Before I moved there was a really hardcore game center near me, though.

—It seems like you’ve been playing all sorts of games for a long time now.

Nomura: I really like strategy games for all the customizing. I loved “Front Mission.” I spent so much time customizing all the parts and changing the colors of the mechs and stuff, that it seemed like I would never even start the game. For the Super Famicom version of Wizardry, too, you could draw your own characters in game, and I’d spend tons of time on that without ever starting the game. My favorite game though was probably Tactics Ogre. I like that dark kind of atmosphere. I also loved Ys, the story and the music were so well done, and that is the game that inspired me to join the world of making games.

—Tanaka was saying he hates strategy games. (laughs)

Nomura: I tend to draw whatever I think looks cool, but Tanaka is more like, “There are not ducts here so the ship has no intake.” He’s taught me various things. (laughs) I was impressed because I had never met a person with so many particularities like him. I was glad to have been put on the Ketsui team, but at that time I had no idea how to draw airplanes and fighters jets with realistic weapons. So I figured I needed to study up, and I bought a bunch of reference books and poured over those. Up till then I had thought drawing a tank just meant sticking a cannon on and you’re done. But recently I’ve been able to incorporate what I’ve learned into my designs.

—Do you ever object to any of Ikeda’s ideas?

Nomura: We fight a lot… its a love hate relationship. (laughs) I think that’s just how it is when you’re a director… you can’t always be liked by everyone. You can tell he really loves shooting games. There have been many times where I’ve wondered why this guy is working so hard, and even though he’s the director, he’s the last person to go home. He’s really amazing.

I would like him to spend more time training his successor, though. If we were to collapse, there’d be no one who could continue his work now. I understand though, because I’m also the kind of person who wants to do everything by myself. On this project, Akai Katana, Ikeda was one of the staff and gave us various ideas. Everyone added their own personal opinions, and even though we’d spent so much time mulling it all over, some new idea would come and upset everything we’d worked on. Of course, that new idea would have to be integrated into the old, and that’s how you get a good game. The team is everything… individually, you can’t do it all.

—What do you think shooting will be like in 10 years?

Nomura: I think the entire game industry, not just shooting, will be very different. More and more games and movies are starting to use 3D technology now, so I think we’ll finally see hologram style games we dreamed about in the future. In the old Macross series, there was a scene where the ace pilot is at the game center shooting down the enemy fighters, battling with the Batroids that would appear in front him. I was impressed by that when I saw it. It will be interesting 10 years from now when we have games like that.

—Please give your fans a final message.

Nomura: If you’re trying to get into the game industry, don’t get discouraged. I faced such potentially discouraging situations many times, but it somehow all worked out! (laughs)

Makoto Asada | Junya Inoue | Manabu Namiki | Takashi Ichimura | Hiroyuki Tanaka | Shinobu Yagawa | Hideki Nomura | Akira Wakabayashi | Tsuneki Ikeda | Bonus! Cave Facts!

Wakabayashi presents a flyer
for a Capoera event.
Akira Wakabayashi

Manager / Designer

Central Works
Dodonpachi series
Guwange / Ketsui
Progear no Arashi
Ibara series
Muchi Muchi Pork!
Deathsmiles series

In Guwange he drafted the character designs. In Mushihimesama, Ibara, Muchi Muchi Pork, and DDP:DFK, he did the story and setting.

—What aspects of game development do you oversee?

Wakabayashi: As a designer I’m involved in various titles. I do character design drafts, and a number of other things like that.

—I heard you often fight with Tanaka, who is also a designer…

Wakabayashi: What, he said we fight?! Its definitely true that as we’re making a game, we say to each other “I want to do it this way,” or “I think it should be that way,” and there are some things Tanaka won’t compromise on. Tanaka really gets into things, and he expands and develops the image of the game in his head, so we occasionally clash when something doesn’t match the image he’s come up with. Also, if he works really hard on some animations, but in the end they don’t get used or are just quickly passed over, he’ll say something like “hey, you can’t see the animation!”

—And what are some of the things you are particular about in game design?

Wakabayashi: I don’t think I’m personally aware of them. As a designer, even if you say “I want it like this,” you have to consider the overall direction of the game, as well as the opinions of higher ups in the company, so its difficult if you’re too insistent about your desires.

There will always be complications, but I always try to listen to everyone’s different opinions and incorporate them into the game as much as possible. Though, in doing that, the things I wanted to do personally can get diluted, so sometimes I’m the one who ends up getting angry instead. (laughs)

—It sounds very trying. What games have you worked on so far that have been particularly difficult?

Wakabayashi: Ibara, Pink Sweets, Muchi Muchi Pork were all challenging. Now that I think of it, Daioujou and Daifukkatsu were also tough… I guess everything!

—Does the difficulty of the project change depending on who you’re working with?

Wakabayashi: I started out working with Ikeda, and that continued for a long time, but after that I teamed up with Yagawa. We are very different from each other. Yagawa is the type of person who blazes his own trail, and I struggled to match his style at first. But if I get too stressed out, I can’t really get into my work, so I don’t take things too personally. I also think that rather than pushing only my own ideas and having a really stiff, preconceived world, by including various ideas and opinions you can break new ground. I’m also not too smart so I tend to just laugh and let things slide. (laughs)

—But in reality, there’s all kinds of things swirling around in your head…

Wakabayashi: Oh, there is… there is! (laughs)

—Such as?

Wakabayashi: Well, for Muchi Muchi Pork!, that was originally a doujinshi comic I had made. There were things in my heart that I couldn’t put into a game, so I drew a doujinshi for them. For Muchi Muchi Pork, it started with a conversation I had about how to depict soldiers, so I tried drawing them with animal ears. It had a completely different feel from what ended up becoming the game.

One man’s vision come to life.

The idea for chubby characters came from me thinking, “chubby characters have needs too.” So my original character designs were completely cut for the game. I had first made typically cute characters, but I figured those wouldn’t sell very well. I liked them, though, and Comiket was fast approaching, so I drew and drew and drew to make it in time. (laughs)

—Do you often participate in Comiket?

Wakabayashi: Lately, yeah. I started about 5 years ago, because my needs as an illustrator weren’t being met at Cave. (laughs) I wanted to draw manga. Just like my characters in Muchi Muchi Pork, I thought “no one is meeting the needs of chubby characters!” There really aren’t too many people who are both shooting fans and fans of chubby girls. I think the game had an impact, but just so. When you watch anime and manga, sadly there still aren’t many chubby characters.

—The world of Muchi Muchi Pork is amazing. You even named the ships “ketta machines”…10

Wakabayashi: Eh, I thought ketta machine was the normal word for bike? Well, I’m not from Nagoya, so I don’t say it myself… (laughs) A long time ago I had a friend at vocational school who lived in Nagoya, and he always said ketta machine, and I thought it was funny. Just calling them “jitensha” or “charinko” would have been boring.

But I really worked hard on Muchi Muchi Pork. There were problems with the bullets being hard to see. The world seemed to be really well received by players.

—It must take a long time for you to design characters.

Wakabayashi: When His Excellency Junya Inoue gets involved in a project, he does all the work on the characters and the world and I can pretty much relax. But other than that, I have to listen to everyone’s ideas and try to make sense out of them. I also have to work with illustrators that I make requests to, and so it all takes a lot of time.

As for my favorite characters, that would be the stage 3 boss from Daifukkatsu, “Perfect.” She was fun to make and I personally am proud of my work on her. She was simply interesting to make, and since the main characters in the Dodonpachi are big loutish mechs, Perfect is a girl robot. I had actually wanted to make a robot that was in the shape of a little girl, but for various reasons, in the end she ended up with slightly robotic arms and legs.

Wakabayashi’s favorite character, Perfect.

Perfect is dressed like a maid, but in the story she’s supposed to have been made perfectly, or rather a little too perfect, and there’s supposed to be something strange about her. So we gave her category of element daughter the name “Pa-fekuto”, but that didn’t seem very cute or likable so we changed it to “Pafue.” While all the other bosses come out and say “yurushimasen!”,11 Perfect, who is sheltered and naive, says “waittttt!” In a sense I felt I had upended that image people had of Dodonpachi being brusque and masculine, and that was fun to do.

—It sounds like you definitely prefer girl characters to mecha characters?

Wakabayashi: Just because I like girl characters doesn’t mean I dislike mecha characters. I like cool mecha stuff and enjoy making them. I like the shapes of all sorts of things… so in addition to mechs I also like things like statues of Buddha. So you can see on my desk there… ah, look, its overflowing with Ayanami Rei figures!

—Is that a hobby of yours, putting together models?

Wakabayashi: I like drawing, and I like putting together models. I usually do plastic models only in my spare time… well, actually I make them whenever I can. I don’t like just drawing single images. I prefer to create a story and characters. When I joined Cave, I gradually started to feel like “I can’t do anything I want here!!!” You know, with shooting games, especially arcade ones, its extremely difficult to tell a story or develop characters, so I started doing that in my own time.

I tend to like things that aren’t very mainstream… if everyone is going, “ah, I love this!” then I’m like, “No thanks.” But lately I’ve been getting into those things, too.

—It sounds like you’re playing games on newer systems. How many do you own?

Wakabayashi: I own everything but a PS3. There wasn’t really anything on there I wanted to play, so I didn’t buy it. “Uncharted” was fun though. It had an Indiana Jones action feel to it, and was quite pretty. The PS3 is great, and you can watch blu-rays on it too. I still don’t own one though.

—Speaking of which, Yagawa and Tanaka don’t own any console systems…

Wakabayashi: That’s right! Even though they make games they don’t own a single system. The amount of games and systems I have is pretty normal, I think. If I play other games too much, I end up thinking “That game does this, so I should do this too,” and its problematic. But you also have to know whats happening in the game industry to a certain extent, I think. Then again, knowing too much can stifle your ideas too. I don’t really play a lot of shooting games though. I play them occasionally just for fun, but I don’t aim to clear games or anything.

Wakabayashi’s beloved
Ayanami Rei model.

—By the way, what are your favorite games?

Wakabayashi: Final Fight or Captain Commando. I like the belt scroll action games of that era. My desire to work in the game industry started with those games, actually.

I wasn’t initially planning to work in the game industry though. It was winter in my third year of high school. Being that old and not having decided what to do is a sort of “winter” in and of itself, actually. Up till then I had just been idly thinking I’d go to college or something, but at the last minute there I decided to immerse myself in drawing. Street Fighter II had come out, and it was a revolutionary period, with the game centers full of fighting games. I was constantly going to the game centers then.

After that, I studied animation at a vocational school and then joined an animation studio. But right as I was thinking I’d want to start working with games, Cave was hiring. I was at a convenience store thinking how difficult the animation industry was to work in when I saw a hiring advertisement for Cave. I read it and realized this was the company that made Donpachi. I knew that game, so I applied.

—I understand you’ve also done some voice acting for Cave?

Wakabayashi: Ah… yes, Dyne’s voice for Ibara! We weren’t planning to record voices for Dyne at first, but we thought it sounded kind of empty without it, so we decided to try and quickly record them. But we hadn’t hired any voice actors. There was a person at Cave who had dabbled a bit in sound engineering, so we asked him if we could record the voices in an office meeting room at Cave. It was just the two of us there on a weekend… (laughs)

Espgaluda was the first title that we hired voice actors for, and being our first time, we didn’t really know what we were doing. Going to the studio, recording the voices, and putting those files into the game is the process, but when we went to add the files to the game we had to shrink them to fit in memory. So the upper and lower extremes of the wav file would get cut off. So if you didn’t really add a lot of inflection to the performance, it would end sounding rather lifeless. When we actually added them to the game and everyone heard it, we all busted up laughing. (laughs) One line was, “kisamara no sonzai o keshite yaru!!”12 and it sounded really cool when we recorded it, but when we played it back it sounded extremely monotone. (laughs) Even though we had went to the trouble of hiring a voice actor, it ended up feeling lifeless. It was a real disaster.

Seseri’s “kisamara no sonzai…” line was so popular, Cave used it to advertise the Espgaluda PS2 release.

We weren’t planning it that way, but it sort of became a small legend. There were rumors that we had done it that way deliberately. The voice actor has never claimed the work or said “I did this right, how did it turn out this way?!” Maybe all this has contributed to Seseri becoming so popular… (laughs)

—Do Cave employees often record voices for the games?

Wakabayashi: To be frank, it usually happens for budget reasons. (laughs) Voice actors can sound too perfect and normal, but when our employees record the voices it sounds kind of awkward, and it's funny. Players think, “this doesn’t sound right,” and it's more memorable.

So yeah, we’ve asked everyone but the general affairs department to record voices. In the past we didn’t have many female employees, so we’d steal them away from the other departments and have them record. So we’d often see people write on messageboards online things like “I can’t understand what they’re saying,” but that too is part of the appeal. Using very skilled or famous voice actors can definitely be a selling point, but I think its more fun to hear an amateur with a nasally voice or something.

—Is it difficult to have to come up with things that are “abnormal”?

Wakabayashi: It is! When I submit something thinking “This is great! Perfect!”, I end up getting scolded because its “normal.” That’s Cave for you. And sometimes I think, “Ah, it sounds great like this!!” and they’ll say instead, “you overdid it.” Its impossible to get it just right! There’s no standard or clear line for how far you should go.

Makoto Asada | Junya Inoue | Manabu Namiki | Takashi Ichimura | Hiroyuki Tanaka | Shinobu Yagawa | Hideki Nomura | Akira Wakabayashi | Tsuneki Ikeda | Bonus! Cave Facts!

“this may be the end”
Tsuneki Ikeda


—Please share your thoughts on Cave’s anniversary.

Ikeda: Surprisingly, I don’t have any feelings like “its been so long.” It's more like we’ve been running and running, working hard at developing our knowledge the whole time.

The history of shooting games is quite long, but even when I was a player people were saying “Shooting is dead.” When I became a developer, I had this wild ambition that I would expand people’s interest in shooting games! But in the end, nothing happened… and I am filled with a shameful feeling of my own impotence.

—Please tell us about your roles and duties as a team member on Cave’s projects. Also, please explain to us the origin of the “IKD” initials.

Ikeda: My main job is planning the games. I also do programming for the game system, which determines the particular character of a given game, and I work on enemy placement and boss attacks. I also make final adjustments to the game as a whole. But lately Ichimura has been handling most of the bosses, and I’ve been doing only the last boss, and in some extreme cases, simply the last bosses most crazed [[hakkyou]] attack patterns.

As for the IKD initials… I didn’t choose that name or anything. (bitter laugh) I think it probably began with my using IKD in the comments of the game code.

—You’ve been making shooting games for over 20 years and don’t seem to have grown bored with them. What do you feel the charm or appeal of shooting games is?

Ikeda: Hmmm… well, one has to have the space to even register a feeling of boredom… so I wonder if the reality isn’t that we’ve been so constantly busy with work that during a project we don’t even have the space to feel bored? (laughs) As for shooting games, I think the basic routine of shooting enemies and dodging bullets is extremely simple. I think the attraction for me comes from the challenge of mixing a curve ball into that routine to see if I can create something different and alluring within that simple framework.

—Are there titles that you feel “It would have been better if I had done more of this” after their completion?

Ikeda: There actually aren’t many games like that, because if the team didn’t add something I wanted, I usually added it on my own “after class.” (laughs) But with Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu, we were short on time and I couldn’t do that, so I was thinking I’d get to add my touches with the Black Label version. But in the end my schedule didn’t permit it and I could hardly participate at all. So in that sense, maybe Daifukkatsu.

—Do you have things you do, then, where you feel “ah, this is one of my habits…”?

Ikeda: Yeah, I do. For things like the enemy algorithms and attacks, and even the boss bullet patterns, I end up unconsciously repeating myself. And so during the playtesting, someone might say “I feel some deja vu with this attack…” and that’s the first time I become aware of it. (laughs) So as much as possible, I always try to be careful about that.

Also, this is unrelated to my habits, but Cave shooting games have a tendency to always be seen by people as danmaku games. Of course, we’ve done many danmaku games, so its only natural that many people see us that way. On the other hand, it may be that the reason our non-danmaku shooting games make such a slight impression is that users really aren’t all that attracted to non-danmaku games… this continues to be an issue for us.

—I’ve heard that if Dodonpachi failed to sell well, you were going to leave the game industry. Did you have a goal or plans for what to do next, in that event?

Ikeda: I wasn’t going to leave because I had some other plans in mind. It was because my ability to feel interested in games was at an all-time low, and if a person like that tries to lead a team, it will be a problem for the team, for the company, and ultimately for the shooting genre itself. So I simply felt I couldn’t be there anymore.

If I was going to do something other than the game industry, I think I’d do something related to cleaning? Not “sensha” [[tanks]], but “sensha” [[car wash]]… don’t they give you the same sense of achievement, after all? There is happiness both for the one who cleans and the one who gets cleaned. Its a total “win-win” situation, isn’t it? (laughs)13

—Outside of business, what kind of game would you like to try making?

Ikeda: Probably shooting, I guess? (laughs)

—Please tell us about your new title, Akai Katana. What were the main parts you handled? Also, did you have any particular things you wanted to do with this game?

Ikeda: Akai Katana is the first brand new title we’ve done in awhile. We had been doing sequels for some time, but I think there may be players who are tired of that by now, so I hope they will look forward to this game.

My main work on Akai Katana was enemy placement. We did something different with the game system this time. It was done by the accomplished person who has done various arrange modes for our Xbox 360 ports, which all received good ratings. I’m looking forward to it too!

—The games Cave makes, as well as the content and atmosphere of the events you host, all seem to be markedly different from other companies. Has it been this way since the beginning of the company?

Ikeda: I don’t think it appeared that way in the beginning. However, our early game development was mainly directed to us by higher ups, so it may just be that it was simply too difficult to show any weirdness then.

But with our events and our games, we kept asking how we could distinguish ourselves and stand out from other companies. Compared with the big companies, we couldn’t spend lavish amounts on promotion, so we focused on how to stand out with low cost. The only way to do that was to have our games picked up by various locations and spread through word of mouth. So we tended to make games that you’d be hard pressed to say were stylish or fashionable, but it may be that therein lies their unique atmosphere.

—You’ve been involved with the programming for many games. Do you have any plans or wishes for how long you intend to continue working on site?

Ikeda: Creating games in itself is fun for me, even now. So I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop, but in terms of my managerial duties, I have many other things I have to do. And I’m also thinking that I need to train a successor, and in that sense I’m not sure how long I can keep working on site like this. So my contributions will gradually become more and more like that of a helper, I think? (laughs)

The game development team itself has, in these last years, begun a large change of direction. Although the projects I directly initiate and run are declining, this shift is something I’ve been wanting myself, so while its lonely to be doing less actual work on site, I’m also happy about it.

—You’ve also personally had less exposure in the media lately; is that related, too?

Ikeda: There aren’t currently any projects that I’m really at the center of, and I want to promote the new generation that is leading things even now. It think it would be wrong for me to do media appearances when I’m not really deeply involved.

—When you’re making a game, what part of the work do you find most enjoyable?

Ikeda: Creating the “game-ness” or appeal unique to that particular game. There are pains during that birthing, and it definitely isn’t all just fun, but when you’ve unearthed that new sensation in a game, and others tell you “this is fun!”, all your difficulties are transformed into the most supreme joy. Especially, when you do discover that new sensation and start the work of tweaking the system, it can easily become an endless loop of “if we do this, won’t it be more interesting?” –> “its now more interesting than before!” –> “but if we do this, won’t it be even MORE interesting!” and so on. You can end up never starting your other work (or even wanting to), and there’s a real danger in that.

—Speaking of that “new sensation”, it must have been a big thing when you began to develop your own arcade hardware.

Ikeda: Starting with Daioujou we used another company’s hardware, but even then it had very low specs. But around this time, Cave had decided to do game development in-house, and using our current development platform was a condition of that decision, so it was the only hardware we could use.

However, around the time we developed Espgaluda we had secured enough profits, and many people were pointing out that the specs of the hardware were so low that we were looking bad compared with other companies, so it was decided that we would try to make our own arcade hardware.

The PGM boards used by Cave before they developed their SH-3 hardware.

In order to keep costs down, we did the game development and the hardware development in parallel… a very dangerous pattern, but somehow or another we managed to finish things.

—What is your favorite Cave shooting game, and why?

Ikeda: I’ve answered this question countless times in the past, and I have the same answer today. (laughs) …its Dodonpachi. We had a lot of time to test and tweak things, and I was really satisfied with how much we were able to tune it. Also, Dodonpachi was a gamble for me whether I would make it or not in the game market, and even now its the title that showed me I could do the impossible. Thank goodness it wasn’t hated by everyone…

—Do you have favorite characters, or characters you don’t really care for? Are there any characters you really like, but for some reason they never became popular?

Ikeda: To speak only of boss characters, of the ones I’ve made I like Seseri from Espgaluda, and for ones not made by me, Kasumi of Ibara is my favorite. As for characters I liked but never became popular, Asagi of Espgaluda II. She was designed in the image of Eureka Anemone, and since she was a new character we really promoted her, even at the level of the gameplay, but I don’t think she was received very well in the end. By making her a megane musume, menhara, and a do-S type character,14 I thought we had covered all our bases… its strange.

—Please tell us about the game hardware you own. I hear Asada gave you an X360 as a present?

Ikeda: I have all the major console systems out today. I also own a DS and PSP, so I believe that’s everything? As for the X360, after it was decided we would port Deathsmiles to it, Asada kept doggedly recommending it to me, but there weren’t any games I wanted to play on it at the time so I had no desire to own one. Then one day Asada suddenly just presented one to me… despite my previous lack of enthusiasm, within a few days I was fully absorbed in the X360. The X360 was the first game console where I was saying, “please, enough, just let me sleep now…”

My first interest in games was more through arcade games rather than shooting games particularly, if I had to say. I owned home consoles at that time as well, but my attention was drawn to the huge screen and impressiveness of arcade games. It was simply that feeling of “wow!” I got from arcade games that was the beginning of my interest in the world of games.

—Is there a game you feel complete confidence in, where you feel like a total master of it?

Ikeda: No, I don’t think so. The games I can 1CC are only the relatively easy ones. And in this world, there’s always someone better than you, so there’s no game I can really say I have complete confidence in. If I was forced to choose, I’d say Tatsujin. I really tried hard to memorize all the patterns in that game, but I couldn’t do it completely, and even now the stage 1 boss and the stage 3 boss make me very nervous.

Ikeda once said he could score 10m in Tatsujin

—Are there any game genres you like other than shooting?

Ikeda: Its not the case that I only play shooting games at home. During the Sega Saturn era there were a lot of high quality arcade ports, and I owned many games. “Tonight shall be Shooting/Biking!”… in that way I’d alternate genres and would pass an entire night. I don’t do that much anymore. Now I play a lot of action games, though I won’t play jumping platformers.

—Are there any non-shooting games or media that you think have influenced you?

Ikeda: Of course there are various things, but as for something more recent, Evangelion. In the movie version “Prologue”, in the final scene where Ayanami might die and she is protecting Shinji… when I saw that, I wondered if I could make a defensive system that makes your heart race, and convey the same sensation that this movie gave me? So I tried to make something along those lines, and the X360 arrange mode in Mushihimesama Futari was the result… but the excitement was lacking. When the shield was about to fail, I thought having Palm say something like, “Rego jan, jinjau yo~~”15 would be good enough… that wasn’t really the problem though. I’m sorry.

—Lately there has been an increase in beginner shooting players. Can you give some advice to those who say, “I can’t do it!”

Ikeda: I would say its a matter of experience… in other words, you must practice. After you play enough you will understand the rules and patterns of the enemy placement and attacks. Also, in order to become better more quickly, you need to carefully analyze the spots where you died, and develop strategies to deal with those situations. If this kind of experimentation starts to become tedious, just do what feels right to you. Even if you become good, if you aren’t enjoying the game itself then there’s a chance you’re missing the point.

If you play enough so that you can clear the game on one credit, then you can watch other skilled players’ replays and start to find your own playing style, and the breadth of shooting games will open up for you, I think.

—Please give a message to all the fans who have supported Cave for these last 16 years.

Ikeda: Thank you very much for your support all these years. It is because of you that we’ve been able to keep developing games as a team like this. All the people in our development team love games, and to be able to share this enjoyment with you is a great blessing and joy to us, and its all because of you that we’ve been able to continue.

I touched on the Dodonpachi Daioujou development period a little already, but for every arcade game we’ve developed since this title, the conditions have been that if its a business failure, the team will be disbanded. Especially with that first test, Dodonpachi Daioujou, this judgment hung over our heads, and our fate really rested in the success of that game. However, even though we worked ourselves to death on it, when compared with our previous titles, it clearly looked incomplete and miserable. As we headed towards the location test on the train, we gloomily thought “this may be the end.”

However, despite the unfinished state of the game, the location test numbers weren’t bad at all. The day before the end of the location tests we adjusted the game, which was, in our way, a small atonement to the players who had to play the previous unfinished version.

shinu ga yoi

From this, we’ve been able to continue making shooting games to the present day. On the other hand, despite constantly releasing shooting games for the last 16 years, we haven’t been able to start the revolution in arcade shooting we were striving for. As the representative of our team, I want to apologize from my heart to the arcade industry, Cave, and all the users who have supported us. I’m very sorry.

However, as players of our recent games probably already know, Asada will be leading the next generation of Cave as we develop for new platforms. Right now we are focusing on arcade ports, but in the future we hope to also release original titles, so please look forward to our continuing efforts.

Times change, and Cave’s games must also greet this new era. I couldn’t accomplish it with my efforts alone, but we won’t stop with arcade development, and will develop on various platforms to share our games with even more players than before. Please continue to enjoy Cave’s games, both past and future.

Makoto Asada | Junya Inoue | Manabu Namiki | Takashi Ichimura | Hiroyuki Tanaka | Shinobu Yagawa | Hideki Nomura | Akira Wakabayashi | Tsuneki Ikeda | Bonus! Cave Facts!

Bonus! Cave Facts!


“Let’s make a Toaplan style shooting game!” That was the concept for this game, but partly because we were inexperienced, throughout the development people kept pointing out parts which weren’t very Toaplan-y. “This bullet pattern isn’t like Toaplan” … “The speed of this boss isn’t like Toaplan” …”The way this helicopter moves isn’t like Toaplan” … “This boss fight”, “These enemy bullets”, “This ship”… so on and so forth. What’s Toaplan, again? (Programmer)

The voiceover was done by a man named Bob. We’d send him the Japanese beforehand by fax (this was before the internet). We told him we wanted the voice to be like a teacher to the player. He took that intention and translated it into English in a cool way, changing the expression or nuance of things to sound better. We were really rushing when we recorded it, and we had to change some things. The sessions lasted really long, and Bob’s voice was hoarse, but he soldiered on to the end. (Sound Engineer)

The title Donpachi is said to have been created by our President while he was on a walk from Kagurazaka to Ichigaya. The story is after his walk he went to a meeting and said “how about Donpachi?” The “don” would be spelled with the kanji for “shuryou”,16 and “pachi” would use the normal character for bee, “hachi.” Up till the end the President was saying “isn’t there some other character we can use for hachi?” (Programmer)


For Dodonpachi we were thinking, if we can increase the number of bullets and still make it dodgeable, then not only will it look flashy, but it will be also be fun to play! But we were very worried whether this idea would be well received by players… at that time, Master Battle Garegga spoke to me: “kimi nara dekiru yo! hora, shikkari!”17 (Mad Ball st 2 boss) That moment was the first time I had received a message from a game. (Programmer)

At first, the voice for Dodonpachi on the title screen was a woman’s, and it went: “do, doooooon paaaaachi!” But it sounded really awkward when we heard it with the title screen, so we decided to try messing around with the wav files from Donpachi. So that is also Bob’s voice. (Programmer)

Regarding the player ship being a human character this time, the ship system we had designed for our first draft was very different. But when we programmed it and played it, it wasn’t fun at all. We tried tweaking it this way and that, and as a result, by the time we decided on the final version, it was only 4 months till the development deadline. After that we had to do the main enemy placement and boss attack work, so it was a really rushed project. (Programmer)

Junya Inoue, who was an employee with Cave at this time, really put us through the wringer on this project. With his catchphrase “It has to feel real!”, he’d then tell us “Put a table here!” or “Put cars on this road!” or “Put a sign here!” It was requests like that, one after the other. Finally a programmer complained, “Shouldn’t we be placing the enemies before all this?” to which Inoue replied, “Tables come before enemies!!!” (Programmer)

Dangun Feveron

Originally, the soundtrack was entirely heavy metal. However, one day we were reviewing the whole game and thought it might be better to make it more thematic somehow, when someone said, “you know, guys… don’t you feel the fever?” And with that, we hurriedly changed almost everything to an 80s style disco soundtrack. To this day, though, the question remains as to why the boss music alone stayed heavy metal… (Sound Engineer)

While we worked on, I remember looking at the desk across from me where Feveron was being developed and seeing that the ship shot was changing each week. It started as a very typical shot, then one day it changed to a flashy 3-way shot, then finally you were shooting out cyborg soldiers… in a different sense, I was very worried about this project too. (Programmer)


When the project we had pitched before Guwange fell flat, we had piles of documents with new ideas lying around the office. Guwange is the project that came out of our idea to try and revive the Japanese aesthetic shooter. (Designer – Inoue)

The project began as a ground based vertical scrolling shooting game with obstacles. Inoue had requested that it have walking human characters, since it would be Japanese themed, and we started development without knowing anything else. We had no idea the mountain of problems we would later face because of that… (Programmer)


I’m a person who has a really hard time remembering names, so I chose machine parts that would be easy to remember for Progear: Ring, Bolt, Chain, and so forth. Many of my works have names derived from things and places like this. (Designer – Inoue)

Progear began with the idea that, if Cave was going to make a horizontal scrolling shooter, let’s make bullet dodging and enemy destruction the focus. However, out of the blue Inoue asked us to make a system where the characters’ affections for each other changed depending on how the player played. The programmers really slaved over setting the parameters up for this. Then one day, while the programmers were struggling with the system, Inoue once again comes in and says, “Hey, while you’re at it, why don’t you have a meter at the end of the stage which fills up and then hearts gush out like so…” The voice of the programmer in reply resounded throughout the development office, “What do you know about heart!!!!!!!!” (Programmer)

Dodonpachi Daioujou

The hardware we had at the time only allowed for the same number of instruments as the Super Famicom chip, and all the music files had to fit on a floppy disk. I was seriously fretting over how difficult it was to write music for game center arcade hardware like this. (Sound – Namiki)

A small development team, a short schedule, and hardware with relatively low specs were the “x3 HIT!” of troubling circumstances we had to deal with, while also feeling the pressure of making a sequel to Dodonpachi, our flagship title. To top it off, we were told that if the income from the location test is bad, the arcade development team would be disbanded. It was like some sudden death game from a TV variety show. The location test didn’t go as great as we had hoped… well… it didn’t go really well at all, but thanks to the response we received from the players, our team was able to continue making games today. Thank you very much. (Programmer)

Knowing the hardware’s sprite display limitations, we at first had no plans for a second loop. However, our debuggers at the time were asking us “when will you add a second loop?”, and when we responded that we had no intention of doing so, they replied with indignance that “A Dodonpachi game without a second loop has no right to be sold.” Even though the deadline was just before us, we were roused by this and decided to make it at any cost! Of course, this didn’t change the hardware sprite display limitations, and we struggled with it the whole time. (Programmer)

Black Label

We wanted a screen capture from the game on the poster, so we asked someone to photograph it. At this time we didn’t have any hi-tech video capture device at the office, so we had no choice but to have one of our employees wait till everyone had gone home, then take the pictures with a single-lens reflex camera in total darkness. Even though he was just an amateur, we thought he did a good job, and so we sent the pictures off for publishing in high spirits. But several days later, one of our employees was looking at the finished poster and noticed something. “What the… there’s some weird green thing here! Could it be the image of a spirit…?” We rushed over and gazed at it until we thought we could make out an image or writing… “Hijouguchi…?”18 (Programmer)


There’s actually a part in Daifukkatsu that ties into Ketsui. I secretly snuck the EVAC logo onto a billboard-like background, as destructible scenery, in the last stage. (Designer – Tanaka)

At the beginning we were thinking to make a very orthodox shooting game. We were going to have no scoring system at all, focusing purely on bullet dodging and destruction, a “plain ramen”, or “Mr. Stoic” style STG. However, during playtesting a week before the location test, another programmer said, “This isn’t us. This just isn’t us. A ramen without an easy to understand scoring system… that isn’t Cave!” …tantrums were thrown and that was the end of that idea. So we frantically asked the designers to “Make us some box-like things that will match the world of the game.” That extremely vague instruction was the origin of that item, which later became Cave’s foremost moe character, the multiplier chip. (Programmer)


Our sales department was very adamant about not making another game like Ketsui, and instead told us to do a character themed shooting this time, and that game was Espgaluda. As the project progressed we didn’t have any special scoring system in place, but we then realized well into development that we were in danger of making a “Mr. Stoic” character shooting game. The Kakusei system was the end result of us mustering our strength and exploring some new ideas. (Programmer)


Alright, THIS time we are going to make a “Mr. Stoic” shooting game! And it will have that 90s ultra hardcore manly style! … such was the vigor we had as we planned this game. Even at the initial planning stage we knew we wanted the ship to be a hardcore mecha fighting jet! The enemies too would use actual tanks and helicopters as motifs! It would be a “real military style world war shooting” …you’d smell the gunpowder wafting from your screen! However, one day, due to various circumstances, that “hardcore mecha fighting jet” suddenly became an “itte kima~su!” style girl, those real military mechas became buggish bugs, and the game became a “heartwarming fantasy style bug shooting game”… with the smell of horned beetles wafting from the screen. I can’t deny the possibility that we coded the dense danmaku Ultra mode unconsciously as a response to these changes. (Programmer)

Starting with this title, we changed our hardware, and the specs went way up. The programmers were thrilled: “Wow, we can do transparencies!” … “Awesome, even with this many bullets it doesn’t slowdown!” We stayed overnight at the office for many days working on the 3 modes, which were more than we had ever put into a game before. But we didn’t mind: we were in love with this hardware that wouldn’t complain no matter how many bullets we threw at it. (Programmer)


“Make it like that game!” That was the request received to develop Ibara. Our new hardware had just come out, so we were still in the process of writing our coding libraries, and we could only complete one part of the gameplay elements we had initially planned… it was a title full of problems. At the location test people were saying “it doesn’t feel like Cave,” but the company was telling us “Don’t make it like a Cave game,” so in a number of senses it was trying.

Black Label

For the arrange version of Ibara on the console port, the lead programmer suggested, “How about we make a more Cave-style Ibara?” When we finished this we found it interesting in it’s own right. Someone suggested that this could work well in the arcade with some additional tweaking, so the programmer who did the arrange version again adjusted things for the arcade, and the “second” Black Label was completed. (Programmer)

Espgaluda 2

I had initially planned to name all the characters after butterflies. “Tsubame” was first going to be “Shijimi.” But the names sounded weak for the bosses, so in the end I dropped the idea. (Designer – Nomura)

Actually, at first we were developing a different game for the Taito Type X system, but due to various circumstances that got suspended. However, without changing the deadline, we were asked to hurry and make a different game. I had secretly been developing ideas for a sequel to Espgaluda, so I suggested it, and it was chosen to be made. Naturally the schedule was extremely tight, and we also had a show to present the game at, so we worked night after night on the game… if we stopped working even for a moment we’d start to get overcome with drowsiness. The other staff saw us senselessly polishing the pcbs in our half-awake state and remarked, “They must really love that hardware!” (Programmer)

Pink Sweets

Our first idea for the game was to have a time bomb you could use in tight situations strategically to escape… but we realized there was no way to play the game normally with such a thing. Our shoulders dropped in disappointment. (Programmer)

The Cave sound team was asked to write the BGM and sound effects for this game. We were under pressure because it was our very first title, but when we got our first reviews in magazines and such, it was a feeling as strong as your first time with a woman. And it was also the debut song for Natsuko, “IBALOVE SONG”! (Sound)

Mushihimesama Futari

The previous title Mushihimesama had 3 modes, and we were initially thinking we’d do 4 modes for this game. We had prepared special bosses and music for it, and the basic materials were all gathered together, but it turned out our hands were full just with the 3 modes. But it wasn’t that far off, so we ended up reviving the idea as “God Mode” for the Black Label release. (Programmer)

A new feature of this game was the selectable shot style. When it came to naming these modes, the “Normal” shot mode was easily chosen, but we had difficulties naming the other, more technical shot. It was named “Maniac” in a draft, but since that was a name for the game mode, it wasn’t very good. Then, at a meeting, in the midst of a heavy, silent atmosphere, someone said, “The opposite of normal… is abnormal! Let’s call it ‘abnormal’!” I suppose it was for the best… (Programmer)

Black Label

This was made on an extremely short 1 month schedule with just one programmer. We had already decided on adding God Mode and Spiritual Larsa, but if we were going to label it Black Label, the sales department requested that it have more changes to distinguish it. So we started with changing the way the ship handled, rearranged the scoring system for every mode, and redid some of the enemy placements. Then, to make it look different, we used Photoshop, which we were unfamiliar with, and went silently and slowly through the background data spread across different machines. (Programmer)

Muchi Muchi Pork

At first we had a variety of names flying around for the project, like “Pucchin Pork,” but Ikeda kept telling us “The point of this game is to be Muchi Muchi! So make it feel Muchi Muchi!”, so in the end we named it “Muchi Muchi Pork.”19 (Designer – Wakabayashi)

This was the Cave in-house sound team first voice acting challenge! I locked myself alone in the soundproof room and recorded late into the night, dancing around the office alone. I can’t forget the “Muchi Po–kyu!” … in any event, this game was full of memories for me. (Sound)


When I was making Deathsmiles, Ikeda was sitting in the desk in front of me, and when he saw all the danmaku patterns I was gleefully putting in the game, he strongly chided me for it: “Cut that out!” (Programmer – Ichimura)

The idea was to make a game with easier enemies and attacks. But one day Inoue saw the game and said, “Where’s the danmaku?” The lead programmer explained that it was supposed to be “lighter,” to which Inoue raised his voice and emphatically replied, “What will happen if you take the danmaku out of a Cave game?! Thats like taking the gunpowder out of a stick of fireworks!” He then told us something which to this day I don’t understand, “Make it light means the danmaku patterns should be like the touch of sweetness in a spicy curry!” (Programmer)

Mega Black Label

This title began from a request we had from players who wanted to play a more difficult version of Deathsmiles. After talking it over with Inoue, we decided that if we were going to make it we might as well include as much as we can. So we made Sakura the main character, added new bosses and stages, and a black label “stuffed with mega like!” was born. We adjusted all the characters as well, except for Rosa, who was already strong to begin with, so we left her untouched. As a result, in a number of ways she’s become a somewhat unpopular character… Rosa, I’m sorry. (Programmer)

Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu

The schedule for this project was very strict: even though the release date was in May, the development didn’t start until the end of December. Despite those circumstances, we made the development deadline, and after we had shipped all the pcbs and were casually playing the game, laughing and chatting… one of us turned pale and said: “The 2P score is missing a digit…” If the score got high enough from a combo and the digit increased, the first 2P digit would disappear off screen. As a result, the next day we took a truck to the delivery station and recovered all the pcbs, went straight back to the office, reburned all the roms, repackaged all the pcbs, and reshipped everything… it was no laughing matter. And despite all that, once they had been installed at game centers, it turned out a counterstop was still awaiting us. (Programmer)

Black Label
For the black label version we added a system where enemy bullets change into items. However, if you played in strong style with the red gauge full, the display would start to flicker out from the bullet cancelling and item effect. We thought that sucked, so we cut those graphical effects we had worked so hard on until we came up with something that would work even during relatively crazy moments. But even then. it still happened… dear players, you are too good… (Programmer)

Deathsmiles II

By changing to 3D, our development environment also had to change entirely, and this and other things caused us no end of problems. It was decided we would announce the game at the AOU show in mid February, but at the start of the month we had only 1 stage, 1 character, and 5 bats prepared. It was truly a desperate situation. By an incredible force of will we advanced the game, but the 3D was a wall standing in our way, and each day we never seemed to pick up the pace. Somehow we just barely managed to produce something halfway presentable, but our troubles continued at the show. Every time the game powered up I had to endure the players’ piercing looks, and I was seriously reconsidering the course of my life. (Programmer)


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. A translation would lie somewhere between the gruffness of “now, die” with the nuance of permission, i.e. “you may die now.” It is not a crazed SHINEEE!!!, or Hokuto no Ken style threat.

  2. saishuu heiki means “ultimate weapon.” Adding in kichiku, which means “brute” or “cruel” makes it “ultimate brutish weapon.” A possible extra layer of meaning comes from the fact that “kichiku” was popularly used to refer to Americans and English soldiers as “brutes” during WWII. This would be more overt given the military theme of Dodonpachi.

  3. Regarding pillow talk or makurakotoba, the meaning is different from how we colloquially use the phrase is English; here it refers to set phrases in classical poetry in Japanese, rather than erotic bedside banter. In other words, Inoue is referring again to Ikeda’s known proclivity for using strange language.

  4. The typically inane Japanese pun here comes from the fact that “shiri” (butt) and “riron” (theory) share the sound “ri”, so combining them in one word sounds like the kind of silly catchphrase Ikeda would apparently come up with.

  5. The terms Namiki uses are kogata games and taikan games. A kogata game just refers to a normal sized arcade game, like a standard candy cab size. Taikan games are large arcade machines with enclosures designed to give greater sensory immersion, things like F-ZERO AX, Darius Burst, many racing games, etc

  6. Where Cave’s offices are located.

  7. “Barrier Free” in Japan is a term that means handicap accessible. Otherwise, in Japanese shooting games, the term barrier means the same thing as in English, a shield/barrier. Nice one, Namiki.

  8. This literally means “from bamboo spears to nuclear bombs.” Its isn’t a set phrase in Japanese; Ichimura will explain its meaning and origin below.

  9. Japanese threads suggest it was the 5th boss or midboss, but its difficult to tell since it seems to have entered the “NicoDouga” lexicon and is used to describe any situation where the difficulty is suddenly ramped up.

  10. “ketta machine” is Nagoya dialect for motorcycle, and the Japanese seem to find accents endlessly amusing.

  11. Literally “I won’t allow it!” but here it might be translated something like “You won’t go any further!”

  12. Literally, “I’ll erase you bastards’ existence!”

  13. More silly Japanese punning based off the homonyms 戦車 and 洗車

  14. megane musume (glasses girl), menhara (crazy/mentally disturbed), and do-S (sadist type) are character tropes/cliches in anime.

  15. A childish way of pronouncing “Reco-chan, shinjau yo!” = “Reco, I’m gonna die!!”

  16. Meaning head, or leader.

  17. kimi nara dekiru yo! hora, shikkari! translates to “You’ve got what it takes! Hold on!

  18. “hijouguchi” means emergency exit, also often in neon green, just like EXIT signs.

  19. Muchi Muchi means “chubby,” of course. The only reference I could find to “pucchin” is the snack food Pucchin Pudding Bread.

Leave a comment

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