Dynamite Cop - 1998 Developer Interview
Taken from the Dynamite Deka 2 Official Guide, this interview covers the making of Sega's popular polygonal brawler Dynamite Deka/Die Hard Arcade and its then-new sequel, Dynamite Deka 2/Dynamite Cop, offering insight into the series' cinematic underpinnings, changing hardware, unused ideas and much more.
Makoto Uchida (Executive Producer/Director/Game Designer)
Tomoyuki Naito (Programmer)
Hiroshi Kanazawa (Designer)
—I don't think there were any polygonal brawler-style action games around until Dynamite Deka. What was the catalyst behind making the game?
Uchida: Prior to Dynamite Deka, I'd made Golden Axe, which we thought of as a "side-scrolling action game" at the time: in other words, you'd move to the right, some tough dudes would show up, you'd beat them, the story would progress a little, then stronger guys would show up and you'd fight again, and so on, and the format was airtight.
However, we've reached an era where, if you show someone a side-scrolling game with a character about as big as the ones in Golden Axe, nobody cares—there's still plenty of fun to be had with this style of game, but no other way to adequately present them, so I didn't think there was any future for the genre. After that, the world of 3D presentation opened up to us, and I thought that might be the key to breathing new life into the genre.
The gameplay could remain the same, but we could use 3D to make the "boring" parts, like walking from battle to battle, more exciting by replacing them with cinematic movie-style cutscenes, turning the format into something completely fresh.
It just so happened that my thinking on this matter coincided with my going to the US. The seed had been planted in my mind that I had to make something that'd sell well in the United States, and if we made it for ST-V, it'd be something even smaller venues could afford, so we went with ST-V as the target hardware.
—So Dynamite Deka was born when you went to America, then?
Uchida: I feel like it was just a case of right-place, right-time. We'd already decided on making a belt-scroller with a cinematic feel, so to enhance the "American-ness", we used American visuals and music, and we incorporated Western ideas that you wouldn't see from Japanese games, like Hollywood-style shootouts, which all added up to the final game.
—The overseas version of Dynamite Deka was released as Die Hard Arcade, so I'd like to which came first: Dynamite Deka or Die Hard?
Uchida: Both! I'm personally a huge fan of Die Hard, and really wanted to make a Die Hard-esque game for a long time. When the game was 80~90% done, we took it to somebody at 20th Century Fox and said, "our game is pretty much just Die Hard, so why don't we go ahead and make it a Die Hard game?", and that's when they came aboard. Once they actually saw our game, they gave us some pointers on how to make the building better resemble the one in the movie. The game became a Die Hard game because we both wanted it to be a Die Hard game.
Up until the very last minute, we were making it with a completely different title.1
—The system of turning objects into weapons—wall clocks, pepper shakers, anything you can get your hands on—was very well-received.
Uchida: To me, that's what Die Hard was all about: he started off with just a handgun but ended up stealing machine guns from defeated enemies, stealing and using explosives, finding and using the enemy's rocket launcher, throwing enemy corpses, etc. I thought it'd be fun to have the player start from nothing and use whatever their opponent had on them, or to improvise using whatever happened to be around at the time. That system became much more pronounced for the second game.
—It's a little out-of-nowhere to be using something like a mop for a weapon, isn't it?
Uchida: Once we came up with the system of using anything as a weapon, we searched for areas that looked a little bare and said, "this place is empty, so let's put something in here". We'd be like, "well, this looks like a storage room, so how about a mop and bucket?", and ideas would naturally present themselves: "yeah, they can swing it around to attack!"
Naito: A room would have nothing in it, not even a clock, so we'd just throw one in.
Uchida: "It's so bare, let's add a clock", "okay, and let's make sure it's throwable", pretty much just like that.
—Where did the idea of "rescuing the president's daughter" come from?
Uchida: I wanted the game to have a very simple objective; the simplest objectives are "to kill" and "to help", and the easiest target to help is a weak, defenceless girl—it's almost like a golden rule that the player's going to be like, "I gotta save 'em!", so I just followed the playbook, and when you talk about America, the obvious choice was to make her the president's daughter.
—I remember a game by another company where you had to save the US president.
Uchida: I don't think it'd be as much fun to save a man, would it? The satisfaction you get from saving a cute girl is a little different to that of saving a man.
—In Dynamite Deka, you had her hide under the boss' desk, but wouldn't it have been better and more tense if she'd been fleeing and eventually got caught?
Uchida: That decision was a conceit for making the game more fun: in addition to giving the player an objective, I also wanted to be able to present the player with a final "this is where I need to go" destination. I wanted to repeatedly show that room so that, when the player finally arrives here, they'll think, "now that we're here, we'll find the boss and the daughter".
If the daughter were to move from place to place, we'd have to waste a bunch of time and potentially confuse the player by somehow explaining why everyone in the building is aware of her current location. Also, it's a little more exciting that she's hidden, don't you think?
There is one more reason: in addition to defeating the enemy and progressing, I wanted to include a lot of smaller stories along the way. In movies, the best stories are the ones where the main thread is intertwined with several sub-stories that all come together in the climax, and I was aiming to put together something like that.
What will happen to the president's daughter? What's going on with the safe that won't open? How will the enemies react as the detective draws nearer? I wanted to try and intertwine all those threads into one story. I didn't want the daughter to get caught right at the beginning and be helpless for the rest of the game—she's hiding right next to them, so I want to have the players guessing: will she be caught next time, or will they still not find her and the charade continues?
—What made you decide to make a second Dynamite Deka?
Uchida: It was more or less spontaneous. The first game turned out pretty well, so we just kept at it.
—Did it take an entire year to make, then?
Naito: About that long—a year and three months or so. These days, it's normal for games to spend over a year in development.
Uchida: That might differ from department to department, though.
—For the second game, you moved to the Model 2 hardware. Why?
Uchida: When it comes down to it, the Model 2 is far more capable than the ST-V—it can display far more polygons and more attractive visuals. On the ST-V, even Kanazawa-san wasn't able to display 1000 or even 700 polygons per frame, but on the Model 2, we could display 4000 polygons per frame. Naturally, players were going to be expecting big improvements across the board with the jump from Dynamite Deka to Dynamite Deka 2, and in order to meet those expectations, the visuals needed to make a big jump.
—Were there any difficulties switching from ST-V to Model 2?
Naito: Of course, the game systems also underwent various evolutions. In terms of graphical capabilities, the Model 2 is much more capable and nicer-looking than the ST-V, but the CPU itself is actually inferior to that of the ST-V.
—There's no getting around the Model 2 being older hardware than the ST-V, I suppose.
Uchida: We didn't have enough processing power.
Naito: That was a particularly big hurdle during development.
Kanazawa: Design-wise, we had a lot of trouble working with the colors, which made development tougher than on ST-V.2
—This time, the game takes place on a ship.
Uchida: For Dynamite Deka, you were locked up inside a building, right? When people are conscious of being trapped in a confined space, they'll instinctively want to seek open areas; they'll naturally have the urge to try and escape from their surroundings, with the thinking that if they make it all the way to the end they'll find a way out. This gives them a motivation to progress without having to directly provide one.
In much the same vein, we wanted to set the game in another confined space, so this time we chose a ship setting and established to the player that they'd be stuck on the ship unless they wandered all the way over and eventually found a way off.
—The number of playable characters has increased to three.
Uchida: The previous game only had two playable characters and most of their moves were the same, so for this game we added one more character and worked on individualizing all their techniques.
—Bruno specializes in weapons, Jean specializes in grapples and Eddie specializes in strikes. Can you tell us how the characters were conceived?
Naito: At the beginning, when we were discussing ideas for characters to add, Kanazawa said he wanted to add a black character.
Kanazawa: This was just my personal observation, but American arcades are frequented by all kinds of different people, so considering the player base, I thought it would be better to offer a little more variety in the cast. In the beginning, we were thinking of adding a Japanese-American character rather than a black character.
—So you consciously thought it'd be better to add a black character, then?
Uchida: I had zero objections to that idea at the time. When I watched the habits of American players, I noticed that if there was a stronger-looking black character in the game, all the American players would rush to pick them: "there's the black guy, gogogogo."
—The female character from the previous game (Cindy Holiday) was replaced... I feel like it would've been better to retain the original character from the last game.
Uchida: From the outset, I wasn't particularly married to the idea of bringing back the old characters—only the main character was a must, but for everything else, anything goes; that way, you're free to come up with a lot more ideas. If you reuse characters, then there's an expectation that they should handle as they did in prior games, which restricts your ability to add anything new.
For example, even if you wanted to focus on grappling moves, if the previous version of the character was super-acrobatic, then people are like, "wait, I have to use these moves now?", so it's better to have the main character use the same moves as before and then give all the new and different moves to the other characters, for the sake of adding different variations to the gameplay.
—You added a power-up system to this game, too.
Uchida: The original Deka was all punch-punch-punch, so after two or three stages, it gets a little tiresome. When you grab a weapon, your move set changes, but once you've used the weapon you return to your base move set, so I really wanted to make changes to the fundamentals.
Initially, it was a more complex skill upgrade system—it was divided into three types, and you could upgrade one of three attributes: fighting ability, weapon ability and "godlike skills".
Naito: It felt like something out of a shooting game. But it was complicated and tough to understand, so we gradually simplified it until it became the system seen in the final game.
Uchida: It was even more out-there at first… in the very beginning, there were no weapons at all, and the three skill trees were fighting ability, "godlike skills" and "charisma".
Uchida: The Charisma skill was amazing.
Naito: I thought it was cool. It was so "Deka-ish"—that is, really stupid—and it's fun to have players wonder precisely what might happen by leveling up their charisma. When your charisma skill was maxed out, it'll let you blow a kiss—it was a powerful attack that'd make the enemies' heart go boom-boom-boom, then all of a sudden, smack!. It's like, well, you're on a cruise ship, aren't ya? I did say that actually integrating it into the game might be tricky, but in the end, it disappeared altogether.
—If it had been, it might've ended up being even more amazing.
Uchida: I was thinking of the charisma trait in terms of being "photogenic"—I have no idea whether our ideas were photogenic or not, but it'd make the characters strike cool poses, and I thought seeking out all the various poses would be fun. We might have gone overboard…
—That might have been too much of a curveball, huh?
Uchida: We were also worried that players simply wouldn't understand what it did or how it worked: "I have no idea what this is", I don't know what's happening, but I can't control my character all of a sudden", etc.
—In the concept art, there's a monkey on Bruno's shoulder: who's that monkey, and does he appear in the game?
Naito: Yeah, we threw him in.
Kanazawa: He shows up during the 2P versus match—he's dancing next to the president's daughter.
Naito: Our concept artist is a guy named Tony, and it seemed like every time we asked him for a picture of Bruno, he'd draw him with a monkey on his shoulder.
Uchida: I asked him, "what's with the monkey? "It's a pet" "Oh yeah?" "moving on…"
—Maybe we'll see him riding on Bruno's shoulder in the future. (laughs)
Uchida: Hmm… I don't know about that. I am glad we were able to add the monkey, though. We were very close to not being able to include it.
Kanazawa: At first, we thought, even if the original design sketches include this monkey, we won't have to add it to the actual game.
Naito: I thought that we'd eventually be given a proper drawing without the monkey, but the monkey kept showing up in every one.
Kanazawa: Little by little, we started to think it'd be a shame if we didn't include the monkey…
—In the end, he became essential.
Naito: Tony caught us hook, line and sinker!
Uchida: AM1's Tetris had that monkey, right?
—So it did.
Uchida: I kinda dig that there's a monkey in there for no reason, it's like a signature for AM1. From next year, we should make it the AM1 mascot (laughs).
—If you play the game in co-op, it turns into a versus game at the very end. Where'd you get that idea?
Uchida: I dunno, we just wanted the players to fight in the end.
—You're fighting for a "presidential bonus", right? (laughs)
Uchida: There's no scene where you actually receive a prize, though. Ultimately, if the two of you are slugging it out side-by-side, wouldn't you eventually want to compete? We wanted to pit the players against each other so they could prove to themselves who's stronger.
—You can add continues during the fight, can't you?
Uchida: Some people might want to continue, and if that's what they want, they should be able to do so.
—But if they keep putting in continues, they won't be able to see the ending, right?
Uchida: I can't say for sure...
—Finally, are there any plans for a home version?
Uchida: If the demand is high, we'll probably be like, "well, I guess that's settled then" and make a home port.
—In that case, would it be for Saturn, Dreamcast or PC?
Uchida: The PC market isn't so big that we can port every game, so we only tend to port games to PC that are likely to sell very well. Whatever the case, I want to port it to "nice hardware."
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The game was tested in Japan with the title "DEAD LINE"; according to comments on the now-defunct website, the final title of "Dynamite Deka" was a deliberately corny proposal intended to drive support towards alternative submissions, but somehow ended up being chosen.↩
One of the quirks of Model 2 hardware is that it did not support colored textures and instead required designers to layer greyscale textures over colored polygons, which meant rendering characters with detailed designs required a lot of ingeniously-stacked polys.↩