Elemental Gimmick Gear – 1999 Developer Interview

Elemental Gimmick Gear – 1999 Developer Interview

This lengthy developer interview for Dreamcast cult-classic Elemental Gimmick Gear was originally featured in the official Japanese E.G.G. Complete Guide. E.G.G. was a joint development between Birthday and Hudson, and here the Birthday staff discusses the inspiration, design, and unique mecha models created for the game. Despite the team's enthusiasm, sadly a sequel was never made.

Hiroaki Hara – Scenario Writer/Planner/Supervisor
Hidetsugi Watanabe – E.G.G. Design/Game Design

—I’d like to start by asking you what the initial inspiration was for Elemental Gimmick Gear (EGG).

Hara: Our staff… or should I say Watanabe in particular, he loves to create things and would often show me the latest thing he’d been working on. One day, as usual, he comes over saying “Check out this model I made”, and it was a model of EGG, which would go on to become the prototype for the character. That was about 6 years ago, I think. At that time I thought, “Wow, this is cool. And it gives me some nostalgic vibes too. It would be fun to make something where you could move this character around.”

But having it be just a robot would be kind of boring, so I thought we should make it a powered suit with a human piloting it inside, and start building a more expansive world around it… that got us to the idea of the Elemental Gimmick Gear character, and from there we set to building a world that would be on par with how cool we thought this character was. This model Watanabe created, in other words, was the beginning of everything.

—Why did you choose the action RPG genre?

Hara: We held an early staff meeting, and everyone felt that they wanted this to be a game where you could actually move the EGG around. From there it was just a hop and a skip to deciding it should be action RPG. The Spin Gimmick idea also emerged during that meeting.

One of our ideas for the action was that we wanted the EGG’s movements to be quick and agile. But the problem is that the EGG’s body and shape doesn’t really fit high-speeds, right? So at that meeting, it just so happened that on the model Watanabe had made, the legs could be detached from their ball joints. When you detached them the EGG looked like an actual egg, and seeing that, we realized: “We could make him spin around at high speeds in this form!” That became one of the key features of the EGG. And we also started coming up with ideas for traps and such that would be related to the spin mechanic.

As the planning moved forward, however, we came to fully understand just how hard creating an action RPG really is. You’ve got masterpieces out there like The Legend of Zelda, you know, so we all felt the pressure to maintain a certain fighting spirit and enthusiasm.

Birthday staff (L-R): Hidetsugi Watanabe, Hiroaki Hara, Jun Matsui, Hisashi Teruya.

—Can you give some specific examples of what was challenging?

Watanabe: In a traditional RPG, it’s relatively easy to control the progression of the game by checking whether the player has a certain item, or whether they’ve heard a certain piece of information or not. This makes it fairly easy to use whatever map gets designed in the natural course of the development. But in action RPGs, the game progresses according to new “actions” that the player acquires, so you have to be a lot more tight and restrictive with your map design. Moreover, since a totally linear progression would be boring, you’ve got to also think about side routes, alternate paths, and things like that. We had to take the entire game flow into account when we designed the traps and puzzles. To be honest, I really wanted to include more side routes and extra content…

Hara: The truth is we were originally developing EGG for the Sega Saturn. Our designer then (I’m looking at you Itou!) was telling us “with the Saturn hardware we can do anything!” so we took that in stride and designed really large, expansive maps. I mean, you want really big maps to enjoy spinning around everywhere with the EGG, right?

Unfortunately, when we actually tried it for the first time, when you spinned to the edge of the screen, the screen would suddenly fade out! It was too much data, and at too high a speed, for the Saturn to read at once. We then tried to revise our already-completed plans for the Saturn version, but time-wise, it wasn’t going to work within our development window. So sadly, we cut those huge maps, and re-worked them into a smaller, more compact version.

—What made you go for a fully illustrated 2D style for the maps?

Hara: Hmmm… probably just our personal taste. Now that we’re firmly in the era of 3DCG, perhaps some of us may have wanted to go against that current. But in terms of what visual style would most fit the gameplay, for EGG we felt this was the best. This is a unique world that I don’t think can be rendered in polygons. Yet the Dreamcast is a polygon machine, isn’t it? We wanted to take advantage of that strength too, which is why the boss battles switch to 3D. The one thing we didn’t want, though, was for players to have to learn a whole new control scheme for the 3D fights, and we spent a lot of effort adjusting and revising it to feel right.

I would have personally loved to have more time to work on the game. But you know, we’d already spent 3 years… and if you consider the work we did before the initial pitch presentations, it’s even longer. I’ve never spent this much time on a game development before.

Watanabe’s original model of the E.G.G. and fully poseable pilot, which inspired the entire development.

—Watanabe, how long have you had the idea for this egg-shaped robot character?

Watanabe: The original idea goes back to when I was a student. It wasn’t egg-shaped then, but the design did have a lot of curves. When I make models I use whatever is at hand, and the egg shape came as I put together some gashapons I had lying around. From there I just attached various different bits and bobs until it started to look how you see it here.

—When did the “Elemental Gimmick Gear” name get attached?

Watanabe: When I was making the model, I didn’t give it any particular name.

Hara: That was something we started thinking about after the planning phase began. It looks like an egg—so the “EGG” was a simple association. Alone, the name “Egg” felt too simple and boring though. This unique powered suit runs from some mysterious combination of human energy and natural energy, so “Elemental Gimmick Gear”, abbreviated as E.G.G., seemed to fit perfectly.

—How did it feel the first time you saw this character you’d designed actually moving around in-game?

Watanabe: I was very happy, of course. I personally tend to be more drawn to 3D models and sculpture than flat images. So while I was obviously thrilled to see the character moving around on-screen, seeing the amazing models of EGG created by the incredible Takayuki Takeya and Eisuke Kitou really pleased me.

Hara: Takeya took a liking to the backstory and world of EGG. I think he created some really fine work for us. He actually finished those models 3 years ago. Way ahead of the game. (laughs)

—Since Watanabe had already created a model, I’m curious: why did you turn to Takeya and Kitou for additional models?

Hara: We wanted to expand our image of EGG. I was seeking a sense of reality for this world. I very much wanted there to be a clear sense of scale between the human character and the EGG suit. (points at the pilot in the model) This human here, I told Takeya, that was something I wanted Takeya to include in his work. When I saw his ability to model a human like this, I thought, wow, this guy is the real deal. I told him I wanted a model of the EGG showing the human pilot and he came back with this… it’s incredible. There’s no one who could do this but him.

—It sounds like EGG would make for a nice garage model kit.

Hara: I’m actually friends with Satou, the editor of Dengeki Hobby Magazine. He likes EGG too, and he ran a column in Dengeki titled “The EGG Chronicles” over several months. For this column, we needed a lot of different 3D models to show off. That’s when we asked these pro modelers to create additional works based off Watanabe’s original. They created a full internal cockpit too, in the event that we make an official model kit for EGG.

Watanabe: I love moveable parts on models, so we had the pro modelers add a lot more of those too.

Takeya’s much-praised E.G.G. model, which he created after Watanabe’s original prototype.

Hara: We handed those models over to Dengeki Hobby Magazine, and as the release of EGG approached we made a number of adjustments to the designs. You can read about those details in the magazine.

—You ran an interesting promotional campaign in connection with that as well, right?

Hara: Yes, the “Oh my E.G.G. Contest”. We asked players to submit their own EGG designs, and then we picked the the best entry and had Takeya create a real sculpture for it, which was given as a present to the winner. We asked players to think about, if you lived in the world of EGG, what kind of occupation might you have, and what kind of EGG would you ride in for that job…? We wanted to get players thinking along those lines. We had published 7 different stories, each about a different EGG operator and how they use the EGG in their everyday lives. They could be compiled into a short story collection I think. Fostering that sense of reality for this world has been very important for us.

—On that note, I’d like to ask some questions about the EGG world itself now. First, about the ruins we see… they’re an interesting mixture of organic and architechtural features. Where did that come from?

Hara: The same place we discovered this mysterious EGG object—specifically, when the words “ultra-ancient ruins” bubbled up into my imagination. To be sure, ruins figure into a variety of genres, especially in video games. That’s why I strongly wanted there to be something different about these ruins. One detail we focused on there was the exteriors. I call them “tetris walls”, but those mosaic patters were something I wracked my brain to come up with.

Once we knew we were doing a fully illustrated style for the maps, the next big hint came from the famous French comic artist Moebius. His comics were a big influence on me while I worked on those exteriors. There was one image he drew, of a single person emerging from this egg shaped plane. When I showed it to everyone, I explained how “Moebius took this somewhat comical image of an egg-shaped plane and drew it in a serious, realistic style. This is what we want.” As it turned out, one of our staff also happened to love the aesthetic of Moebius’ coloring. The strangeness of his work is not just the odd details but it’s also the coloring, and we tried to bring that feeling out for EGG too.

(looking at magazine) For this CG image of the ruins of Fogna here, the movie staff was having initially having a hard time finding the inspiration. I wasn’t sure there’d be time to wait for them to go through that entire process, so I actually went ahead myself and created the concept art for this CG…

These four images show the way the maps were made, starting with a black and white Moebius-style draft, then creating a color version from that, next adding shading, and finally drawing in extra gloss and grime as needed to evoke a sense of reality.

—Really? Birthday was involved in that, too?

Hara: Yeah, we were. We finished the CG concept art in advance, and the movie team went to work about 8 months later, I think. The ruins in the CG movies have a mecha quality to them, but the feeling I wanted to convey was more of an electric living organism. I thought it would be cool if the entire layout looked like a starfish when viewed from above. I worked this one over a lot! I kept comparing what I’d drawn to the image in my head, going back and revising, comparing, revising, until it was just right.

—Where did you get the idea for having flowers bloom out of the tentacles?

Hara: I suggested the idea of the Lafflesia flower, but I also had more in mind. My idea was that those tentacles had originally sprung from the ruins in search of nourishment. They ravaged the land, and while they now appear to have quieted down… that’s just the appearance. The truth is that they’ve burrowed deep into the earth and are gradually sucking the planet’s energy dry. And that’s why those strange flowers began to bloom and emit that eerie fog in the night. That’s actually why people began to call those ruins “Fogna”. Plotwise, it’s from the center of those foggy ruins that the EGG first emerges and attacks the people. But if I’m being honest, partly I just really wanted to depict “mysterious foggy ruins” in our game. (laughs)

—Was the dialogue in EGG also created by Birthday?

Hara: We started it, yes. Halfway through the development, Itou from Hudson came over and we worked on revising it together. The original story I’d imagined was much grander. Called the “EGG Chronicles”, it would have followed a single EGG across the lives of 5 different pilots.

—That does sound epic.

Hara: I know, right? But if you focus too much on the story in a game it can bring the action to a grinding halt, and that was starting to happen to us. “This will annoy players”, we thought, so we made some big changes to the story. Instead of stopping the action all the time to tell the story, we opted to use the interlude scenes between major sections of the game to show CG movies. It’s easy enough to tell your story in a literary fashion like we had, but constantly making the player stop to hear it all quickly becomes tiresome and frustrating. You just can’t do that in games, so we changed it. Now, the more you talk to villagers, the deeper you appreciate what’s happening in the world, and it’s more natural this way. “What is the secret of this world? What is Fogna? Who is the Sleeper?” these questions will all become clear in the course of the game, and I think there’s a lot of variety and interesting twists and turns there. The story itself is a deep and serious one.

—The enemies, especially the organic ones, are brimming with originality.  

Hara: My image for the organic enemies was creatures that were born on a once-destroyed planet that was now beginning to live again—bizarre creatures that evolved in an unusual environment. On the other hand, I wanted to pursue that sense of realism I mentioned, so it wouldn’t really fit the game if they were too grotesque. I love sprite characters, and wanted to give the enemies, too, some comical qualities.

We spent a lot of time thinking about each individual enemy; none of them were phoned in. (looking at the concept illustrations) We created about 150 of these. This being an action RPG and all, we put a great deal of effort into each one.

Concept art for several of E.G.G.’s organic enemies, which Hara wanted to have a comical touch.

Unfortunately, when we revised our plans for the switch to the Dreamcast, the maps shrunk down, and there were less places to hide enemies around the map, so many got cut.

—How big were those original maps?

Hara: About 4 times the size of what’s in the game, I think. Maybe bigger… it’s sad, but we’re resolved to include them in our next game. We’ve got so many ideas. We went to the trouble of creating all these interesting characters, and I’d like to create a story solely about the EGG Fight , too. We did create 5 characters after all!

Watanabe: We had planned to include the EGG Fight stuff as a minigame this time around, but.

—If you’d been able to include all those things you wanted from your original story, how many years would have that have spanned in-game?

Hara: Let’s see… about 40 years? So Selen wouldn’t quite have reached grandma status, but she would have been very old by the time you finish. She is a scientist who began her research on the Sleeper when she was 20, so when the Sleeper finally awakens, she would have been 58.

—I truly hope there’s a chance to see more of the EGG world someday.

Hara: Next time, next time. (laughs)

—I can tell from our conversation today that Birthday put an incredible level of enthusiasm into making this game. To close things, please leave a final message for the fans. Watanabe, why don’t you start. What aspect of EGG do you most want players to see?

Watanabe: Well, it’s obvious, but I want people to have fun playing the game—you know, just the simple joys of piloting the EGG and exploring this unique world.

The team’s humor is on display with these funny sketches of the E.G.G. The above one shows him expelling his “sub tank”, while the middle is titled “raw egg.”

Hara: Precisely because there are so many “cinematic” games today, Hara values the actual gameplay aspect of EGG the most. And I fully agree with him. I know movies are important too, of course, but they aren’t everything. With almost every game coming out today made with CG and polygons, we still believe that this 2D mode of expression is very important, and I wonder if that will come across to players. On the other hand, EGG was something of a test for us. What kind of response will we get…? That alone was a gamble worth taking.

Also, with regard to the EGG character, I think some people will find it unrefined, others will think it’s cute, and others might see it cool… but I will be very happy if players sense the common reality to the character that I hoped to convey. And I want players to love this character.

From a single sculptor, to ultimately being built up from the contributions of countless staff, and eventually migrating to the Dreamcast… this EGG, I feel a real attachment for him. That’s why, if we make a sequel, I hope we get to show him off in a big variety of new situations.

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