Contra: Hard Corps – 1994 Developer Commentary

Contra: Hard Corps – 1994 Developer Commentary

This commentary from Contra: Hard Corps development leader Oh!Aji (a play on the japanese word oyaji, old man, and aji, flavor) was featured in the October 1994 edition of BEEP! Magazine, just after the game had been released in Japan. Here, Oh!Aji shares some interesting anecdotes from the development and a stage-by-stage narration of this Genesis classic.

A Word from Oh!Aji

Lately, we’ve been receiving a lot of letters complaining that “Konami is only making games for the Western market now!” So I want to set the record straight here: no matter what anyone says, I’m telling you now that this game is a Contra for the Japanese Megadrive, made with all the power we can muster! Take that!

Oh!Aji yelling “PLAY!”

“Get a load of this!” Stage Guide by Ooaji

A game you can have fun playing over and over… does such a thing exist?! In developing Contra: The Hard Corps we aspired to achieve just that. There aren’t a ton of branching routes, but each one is stuffed to the brim with content. And we almost never reused enemies. We hope it will be a real “pick up and play” game for players.

Also, if you change characters, the feel of the game changes slightly. I especially want players to notice the dialogue changes. Those who want the traditional Contra experience, with the tough, edgy atmosphere of the previous games can pick Ray Powered. But if you use someone like Brownie the mood of the game changes to a kind of comic farce: “is this really Contra??” With the 2P dialogue, there’s some funny haggling between the characters. I expect players will enjoy the absurd contradiction between the pairing of the uber-serious Ray and the robot Brownie.

Battling the “Yokozuna Giant Ninja” on the train stage.

Stage 1–>Stage 6

The first stage is where you get a grip on the mechanics, and since you always have to go through it, it will end up being replayed many times. So we knew just having a few screens to blast through where nothing else happens wouldn’t cut it. For that reason we strove to add lots and lots of content there.

At the end of the stage players get a glimpse of Hard Corps’ big selling point: the branching stage routes. Here you choose between a land stage and a sky stage. In both stages we wanted to convey the different sense of high-speed over land and air, respectively. Both routes lead to stage 4 and 5, but I want players to pay special attention to how their choice here affects the rest of the game.

Route A: Military Train → Big Battle

Displaying enemies composed of multiple large sprites, like the Yokozuna Giant Ninja, was problematic for arcade game developers in terms of both time and hardware memory limitations. Often the developers would use the generic coding routines at hand and, through their combination, find a way to express variation in the sprites’ movements. I think that is one correct answer to the problem. However, for Hard Corps, I put a premium on presentation, so my process was the reverse: I thought of what imagery I wanted to display, then wrote code specifically for it. As a result, the entire game is something of a programming exhibition of skill. Well, in any event, no need to be bothered with all that when you play: just enjoy it!

Route B: Overseas → Missile

It’s normal for the game to have a general backstory, but I was always thinking about how I could show story developments in the stages themselves. One experiment with that was the Takedder Robo. If you play the game you’ll see, but when you first fight him as a mid-boss he goes down easily, but when he reappears for a return match he has all these new transformations and moves. It isn’t a development in the story narrative per se, but it provides a greater sense of progression to the stage than simply having a boss at the end. You get a sense for the psychology of the enemy. I hope players enjoy that.

Route C: Alien’s Lair

The splattered, gloopy world of the Aliens! This stage comes straight from the traditional Contra style. Actually, when we were first planning the stage, the whole team took a trip to the Meguro Parasite Museum and carefully studied the exhibits: if you don’t experience the weird and grotesque, how will you come up with weird and grotesque ideas?! The fruits of our research can be seen in the way the movement of the creatures here.

Route D: Space Station

Using an “orbital elevator” was something new that hadn’t been done before in a game. “Is this thing going to just launch us off into space?!” Those are the kind of absurd thoughts we want players to have here. We made this section relatively easy. We also thought we’d lend some pathos to things, so the ending has a somewhat sad atmosphere. I’m really fond of the music here too.

The impressive orbital elevator.

Hidden Stage and Closing Thoughts

As happens with every project, as we reached the final stages the development became very physically taxing. However, we were lucky this time, as our team was full of Contra fans, and despite the exhaustion everyone continued to work with a smile on their faces.

The “hidden stage” was also created during this time. It was really an act of madness to attempt this at this late point. During the bug checking our boss was startled when he saw the hidden stage, but we said it was just a hidden thing and not a big deal, so we were able to add it.

For me, games are premised on entertainment. And as entertainment they can touch people’s hearts with humour, sadness, and wonder. There are many stage/act based games that I admire, but few that have moved me… I hope Contra: Hard Corps gets close to a more deeply moving experience.

Well, my boss will probably be reading reading this too, so I should put on the record: our team didn’t make this game for money or for glory… no, it’s the burning passion each of us feels for Contra that has kept us humming along, and I firmly believe that passion will come through when you play it!

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