Ibara – 2006 Developer Interview
This interview was included along with the Ibara superplay dvd released by INH. Lead designer Akira Wakabayashi talks in detail about creating the world of Ibara and Pink Sweets, a game known to be difficult to approach (by Cave standards). As a bonus, I’ve added a very short Pink Sweets interview with programmer Shinobu Yagawa which was conducted in-person at the 2006 AOU show.
—To begin, could you tell us what your job consists of?
Wakabayashi: I create the sekaikan (world), character backgrounds, and other design concepts. I do the planning for what will become the basis of the game.
—What titles have you been involved in?
Wakabayashi: I joined Cave around the time of Dodonpachi. I first worked on Dodonpachi, then I worked under Junya Inoue on Esprade, Guwange, and Progear. Since then I’ve been the main designer for Dodonpachi Daioujou, Ketsui, Espgaluda, Mushihimesama, and Mushihimetama.
—You didn’t work on Dangun Feveron or Espgaluda II?
Wakabayashi: That’s right. It probably would have been quicker for me just to say the games I haven’t worked on. (laughs)
—Well then, please tell us what your main role was on Ibara.
Wakabayashi: As usual, the game world and basic character design. I also did some of the 3D modeling for the train. Also, the illustrations, poster, and promotional images for the game were done by Kotani Tomoyuki, who based his drawings off the ideas I gave him.
—I see. When I look at the development and concept materials for Cave’s games, your art is always very fascinating, and yet you don’t do the artwork that gets most exposed to players, like the posters and such?
Wakabayashi: Thank you. I’ve wanted to do those things for every release, but at present I have too many other duties and it seems impossible to fit in. Ah, but actually, for the official Ibara illustration book Cave will be releasing, I did do the picture of Teresa.
—I see, I look forward to that. Next I’d like to ask some questions about your development process. All of Cave’s STGs have very refined, well-crafted worlds and characters, and the settings are always well received by the fans. What is your process for creating these worlds?
Wakabayashi: Well… with Ibara, for example, we started with a vague core idea: two male protagonists who fight against female bosses. From there I took inspiration from movies and the like, gradually expanding on the idea. Things like the “negotiator” background for the player characters came from the world of the 007 movies. The names too, like “Bond.” (laughs)
—Ah. When all the characters have personal backgrounds, it makes for a world players can really get into. Is that something you aim for?
Wakabayashi: Not really, though I see what you mean. I think it's more the case that the further you dig into the story and world, the more details come up. But I am thinking about the characters from the very beginning. And as their personalities are fleshed out, those details often help build the game world overall. For example, the background for Teresa was that she hates humanity. I connected that idea to her mech, a savage machine with blades affixed all over. So the character details often lead to other motifs in the game.
—I see, that makes sense. When you design your characters, is there anything particular you strive for?
Wakabayashi: Well, I can give you an example. When I was designing the enemy characters for Mushihimesama, I thought that if I designed the insects too realistically, it would look too gross to players. So I looked through a visual reference book of insects and chose the ones that fit the game, and if they were particularly hairy or creepy I updated their design to be more sheen and smooth.
—I see. Well, next I have several questions about the world and design of Ibara that are a bit more “hardcore” in nature. First, are Teresa’s daughters all sisters by blood?
Wakabayashi: I’m sorry, but it’s a secret. (laughs)1
—Ok. (laughs) Next, can you explain the history behind Teresa’s design, and how she changed so much from the first draft to the final product?
Wakabayashi: I touched on this a little in the question above, but from her personality traits we got new motifs like “blades” and “roses.” In order to accommodate those ideas in her design, we decided it would be better to make her look more stylish, and we eventually settled on the design you see today.
—Did the “gothic lolita” idea come about in the same way?
Wakabayashi: The gothic lolita thing came from the collaboration with Kotani Tomoyuki; it was his idea. For my part, I followed up on his idea by making the predominant colors of the game red (==roses) and black/white (==gothic). I also used green (==nature) for all the enemy characters, since the Rose Garden troops love roses and nature.
—Can you tell us about how you came up with the Rose Sisters?
Wakabayashi: One of our core ideas when planning Ibara was that “at least one of the boss characters must be a woman,” and the Rose Sisters came about as we gradually expanded on that idea. Then, keeping in mind the personalities we’d created for them, we started from the eldest sister and worked our way downwards, fleshing out general details and ideas: “cold-hearted Lace”, “extroverted Shasta”, “introverted Kasumi”, and so on.
Then there was the cheerful and childish Midi and Meidi, who we intended to be a buddy duo. You could even say Meidi is the tsukkomi and Midi is the boke. Right now we’re working on several continuations of the Ibara world: Pink Sweets, a web manga, and a cell phone game “Taisen! Rose Sisters.”
—I see. Next I’d like to ask about the player characters, Bond and Dyne. In Bond’s ending he refers to “ore no hidari” (my left). I’m guessing he means his left eye?
Wakabayashi: It's a secret.
—Similarly, he also says something about “since my childhood…” Could you elaborate on that?
Wakabayashi: That’s a secret too. (laughs) Someday I hope to have a chance to bring his past to light. Ah, I realize I’ve been saying “it's a secret” to everything, so let me give you a little hint into their backgrounds at least. Bond and Dyne both have their own individualized keys to their ships. What they’re holding isn’t a gun, but the key to their ships.
—In the ending Dyne says he had been executed… what happened? Also, he says “this wonderful male body you gave me”… was he possibly a woman before? I’m just speculating here..
Wakabayashi: Ah, that… well… that was originally Ikeda’s idea, that Dyne would have gender identity issues. That’s why he had Teresa make his body mechanical from the neck down.
—Ahh. Thank you for answering that. My next question is about the mecha designs. Can you explain why you used the “blade” motif for things like the propellers and tank tread on various enemies?
Wakabayashi: I mentioned this above also, but that motif came from our ideas for Teresa as cruel and hating mankind. Also, the bladed tread was to till the earth and prepare the soil for roses after the world had been destroyed. Many of our designs for the enemy bullets were conceived along similar lines.
—Speaking of bullets, in Cave’s STGs, the way the bullet color and designs vary depending on the world of the game is quite impressive. I imagine that’s intentional?
Wakabayashi: Our basic design premise for the bullets is that they not interfere with the backgrounds. So we use colors that don’t appear in the background for bullets and explosions. Medals and other items need to be similarly distinct, so that you can clearly see them in one glance–we try to use bright and “happy” colors for those.
—Can you tell us the story behind the Tetsujin Gardenia enemies?
Wakabayashi: They’re brutal, remorseless killing machines commanded by Midi and Meidi.
—My next question is about the world of Ibara in general. What does Rose Garden plan to do after they’ve covered the earth with roses?
Wakabayashi: The rose sisters are motivated simply by their overwhelming hatred of humanity, so their plan simply is to kill everyone and cover the world with roses. Perhaps they will kill each other after that, and the last one will commit suicide. (laughs) The ending of Pink Sweets has something to say about that, actually.
—Are Teresa and the five other rose sisters the only humans in Rose Garden?
Wakabayashi: I wouldn’t say there’s none, but it's mostly robots. The majority of those humans are Teresa’s supporters who knew her from long ago. The new game “Taisen! Rose Sisters” features one of Teresa’s students, so you can learn more about it there.2
—By the way, are the robots all steam-powered?3
Wakabayashi: Indeed they are. That includes the flying enemies, they’re all steam-powered machines.
—Next, I’d like to ask about the story behind each of the stages, if there is any. Can you tell me about the first stage?
Wakabayashi: It was originally a factory site for the people of Edelweiss. Meidi took it over and the Rose Garden troops use it as an armed base.
—And stage 2? It looks to be an oil field?
Wakabayashi: Ah… well, the setting of Ibara is a steam powered world, so they’re actually mining coal and metals there. (bitter laugh) No comment on the silo design. (laughs)
—I see. (laughs) How about stage 3?
Wakabayashi: It’s a valley. It's used to transport resources harvested in Stage 2.
Wakabayashi: It's an aerial stage. The rose garden troops are in the middle of consolidating their aerial dominance when the players come upon them, and a battle ensues.
—And stage 5?
Wakabayashi: It's a fortified city. Rose Garden uses it as a base of operations from which to plot their invasion.
—Finally, tell us about stage 6.
Wakabayashi: It's the garden of roses. This is where the robots are made. The further you get into this stage, the more mechanical the scenery becomes, and you can see the “Ibara robots” under construction lined up below you.
—And are those statues in the beginning of stage 6 modeled after Teresa?
Wakabayashi: Those are actually made in the image of her daughters.
—Now I’d like to ask some very specific questions. The shadow for the stage 1 boss seems a little unnatural to me, can you comment on that?
Wakabayashi: Well, our development schedule was very tight, so… getting tricked by the shadow and losing a life is one of the game’s traps. (laughs)
—I see. (laughs) I think the stage clear transition scenes are also really cool; was this something you put a lot of thought into?
Wakabayashi: The feeling we were going for was “smashed.” We wanted something that would easily express that feeling of “I beat her!” after the parts of the mech had been smashed to pieces.4
—My next question is about the character voices. Ibara has a lot more talking than previous Cave games. Was there a specific reason for that change?
Wakabayashi: We really wanted to promote the characters of Ibara and this was one of the ideas we had for that. In any event, we were looking for ways to bring distinction to the individual characters. In Mushihimesama the player sprite itself is Reco, so you can always see her on-screen and, in that sense, she’s easily recognizable. For Ibara we hoped that having more voices for the characters would compensate for their not being seen directly.
—Are you planning a similar approach with the characters of your future games, putting the spotlight on them?
Wakabayashi: Yeah, we are. With our STGs, we’ve feared since Dodonpachi Daioujou that if the character design is all mechas, it unfortunately conveys the impression that the game is very hard. We want to bring in new players and broaden the appeal of STG, so we plan to heavily feature and promote the characters of our upcoming games.
—I see. Can you tell us how you ended up doing the voice for Dyne?
Wakabayashi: There was no one else to do it, and it looked fun to me. (laughs) Bond’s voice was also done by a Cave employee, by the way.
—What kind of things did you focus on for your performance of Dyne?
Wakabayashi: My image for his character was “a cold exterior, but passionate on the inside.” His backstory is like that of Andromeda Shun, so I did my best to emulate that… well, you can see the results. (laughs)
—Thank you. Finally, I’d like to ask about your new game Pink Sweets. I see you’ve changed the rose sisters’ outfits, can you tell us about that?
Wakabayashi: From the outset, we planned for Pink Sweets to be very different from Ibara. Updating the characters’ outfits was part of that. Kotani Tomoyuki did the character outfit designs, and I was surprised myself when he first showed me a picture of Lace. Also, we changed the colors for the whole game, not just for the clothes, to give a brighter feeling.
—I see. The Rosy Future’s outfits have also become extremely risqué, was this Kotani Tomoyuki’s idea too?
Wakabayashi: No, those we talked a lot about, and there were a lot of changes before we settled on that design…
—By the way, will Bond and Dyne not be appearing in Pink Sweets?
Wakabayashi: At first we talked about including them, but in the end we decided to give them a break for this game.
—I see. And does Pink Sweets take place in the same world as Ibara?
Wakabayashi: Yeah. The story of Pink Sweets take place approximately one year after the events of Ibara. Teresa, who was apprehended by the Edelweiss negotiators, is sentenced by the Western Europe peacekeeping alliance. She is then transported to the remote prison Hellenium. However, a powerful figure called Big Burn from the country of Sentoorea (a member state of the peacekeeping alliance) has fallen madly in love with her and goes to Hellenium, where he makes her his own.
—I see, thank you for explaining that. I imagine that being very familiar with the story and setting changes how you experience the game and deepens your enjoyment of the Ibara world. Pink Sweets is currently installed in game centers, so for readers who haven’t played it yet, be sure to go try it!
Wakabayashi: Ah, and I’d also like to introduce our cell phone game “Taisen! Rose Sisters.” Its story takes place in the space between Ibara and Pink Sweets, and all the rose sisters appear in the story. If you haven’t played it, check it out! And I apologize for the blatant advertising. (laughs)
—No no, and let me say that as Cave STG player myself, I’m looking forward to all Cave STG games, not just the Ibara series! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today.
Wakabayashi: Thank you!
Bonus! Pink Sweets interview with Yagawa
conducted in-person at the 2006 AOU show
—What are the differences between Ibara, and what did you want to change?
Yagawa: The difficulty. I wanted Pink Sweets to be easier to pick up and play.
—And what things in Pink Sweets do you want people to enjoy?
Yagawa: The destruction, the voices, and the ray weapons.
—What things were you mindful of when planning and programming the game?
Yagawa: That the world of the game matches its content.
—Do you have a favorite character in Pink Sweets? And if so, why?
Yagawa: Midi. Her cat eyes and clothes drive me crazy.
—Do you have any message for the fans and players of Pink Sweets?
Yagawa: More Pink Sweets cosplay.
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According to the Japanese wikipedia entry for Ibara, Teresa created the rose sisters and they are all artificial lifeforms, i.e. robots. Wakabayashi may have revealed this later, perhaps in Pink Sweets or another interview.↩
Teresa is “Professor Teresa” in the backstory. It's heavily suggested that she created Bond’s artificial eye and Dyne’s cybernetic body.↩
Ibara was advertised as featuring a “steam punk” world, a feature usually attributed to the Battle Garegga influence.↩
This makes more sense if you see the stage clear transitions, which show a spliced up picture of the boss you just defeated.↩