Ikaruga – 2001/2002 Developer Interviews

Ikaruga – 2001/2002 Developer Interviews

These two Ikaruga interviews (slightly edited to read as one) follow the evolution of Ikaruga’s design and gameplay. Iuchi also talks about its connection to Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga’s reception as a different, more puzzle-oriented STG. This interview was found at the GSLA, a Japanese a website that, among other things, preserves game developer interviews from older, now-defunct print sources.

Inspiration for Ikaruga

Hiroshi Iuchi: One inspiration for Ikaruga came from the Sega Saturn game I had made previously, Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru (Psychic Killer Taromaru). I wanted to take Taromaru’s defensive system and simplify it, and make it so it could reflect enemy attacks, or absorb enemy attacks and build up your power. Also, one of the issues with Radiant Silvergun’s chain combo system was that in order to chain, you had to allow certain enemies to escape.

In order to avoid this and also to simplify things, I reduced the colors for enemies from 3 to 2, and updated it so combos are formed with every three same-colored enemies you kill. This increased the emphasis on aimed shots. With two colors, I could now focus the theme and concept on color-affinity, and this lead to the bullet absorption system mentioned above. With those elements in place, Ikaruga was born.

The Ikaruga Prototype

Iuchi: The Ikaruga prototype was something I made on the computer, as part of the initial pitch to Treasure. I tend to prefer very stiff, rigid gameplay systems, but our programmer Atsutomo Nakagawa thought that it would be better if the the game could be played in a more rough, casual style. We revised quite a few things to get it into its present shape. We’ve added the prototype to the Dreamcast version so players can see “oh, they had these ideas too.”

We were still in the middle of making Sin and Punishment when we started creating the Ikaruga prototype, so we used our time off and did the work at home. Unfortunately I can’t program, so I had my “wife” Nakagawa do that work. For my part I simply reused sprites from Silvergun so I was done very quickly. (laughs)

The very first thing we decided on was the black/white affinity system. The first prototype version was very different. It had the black/white system, but it was a system where you had to absorb enemy bullets: your own ammo stock was refilled by absorbing enemy fire. The major drawback of this system, however, was that there were pauses in between your firing whenever you ran out of ammo…

Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru, an influence on Ikaruga.

After that we got a little closer to the current version, and we tried a new system where absorbing bullets caused your weapon power to be lowered. In the end, after consulting with the programmers, we decided to make things as simple as possible, and after refining the gameplay we were left with Ikaruga’s current system. Great Mahou Daisakusen (Dimahoo) also had an affinity system, so I think Toyama must have been thinking the same thing… it was like, damn, he beat me again! (laughs) If only he had announced he was using that kind of a system. But the basic playstyle of both games are different, and they’re really entirely different games. Since it was useless to fret about it I just shrugged it off and figured things would be fine.

Scoring and Stage Design

Iuchi: Unlike Radiant Silvergun, we didn’t tie the scoring system to your power-ups in Ikaruga, so you don’t have to play for score. We included the scoring system in Ikaruga for scoreplayers and players who like perfecting their runs. Whether you like the scoring system in Ikaruga pretty much depends on whether you find chaining and combos to be fun. But basically, we made Ikaruga so it would appeal to both scorers and non-scorers.

In the beginning, we precisely counted the number of enemies and designed the stages around combos. But that made the perfect route too obvious, and it would make everyone play the same way, so we ended up adding in a lot of undetermined elements to Ikaruga. When I say that, I don’t mean we added randomness; rather, we arranged the stages and enemies so it would be extremely difficult to tell what the “correct” path was for scoring. In that sense scoreplayers and those who enjoy memorizing patterns should get a lot of mileage out of Ikaruga. On the other hand, it shouldn’t take too long for players who are just going for a clear.

Pacing and Tempo

Iuchi: The reason the second boss has a different BGM from the other bosses is that we had a pacing in mind for Ikaruga before we even began making it, a progression along a curve of ups and downs, crescendos and diminuendos. Chapter 1 begins slowly, with an atmosphere of melancholy, then things suddenly burst out with an uptempo, militaristic feel.

Stage 2 Boss BGM.

Then Chapter 2 continues and sustains that mood, before it starts to turn more downtempo at the midway point, and the atmosphere becomes more one of endurance in the face of a trial. The pacing and progression follows a “mountain” and “valley” curves. Had we used a really uptempo, aggressive musical theme for the stage 2 boss, it would have destroyed this pacing, so we prepared some suitably downbeat music for that fight.

Connections to Radiant Silvergun

Iuchi: If you want to call Ikaruga a sequel to Radiant Silvergun then you can call it a sequel, but it’s a little different than your typical “Part 2” or “Part 3” direct sequel. In reality it’s an entirely different game. Conceptually, it is tied to Radiant Silvergun, and both games share certain basic aspects. Originally we intended Radiant Silvergun itself to be a trilogy, but due to various circumstances we couldn’t achieve that. Ikaruga is connected with the ideas we had for the second game in that trilogy–specifically, our thematic ideas about the setting.

Our concept theme for Radiant Silvergun was “World”, and for Ikaruga it is “Will”. The third game’s theme will be “Future”. As for the stories of each game, will they be connected? Yes. No. (laughs)

It’s probably best that players not get their hopes for a straight “Radiant Silvergun 3” sequel from us. In the process of making a game, the series’ original meaning and themes end up getting filtered and changed, as if the game were coming into its own sense of identity. Moreover, in a year or two the whole context of the STG genre will be different, so there’s no need for a Radiant Silvergun 3. There will be new games, and I encourage players to enjoy Ikaruga in the meantime.

Fan Feedback

Iuchi: The comment we received the most about Ikaruga was “this isn’t an arcade game”, and that we should “make it more thrilling and fast-paced.” But for players looking for those qualities, I’m afraid there isn’t much we can do. If those players want a game where they can shoot carefree and relax, I think they would be better off playing another game. “I want to go to the game center to blow off some stress–just a short bit of fun blowing stuff up.” That’s probably what those people were looking for. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, of course, and if you consider the typical game center patron who doesn’t want to be stressed out at the game center too, then it makes sense they’d gravitate to those kinds of games. But, if those are the only kinds of games made, then the diversity of arcade games will steadily shrink. We think variety is important for game centers.

Cool custom Ikaruga control panel in a NAOMI setup.

The Dreamcast Port

Masato Maegawa: It’s plain to anyone that a game developed for NAOMI will get ported to the Dreamcast, and I’d be lying if I said we weren’t thinking of that when we decided to make Ikaruga. However, Ikaruga was created specifically for the arcades, and that was our focus first and foremost. Plus, we couldn’t even begin to think of a console port unless it succeeded in the arcades first. Also, although it’s easy to see the overlap between Dreamcast and NAOMI players, we hated the idea of making the arcade port just a simple “trial version” of the console release.

Ikaruga was targeted at the core users who really love Treasure’s games, so pleasing them was our first priority. Although I will admit that we bug checked the NAOMI version on a Dreamcast. (laughs) So porting it was very easy. You must never get complacent or self-satisfied with your own works, but even for myself, Ikaruga is a STG I really enjoy playing. How high of a chain combo can you get? I hope players get long and full enjoyment out of the real-time puzzle experience that is Ikaruga.

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