Doujin STG – 2010 Roundtable Interview

Doujin STG – 2010 Roundtable Interview

This roundtable style interview appeared in Shooting Gameside #1 in October 2010. Doujin means “amateur” and refers to the large body of unlicensed or fanmade works in Japan. The interview is a fascinating look into this world and an insightful discussion of shmup design generally. For context, I also translated the editors’ comments about doujin STG, comiket, and the interviewees’ games.

There’s more to shooting games than the arcade and console. The world of doujin shooters has for a long time now been gaining the support of a steady userbase. Today, we have gathered together a group of developers who continue to make doujin shooting games and listened to them share their explosive passion about all things shooting.

“I love shooting games, but I want to play more!” The number of people thinking this in the world at any given time can be expressed in the equation 1000000 + α. Though arcade and console shooters have continued to come out at a vigorous pace in recent years, isn’t there a feeling that something is missing? Surely, many people must think so. Wanting to encounter new shooting games and their accompanying thrills is a craving that can never be extinguished in the heart of any shooting fan.

Perhaps it is doujin shooters that can fill this hole.

In doujin games, the creator creates what he wants. He determines, from start to finish, a game based exactly on what he thinks is fun. The world of doujin shooting is full of such forward-thinking games stuffed to the brim with a unique sense of individuality. This round table interview came from the idea that it would be interesting to gather 5 doujin creators together and let them talk freely about shooting games. We strongly feel these games deserve a wider recognition, and we hope this interview encourages you to try these unique doujin shooting games!

a look at the participants’ games

Rebrank’s Samidare.

Yoko is the head of Rebrank, a 7 member team that burst onto the doujin scene with their 2005 game “Samidare”.1 Although Samidare is a danmaku game, the shield system changes the focus of the game from careful bullet dodging to pattern execution. We are currently awaiting the completion of “RefRain.” The demo shows off its many unique mechanics.

Furinya’s Aclla.

Furinya is the two-person team of of character designer Takada Shinichi and programmer Takasaka. In August of 2010 they released the newest version of “Aclla ~taiyou no miko to sora no shinpei~”.2 While it is a shooting game, the world and story are also intriguing, and Takada Shinichi has recently published a manga based on it.

Shanghai Alice (ZUN)'s Touhou 12.8 Great Fairy Wars.

Shanghai Alice is the one-man team of ZUN, responsible for the string of danmaku games known as the “Touhou Project.” His early games were released for the PC-98, but he continues to release new games for Windows. Touhou is also well known for its musical remixes and popular characters, and in this sense the world of Touhou Project extends far beyond the games.

Entis Soft’s Hayabusa.

In 2007 Entis Soft, the one-man team of Rikage, released their first shooting game “Witch in Wonderland“. Currently, a 1-stage playable demo of their new game, “Hayabusa“, is available at their site. Both the glimpses of homages to other games and the setting involving the actual Hayabusa probe are very intriguing.

Siter Skain’s (Jirurun) The Tale of ALLTYNEX.

Jirurun represents veteran team SITER SKAIN, who became known in the doujin shooting world with their 1999 release Kamui. Their newest release is “ALLTYNEX Second”. It was released in August 2010, and is a remake of the 1996 FM Towns game “ALLTYNEX.” The beautiful full polygon graphics are not to be missed.

How do I buy doujin games?

Doujin software can not be purchased at your typical game shop. Here we will explain the routes by which you can obtain them. In general, there are two ways to purchase doujin titles.

The first is from a doujin event. Almost all doujin shooting development teams participate in the twice yearly event Comic Market (comiket). Finding out which groups will be at the event beforehand is a distinct pleasure itself. The other way to purchase doujins is from doujin shops. These are mostly used by people who couldn’t go to a doujin event due to the time or location. “Melon Books,” “Tora no Ana,” and “Mandarake” are a few of the representative shops that deal in doujin shooting games. There are also commercial game shops like Messensanou that stock doujin titles. Some shops have online ordering as well, so even if you can’t go to the shop directly, it's still possible to purchase the games.

Comiket had over 500,000 attendees this year.

Interview

—Please give us a brief introduction and list your three favorite shooting games.

Yoko: I am Yoko of the RebRank team. Thank you for this interview. RebRank is a team of 7 people, and I’m its leader… or you could say manager. The actual work I do are stages, bullet pattern programming, graphics, sound, and other miscellany… basically everything but the main programming and music. As for my favorite shooting games, I’d have to say Gradius. The Famicom version’s amazing cover art still leaves a fresh impression on me even today. Another would be… well he’s sitting here right now actually… the PC-98 Touhou games. (laughs) As I was playing it, thinking “what the hell is this!”, I suddenly noticed the name of my college appear. Huh? I thought, and it turned out ZUN went to the same school as me. That game was Touhou Kaikidan (Mystic Square). My third choice would be Darius Gaiden. I think it's awesome the way the first and second stages are connected.

ZUN: I’m ZUN of Team Shanghai Alice. I make Touhou-ish games (laughs). Lately I spend more time making shooting games than I do playing them. As Yoko also said, Darius Gaiden is one of my favorite games too. I like Taito’s shooting games in general, with their dramatic presentation. I like Metal Black too. And of course I play other games, even if I have my complaints about them.

Takasaka: I’m Takasaka of Furinya, a two-man development team I started with Takada. I handle the design, setting, system mechanics, and all the programming. Takada does the character design and the scenario, and also works separately as a manga artist. About a year ago he came to me saying “I want to work on a new manga, do you have any ideas?” I responded by asking him to make a manga based on Aclla, and it's actually being serialized now.

—Did you start the game before this?

Takasaka: Yes, I began working on the game in 2006, so the manga is a spin-off of that. (laughs) My favorite shooting game is Gradius. It was the first I ever played.

—Gradius sure is popular!

Takasaka: And I also love Touhou. (laughs)

ZUN: No need for flattery, guys. (laughs)

(everyone laughing)

Takasaka: Finally I also like Silhouette Mirage. It's the game that has most influenced me.

—Next we have Jirurun, who is joining us from the internet.

Jirurun: I represent the SITER SKAIN development team. My team is structured like a one-man team, with me taking my time at each task, and no real division of labour. So I handle programming, the art, music, miscellaneous things… pretty much everything. In “ALLTYNEX Second” I handled everything except some encryption libraries I received, and some graphic processing improvements that a friend helped me with.

My favorite shooting game is far and away Rayforce. I was extremely impressed when I saw this at a game center at the time. People often say it's a “dramatic shooter,” but I think, aside from that, this game also has an extremely well developed game system and balance. A second is hard to choose, but Thunder Force III, IV, V, Musha Aleste, Soldier Blade, Hyper Duel, or Ikaruga would all fit.

—And finally, Rikage, please tell us about yourself.

Rikage: I’m Rikage of Entis Soft. Thank you for this interview. Right now I'm developing “Hayabusa.” I do the programming by myself, but I always have someone else do the music. My favorite shooting game is Silpheed for the Mega CD. I didn’t have a Mega CD when it came out, but I played it at a friend’s house and was amazed by the game. I also like Gradius II, which was the first game to make me think I wanted to make shooting games.

Rikage of Entis Soft

—Thank you everyone. The first thing I’d like to ask is, where do you get the great energy needed to make shooting games like this on your own?

ZUN: I think making games comes naturally, in a sense. It only takes a few people, after all. Of course I love shooting games so that’s also a part of why I make them, but more fundamentally I just love to create. So I wonder if that’s not why we all do it… it's a feeling like “I want to create something. Creating is playing.”

Jirurun: For me it’s basically, I like shooting games, so I wanted to make them. In my second or third year of elementary school the Famicom came out, and I think this was a time when the public’s love for shooting games was particularly strong. There’s various reasons why I make shooting games independently… since I missed the opportunity to work at a game company, this is simply the only way to do my work. I feel it's good that I’m able to make the games I want like this, but even now I think it's too bad that I don’t have the opportunity to work with pros and absorb all their expertise.

Yoko: I love how designing a shooting game is like laying a trap for someone. They’re really subtle, slight traps, but I scatter them over each stage. That’s really what a “stage” means to me in a shooting game, actually. And naturally, the fact that I like shooting games is another reason I make them.

Takasaka: For Aclla, the first impetus came from something Takada said to me, that “Wouldn’t it be cool if a shooting game were made about the Nazca and Inca of South America?”

Yoko of Rebrank

—Ah, like the Nazca lines! Did you actually go there to see them to get ideas?

Takasaka: Sadly I couldn’t. (laughs) I went to the NHK Incan and Aztec exhibition though. I also bought a hardcore dictionary on the Quetzl language used by the people.

ZUN: Not too many choices there, right?

Takasaka: Yeah, there’s only been a handful of books published in the last 10 years. (laughs)

Rikage: I definitely feel that creating games comes easily, too. And of course I personally like shooting games. I also like the background story and world that makes up a shooting game. You aren’t just making a simple movie, but are doing something relatively interactive, and the sense of immersion can be very high.

ZUN: It can feel like you’re playing a movie. Shooting games themselves always progress at the same timing so it's easy to make the music match up, and as far as games go they’re easy to add drama and story development. But the playing has to be there, above all. I like that aspect of shooting games.

Rikage: There’s a story, but you’re allowed to enjoy that story as a game. That’s my favorite part about them.

Yoko: And even when it's over, the scenes from the game stick in your mind, don’t they. I think that’s very much a special feature of shooting games, or at least there’s a strong tendency for them to feel that way.

Rikage: And the music sticks in your head the same way too.

Yoko: Add in the sound effects and it's like being back in the game, you can’t get away!

ZUN: That’s what’s great about shooting games. It doesn’t work like that in action games, or games you advance at your own pace. It's just with shooting games I think. To that extent there’s a high sense of intimacy, or even fellowship, that comes from playing them.

—Yoko, it's been 4 or 5 years since you released Samidare, I believe.

Yoko: About 5 years now, yes.

—I remember when I saw Samidare at a shop the first time, I thought it was a dreamcast game.

Yoko: Yes, that design must be inviting to a dreamcast fan. (laughs)

—Will you tell us a bit about the development of Samidare?

Yoko: Sure. In my case, it first begins with ZUN… fatefully, I enrolled in the same University he went to. I say fatefully, and I do mean that… (laughs)

ZUN, creator of Touhou.

—Did you already know who ZUN was?

Yoko: Yeah. And on top of that there were things I wanted to study at that school so I thought, “this seems perfect.” (laughs) ZUN had already graduated, but I met some upperclassmen who were passionately making games together.

ZUN: And I joined them after I graduated, too.

Yoko: So as we were making games I thought, this is so fun. That was the main motivation for me in wanting to make things on my own, too.

ZUN: After you see someone making a doujin shooting game, it's like you want to make one too. There’s always some room for improvement or something different, so you want to try and do your own thing.

Yoko: Yeah, in fact, when I played Touhou Kaikidan (Mystic Square) there were places where I thought “If it were me, I’d do it like this,” or “I could do it like this.” Samidare was basically me implementing those very ideas in a game.

—To everyone, what do you think about the current state of doujin shooting?

ZUN: I’d say it's become very active now.

Jirurun (identity hidden) of Siter Skain.

Jirurun: Yeah, even the phrase “doujin shooting world” doesn’t really capture the size of it right now.

ZUN: “Shooting games are dead” is something people have been saying for many, many years now.

—They’re always saying that. (laughs)

ZUN: And while they continue saying it, the number of doujin shooting games keeps increasing, and I feel the quality has risen a lot.

Jirurun: The threshold for making a shooting game is relatively low, so you usually have enough resources available to you in that sense, and the people who like to play these games will search out your work and come to you on their own initiative, so a lot of projects end up getting completed. Though everytime I’m at Comiket I worry about whether there are new users coming. There are many people for whom Touhou was their first experience with a shooting game, but I’d like them not just to stop at Touhou, but develop an interest in other shooting games, too.

Rikage: I’ve been meaning to ask Zun this, but compared with now, what was it like for doujin shooting at Comikets in the 90s? Were they not very lively at all?

ZUN: I wouldn’t say “at all”, but it was a lot less. In the mid to late 90s, there just weren’t many doujin shooting games. The whole idea of doujin shooters was something only the most hardcore even knew about. And there was almost no one who played them. It always felt somewhat lonely, and was more like a mere trading station than an event. After that everyone started getting computers and playing on them, and they came looking for games. But even then there weren’t that many making doujin games, so it was still disorganized. Now it feels like there are more creators to balance things out.

—On the other hand, with visual novels you have someone like Type Moon, who started out as a doujin but then incorporated and now sells commercially. As a shooting game maker, do you feel envious of that?

ZUN: Not me. I’ve already turned down such offers. (laughs)

Yoko: I’ve refused them as well.

ZUN: There’s a lot of things now like the Playstation Store where you can download games. I’ve had offers like that, to do download sales.

—And what offers have you had, Yoko?

Yoko: Not so much offers from game companies here, but I’ve had talks about letting them be released and sold overseas. But that’s out of range for us so I said “No. My goal in making Samidare wasn’t to make money, so no thank you.”

—Takasaka, the manga for Aclla is on sale commerically now, but did you ever think the game might end up that way too?

Takasaka: To be honest, from the beginning it never crossed my mind, not even as a joke.

Takasaka of Furinya

—Incidentally, Trouble Witches was recently converted to an arcade game.

ZUN: I think game companies too are really looking for new things. They want to get involved in bringing out new shooting games, but as far as commercial sales go, few doujin makers have the confidence that their game will be popular and make a profit. It takes a lot of money too. So it's probably most expedient to bring a finished project to them, like with Trouble Witches. To some degree, all doujin creators have had daydreams about that, I think.

—Commercial game companies might be looking at doujins as rivals in a certain sense, too.

ZUN: I think they’re more like “use this.” (laughs)

Rikage: Yeah, because our games are full of homages. Sometimes, it seems like homages is all they are… (laughs)

—When I saw the Hayabusa logo, from the way it was divided up/down and the font I felt like I knew it, and then realized, “Ah, Ikaruga…”

ZUN: Adding little things like that is one of the strengths of doujins. Obviously commercial games can’t include references to other commercial games like this. We can always say they’re just “homages”.

—Now that we’re talking about homages, has everyone here also put such things into their games?

Jirurun: Naturally. For example, in Kamui, the 2D display system, the way it has that visual depth–that was inspired by Rayforce. Also, I tried to implement multipart, professional looking enemies and bosses like in Battle Garegga. From a technical standpoint there were many approaches we borrowed. Be we also thought of various ways to differentiate things so they weren’t a straight, simplistic copy.

Yoko: When I was in the middle of making Samidare, I discovered Thunder Force. After that I tried to make the option screen and the music selection screen have the same feeling as that game. Our subprogrammer really got into it when he created those.

Review of Kamui, a well-known and respected doujin even among Western shmup fans.

—They remind me of Thunder Force V’s Reffi. They’re cool.

Yoko: We all include a lot of homages. For instance, Gradius is my towering inspiration, and I started off trying to pay respect to it in the very gameplay design itself. I really wanted to make a game where the ship moved the same way as in that game. In that sense, although Samidare is a danmaku game, the truth is you really don’t dodge through dense bullet patterns at all.

—Yes, the key in Samidare is figuring out patterns with the barrier to cancel bullets.

Yoko: Since it really stresses creating those patterns and the way you move your ship, if you get to the core of it, it's an homage to Gradius. I also added elements from Touhou Kaikidan (Mystic Square), which I mentioned a moment ago as an inspiration.

—ZUN, you said you liked Darius Gaiden, but the danmaku patterns in your games give one the strong impression of a Cave-style influence at work.

ZUN: When I was making games in college, there weren’t too many danmaku games. They had just started to come out, with things like Battle Garegga and Dodonpachi. Also, the reason I use danmaku patterns isn’t really because I love other danmaku games. It was just that I wanted to try putting a lot of bullets onscreen, and danmaku patterns are less taxing on the computer’s resources, and I also wouldn’t have to do a lot of drawing this way. You can express a diverse variety of things with just bullets. So, the way I do danmaku shooting isn’t something I learned from other danmaku games.

Takasaka: As for me, I really wanted to show characters interacting. This leads me to the subject of homages–I wanted to do something like the character interaction scenes in Silhouette Mirage, and make a game where you could develop the drama through the pixel art scenes. That was in the back of my head as I developed the structure of the game.

—That aspect of Silhouette Mirage is strongly reflected in Aclla.

Takasaka: Yeah. Some parts of the shooting mechanics are taken from it, too. Though I’m not sure how many people have played Silhouette Mirage… (laughs)

—Even among shooting fans, there really doesn’t seem to be many people who know it. Though so many people know and love Treasure.

ZUN: Radiant Silvergun was how I came to know Treasure. I thought, “awesome, a shooting game that isn’t designed like an arcade game!” (laughs)

—Definitely. (laughs) And of course we can’t talk about homages without asking Rikage about Hayabusa!

Rikage: In my case, Hayabusa is truly an homage to Ikaruga. I planned it that way from the beginning. I’m working on every aspect of it so that people will see it's not a joke, but a true homage. (laughs)

ZUN: It's like a side story, or fanfiction. (laughs) No matter how hard doujins try to get away from that image, there’s a part of them that will always seem like derivative works. Rikage said a moment ago that Hayabusa was an homage, but isn’t it really an original work? It isn’t just with shooting… whether something is original, or a doujin, in a way everything is derived from something else. When a doujin creator makes a game, he adds in what he wants himself, but in that sense the things he adds are still derived from something prior.

—Right, even an original game is, in a sense, derivative of its creators’ favorite things.

ZUN: And this again is one of the strengths of doujin games.

—By the way, this is just my personal prediction, but I think Hayabusa will be connected somehow to Ikaruga. The ending of Ikaruga comes to mind.

(everyone laughs)

—I mean the final part where everything breaks apart and explodes.

ZUN: Since his game is based on the Hayabusa probe,3 he may have no choice. (laughs)

—Is Ikaruga one of your favorite games?

Rikage: Yeah. I mentioned Silpheed earlier as a favorite, but a more recent choice would be Ikaruga. Well, the truth is if I started mentioned games I like I’d never stop… (laughs) The only game I’ve liked as much before Ikaruga would be Rayforce, I think.

The inimitable Ikaruga.

ZUN: Ikaruga is amazing. It has a puzzle feel, good mechanics, and the presentation is extremely good. It seems to take all the non-arcade elements of Radiant Silvergun and refines them. The scoring system is simpler to understand, and it looks gorgeous too. It really is a wonderful game.

Rikage: Personally I think the presentation of the stages and the way bullets are spewed out in Ikargua is strongly influenced by Rayforce. I kept getting that feeling while I played it.

—Was the scene in Hayabusa where the probe gets taken in by the Earth’s gravity your own idea?

Rikage: I think there were a number of shooting games in the past that used a gravity effect, and I wanted to use something that hadn’t been featured in recent games.

—One gets the strong impression that doujin games put the creators’ own preferences above simplicity. When you look at scoring systems and such, there are a lot of insanely complicated games out there.

ZUN: Consumer and arcade games are made for the users, but doujin games are mostly made for the person creating them. (laughs) “I wanted to create this, so I did it.” There’s a feeling that, while some users might be hung out to dry, the people who like it will like it. It might be because of that.

—To put it the other way around, you aren’t thinking about the users much when you make a game?

ZUN: No, it's also fun to think about what players might think of something, so of course I think about them as well.

Yoko: When I went to a location test professional game show event, I thought to myself that I definitely needed to consider the players, as was happening here. But it's also bad to get too focused and taken in by what players might think. The core of the game can get lost that way, so you really must do what you’re passionate about. That’s really what being a doujin game is all about.

Takasaka: When I think of the players, it usually happens in the difficulty adjustment menu. When there’s a certain difficulty level I’m aiming for, I think about whether players will be able to handle it. Though sometimes I worry that no one other than me will possibly be able to clear it.

Yoko: It's surprising what people can clear. (laughs)

ZUN: There’s too many skilled players now. (laughs) It could be called a negative aspect of shooting games. There’s definitely a part of it that’s not good.

L to R: Yoko, Rikage, ZUN, Jirurun (hiding), Takasaka, and STG Gameside interviewer.

—Because players who can keep up will keep up, but those who can’t are left by the wayside, you mean.

Takasaka: Actually, after I had released Aclla at Comiket, someone had uploaded videos of it to NicoDouga and such, and I realized the things that I had been concerned about with the game were very different from what the players were concerned with. For instance, I really obsessed over the scenario for Aclla, but the users were saying things like the scenario is too complicated and I had forgotten about the players.

ZUN: In shooting games, the presentation is easy to do, but the story is difficult to express. You have to leave a lot of it to the players’ imagination. You know, I always think this when I’m making a shooting game, but because there are always bosses that have to be defeated, it's really difficult to construct a story around. As soon as they appear they’re going to die. (laughs) You can’t just make a story where every character just gets “injured” instead of dying.

Yoko: Yeah, you know they’re just going to have to be put down later in the game.

ZUN: I’ve pretty much given up and hardly do anything with the story anymore. (laughs) But that’s a very doujin-ish thing to do. It makes for a really involved scene with fans developing the original story into manga and such.

Rikage: Regarding thinking of the players, I’d like people who played games in the 90s to also try my games. I put non-danmaku elements and other things into them that aren’t present in recent shooting games, and I’d like them to try it.

ZUN: In the end I think it's difficult to chase after users. I think one should just design a game that plays naturally.

—Even if the system is difficult and might not attract many players, if it's what you what you want to put in, should you do it?

Yoko: I struggle with that. RefRain, which I’m making now, has a very complicated system.

ZUN: The person who made it will enjoy it because he knows the mechanics, but from a user’s perspective, it can be too sudden. If everything happens at once they won’t understand. I’ve played games before where I’ve wondered why this system was put in.

Jirurun: People say for doujin games, it's not a big deal if it fails commercially, so it's easier to be experimental. I also think that because independent games are getting better and better in terms of qualty, more games are coming out in which, in order to distinguish themselves, designers are really focusing on making the systems more complex. For me, both simple systems and complex systems are fine, but the important thing is whether it gives the game character, and whether the system is able to be fully realized in the game. Also, this is my personal opinion, but if there are too many buttons in the game it becomes hard to follow, so I always keep things as simple as possible there.

—Speaking of games with a lot of buttons, I really liked “Tobitsukihime“. But when I first bought it I thought the system was excessively complicated, and it took a long time before I became comfortable with it. (laughs) The truth is I think simple systems are more fun, but of course it's up to the individual doujin creator, in the end, I think.

ZUN: If you’re firmly resolved on making a game your way, then even a complicated system can be workable, but it will also be more difficult to attract new players. In shooting games one thing is unchangeable, and that’s the premise that “if you hit a bullet, you die.” So even if you make your game like Ikaruga, where you won’t die if you hit certain bullets, it still gets complicated. If the game can be cleared just by defeating the bosses, then I don’t think it's such a problem to have a finely detailed system.

Yoko: I think a lot of it is just wanting to do something impressive, or structuring something so that players have to play a certain way. I think it's taking unstated rules about shooting games and standing them on their head. For instance, when the ship is on the bottom of the screen and the enemies are at the top, you play a certain way. But if that gets changed, things suddenly become more difficult for players.

Hellsinker, probably the best example of an extremely complex doujin STG.

—What do you think people are after when they buy doujin games, which differ from commercial games in their freedom and experimental design?

ZUN: I’ve been thinking for awhile that it's the players expectations that the game they are buying is one which the creator had fun making. The people who make doujin games aren’t trying to chase after the tastes of an audience. They’re simply thinking, “Ah, this looks really interesting, I’m going to have fun making this.” It's a feeling that’s hard to get from commercial products.

—Yeah, it really is…

Jirurun: I think it's simply a desire for a more constant flow of new, interesting shooting games to be released. Lately there’s been an increase in people wanting complete, polished works, I think. But since these are made by independent developers, it's honestly pretty difficult in terms of the time and resources required. I’d like players to enjoy the flaws as well, since these are doujin games after all. To me, I think it's an interesting part of doujin games that you get to see the designers’ thinking and intentions more far clearly than in commerical games. And that’s another way to enjoy them, I think. Of course the game itself has to be interesting.

Yoko: I think thats similar to the reason people go to Comiket. Everyone looks forward to and knows the fun of giving feedback and comments; the experience doesn’t simply end after the game has been released. So whether a game is completed or not, I think people like to interact and give and receive feedback.

Takasaka: In my case, about half the people who come to my booth are there to talk with Takada about his art and stories. But with the game itself, too, I’ve been surprised at the response. I sense that people come seeking that experience where their favorite manga has a game that’s been created after it, which you don’t get in commercial products. There’s another thing I think people come for, I’m not sure if I should say it, but…

—Go ahead!

Takasaka: Well, the Touhou world and fandom is so vast now, it's both awesome and slightly terrifying at the same time.

ZUN: It's because they’re all in the same place, and at Comiket no less. I don’t really get the impression you have.

Takasaka: Among players, I think there are those who are looking for something new that they can actively help build and grow in the future. I’ve seen games from other developers where it seems that they’re searching for a way to capture the catharsis players get from the Touhou universe.

Yoko: It feels a bit like treasure hunting!

Rikage: I don’t think about the users at all when I make my games. Though, if I do upload a playthrough of a game I’m currently working on to NicoDouga, I also want people to dig into it and give me their feedback. But rarely does that reach the point where I ask “what will they think?” as I’m developing the game. I’m making the games I want to make, you know. (laughs)

A fanmade Touhou anime.

—You could say when you’re making it, you don’t think about it, but after it's made you do hope for a response! (laughs)

Rikage: That’s true. (laughs)

ZUN: If there’s no reaction, or no one’s playing the game, naturally you lose that desire to create.

—Is that a strong feeling for everyone, that when you finish a game you’re hoping people will respond to particular parts in certain ways?

ZUN: It's also interesting when the response takes a different path from what I expected.

Yoko: Yeah, it's like “I can’t believe they’re doing THAT!”

ZUN: There’s people who try to get through the games without shooting. I’ve also seen double plays, where one person controls both 1P and 2P simultaneously. I was like, “Wait, wait a minute!” (laughs) People can do something even that crazy… controlling both players’ movement at the same time. Amazing! I was laughing hard.

—Please share any thoughts on where the world of doujin shooting goes from here.

Yoko: I sort of think the time has come for our generation to start thinking about what we want from games. It's just my opinion, but I think we’ve all been watching ZUN from the sidelines just thinking, “Wow, ZUN sure has put out a lot of games lately.” As for how things will be in the future for doujin games, I don’t think it looks bad at all.

Jirurun: I think the situation we’re in now will probably continue, with doujin games getting more modern and advanced in their quality and scope. I’ve been trying to put out my games in a retail packaged form, but I think we need to start thinking more about downloads as a distribution form. Also, I don’t think we’ve been ignoring mobile systems and other platforms, but I think if we miss getting on the first wave here because our current system4 doesn’t do that kind of publicizing very well, I feel it will be a quick defeat for doujins.

ZUN: There are always people saying “shooting is dead,” and yet, I think we’re doing fine here. So when people say that, and popular games keep coming out, well… I really don’t know what to say. (laughs)

—They’re probably people who feel it needs to be like the boom years of the 80s and 90s again.

ZUN: I think there’s still people like that around, yeah. But that’s totally different from the things I love about doujin games. Right now the only thing I’m making are shooting games because that’s what I like at this moment, but I’ll try anything if it's interesting, in the end. If it's interesting and I can create it quickly and easily I’ll try it. That’s the feeling I want to have as I keep making shooting games, too. So I think that if you overthink how “shooting games have to be this way” or “it has to be like this,” then stagnation sets in and it's not good.

Yoko: Shooting is a genre that people have a lot preconceived ideas about. It's easy to get taken in by such ideas, like “the ship has to be like this” or “the enemies have to be like this.”

Takasaka: I’m also not particularly beholden to any ideas about shooting games. Since I was young, shooting games for me have been about characters flying in the sky, and if you get shot by an enemy you die. With those simple ideas as my base I thought “I want to make a shooting game” and started developing from there. So I don’t think I have too many preconceptions about the genre.

ZUN: I think it's really rather arcade shooting games which I’m worried about disappearing someday.

Rikage: Personally I think the future of doujin shooting looks brighter than that of arcades. One thing that worries me a little, though, is that doujin shooting might get completely swallowed up by the freeware model. Nothing can last long if people don’t pay money for it, which I think is true both in the commercial world and the world generally. If no one pays for these games, the people making them will start to disappear.

ZUN: I think there are many people who want to play a game that they’ve paid for. Naturally there are will always be free games, but I don’t think everyone is going to say “since this costs money I don’t want to buy it.” NicoDouga keeps getting mentioned, but people put out realtime videos and recorded videos of themselves playing. I think there’s definitely something people like about playing a game they’ve paid for. It's like they want to say, “here is what I’m playing right now” with their videos. If everyone started playing free games, I don’t think you’d see that many playthrough videos come out.

Yoko: It's kind of a like a pride in their possessions. Maybe there’s also a sense of “I own this game, and I’m the one showing it to you”, as well.

ZUN: Yeah, though there are lots of copyright issues with posting replay videos like that, so I don’t want to say too much publicly.

Yoko: Yeah, best not to say too much.

ZUN: It's basically illegal, from a copyright perspective, even if I say it's good for doujins. It's a little too easy to misinterpret that, you know. I’ll just leave it at that. (laughs)

Yoko: Let’s just say for now, “do as you’d like”… (laughs)

Rikage: Personally, as far as shooting games are concerned, I want to see people share replay videos at a place like NicoDouga. In the old days at game centers everyone would stand behind you and watch.

Promotional video for RebRank's doujin shmup RefRain. Much has changed since this interview was conducted in 2010, and replays and other video footage can easily be found now for even obscure releases.

—It was like an art gallery back then.

Rikage: Everyone could watch a variety of games and players. You could see how individual players played. You really can’t see that kind of thing anymore.

ZUN: I used to do something like that myself, where I’d stream a replay of a game I was developing. I was thinking I would develop a system where you could chat with people at the same time, too. I didn’t have any time so it never got done, though. By the time I thought about doing something with realtime streaming, NicoDouga had come out. “This is great!” I thought. (laughs) Now we can experience the excitement of an arcade on the internet. I’m a person who likes to share my replays with others. It's nice that there’s people who want to watch.

Rikage: There’s also genres where, depending on the game, they don’t want you to upload anything to NicoDouga. I can’t say too much about that though. But shooting, you know, it's definitely a thing people want to share with each other, replays and such.

ZUN: That’s right. You want to show off your skills, and I think you even want to show your weaknesses. (laughs)

Yoko: Back then it also sometimes happened that people wanted to hide their playing from others.

ZUN: There were arcades for that, too.

—There were. Places where the screen was hidden with cardboard.

ZUN: There were people who were afraid of playing at certain arcades because their high scores would be revealed to everyone. Their tricks would be revealed. So they’d do things like go to arcades when there were hardly any people there, right after they’d open in the morning.

—It seems like for doujin shooting the opposite is true; there are a lot of replays shared on NicoDouga.

Rikage: Yeah, it's really thriving.

—Yeah, I think this is really one of the great things about doujin shooting.

ZUN: Lately sharing videos like that seems to be the main way to get people excited about a game.

Yoko: I’m definitely aware as I’m developing the game that people will see it on NicoDouga… (laughs)

ZUN: I don’t usually do 初見殺し (shokengoroshi)5 much, but lately I’ve deliberately been including it in my games to make them more exciting. So it definitely influences me, NicoDouga. I’m also influenced by the other games I see on there. I don’t see that as a bad thing… it's more like adapting to circumstances.

Rikage: Also, one thing I’d like to see more on Nico Douga is when a game has a strange system, more videos to help beginners understand things.

ZUN: Yeah, like a manual.

Rikage: Yeah. In an arcade, for example, when you watch a skilled player, as a beginner you get that feeling of “ah, this is how it's done.” Then you try and imitate them and realize, “ahhh I can’t do it!” (laughs)

ZUN: You won’t get better just by blindly copying skilled players, though, will you? If you’ll get caught up thinking “I can’t do this!” from the start.

—It seems the fun of doujin shooting is in some way inseperable from video sites like NicoDouga. Now, finally, please share any final thoughts you have as doujin game developers.

Rikage: I really want people who got into doujin shooting through Touhou to try more shooting games. There’s more than just Touhou out there!

Takasaka: In Furinya there’s a person who likes to think of new ideas, and a person who likes to give those ideas form, but basically we both take the stance of “Making what we love in the way we want to.” We may occasionally lose some players along the way, but we hope even those people will think kindly of us and respect that there are people out there making games freely in this way.

Jirurun: I’m mainly making vertical shooting games, but I’d like to try some other things too. My team moves at a slow pace, but we intend to continue making games long after this, so please keep an eye on us for the long run.

ZUN: I don’t know… if I’m really going to be able to continue making shooting games. At some point I might retire, but maybe something will take my interest and then I’ll start making them again… that’s the kind of lax feeling I want to have about it going forward. I surely won’t be releasing two games in one year or anything. That shaves years off your life. (laughs)

Yoko: I also think our games will not be limited to only shooting games in the future. We’re just going to keep on developing. Well, whatever we do though, it might take a lot of time, so… please watch over us.

Rikage: (laughs)

Yoko: I think there’s an interesting point to be made here, but that is really one of the strengths of the doujin world. The fact that people are watching over us and encouraging us while we make our games is a good thing. And it's good that, unlike in a commercial environment, we don’t have someone who will get angry if it isn’t finished quickly. Instead, I think good things happen when developers and their audience can come together.

—That’s a positive note to wrap things up on, so let’s stop here. Thank you everyone!

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  1. “early summer rains”

  2. something like: “Aclla ~priestess of the sun and divine warrior of the sky~

  3. I’m not that familiar with either Ikaruga or Hayabusa, so I don’t know exactly what they’re referring to regarding the ending, but the comment by ZUN here is a joke based on the fact that, at the time of the interview in 2010, the Hayabusa probe had not safely returned to Earth yet.

  4. By “current system” I think he’s referring to the way doujins are currently distributed, announced, and publicized mainly through Comiket and similar events.

  5. shokengoroshi refers to a particularly difficult section in a game where a new player, without prior experience in that section, has no chance to clear it. Hence “shoken goroshi” or “first glance kill.” ZUN mentions it here because the term appears to have originated and is widely used on NicoDouga.

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