Front Mission: Gun Hazard – 1996 Developer Interview
These Front Mission: Gun Hazard interviews originally appeared in Famicom Tsuushin magazine and two aftermarket Japanese strategy guides. Led by Assault Suits Valken director Hideo Suzuki, the Omiya Soft team covers the usual ground of character design, story, and gameplay, but also finds time for some silly-but-practical digressions into cooking and dishes.
Hideo Suzuki – Director
Yasuyuki Maeda – Producer
Tomoharu Saitou – Graphics
Takayuki Jingu – Data Manager
—To begin, please tell us what you did in the development.
Suzuki: I worked as both director and programmer, on the Omiya Soft side.
Saitou: I handled the graphics.
Jingu: I mainly helped out with data management.
Jingu: Stuff like dialogue, and keeping track of characters’ backstories. Settings that aren’t related to the programming side, basically.
Maeda: I helped develop our vision for the world and the “historical background” of the setting. I did a bunch of other random stuff too.
—What kind of company is Omiya Soft?
Suzuki: It’s composed of members who originally worked on Assault Suits Valken at NCS (Masaya). We left there, went independent, and worked on a different prjoject, and after that was complete we started developing Gun Hazard. Right now we have four employees.
—Was the decision made to work with Square first, before the development began? Or did you have the plans for Gun Hazard already in mind?
Suzuki: The talks with Square came first. We wanted to work together on something, and Gun Hazard was suggested.
—And was this something you came up with, Suzuki?
Suzuki: At the time Omiya only had 3 members, and we’d all been working with each other for a long time. So I wouldn’t say it was any one individuals’ idea, but all of ours together.
—When did the planning for Gun Hazard begin?
Suzuki: The start of 1994, I think. The development officially started around April, but we began the planning a bit before that. It didn’t come together quickly, though… the story alone took several months to write. We threw the first draft out in Autumn, the whole thing.
Suzuki: Yeah. Then we picked out a few of the good, salvageable ideas from it and tried to write around those and flesh them out.
Originally, the story was going to revolve around a non-commissioned military officer. But having the character be some lowly private didn’t seem to match with a story that would involve you choosing where to travel and traipsing all around the globe, so we changed the main character to be a mercenary. Of course, a plot about a mercenary could easily become some kind of “treasure hunter” thing, and that’s not really the image we were going for either, so we made sure to retain as much militarism as we could in the story.
—When did everything coalesce into the game as we know it today?
Suzuki: Most everything was completed within that year. Then we spent about three months adding extra, new things.
—So fall to winter, then. And what kind of work were you doing then?
Suzuki: Oh, it was just full-steam ahead, create-create-create. (laughs) But the structure of the stages, as well as the basic concept, didn’t change much at that point. We spent a great deal of time on things related to the over-arching story development, though.
—Did you have stuff like The Society and the orbital elevator planned from the beginning?
Suzuki: There are many foes you face along your journey, but the true enemy—yes, we had them pinned down from the beginning of the development. We knew they’d be waiting for you at the orbital elevator, too. We knew were going to need something like the Death Star for the advancement of the story, something that makes you go “whoa, that’s humongous!” In the beginning it’s presented as a symbol of world piece, like the white dove, but the reality hides something far different… that’s the vibe we were going for there. It’d be kind of weird to have an “Evil Tower” or something just suddenly appear out of nowhere in the story, so we went with this approach.
—By the way, there’s a large variety of different friendly Wanzers… can you tell us more about them? When were they added, and were there any ideas you had to cut there?
Suzuki: Let’s see, well… the current roster was decided on fairly early. The last character we added was Clark, actually. By that point we felt, sure, why not have another character who pilots the same Wanzer as the protagonist. Besides him, though, we tried to make sure all the other friendly Wanzer were different types.
Saitou: Speaking of the characters, everyone was very excited about the concept art Yoshitaka Amano created this time.
Suzuki: I had heard rumors that if you gave Amano too many specific instructions, it would stifle his creativity and he’d get writer’s block.
For that reason we only gave him the most basic background info for the characters: their ages, what kind of person they were, and what they were fighting for. So I was all the more surprised when Amano sent back designs that were a perfect match for this world, as if he already knew the whole story. Especially Grant, he nailed him.
Maeda: We figured it wouldn’t hurt to hand Amano some reference materials too, so we gave him a lot of stuff related to military uniforms, tanks, vehicles, things like that. Recently, after we’d finished the development, I gave Amano a call and asked him if I could pick up those documents, since I thought it would annoy him to have that stuff cluttering up his studio… and he said “actually if you don’t mind, I’d like to keep these.” (laughs) For my part, you know, I was just enormously relieved to hear that he seems to have found them useful and interesting.
Saitou: Compared with the original Front Mission, I think the characters in Gun Hazard have shifted to a more realistic style.
Maeda: There was definitely a sense among us that we wanted to live up to Front Mission. We were concerned how best to utilize Amano’s talents, and there was a lot of pressure in general. In Gun Hazard, the characters come from all over the world, so in order to highlight their personalities, we decided to lean into their ethnic and national characteristics. We did explain to Amano in some detail the distinct space each character occupies in the story, and in relation to each other. That was something we had mapped out from the beginning, so we could say to Amano, “This isn’t a serious or heavy character, so feel free to play around with his design as much as you want.” For Grant we had the image of a bodybuilder champion in mind, so we asked for something sufficiently sweaty… (laughs)
Jingu: We wrote “bodybuilder”, but we didn’t write champion.
Maeda: Oh really?
Jingu: He was definitely supposed to ride in this massive Wanzer though.
Maeda: It’s hugely important to get the characters right, don’t you think? That’s why I often played the role of messenger: after meetings with Omiya Soft, I’d immediately summarize the details of what we talked about and then deliver that info over to Amano’s place. Over time, he opened up to our ideas and we built a good relationship. I can definitely see how he’s the kind of person who, if there’s something he doesn’t understand, it impedes his ability to work creatively. If we could firm up that image of Gun Hazard’s world and characters, I was sure he’d produce smart, insightful artwork for us. So I did a lot of that work, relaying to him who each character was.
—And thanks to your efforts there, the staff was able to create something that they could all be satisfied with.
Maeda: Well, I don’t know about that, but I can say that I’m extremely grateful to Amano for characters he created for us, which we all loved. By the way, this is unrelated, but the character Leros wasn’t in our original plans. Amano drew a picture that he meant to be Clark, but it didn’t quite match our image of a military guy. So after we consulted with Amano, we decided to make that a different character and he became Leros.
Jingu: It’s kind of amazing how much we got away with bugging Amano, but it turned out for the best.
Suzuki: You know, come to think of it, up to now none of Square’s games have had faces that change their expression.
—Yeah, I definitely was a little surprised when I saw those Amano characters laugh.
Saitou: We tried to add as much content as we could. I think we re-drew Albert’s smiling face about five times.
Suzuki: Albert’s design, I wouldn’t say it went through distinct stages so much as it kept morphing bit-by-bit, in a kind of analogue way, everyday.
Saitou: Yeah, like his hair would be a little longer all of a sudden. There was stuff like that. (laughs)
Maeda: Our graphic designers had it rough alright. The portrait size was very restrictive, and they had to draw over 120 different faces.
Front Mission: Gun Hazard – Roundtable Interview
excerpts taken from the Official Fan Book
Hideo Suzuki – Director/Programmer
Kouichirou Kobayashi – Graphics
Tomoharu Saitou – Graphics
Takayuki Jingu – Data Manager
Keisuke Tadakuma – Graphics
—Could you tell us what roles you played in the development?
Suzuki: I’m Suzuki, and I worked as operator, programmer, and director.
—And the director is usually the most accomplished, senior member, correct?
Suzuki: No, at Omiya Soft, at least, we all have to fill multiple roles.
—Ah, I see. (laughs)
Suzuki: With a team this small, we’re all directors in a way.
Kobayashi: Yeah, whatever part of the development you’re in charge of, you’re basically your own director there.
Suzuki: That’s right. And everyone on this team, I will tell you… it’s a very opinionated bunch. Even when I objected to something, “hey, this won’t work, can you change it?”, they’d fire back “No, sorry, visually it has to be this way.” But it’s those arguments that decide which direction we ultimately go in.
Kobayashi: It’s a battle of sensibilities.
Suzuki: It had to be that way, since there were so many requests going back and forth between the team. Make this like this, no can you do it this way…
Kobayashi: In that sense, too, we’re all directors.
Tadakuma: Ultimately the power lies with the programmers though. (laughs) No matter how much effort you pour into your graphics, if the programmer says “we don’t need this”, well, the buck stops there.
Suzuki: Well, at least for this development, none of the programmers went and changed the graphics on their own.
Everyone: Yeah, true! (laughs)
Jingu: I’m Jingu. The credits list my role as “data management”, which inclues stats and parameters, dialogue, and all the various settings that aren’t related to the programming. I also washed the dishes. (laughs)
Tadakuma: Your dishwashing saved our asses!
Saitou: For real. We owe you one there.
—When you said settings not related to the programming, does that include the background lore?
Jingu: Yeah, stuff like that. There was a rough outline contained in the initial planning documents, and I took that and fleshed it out more concretely, translated those ideas into prose, and submitted it back to the producer.
Saitou: Yeah, Jingu wrote all the backstory details, like where the orbital elevator was created.
Jingu: Yeah, all that stuff.
Tadakuma: Um, I’m Tadakuma. I did the graphics and the cooking.
Saitou: He’s our house chef.
Tadakuma: I’m the lunch guy when we’re working at the Omiya offices.
Saitou: Oh great, now you’ve gone and done it. He’s just going to talk about his cooking for the rest of this interview.
Kobayashi: What’s your specialty, Tadakuma?
Tadakuma: Good question…
Saitou: I was impressed by that plate of 60 sardines he served up.
Tadakuma: Hey, sometimes… you gotta work with what you’ve got. Also, hmm, curry maybe. I make it in this huge pot and they all scarf it down. (laughs)
Suzuki: It’s gotta be made the right way with flour to thicken it up. Mmm.
Tadakuma: I also like to make tonkatsu, with a whopping 300g serving per person. (laughs)
Saitou: What was the record for rice you made for us, in one sitting?
Tadakuma: About 2 liters, I think…
Kobayashi: People are going to laugh if we print this—this guy barely mentioned the graphics he made, he just talked about his cooking the whole time! (laughs)
—You know what really annoyed me? Those Wanzers that drop land mines.
Saitou: Oh yeah, I know.
—I’d tell the other editors “watch out, that’s a land mine!” and some of them would still step on them. (laughs)
Saitou: The mines do kind of look like something good. (laughs)
—Seeing them get damaged by the enemy explosions would annoy me too. Then I’d take the controller, but end up playing even worse!
Nakai: Players who like to use the punch end up eating a lot of those explosions too.
Suzuki: If the punch-players get their spacing right, though, they can avoid those.
Kobayashi: You have to strike at the very edge of the hitbox.
Saitou: It’s like that so players can enjoy a more fighting-game kind of playstyle.
Suzuki: The punch is really strong so you’ll naturally want to use it, but to balance that, the drawback is that if you don’t know the proper spacing you’ll take damage from the explosion.
Tadakuma: Another strategy is to deliberately not level up the punch, and use it as an opening attack to bounce the enemy back, then whip out your vulcan and blast them. It may not be especially effective, but it will make you feel like a badass.
Saitou: Yeah, we really want players to discover those kind of fighting techniques for themselves. By the way, if you get into very close-range combat with a larger enemy, it’s possible to use a 2-punch combo on them.
—Sometimes when you use a grenade launcher on the really big enemy mechs, the splash damage ends up hurting you and the other wanzers around it.
Nakai: That was something we said we wanted to do from the beginning.
—What were some of the key points for you in crafting the story?
Suzuki: Well, first and foremost I would say, was the idea that we wanted the first half and the second half of the story to have a different flow. In the first half, it’s Albert getting embroiled in all these events, but the second half involves him having to think for himself and decide what to do. We also wanted players to enjoy the experience of seeing their roster of allies grow.
—With so many different characters, wasn’t it hard coming up with unique dialogue and speaking-styles for them?
Jingu: It was very hard. There were, in fact, a lot of expressions and dialogue that we felt uncertain about: isn’t this a little too strange…? To vary the dialogue up, we also designated the first-person pronouns that each character used to refer to themselves.1 In doing so we got a clearer picture of their personality—the dialogue was the window for us into their characters, you could say.
—At this point, did you have Amano’s character art in-hand?
Jingu: No, the dialogue came first. We then created some reference materials for Amano, which included this dialogue, and sent it to him. It had info like what kind of person they were, a general description of their face. But much was left unclear or vague too, and because Amano was a traditional fine artist, I wasn’t sure he’d really “get” these characters, seeing as they were created by a manga-nerd like myself.
Saitou: But then we saw his first drafts…
Jingu: Yeah, to my great surprise, the art he sent us captured the characters just as I’d imagined them. The entire staff, actually, was very impressed by his work.
Nakai: Now this is a nice story. (laughs)
Saitou: Seeing the amazing art he’d produced inspired us in turn, to try and create equally amazing dialogue.
Front Mission: Gun Hazard – Composer Interview
excerpted from the Gun Hazard Military Guide
Nobuo Uematsu (age 37)
My entire image for Gun Hazard can be summed up in one word: steel. I insisted on using metallic tones in the songs, and giving them a mechanical feeling. Up to now, I’ve always started by writing a melody line, and using pretty tones and sounds… and this was totally different. The big question for me was, how can I create a sense of synchronization between the player’s experience of piloting the Wanzer and the music?
In any event, the world and setting of Gun Hazard was radically different from anything else I’ve worked on, so my “specialty”—which is to say, music which rises to a strong emotional crescendo—wouldn’t fit at all. I’d never tried to write music that was solely built around cool little phrases, so in that sense, this was a learning experience.
But for a person like me who has always made “pleasant” music that makes you go “ahhhh…”, music that refreshes you—now I’m being asked to write stuff that is more immediately “cool” and badass… so it was the product of great hardship, is what I’m saying.
But I will say, that precisely because it was such a challenge for me, I have a lot of confidence in these songs, and can whole-heartedly recommend them to everyone. I want to make use of this experience for the next game I work on, too.
Of the songs I wrote for Gun Hazard, my favorite is the one that comes after the opening text. It’s the first song players will hear when they start the game, and I knew it needed to appeal to players and make some kind of big impact. After much struggle, I ended up using a rather strange chord progression and structural development.
My intention in writing it was very straightforward: as the very first song you hear it should capture the world of Gun Hazard in its entirety. In that sense, if this were the only song I wrote for Gun Hazard, it alone would have made my participation in the development worthwhile, I think.
Yasunori Mitsuda (Age 24)
My main goal with Gun Hazard was to create a something unique, a distinct fusion of Uematsu and my own styles. It was, in fact, very difficult to find our vision for Gun Hazard, but I think we’ve succeeded in creating a novel musical work which both stands apart from the first Front Mission and also constitutes something new for the franchise as a whole.
In a traditional RPG, players will often put the controller down for a moment just to stop and enjoy the music. Gun Hazard, however, is an action RPG, so I don’t think players will be doing that. But the music still has an important role to play in setting the atmosphere for each scene, sometimes suggesting you should rush forward and blast away, other times signaling you should be careful and proceed with caution. So if the player is able to pick up on that background musical atmosphere while they play, then I’d say I’ve done my job.
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Japan is a lot richer than English in first-person pronouns, and their use confers a good deal of info about a character’s personality/background/social position.↩