Giga Wing – 1999/2001 Developer Interviews

Giga Wing – 1999/2001 Developer Interviews

These two Giga Wing interviews were originally featured in Gamest and Arcadia magazines. The GW2 interview covers familiar territory with regard to character and game design topics, while the GW1 interview with producer Noritaka Funamizu explains more of the working relationship between Capcom and Takumi. This “team-up” was novel for its time and driven largely by necessity due to the declining arcade industry.

Makoto Maeda (Designer)
Oversaw and unified the overall visual aesthetic for the graphics.
Kenichi Morioka (Planner)
Worked on the story, game direction, and world construction.
Kei Toume (Designer)
Character designer. A manga artist famous for her works Lament of the Lamb, Kurogane, and Sing “Yesterday” for Me.

—When did you start developing Giga Wing 2?

Maeda: The plans were first drawn up in May of 1999. Then we actually began the development around August or September, I think. We finished the game this year in July.

—What were some of the things you paid attention to for this sequel?

Maeda: The three main things people associate with Giga Wing are the barrier system, manga artist Kei Toume’s characters, and the fact that it’s an accessible STG for beginners. We wanted to preserve all those elements. Giga Wing also has, in some sense, a ridiculous scoring system (laughs), so this time we decided to blow right past “trillions” and into “one hundred quintillions”. I don’t think anyone will actually go that far though.

Morioka: Visually, we tried to make the graphics more evocative of the world and setting of Giga Wing. We want players to experience that cool depth of perspective that only 3D graphics can convey.

Maeda: Like the height of a 100,000 meter skyscraper. (laughs) The first Giga Wing had a certain generic, “stateless” feel to the setting, but this time we’ve tried to create a world with more clearly defined regions. Actually, in the beginning of the development, we were going to go with an art deco theme for everything, but the further we went the less we held to that. (laughs)

—I believe you answered this once before in a Gamest interview for the first Giga Wing, but Toume, as a manga artist, how did you get involved in the project?

Toume: I received a letter asking me to join, from planner Ikuo Satou. In the planning document I saw the words “a game for beginners” written down, which impressed me considering the typical hardcore expectations of the STG genre. I didn’t think they’d want me to do any actual character design work though, so when I accepted the job and they asked me to do just that, I was rather surprised. (laughs)

Kenichi Morioka (top) and Makoto Maeda (bottom).

—And how about Giga Wing 2?

Toume: My role just got carried over from the first game, basically. And I have an affection for these characters, so it was only natural. If it hadn’t been for Giga Wing specifically, though, I probably wouldn’t have accepted.

—Why do none of the characters from the first game appear in Giga Wing 2?

Maeda: We thought a lot about it. Originally we had planned to have a character named “Ainosuke”, who was the child of Aisha and Shinnosuke. (laughs) If we had done that, though, all the dialogue would have become expositional, because we’d have needed to explain what happened. Then we thought, ok, why don’t we add 5 new characters to the original 4… but with 9 characters total, we’d have needed to prepare 36 different dialogue branches for every stage—way too much work. So we settled on swapping the older characters out for the newer ones.

—How did you go about creating the new characters?

Toume: The first meetings we had were really something, weren’t they? Everyone had all these ideas they were throwing out, and I remember how in the first draft all the characters were aliens. (laughs)

Maeda: Largo looked crazy then. His hat looked like one of those old-school aviator’s caps with the goggles and everything.

Toume: Those were dog ears actually. The ears just looked like the flaps on an aviator’s cap. (laughs)

—By the way, what is Largo’s pet, that strange round creature called “Nana”…?

Maeda: Well, the way we divided up the characters initially, was to have one who was a bikei (beautiful male) type, one who was a beautiful girl, one child, and one old man… but having old-men characters like Largo is kind of a sales disadvantage, so we tried to counteract that by adding a cute little Pikachu creature for him. (laughs)

Toume: Simple characters are always the easiest to remember, so we went for as simple a design as possible.

—What about the sisters, Romi and Limi?

Toume: They ended up just being sisters, but originally they were twins in the story. They had oni (devil) horns too. (laughs)

—Oh, I can see it. Their hairstyle looks like a remnant of that horn design. (laughs)

Toume: We definitely wanted some kind of memorable character accent with their hair. Romi and Limi went through a lot of changes. Cherry, on the other hand, didn’t really change much from how we first imagined her. She was always an android. She probably changed the least of all the characters.

—And I see you chose the “guy with glasses” trope for the main character.

Toume: That detail was written in the original planning docs as well.

Maeda: We wanted him to be one of those “cool yet passionate” type of characters, so we gave him that little facial gimmick.

Concept art by designer Kei Toume for Nana, Largo’s “pokemon” style pet. The notes on the right explain that he has four little feet on his underside to help him move around.

—By the way, I noticed that the in-game characters were not actually drawn by you, Toume…?

Toume: Outside of the character design work and four initial illustrations, I didn’t have the time to take on anything else. I did some of the artwork for the Dreamcast packaging though.

Maeda: For the mid-game cut-scenes, we asked an anime company for help, and asked them to render Toume’s character designs as faithfully as possible. It’s the same company that made the opening for the Dreamcast version of Kikaiou (US: Tech Romancer), actually.

—Changing gears, what were some of the challenges you faced in developing Giga Wing 2?

Maeda: In a certain sense, I think Giga Wing’s gameplay was actually perfected in the first game. The main issue this time, therefore, was how far could we tweak that without destroying the core. Specifically, the question was how to make the Reflect Laser and Item Volcanon mechanics feel fun.

Morioka: There were many difficulties making this game. Everyone got sick at the very end and people were basically alternating between going to the hospital and coming to work. (laughs) In terms of the game itself, it was our first 3D game so there were a lot of challenges with that.

Maeda: Takumi had never made a 3D STG before, or anything like it, so creating the basic tools to do the work was a challenge in itself. Also, we needed the 3D to be simplified enough so that visually it would preserve the “feel” of a 2D game. We took great pains to accomplish that. But as a result, we were able to take the visuals in a very interesting direction, I think.

—By the way, what are each of your favorite games?

Maeda: Night Striker and Darius for me. I love the arcade stuff, what can I say.

Morioka: Hmm… probably Tekken 3. I main Ling Xiaoyu. (laughs)

Toume: Let’s see, for STG I love Batsugun. Probably because it’s the first one I ever played. (laughs) For FTGs, I like X-men vs. Street Fighter (the arcade version). Even today I still pop a 100 yen in every now and then… I play Rogue. (laughs)

—Toume, you designed the characters for Giga Wing, but are there any characters from other media that you’ve fallen in love with, recently?

Toume: Recently, no, no one in particular.

—Well, how about your top 3 favorite characters then.

Toume: My all-time favorite character is Lei Lei from Darkstalkers. Second place is a tie between Cammy and Effie, I can’t choose between them. (laughs)

—Are you into mecha, btw?

Toume: I like Kapool from Turn A Gundam. Also Hygogg from 0080.

—You like Izubuchi’s designs, it seems.

Toume: Yeah, I think so. I don’t normally pay a lot of attention to who designed what, but people often note that I like his designs, when I’m asked. I like how declarative those designs are, it’s like they’re shouting “this is the meaning of my existence!” Another mecha I like is Qubeley, which is one of Mamoru Nagano’s designs.

—Please offer up a final word for players.

Maeda: Mars Matrix was a very stoic, hardcore game, so please enjoy Giga Wing as a breath of fresh air and have fun with it. In two-player mode the characters will banter with each other, so you can see their human side more clearly this game. The Dreamcast version has voice acting too, which I hope you enjoy too.

Morioka: Please enjoy yourself. I hope you find the world and setting interesting.

Giga Wing 2 concept art for one of the background skyscrapers.
Giga Wing – 1999 Developer Interview

originally featured in Gamest magazine

Noritaka Funamizu – Executive Producer

—Giga Wing, which was just released the other day, marks the first new STG for Capcom in 4 years, since 19XX.

Funamizu: Yeah. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it…

—For this development, you teamed up with third-party developer Takumi. How did you end up linking up with them?

Funamizu: With Takumi, it was less about a “third-party” relationship as it was wanting to work together as partners. It was a very simple arrangement, just the both of us working jointly on the development together.

—In other words, Capcom’s developers were actually involved in the making of Giga Wing too.

Funamizu: Of course.

—We haven’t really heard about Capcom teaming up with other companies like this before… what was the reason for this joint venture with Takumi?

Funamizu: The biggest reason was that we were starting to run low on CPS-2 titles to release. That was a big part of it. We’ve had a lot of requests from arcade operators for more CPS-2 titles, so when we sat down to think about how to do that, the idea came up for teaming up with another developer to make something.

—Usually when companies work together, it’s divided up so that one of them acts as the publisher and the other acts as the developer. From what you’re saying, it sounds like the development of Giga Wing saw both Capcom and Takumi working together on a level playing field. I think from the perspective of the arcade industry as a whole, too, this kind of arrangement is something very new.

Funamizu: I think so. Sharing our know-how with each other, it’s not something you see very often in the arcade industry. Furthermore, Takumi has a lot of ex-Toaplan members on their staff, so there was a lot we could learn from them about making a STG game.

—The difficulty level of Giga Wing is set relatively low for a STG. I’ve heard people say that it’s surprisingly easy for newcomers to get into.

Funamizu: Well, honestly, I don’t think it would have been practical to raise the difficulty any higher than what we set it at. I had the same mindset with 19XX, when I instructed the developers, “If a player continues, make sure to reset the rank to the lowest level.” Something doesn’t feel right to me about STG games that are too difficult from the get-go.

Capcom Executive Producer Noritaka Funamizu circa 2000

—Yeah, lately there haven’t been too many arcade games where you can feel satisfied off just one coin’s worth of playtime.

Funamizu: I think if most players can reach the third stage off a single credit, they feel like they’ve got their money’s worth. To the extent that game difficulty is closely connected to the player’s mental and emotional experience, I think recent arcade games have been setting the difficulty far higher than needed and are actually stressing players out now.

—I can see how, given those concerns, a joint development with Takumi, where you can exchange your impressions with each other as you go, would be ideal. I can sense that when I play Giga Wing, too. The bullet patterns are very Toaplan-ish, but the difficulty level is relatively easier and more Capcom-like, with the unpretentious playability of 19XX. Both Takumi and Capcom’s strengths have been blended together quite well.

Funamizu: To be fair, I think that making the game easier and approachable was something Takumi’s stuff was very set on too. They’re also very tired of all the cliches you see in STG recently… you know, the extremely aggressive and lethal bullet patterns that are popular today. Since we were taking this unique opportunity to work together, I think Takumi’s mentality was more “let’s try and incorporate that Capcom style” rather than fight against it. That cooperative posture was something I could feel from them throughout the development. They wanted to absorb and learn what they could from us.

—You mentioned capitalizing on each other’s know-how above, but one place I suspected there might be a lot of Capcom’s influence was the styling of the cut-scenes and overall graphical presentation.

Funamizu: We did, in fact, send a number of our people over to work on the graphics side specifically.

—I could definitely tell. Kei Toume’s character designs and the stage cut-scenes exude that Capcom feeling.

Funamizu: Yeah. I mean, it was a joint development, but at the end of the day Capcom’s brand name is being put out there, so we placed an extra emphasis on the importance of the graphics.

—Hah, I knew it. When I first saw the graphics for Giga Wing, my first thought was “someone’s been listening to Capcom’s advice.” (laughs) There haven’t been too many STG games recently with nice graphics. While their gameplay is certainly sophisticated and tuned for hardcore enthusiasts, I can’t help but feel that if developers put a bit more effort into the graphical presentation the games might reach a larger audience.

Funamizu: For STGs especially, I think good, clean graphics are very important. On that point, although I still have some lingering dissatisfaction about the legibility of some of the items in Giga Wing, and the visibility of the bullet colors, if we make another game with Takumi (which could be Giga Wing 2, or something else) I think we could do a much better job of that now.

—Regarding working together, I imagine every developer has their own different customs and practices that could make it difficult. I can see a lot of companies saying “let’s team up!”, but then running into problems fairly quickly.

Funamizu: The thing is, until very recently, many developers had a lot of pride, and each had different things they were prideful about. But with the recession continuing for as long as it has, I think everyone is becoming more willing to re-evaluate those hang-ups. (laughs) Now everyone has to throw away their pride and do the best they can, regardless of their past habits, and I think we’re all much more open to talking about new ways of doing things.

In Takumi’s case, their staff is all very young. So the weird pride I mentioned, they never had to begin with—quite the opposite, as they wanted to absorb any new ideas and were very cooperative. It’s a huge reason Giga Wing turned out as well as it did. I greatly admire their work ethic.

The way things have worked up to now, is that the big companies have created the hardware, with other developers relegated to the role of third-party developers. But with Giga Wing, Takumi was neither our subsidiary nor a third-party, but a partner we could talk with as equals while we made the game. It may indeed be a new way to exist as game developers.

—The fact that a company as big as Capcom is taking the initiative in that endeavor seems quite meaningful to me.

Funamizu: To be perfectly honest, the fact that we’re giving up our in-house know-how and secrets is not something we’re overjoyed about. But given the desperate situation of this industry today, we don’t have that luxury anymore. That was our own pride we had to give up. If not, Giga Wing wouldn’t have been possible.

Alongside the easier difficulty, the extravagant and flashy medal scoring system of Giga Wing may have also been an attempt to lure in casual arcade goers.
Giga Wing – 1999 Developer Commentary

taken from the Giga Wing OST liner notes

Ikuo Satou – Planner

In our early planning docs, Giga Wing was a surprisingly orthodox shooter. Game developers, however, are cursed with the burden of always wanting to do something different from others. Thus with our development team at Takumi, every meeting became a search for new things to improve.

“We should focus on the 1P experience, right?!”
“I know, let’s have the character profiles cut in every time you use a bomb!”

And so on and so forth. In the eruption of ideas and opinions from these meetings, the revisions piled up. By and by the gameplay system was transformed, until before we knew it, the score had 16 digits, the enemy bullets could be reflected, characters were created, and a whole story was added to boot.

The Memory Crisis

“We’re done for!”
“Huh? What is it?”
“The CG memory. At this rate there’s no way we’ll be able to fit everything!

It was true, we had completely run out of memory. I can’t say it wasn’t unexpected though. It became inevitable once we decided to add the character CG to the bomb scenes. The first line of defense was to try and rejigger the total memory and see what we couldn’t free up.

The results were not encouraging.

“Anyway you look at it, we’re going to have to add more memory…”
“Oh. My. God!!!!”

This was no time to escape from reality, however, so we immediately went over to consult with Capcom’s staff. And as a result of their meeting, it was agreed that we would increase the maximum memory allotment for the Giga Wing PCBs. Somehow, we had narrowly avoided the memory crisis.

It should be said that, in those days, a request to add extra memory wasn’t the kind of thing you expected to go through so easily. I suspect we owe it entirely to the kindly intervention of the Capcom staff members on our behalf. I was very grateful for that.

Character Issues

Midway through the development, character designer Toume sent us some rough sketches she had drawn of the main characters. They all looked just as we had imagined them, each exuding a distinct personality. The different faces were all great.

“Well, I’ll just fax these over to the main office for their approval…” I wasn’t expecting any particular problem and sent them off without a second thought. Several days later, we got a phone call.

“…about Ruby’s cigarette… that might be a problem.”
“What?! Seriously?”

Ruby’s was an ex-pirate, and to help bring out that side of her personality we thought she should always be holding a cigarette. How could such an innocuous, everyday item like that be an issue…?! Clearly, we had been careless.

“In some countries, it’s problematic for the hero to be seen smoking,” they explained.

It was true, there were definitely countries out there with strict regulations on that matter… we’d been blinded by the coolness of it all. It gave me a lot to think about. For that reason, we changed it so Ruby wouldn’t smoke during the game.

Ruby, who was originally meant to always be holding a cigarette.

Yup, it’s a big wide world out there. Let’s all be sure to watch how much we smoke!

Location Test Paradise

There is one hoop all new arcade games must pass through on their journey: yes, that’s right, the location test! Giga Wing, of course, was no exception, but for this development we were blessed with a game center very near to our Tokyo office, in Shinjuku-nishiguchi. They were kind enough to allow us to observe the players up close and see their responses.

On the day of the location test, I boarded the train with a handful of PCBs wrapped under my arm.

Despite being past the rush hour commute, there were still a lot of people on the train, who were exchanging weird glances at this guy with a bunch of bubble-wrapped packages under his arm. I paid no heed, though: my thoughts were already fixed on the location test.

For we creators, the location test is actually a more nerve-wracking experience than the release date itself. Your brand new game is being debuted sight unseen, and you have no idea if players will even give it the time of day. Thankfully, for Giga Wing, lots of people played it—more than we had expected!

I went down everyday to observe players during the location tests. Nearly the entire time I was there, someone would be playing Giga Wing. It was a moving sight to behold.

I have to say, it’s amazing how skilled some of these newer STG players are. They got good at Giga Wing very quickly. Having thus gained some valuable insight into areas where the difficulty needed adjusting, the location tests wrapped up successfully.

Japanese STG designers are known for creating extremely detailed renderings of the ships and mechas in their games, as seen in this concept art for Giga Wing 2. Sadly, as alluded to above, the early polygon graphics of the Dreamcast meant that many of these details were lost when translated to the game (taken from the GW2 OST)

Giga Wing is Done!

After finishing the Tokyo location tests and making some balance adjustments, we ran some additional location tests in Osaka. These also went off without a hitch. Thankfully, players seemed to enjoy the game a lot, and they provided us with excellent feedback.

And so, after overcoming many hurdles, Giga Wing was finally finished. Whatever one might say of it, I think it was certainly an unconventional game. To all the players out there… did you like it? I guess now that it’s all said and done, that’s really all that matters to me. STG is a mature genre that’s been mostly explored already, so if we could provide even a slightly new experience with our game, then I’m happy. I like to think that the people out there continuing to put out new record-breaking scores are proof of its worth.

Well, I know I’ve been long-winded, but that about wraps up my memories of the Giga Wing development!

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