Tsuneki Ikeda – 2004 Developer Interview

Tsuneki Ikeda – 2004 Developer Interview

There are many interviews at shmuplations with Tsuneki Ikeda, leading man at Cave, but this one focuses on his “big picture” ideas about STG game design and danmaku. Ikeda also touches on some his influences, like Konami's Salamander. The brief italicized intro text at the top came from a shorter (unsourced) interview at the GSLA, while the remainder is from gpara.

I personally think that games are not just for having fun; they could also be called a form of competition, of gamer vs. game. When you watch a story unfold in a game, it can be moving. However, when you clear a game that has a reputation for being impossible to all but the most dedicated of players, then you will experience something that is distinct from what narrative games offer.

So long as there are players who want very difficult games, I hope to keep making them. Of course sometimes we overdo it, and the players get pissed at us. (laughs)

I mean, if it’s ok for there to be casual games for casual players, then what’s wrong with having hard games for hardcore players? Casual players are an important part of the audience, it’s true, but hardcore players are equally important. My hope is that I can convey the joy of these difficult games to casual players via the visually dazzling medium of danmaku; maybe then normal, everyday players will have their interest piqued.

—First, please tell us your personal history, what you’re doing now, and how you got to the position you’re in today.

Ikeda: The first developer I worked for was Toaplan, and there I worked on V-V and Batsugun. After that I worked on various STG games at Cave, from Donpachi to Espgaluda. Currently I’m pouring all my energy into the development of a new game, Mushihimesama, slated for release in Fall 2004. Our hardware has changed for Mushihimesama, and I hope people can feel how much more powerful it is than our previous games!

The reason I got involved in the work of creating games is that I wanted to do something that would allow me to realize my own ideas in concrete form. In the past when I’d be playing a game, I’d think to myself, “I think this would be more fun if this part were like this…” I had those thoughts a lot, and I actually wrote them down. Eventually, the desire arose in me to hear what others thought of my ideas. I organized a bunch of my notes and took them to a friend, asking him “do you think a game like this would be fun?” To my surprise he actually really liked my ideas; I think that was the first time it crossed my mind that I could work in games.

—I see. Wanting to turn your ideas into something more set you on your future path. By the way, how did you meet Ichiro Mihara of Arika, who was our previous interviewee in this series? Do you have any interesting episodes with him to share?

Ikeda: I first met Mihara when Arika was developing the console port of Dodonpachi Daioujou. The dedication and zeal he showed for the recording of the accompanying superplayer dvd really moved me.

One thing I remember about Mihara, and this is also related to the superplay recording… the players had recorded near-world records for the dvd, but due to our ineptitude at Cave, it turned out that the recordings couldn’t be used and had to be re-recorded. What’s more, we were already well past the deadline. Nonetheless, Mihara turned to everyone and said, “it may be impossible, but let’s give it just a little more energy and try once again.” They ended up getting another recording that managed to surpass the previous scores. That experience left a lasting impression on me.

—Dodonpachi, Guwange, Esprade… of all the games you’ve worked on, which do you have especially fond memories of? Also, your games all feature “danmaku” STG, but what led you to start developing games in that style?

Ikeda: Since it was my first game, I have a lot of memories of V-V. When I joined Toaplan, it was my first experience developing games in an environment where everyone was a “colleague;” that is, there was very little of the typical hierarchical relationships you find in offices, so if you had an idea you wanted to push, you had to convince everyone with words and logic instead of deferring to authority. By repeating that process day in and day out, you got to see your own ideas and thinking in an objective way, and realize how narrow and one-sided your conceptions might be. It was then, working on V-V at Toaplan, that I learned you couldn’t just assume that the player was going to see things in the same way as you, the creator, did.

As for danmaku style shooting… that idea came to me from my own experience playing games. Back when I was playing Salamander, I always used to ask myself: even though the difficulty isn’t that different, why is it more fun to dodge bullets in some stages instead of others? It was then that I started thinking, “what if I made a game that consciously tried to create the fun and thrill of dodging bullets?” That was the genesis of my thinking about danmaku. All my games since Dodonpachi have included that idea.

The later loops of Salamander exhibit the joy of dodging.

—Of all the games you’ve ever played, what one do you think deserves the title “masterpiece”? Also, what is the main attraction of STG games for you?

Ikeda: Konami’s Salamander. Its visual impact was amazing for the time, the barrage of bullets coming at you from all sides was intense, and I liked the incessant voice samples… there are many aspects of my games that, even today, are heavily influenced by Salamander. Its difficulty curve was especially influential on me, and the way enemies would surprise you with their attacks… it was the first game to destroy my long-held notion that “difficult==bad” in games.

The biggest attraction of STG games for me is that they take these really simple elements and turn them into a real-time puzzle of sorts, where you’re figuring things out through trial and error. Shooting at enemies and dodging bullets are actually very simple mechanics, but by combining them in interesting ways and situations, you create a game where moment-to-moment the player is asking himself: “what should I do here? what should I do here?”, and that’s what I love about STG.

—Finally, please tell us what kind of game(s) you’d personally like to make in the future. Also, for our readers who aspire to enter the games industry one day, please share with them what quality you think is most important for a game developer.

Ikeda: STG, in a sense, is a genre where you aren’t allowed to make drastic and radical changes, but I believe there is still so much that’s possible within those limitations. However, to make a game that would truly fulfill all my desires, I’d need suitably powerful (and expensive) hardware. And when you think about the marketability of the STG genre, you can see how difficult a dilemma I’m in.

I think the most important thing to have if you want to work in game production is the feeling “I love games.” When you join the games industry you’re liable to get labeled a “maniac” by others, but it’s exactly the people with feelings that strong who I want to see more of. If you have that conviction, then you’ll be able to overcome any challenge that comes your way, no matter what the situation demands. There’s actually a lot of different jobs in the game industry, but people with those strong feelings are the ones who create good games, I think.

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