Dodonpachi – 1997 Developer Interview
This quick interview with Dodonpachi programmers Tsuneki Ikeda and Satoshi Kouyama is the second part of an interview originally featured in Gamest. The first part is well worth a read if you haven’t; this interview focuses on the surprisingly positive public response to an “extreme” danmaku game like Dodonpachi in arcades. Other topics include the design of the scoring system and the choice to make Hibachi an unusually tiny final boss.
Tsuneki Ikeda – Main Programmer
Satoshi Kouyama – Sub Programmer
—It’s been about half a year now since Dodonpachi was released. I think Dodonpachi has become a fine example of the enduring popularity of STG games in arcades. Looking back now, how do you feel about its popularity and success?
Ikeda: I touched on this before in the last interview, but… Dodonpachi is a game that we at Cave, as the developers, are very confident about. We think it’s a fun game, the heart of which lies in the simple joy of dodging bullets. There’s much for existing STG fans and maniacs to love in Dodonpachi as well, but for general players who aren’t into scoring, I think it’s all about that visceral experience of dodging the patterns. If we made a game that only maniacs could appreciate, after all, I think it would be meaningless.
—Yes. That’s what’s so great about Dodonpachi, that your everyday player can enjoy it too.
Ikeda: We risked everything on that point—whether normal players would enjoy the bullet dodging—so to see that idea understood and well-received makes us very happy. The overall difficulty and the number of bombs we gave were also designed with the average player in mind. That, and various other things, were part of our plan to make it a “user friendly” game. Now that we’re seeing it went so well, I can breathe a sigh of relief!
—Looking at the feedback postcards that users have sent us here at Gamest, you can clearly see how much it’s supported by the average player. People have written in things like, “This is the first STG I’ve ever looped” and “I’m so glad they set the difficulty so even beginners can fully enjoy it!” It’s got crossover appeal, too: even players who normally play nothing but versus FTG games are enjoying it.
Ikeda: Really, it makes me so happy to hear that. At the game centers I go to, I always see the same exact people playing it, so I was despairing for awhile there: “I knew it, regular players didn’t like it…” (laughs)
—It’s also very common to see a big gallery of people crowded around the cabinet watching.
Ikeda: Yeah, I was thrilled about that. Dodonpachi is the first game I’ve ever had that happen with. (laughs)
—Anyway, Dodonpachi was clearly made with the love and care of its developers, but there’s one thing I noticed that you were wrong on: in the last interview you thought it would take players about 6 months for a 2-ALL…!
Kouyama: Um, yeah… that was our intention when we made it. (laughs) But the players, really, you’re all just too good. When I heard people had got the 2-ALL only a month after its release, I was like, “What, are you serious!?” (laughs)
—There’s an amazing player at our Gamest high-score pages, ZBL-NAI. He plays type C-shot, and has the highest score in the country so far with 600m points.
Kouyama: Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about—a score no mere mortal can dream of. (laughs) When we do the playtesting, we set the board to invincibility mode and calculate what the limits are on scoring. But we only got to about 400m when we did that!! (laughs) I mean, seriously… 600m? (laughs)
Actually, the other day I had a chance to watch the top A/B-type player, Osada Sennin, in action. It was as amazing as you’d expect. He told me, “As far as the difficulty level on Dodonpachi goes, I would say I find it pleasing more than hard.” That surprised me. (laughs) It was a strong feeling to have once again: there was a level above what I had thought was the ceiling on a player’s skill.
Ikeda: That is true, but it’s still a tiny, tiny minority of players who have that skill. So for everyone else who’s still trying for that 2-ALL, don’t give up yet!
—Well, now I’d like to ask once again about the secrets of Dodonpachi. What do you think accounts for its great success with general players?
Ikeda: Well, I think it’s two things: first, we had a relatively long development with lenient deadlines, and second, we were able to make the game we wanted. Normally after a development, it’s “Oh, I wish we could have added that” or “If only I could go back and do a little more work on that part”… but with Dodonpachi, we had almost none of those regrets. That is to say, when the game was finally finished, we actually felt that it really was complete.
Basically, when you’re making a STG, the most important things are getting the difficulty balance correct, the enemy placement, and the right balance for the danmaku patterns. The fact that we were able to spend so much time on those factors for Dodonpachi is a huge part of it’s success, I believe.
—Yeah, you do hear a lot of stories from developers about being crushed by deadlines. “I wanted to spend more time and really refine the gameplay, but I couldn’t because we ran out of time.”
Ikeda: I think from the player’s perspective, it’s especially frustrating. To them, it’s like, “Of course gameplay and balancing should take the most time… duh!!” (laughs) But because there’s so much else that you have to do in a development, the truth is, the games that reach the market in a really satisfactory state are few and far between.
In Dodonpachi’s case, we were very blessed to have that time. I’ll be very happy if we can give our next game the same treatment, but I somehow doubt that will be the case. (laughs)
Kouyama: I think another thing that helped us a lot was that the basic system was already built, from Donpachi. Precisely because we didn’t have to spend so much time fussing over the details of the gameplay system, we could spend that extra time and really focus in on the enemy attacks, placement, and bullet patterns. We could allocate all that time to what we really wanted to work on.
—You both love danmaku patterns, don’t you!
Ikeda: Indeed. The whole reason I made the last boss Hibachi so small is that I wanted more space on the screen to create those beautiful bullet patterns (and due to memory limitations, you see, that was the only way).
The first form of Hibachi, the giant bee, was actually closer to my original image of a last boss, but with a boss that big and stationary, it was actually impossible to make the really hellish patterns. So when it came time to choose between an impressive boss or impressive bullet patterns, I chose the bullets! The other graphic designers were honestly a little dumbfounded. (laughs)
—What we editors at Gamest all really love about Dodonpachi is the GET POINT scoring system. I think this system allows players who are just going for a clear to start gradually and naturally building scoring into their runs. It’s great. I think for many players, too, the chaining in Dodonpachi has been their first experience learning and caring about scoring.
Ikeda: Ah, I can see that.
—Players who are just playing for survival aren’t consciously thinking about scoring. But as they reach the end of the stages, they can see the HIT counter go up, so it’s a natural next step to go “hey, I’m not going to aim for a high score, but I’ll try and chain sections wherever I can.” In that way they gradually get more and more into it. I honestly think it’s a revolutionary gameplay system.
Ikeda: Thank you, I’m very grateful for those words. It’s a system that we originally had in Donpachi, but we revised it a lot to make it more interesting.
—I think it’s emblematic of what makes Dodonpachi such an original, special game to play. Getting into the chaining marked my own personal awakening to the pleasures of scoring, too! (laughs)
Ikeda: To be honest, I’m actually more of a survival player myself. That’s why we made the chaining more lenient compared with Donpachi, so that players like me with no interest in scoring could be able to enjoy it too.
Kouyama: I’m the opposite: a scorer through and through. (laughs) So I wanted the scoring system to be more exciting and intense than Donpachi, with big numbers on the HIT counter that would make you go “whoaa!!” I wanted it to look badass. (laughs)
But yeah, people who are into chaining will push those chains to the limit, while new players will create small chains without realizing it, and hopefully it will kindle in them a desire to aim for high scores. Ultimately I think we came pretty close this time to that ideal system which pleases both kinds of players.
—I now see what you were saying earlier. This wonderful system came about because the both of you—players at opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to scoring—were able to create a gameplay system that somehow fully satisfied you both.
Ikeda: In Donpachi, my friend told me, “It would be more fun if you could do more chaining.” I agreed, and by making it more lenient, I think we actually made the gameplay far more interesting.
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