Darius Gaiden – 1994 Developer Interview
In this interview, originally published in Gamest mook vol.6, Taito’s arcade development team discusses the making of Darius Gaiden, the third arcade entry in the venerable Darius series. Alongside in-depth questions about the game’s structure and scoring tricks, the team elaborates on the “gaiden” title, its connection to prior entries, and their efforts to harness the power of the F3 arcade board.
Hidehiro Fujiwara – Planner
Hisakazo Kato – Planner/Graphics
Masami Kikuchi – Graphics
Akira Kurabayashi – Programmer
Naoto Omura – Programmer
Yutaka Nagayama – Programmer
—The first question I’d like to ask is… why a Darius game now? It’s been about 5 years since the release of Darius II.
Fujiwara: I helped out a bit on the first Darius, and I was the main planner on Darius II, so I guess the answer is just… that I love Darius. (laughs)
Right now it’s a very tough time for STG games, and if you don’t make something suitably impressive, it won’t sell. That being the case, the Darius franchise is one that Taito has confidence in. And it has name recognition. Taito also just finished making the new F3 motherboard, which is very powerful, and I really wanted to make a Darius game that would fully utilize this new hardware. It’s a game I’ve really wanted to make, in other words.
—Why did you name it “Darius Gaiden” instead of Darius III…?
Kato: That was something I insisted on. Until now the Darius series has been made on custom multi-screen cabinets, and in our hearts, too, when we think of ‘Darius’ we think of those multi-screen cabs. And so, from the start, once we knew this would be a single screen game, we didn’t want to call it Darius III.
—OK. So you’ve called it Gaiden, but the story picks up where Darius II left off, correct?
Kato: The story itself takes place between Darius I and Darius II. Also, this being a “Gaiden” game, the two Silver Hawk pilots have no connection to Proco and Tiat.
—We see Silver Hawks flying in formation in the opening, but what connection does that scene have to the backstory…?
Kato: Those are the production model Silver Hawks, basically. What the player controls is a prototype Silver Hawk that’s been slightly enhanced. Incidentally, the prototype and the production models there are both different ship models from the Silver Hawks that appear in Darius and Darius II.
—The overall gameplay feels similar to the first Darius, to me.
Kato: Yeah, I think so. Since we went with the whole single-screen setup this time, we wanted it to be easily recognizable as a Darius game. Otherwise we were concerned it would end up looking like a completely different STG. And we set the story right after the first Darius, too.
—In Darius Gaiden, several of the stages feature unusual backgrounds, like the boss silhouette in Zone J. Up to now STGs have featured fairly representational, concrete imagery for their stage backgrounds, but Darius Gaiden feels almost… abstract?
Kato: That’s right. Before we started the development work proper, we spent some time checking out the F3 motherboard’s capabilities. We saw that it could do a wide variety of interesting effects, which we then tried to implement in Darius Gaiden’s backgrounds.
—The direction and presentation in this game is spectacular—the black hole bomber, the explosions when you destroy a boss. Also, as we’ve seen in some versus fighting games, there’s a nice use of slow parallax scrolling which conveys a wonderful sense of depth. I don’t think these techniques have been used in many STG games. Stages like Zone B feature an unprecedented feeling of depth to the screen.
Kato: Yeah. That stuff all came from the programming team’s experimentation, actually, not the planners. We asked our programmer n10-kun to handle the backgrounds, and that tremendous use of parallax scrolling in places like the forests of Zone B were his invention. It did make the graphics work a bit more difficult, though.
—I also love the stages like Zone K and Zone O, where you’re inside the colony. The use of perspective to convey a sense of distance is amazing. That had to have been done with some kind polygon technology that’s so popular nowadays, right?
Kato: No, it wasn’t.
Omura: That too was one of the capabilities of the F3 PCB hardware. It can do multiple layers of background scrolling, while also applying parallax scrolling at the same time. The effect is created by the combination of those two techniques.
—For Zone M, the entire stage is one gigantic boss, while Zone N sees you advancing through a planet’s ring structure. Was the overall design of all these stages written out in advance, in the planning phase?
Kato: No. Darius Gaiden has 28 zones. With so many stages, to have a single planner create all that by himself would inevitably lead to a lot of duplicates and redundancy. So midway through the development we solicited ideas from a number of different staff. Zone M, however, was one that we knew we wanted to have from the beginning.
—A number of bosses from the original Darius also make an appearance here. Did you have a standard of some sort, for deciding which bosses to add?
Kato: Yeah… my tastes. (laughs) But there were also some that we knew had to be in there, like the whale and seahorse.
—I’m a little sad Yamato (the hermit crab) didn’t make the cut, personally. (laughs)
Kato: Yeah, since the story takes place before Darius II, we didn’t add him.
—Ah, that makes sense. Aren’t there some bosses from Darius II floating around in the background of Zone J, though? (laughs)
Kato: Huh? Is that true? (laughs)
Kurabayashi: There’s some bosses, like Steel Spin, who appear in Darius II, but their designs actually date back to the original Darius.
—One more point about the presentation… in a number of stages, there’s a neat effect where the backgrounds do this very smooth fade-in/fade-out when transitioning between scenes. It actually made it a little hard for us to create our strategy maps for Gamest. (laughs)
Kato: That was another effect the F3 motherboard made possible. We’d used it a little bit in the past, but never very prominently, so we thought we’d feature it more in Darius Gaiden.
—How many different gradations of difficulty (rank) are there?
Kurabayashi: Well, if you divide them up very finely, there’s 16 million levels of gradation. (laughs) But if you look at the actual effect of the rank on enemies, it’s far less, somewhere between 16 and 256 levels of difficulty. The way you raise the rank is by firing your shot continuously, destroying boss parts, destroying entire enemy formations, and taking power-up items. All of these will raise it a little. It also goes up naturally the longer you play. Conversely, if you don’t take power up items, the rank will stop rising temporarily.
—For the silver score items, how does the game decide how many points they give…?
Kurabayashi: It’s completely random.
—I thought so. There were rumors going around for awhile, that if you left them on-screen for a certain time they’d always give 51200 points. I guess that was all untrue. (laughs)
Kurabayashi: Yes. (laughs) The amount is completely randomized when you pick it up.
—Notwithstanding the bosses, certain stages appear to be exactly the same: K Zone and O Zone, P Zone and U Zone. Is that true?
Kato: Um, yeah… it is. (laughs) We simply ran out of time.
Nagayama: We had planned to make them completely different stages. But we ran out of time and had to leave them that way. I wish we could have changed the enemy formations, at least.
—Changing the subject here, but… Crusty Hammer. He’s a fierce one. (laughs)
Kato: Did you know, he was actually going to be the stage 1 boss at first.
Nagayama: Yeah. (laughs) He was weaker. Ultimately we went with the angler fish though. So when we went and put Crusty Hammer back in the game, this time in the later stages, we tried making him a little harder.
—”A little”…? (laughs)
Nagayama: We ended up making him too strong. We sort of balanced the game difficulty around that, though, fully expecting the player to die once when they faced him and be powered down. It makes a full power-up no-miss clear a bit harder to achieve. Players weren’t dying as much as we wanted, you see.
—Also, for the stage 1 boss Golden Ogre, and the improved version Storm Causer, are they being rendered with polygons…?
Kikuchi: Well, we created the graphics in a polygon renderer, but then put those graphics into the game where they’re used as normal 2D sprites. In your typical 3D polygon game, those graphics would be calculated and rendered in real-time, but we do all that beforehand and use the “prepared” graphics data as-is. This means that the mechanical parts that fly off after an explosion were drawn separately and after-the-fact, too.
—Storm Causer has this attack where he recedes into the depths of the screen and fires at you from back there. I’m guessing this was another place where you wanted to capitalize on the graphics capabilities of the F3 board?
Kurabayashi: Exactly. As a programmer, I was really happy when they first handed me the graphics for Golden Ogre, and I wrote an algorithm to make his swimming look natural, which is used in the ending credits, when you see him swimming around in the background there. But I loved how it looked, so I wanted to try using it somewhere else too. (laughs) I figured it would be too difficult of an attack for the stage 1 (Golden Ogre) boss, so I added it to Storm Causer at the end there instead.
—In Zone V, I noticed if you destroy all of Risk Storage’s tail, you get 900,000 points. Why the special bonus there?
Nagayama: Normally you get 30,000 points per boss part destroyed, but seeing as Risk Storage is a gulper eel, it felt like a letdown if you only got 30,000 for destroying that monstrously long tail of his. So we added up the value for each of his tail parts, and it came out to 900,000. (laughs)
—Another thing I noticed, is that the structure of Zone W is exactly the same as Zone A from the first Darius…
Kato: Yeah, that was intentional. (laughs) As you get further into the game, the zones start to look more and more like the first Darius. The final stage takes place on planet Darius, too.
—You’ve also added a new mechanic to Darius Gaiden, in the ability to capture midbosses.
Kato: The truth is, this idea comes from a much older game, and we snatched it up and used it for Darius Gaiden. We actually debated a lot on whether to add it or not. We were worried it would make the game more difficult to balance, and that the gameplay would become too complicated. After months of hemming and hawing we finally took the plunge and added it to the game. But we made the balls a bit hard to capture.
—In Zone K and Zone O, there are these stage obstructions that are impossible to destroy, but they glow when you shoot them. Why is that?
Kurabayashi: If they didn’t glow like that, players would have a hard time knowing that those are parts of the stage terrain. You can’t destroy them, but it’s supposed to convey the message that if you collide with this, you’ll die.
—By the way, are there any plans for a Darius III?
Fujiwara: Ah, I don’t know. Right now nothing has been written. Either way, if we did it, I’d want it to be a proper dedicated multi-screen cabinet. 9 screens, please. (laughs)
—Well then, to wrap things up, please give a final message for the players.
Fujiwara: Please look forward to the next Darius game, which will be a further evolution of Darius.
Kato: Please don’t 1CC the game in front of me. (laughs) I want Darius Gaiden to be beloved by players for a long time.
Kikuchi: I want players to appreciate all the detail in Golden Ogre’s mecha parts.
Kurabayashi: Scoring will cause the rank to rise, but you also need to raise the rank if you want to score more. Do your best!
Nagayama: Crusty Hammer is the boss for Zones P, R, and T. Don’t mistake him for a normal shrimp. He’s a mantis shrimp. (laughs)
Omura: There’s all kind of little graphical details going on, be sure to keep a look out for them.
Harada (Programmer): Please take a moment sometime to look closely at the enemy animations. Sadly they almost always get killed before they get to show off their cool moves. (laughs) Especially the mid-sized and larger enemies, please wait a moment before you destroy them. (laughs)
Matsumura (Programmer): Make sure you check out the sunset in Zone T at least once.
—Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk with us today!
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