Darkstalkers’ Revenge – 1995 Developer Interview
In this 1995 interview, the developers of Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (sometimes called Darkstalkers 2) discuss changes between the games, content that was cut, and the challenges of FTG character design and balancing. There is a focus on the new characters Donovan and Lei-Lei. This interview was found at the GSLA (though its original source is probably Gamest).
Noritaka Funamizu – Planner
Junichi Ohno – Planning / Design
Hitoshi Nishio – Graphics
Takenori Kimoto – Graphics
Haruo Murata – Planner
Toshihiko Tsuji – Main Programmer
Takayuki Iwai – Sound
Funamizu: For Darkstalkers’ Revenge we wanted to update the entire game system, so although this was a sequel, a part of us wanted to present it as an entirely different game. From a business perspective too, the image of a new game is preferable to a mere sequel. However, there was some resistance at Capcom to changing the name completely, and we had added the new characters Donovan and Lei-Lei, who hunt the other darkstalkers. As such we decided on the title Vampire Hunter.
Ohno: Speaking as a planner, even when we were making the previous game there were already a number of ideas we had for the next game. So while this is technically part of the Darkstalkers series, it doesn’t feel like a sequel to us, but more like a standalone, new game. We reprogrammed so many things from scratch, like the timing windows for each attack.
Funamizu: The real nuts and bolts of the development work took about 5 months. In the world of video game production, that’s really not a lot of time. It might actually hold the record for the shortest development at Capcom. As such I thought it wouldn’t be possible to add any new characters, but the design team was like, “if we’re doing this, let’s do it right.” Well, I thought, if they really want to do it themselves then I guess it’s ok, so I gave the go-ahead… and amazingly, they actually managed to finish it! Bravo!
Ohno: There were things we really wanted to do last game but couldn’t. So we were brimming with ideas–all that remained was the actual work. We also had to cut a lot of graphics from the last game due to memory limitations. There were entire ideas we had to completely cut out. Pyron and Garon’s normal attacks are one example.
Funamizu: Before Darkstalkers’ Revenge went on sale, when I would occasionally visit the game center I’d sometimes see the first Darkstalkers installed in a cab, so I’d sit down and give it a go. But since I’d become so used to the system of Darkstalkers’ Revenge, the last time I played the original Darkstalkers I was able to experience it as if it were an entirely different game. If I played it everyday it’s hard to say how I’d feel, but at that time I thought with confidence, “Darkstalkers’ Revenge is a real step forward.”
You know, for games, you’ve got to think about the timing of the release. Once you start the development you’ve got to think about other companies when considering when to release. If you release too late you won’t find an audience, but if you push something out too early then the public won’t understand it. You’ve got to find the timing that is just right and release it then. That’s why it’s not always the case that you can create a good game if you just spend enough time on it.
Murata: I thought up Donovan as a character who fights against the other Darkstalkers. But if he’s a normal human I thought he wouldn’t be powerful enough to stand against the Darkstalkers, so we made him a Dhampir half-vampire. Even then I thought he might be too week, so I gave him the legendary demon sword Dhylec. As for Lei-Lei, I knew I wanted to add a female character. One of the new characters should be shouldering a heavy burden of fate, and the other new character would be a female. For the female I ended up using a Jiangshi, the Chinese hopping vampire, as a model.
Lei-Lei’s name comes from the 霊 (rei – soul/spirit) character being repeated twice. At first it was just a nickname, but when it came time to decide on her official name we all liked how Lei-Lei sounded. Donovan’s name was given to us by people at Capcom USA, as a name that would be well-received by people worldwide. Actually Capcom USA gave us a lot of ideas for names in the first Darkstalkers game, too. We also asked them questions about Donovan and Lei-Lei’s designs, what kind of moves and animation they should have, etc. Donovan’s design was really shaped by their opinions. We also wanted him to have a bit of a Western Gunman vibe.
Funamizu: I remember in the beginning that the twin sisters (Lei-Lei and Lin-Lin) fought together.
Nishio: Yeah. They would have appeared together, fighting together as one unit, like Morrigan’s Astral Vision ability.
Funamizu: Unfortunately the big problem, programming-wise, was knowing how and which character you’d control. So we abandoned the idea. Thank goodness, right Tsuji?
Tsuji: Yeah. (laughs)
Murata: As a plain human being I also thought she’d be too weak, so I came up with the Jiangshi idea. But Lei-Lei can’t control her powers alone, so she fights with her sister transformed into an ofuda.1
Nishio: Actually, after drawing Lei-Lei’s graphics I watched a real Chinese Jiangshi movie, and I got a little worried about how Lei-Lei would be able to move around with that ofuda covering her eyes. (laughs) That was why I made Lin-Lin the ofuda.2
Murata: And both Donovan and Lei-Lei use weapons because they were originally normal humans, so I figured fighting bare-handed would be too hard for them.
Nishio: In the location test version of Lei-Lei’s Anki attack, I remember she shot out a weird looking Buddha instead of a Gouki doll. (laughs) It may have resembled someone a little…3
Tsuji: Sorry. That was removed for the official release. (laughs) Actually when I was messing around in the code I changed how often those Buddha and Yashiki items appeared, so it wouldn’t have been a real problem anyway, but. Sorry about that.
Funamizu: For Anita, Kimoto came to me and asked if it would be ok to draw a character like her. I said why not, it sounded interesting, and Anita was the design he came up with. You know, we actually talked about a bunch of different ideas for her, but eventually settled on her present design.
Murata: In the story Donovan draws his power from her as he fights. That’s why he glows with that aura in his victory pose.
Funamizu: Donovan’s Iron Maiden that he has in his entrance and victory pose is for capturing darkstalkers. He seals the enemies he defeats in the Iron Maiden.
Kimoto: Actually the head of Anita’s broken doll is in there too. (laughs)
Murata: We had special moves that would use the Iron Maiden too. The victory pose where he sucks enemies into it is a remnant of those ideas.
Kimoto: By the way, when Donovan gets transformed by Anakaris’ Royal Judgement, that’s a curry dish he’s carrying on his head.
Funamizu: At first he just had a normal curry dish on a plate, but I think that kind of curry is a Japanese-only thing, so we redrew it. When I asked the graphic artist what the hell that was, he said “it’s curry!” Why curry, I asked? Because Donovan is Indian, he said. What! Donovan is Indian? It was the first time I’d heard that. (laughs)
Murata: And it’s wrong. (laughs) He’s a mysterious figure with no national affiliation…
Ohno: When we made the previous Darkstalkers game, because the characters are monsters we felt like we could do whatever we wanted. “Cool! This guy’s limbs can extend, or maybe this guy can warp around…” but then we realized that had all been done before in Street Fighter 2. (laughs) The game then gradually took shape as we came up with more and more outrageous ideas.
As for what we focused on in Darkstalkers’ Revenge compared with the first game, I would say it was trying to make a game that anyone could enjoy. In the last game the input timing for the chain combos was way too strict, and it created too much of a gulf between those who could do the combos and those who couldn’t. For the same reason, the CPU fights are now set at a much lower difficulty. The idea was that new players can use the CPU fights to practice their combos, guard cancels, and other skills. The auto-guard mode was also added to help beginners get the hang of things.
Tsuji: Specifically, we lengthened the timing window for pressing the next button in a chain combo. Pressing the same button also no longer cancels the combo. In the previous game you really only had an instant, and if you were even a bit slower or faster it wouldn’t work. You had one chance… it was incredibly strict. If you pressed the same button more than twice it would also cancel the combo.
Ohno: Last game, Jon Talbain (Garon) was one character for whom the response had been lukewarm: we couldn’t tell if he was popular or not. This time we wanted to make him a little bit more lively and active. In changing Beast Rush to Beast Cannon, we made it more versatile and cooler looking.
Funamizu: I remember people were asking us to make Anakaris be able to suck in Garon when he’s in midair.
Ohno: Garon’s designer would bring us all these ideas for him, but almost all of them were impractical: “how are we going to actually do this?” (laughs) Of course we did our best to use his better ideas as much as possible.
Funamizu: In the end it’s the programmer who has to do all the work. (laughs) We always try to make graphics that are easy to include in the game.
Ohno: If you press LP and MK together at the same time you can select a “dark color” for each character–we called those “Gouki Colors” at first. Our idea was that with those colors, each character would have different attacks and abilities, but regretfully it would have required us to redo every character so we abandoned that idea.
Funamizu: We thought about making a “Gou-squatch” too. He’d be a black-furred sasquatch with Japanese geta sandals and a topknot. (laughs) He’d even enter the match just like Gouki. It would have been a funny joke character. Actually if you give any character a topknot they end up looking like Gouki.
Ohno: 14 Goukis. (laughs)
Balancing the Characters
Funamizu: One of the advantages of releasing a “version up!” game is that you can get away with a shorter period for difficulty balancing and adjustment. Since the same people are in charge of the different characters from the last game, to a certain extent they already know what is too weak or too strong about their character, and you don’t have to start from page 1 all over. But with new characters you’ve got no choice but to do everything from scratch.
When balancing a FTG, it’s very important to know the strength of each character. But for each character, there’s always another character that they’re weak against. In that case you get the developer in charge saying “that guy is too strong!” But when you look into it with a different character it turns out he’s not that strong at all. (laughs) That’s why I think it’s best to have one person making the final call on game balancing decisions, instead of each individual character’s developer.
At first, Donovan was way too strong. You could just spam his attacks and no one could even get close to him. He is one character for whom balancing took a lot of effort and wasn’t completed until the final stage of the development. That had an influence on how he turned out, but I think we did a pretty good job. New characters haven’t yet had the chance to be played much, so balancing them is always difficult.
Ohno: Lei-Lei was also too strong at first.
Character Design: Details
Kimoto: In Anakaris’ new move Pharaoh Spirit, there’s a face that appears on the lower half of his separated body. That face is called “Khaibit.” For now I’ll simply say that he is a mysterious new character. (laughs)
Funamizu: Kimoto is an ideaman, and his ideas are always giving the designers and programmers no end of trouble. He’ll often draw things and bring them to us with no idea how they’re supposed to be used! “Just add it to the character sprite data,” he says. I don’t even want to tell you how many ideas get brought to the programmers that way: “hey, just add this, and we’ll find some use for it.” (laughs) You know in the end of the Pharaoh Magic move, when the huge coffin drops? That was also drawn in advance before we had any idea about how it would work in-game.
Ohno: I hadn’t been told anything about it, and one day I just opened up the sprite data and it was like, “what the hell is this giant coffin.” (laughs)
Funamizu: We decided to try using it in Pharaoh Magic and it looked good. At some point during playtesting someone killed an opponent with that move, and the coffin was left on the screen, and we all thought it looked cool as part of Anakaris’ victory pose, so we decided to add it there too. (laughs)
Murata: The woman that appears at Bishamon’s shoulder when he wins is his wife Orin. She becomes a disembodied spirit when Bishamon fights. In the ending she returns to normal.
Funamizu: When we were first drawing Bishamon, the disembodied spirits (hitodama) that appear at both his sides were not both Orin; they were actually Orin and another woman, Sayo-chan, an illict lover of Bishamon. (laughs) But in the Mukuro Fuji projectile move, the designer made the two spirits combine to become one, so they both ended up being called Orin. (laughs)
Ohno: With the planning, we were being asked to change things completely–to make it brighter. You’ll also notice that the woman on Demitri’s stage no longer shakes her hips… I changed that because, well, the disco era is dead. That’s all. (laughs)
Challenges to the Development
Funamizu: In truth we had so little time for the development that we had to use the old backgrounds, with minor adjustments.
Nishio: Lei-Lei’s Anki attack was something the planners asked me to make, so I did. But by some point every team member had come to me, one by one, and asked me add their favorite item to the arsenal. (laughs)
Ohno: I think you said, “at least give me something that looks like it would hurt if it hit you.” (laughs)
Nishio: That’s how the bonsai, weird buddha figurine, and all that other stuff got added. There were even weirder suggestions. Someone asked me to do a newborn baby, and I was like, “is this ok to add?” I asked what kind of baby they wanted and they said one sitting on a potty trainer. (laughs) I was like, No way! At least let me make it a bronze statue or something. (laughs) The guy who gave me the bonsai is also responsible for the “勅令 昇龍剣” that’s written on the sword in Lei-Lei’s EX Special, Chireitou. (laughs) He told me to write whatever I wanted on the blade, so that’s what I wrote.
Changes to the Music
Iwai: As for the sound, at first we were talking about just remixing all the songs from the first game. But as the scope of Darkstalkers’ Revenge expanded, it became necessary to match that with updated, new music too. Zabel, Anakaris, and Pylon all got completely new music. For the feel of the music this time, we wanted to remove some of the “dark” image the first game had, so I tried to make the music reflect that.
The music on Lei-Lei’s stage, for example, has “Aiyaaa!!” sounds in the background, which I thought matched her character image. It was a little experiment for me.
Funamizu: It’s still undecided yet whether there will be a sequel. If we do it, I’d like to take all the characters and do everything over from scratch again.
Iwai: Please buy the Darkstalkers music cd. (laughs)
Nishio: Lei-Lei was the first female character I ever worked on, so everyone, please play her.
Murata: This was my first time helping out on the setting and world, so I have a lot of attachment to Darkstalkers’ Revenge. We tried to do really bold, exciting stuff. Now when I think back on it I realize we could have gone even further, but. (laughs) The game is also much easier to get into so please give it a try.
Funamizu: Of all the many games I’ve worked on before, this is one of my very favorites. Please enjoy it.
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An ofuda is a Japanese Shinto charm/talisman, a strip of paper with protective words inscribed on it. In some Jiangshi stories, yellow paper wards inscribed with magic words can control the vampire.↩
I guess the idea is that the intelligent paper ward Lin-Lin is actually controlling Lei-Lei during the fight, so she doesn’t need her vision.↩
Probably an inside-joke; the Buddha probably looked like someone at Capcom.↩