Ketsui – 2002 Developer / Composer Interview

Ketsui – 2002 Developer / Composer Interview

These two short interviews, with Cave devgroup leader (and Toaplan alumni) Toshiaki Tomizawa and composer Manabu Namiki, cover the gameplay and music design of Ketsui. The Namiki portion was sourced from liner notes; the Tomizawa section came from the GSLA and was most likely featured in Arcadia. There are no big surprises here, though given the notorious difficulty of Ketsui, it’s interesting to hear Tomizawa go on about attracting “casual” players.

Toshiaki Tomizawa

Ketsui is basically an orthodox STG. Whereas Dodonpachi Daioujou had a more futuristic design, with Ketsui we wanted something a little more realistic and closer to the modern world. We wanted to emphasize the aspects that would appeal to a wider base of casual players, so the idea was to make the world somewhat more recognizable and easier to understand. We wanted people to see the game and immediately be able to understand, “oh, that’s a tank” or “that’s a plane.” Also, graphically speaking, one of our themes was “steel”. Since standard modern weaponry is being used, we wanted that to be realistic too.

As for the bosses, well… they aren’t something you’d actually see in reality, but the way they’re constructed, when you see each part—it feels like it could be real, like that’s how it would actually work. We got really detailed on what the bosses were made of, and how they were put together. One of our designers loves military stuff, so the bosses have a realistic mecha look. As I mentioned, this was also done so that it would be more recognizable to casual players. The danmaku patterns are still intense, though. (laughs)

With Ketsui, we’ve tried to appeal to casual players not by lowering the overall difficulty, but by making the game itself easier to understand, and making sure the first stages allowed you to ease into things. I don’t think that lowering the overall difficulty necessarily makes a game more fun, you see. I think the reason beginners have a hard time getting into STG has more to do with the game system being too hard to understand from the get-go, or there’s too many enemies that kill you instantly before you have any chance to react. We’ve tried hard to devise some ways around those problems in Ketsui.

In short, we want anyone to be able to understand what makes this game fun. It isn’t very friendly to new players if there are complicated gameplay mechanics that they need to understand before they can really enjoy the game. Simple controls, and an easy-to-understand system—that’s where the appeal of Ketsui lies, and to go deeper you need to play it many times.

The modern military setting of Ketsui, contrasted with the more futuristic Dodonpachi Daioujou.

There are danmaku patterns in Ketsui, but they have a different flow from those in Dodonpachi Daioujou. Ketsui has an overall faster, speedier tempo. As a company, we always have to change such things like the gameplay and the flow, otherwise we would end up with every game being the same, just graphically re-skinned. You can’t fool players; if it’s just a rehash, they’ll pick up on that right away.

As for the title, we wanted something with impact, so we needed a good hook. We didn’t want it to be too extreme or silly sounding… just the right touch of flavoring. You could say all the characters have their own “bonds” (kizuna). But we don’t want the game to throw that right in the players face, it’s more in the background.

When we make a STG game, the most important thing for us is whether the gameplay is fun. For example, as far as graphics go, let’s say we were developing a game in 3D. Even if those 3D graphics were beautiful, if they resulted in the gameplay being less interesting, we would switch to 2D instead. We try to plan the worlds and stories of our games in such a way that they’ll make for a fun vertical STG gameplay experience. However, good characters are important to us too, and to an extent we tried to appeal to casual players with the characters of Ketsui, too.

The real core of our game—that which makes it interesting—is never known to us at the initial planning stage. We decide the general concept and weapons, but the “seasoning” that we ultimately add to the game isn’t something you can really get to until a certain amount of the game is playable, and that’s when we really dive in. This is the key to the way we make STGs at Cave. The work we do at that stage is where we figure out what will be the “special gameplay mechanic” of that individual game. Each Cave STG has its own special flavor, you see, something you come to understand the more you play the game.

As for the danmaku patterns, our developers spend days on end researching and fine-tuning them, down to the smallest details. It’s about finding the ultimate expression of “the joy of dodging bullets.” If the screen gets too crowded with bullets I’m not sure anyone can dodge them, but the bullets are slower than you might expect, so as long as you stay focused and on top of it, you should be able to manage. That’s the kind of tension we want to maintain, and it’s the result of our programmers laboring over every moment.

Ketsui features some of Cave’s most outstanding danmaku patterns. My personal favorite is the stage 4 boss.

It’s really subtle stuff—if we were talking ramen here, it would be like adding a little more salt than usual, or just the right amount of extra soy sauce… that kind of precision. Making all these fine adjustments is very slowgoing, painstaking work, and it doesn’t feel like you’re making much progress, but then, all at once—bam, it suddenly clicks. It’s like you’re wandering across some vast desert in search of a single diamond. (laughs)

Ketsui represents the culmination of all we’ve learned about STG design at Cave, so please look forward to its release!

Manabu Namiki, composer

It all began with an e-mail that alighted upon my inbox: “Namiki, will you write STG music for us?” I wasted no time in contacting Cave, and they handed me a pack of documents with the title “Dodonpachi 3” ! The details intrigued me further: when I asked what data format we’d be using, they replied, “Mod format.” Huh? Mod? Yes, Dodonpachi Daioujou and Ketsui were composed in .mod format.

For the hardcore among you, the exact tools I used were ProTracker for the tracking, with 8 available channels and 8-bit linear resolution. And the waveform memory for all the songs put together had to be less than 2MB. “Eh… I don’t know how I’m going to make this work for Dodonpachi 3″—that thought reoccurred to me day after day, as I experimented and struggled with the limitations. And the schedule left me little room…

As with Daioujou, I remember really struggling with the recording in Ketsui. I couldn’t understand any of the documentation, which was all written in Taiwanese. I remember I finished creating all the music data on the PC, where it worked just fine. But when I took it into Cave’s offices to be loaded onto the PCB hardware, there was noise and it sounded off-key… I was puzzled as to why it didn’t play back properly. Still, one great memory I have is working with Cave programmer I-san,1 who improved the sound drivers and fixed various bugs.

I later learned that thanks to I-san’s efforts, they were able to expand the channels from 8 to 16 for Espgaluda. I really envy the Espgaluda composer. In fact, I’d like to go back and re-do Ketsui’s songs with a full 16 tracks. (laughs)

Manabu Namiki's Ketsui OST

Ketsui was a new game, so unlike Dodonpachi Daioujou which had musical motifs from the first games for me to draw on, with Ketsui I aimed to create new motifs myself. I wanted to use the idea of “repetition”: simple repeating phrases that would form the core of each track. In doing so, I hoped to capture the atmosphere of Ketsui’s near-future, modern war setting. And I thought it would match the stoic gameplay centered around the lock-shot.

Also, I wanted the sound, on first impression, to be rough and gritty—I took care not to get carried away with a too delicate or ornate sound like in Daioujou. Overall, I wanted simple, powerful music—music to get you pumped up! So how did I do?

As I have with the previous STGs I’ve scored, I tried again to sync and intertwine the music with the appearance of enemies and other stage events… but I do wish I had had a little more time to work on that.

Ketsui - 2018 Developer Interview

excerpted from the original feature at

Naoki Horii - M2 President
Kazuki Kubota - Director (Ketsui Deathtiny)
Shono Fukui - Programmer (Ketsui Deathtiny)
Takashi Ichimura - Programmer (Ketsui)
Daisuke Matsumoto - Composer (Ketsui Deathtiny)
Shuutarou - Cave TV twitch channel

—We've written out a little chronological table here of the various Ketsui releases and ports over the years, so today I thought we'd take a look back at 15 years of Ketsui history. We begin in 2003, with the arcade release of Ketsui. It was an "edgy" release in many ways, but what was the original development concept for Ketsui?

Ichimura: I remember Ikeda saying "I want to make a hardcore, tough-guy's shooting game."

Horii: It's my understanding that the core parts of a Cave shooting game are programmed by you and Ikeda, but did other people at Cave, like President Kenichi Takano or the illustration staff, ever make requests about the content of the games?

Ichimura: No, it was more like Ikeda would decide on the direction we're going, and he brings the rest of the development along in tow with him.

Horii: I see, that's certainly the impression I get from the outside, yeah.

Ichimura: With visuals and character design, though, I think there's a lot of input from the rest of the team.

Shuutarou: In contrast to Dodonpachi Daioujou, which featured girls heavily, Ketsui was all men, men, men… where did that idea come from?

Ichimura: I think… they were talking about Boys Love.

(everyone laughs)

Kubota: If they were aiming for that way back in 2003, that's amazing…

Shuutarou: Visionaries. (laughs)

Matsumoto: I heard they were aiming for a "boys love" vibe too. The characters feel that way, then there's the TYPE-A ending as well.

—Cave games often feature characters with a "dom" vibe, like Lei from Deathsmiles or Super Nova from Pink Sweets.

Fukui: They aren't just "little girls". As characters they give off this vibe that defies your expectations.

"Evansmann was thinking about the person he loves."

Matsumoto: Lei is what we'd call an "otoko no ko"2 nowadays—a character ahead of their time.

Shuutarou: I wasn't working at Cave then, and was an outsider-looking-in like everyone else, but I didn't think they were paying attention market trends. (laughs)

Fukui: Well, there's always a degree of blur between what Cave says as a company, and the intentions of their character designers.

—Ketsui used IGS' PGM boards. What was that hardware like?

Ichimura: Compared to the Atlus boards we'd been using, we could now use graphics compression, but it was less powerful in other ways.

—According to rumors I heard, the PGM boards couldn't display as many bullets on-screen.

Ichimura: Yeah, they couldn't display as many sprites.

Horii: Costs were a top priority then, so I think Cave had to trim down the hardware.

Fukui: The IGS boards did have a higher horizontal resolution at 448 pixels, compared to the 320 of the Atlus boards. But the vertical resolution was lower (224 pixels), they lacked other functions, and they couldn't put out as many sprites.

Ichimura: Yeah, that was something we struggled with, creating danmaku patterns with a limited bullet count.

L-R: Shuutaro, Matsumoto, and Ichimura.

—I've sometimes heard people say that you raised the bullet speed to cope with that. I don't know if this is correct or not, but based on my research, the IGS board could display up to 256 32-color sprites.

Ichimura: That's right. Now that you mention it, actually, the IGS board did have a slightly higher color limit, too.

Horii: From Ketsui onwards, the sprite graphics in Cave's games are all pre-rendered, but was the increased color count was one of the reasons you decided to adopt pre-rendered graphics…? I assume the reduction in labor for the graphics artists was part of it too.

Ichimura: We were always looking for a way to economize and optimize the development process, and adopting pre-renders was a natural extension of those efforts. There's a lot of helicopters in Ketsui though, and we had to animate all of those propellers frame-by-frame.

Fukui: Dodonpachi Daioujou also used a relatively large amount of pre-rendered graphics, but I felt like Ketsui took a big step further in that direction.

Ichimura: The truth is we'd been experimenting with pre-renders before that. Even Guwange used them a lot.

—One of the simple, but big features of Ketsui is the use of "revenge bullets", which have been a characteristic feature of Cave's shooting games since Donpachi. They appear in the second loop of Ketsui, but how did they come to be added?

Ichimura: It was Ikeda who added them, so I don't know the details, but I think it was all part of the difficulty balancing.

—For a game coming on the heels of DDP:DOJ, he probably wanted it to be suitably difficult! By the way, I've heard rumors that there was originally no plan for a second loop in Ketsui, and that it was added in midway through the development in a mad rush...

Ichimura: No, that's not right. To be honest, at Cave our basic stance was always "there will be two loops."

Fukui: Yeah, and Ketsui was programmed in such a way to allow 2 loops, too.

Ichimura: That's right. It was like, "hey, if we're making one loop, might as well…"

(everyone laughs)

—Does that mean Esprade might have had a second loop, had the circumstances been different?

Ichimura: I wasn't involved in the Esprade development so I can't tell you that, but for all the titles I was involved with, two loops were always on the table. Well… actually Dangun Feveron would be an exception. (laughs)

(everyone laughs)

Ichimura: But that's partly because Feveron wasn't an Ikeda game.

The famous Tsuneki Ikeda statue at Cave, dressed up in Kasumigaseki military garb for the 2018 Cave Matsuri announcement of Ketsui: Deathtiny.

—Speaking of the second loop, when did Evaccaneer Doom get added?

Ichimura: At the very end of the development. We create the stages in order (starting from the first stage), so the last boss is, of course, the last thing we make. I believe the designer knew Evaccaneer Doom would be added long before that, though.

—When you were making Ketsui for the arcades, did you design it knowing there would be a console port?

Ichimura: For Ketsui, no, we weren't thinking about ports. The difficulty is balanced for arcade players as well. However, starting with Mushihimesama and the CV-1000 boards, we began developing games knowing there would be a console port down the line. Our programming language also switched to C, and the whole way we design our visuals got a lot closer to home console development, too.

Horii: Everything up to Espgaluda had been developed in 68k assembler. I remember being surprised when I saw all the transparencies on Mushihimesama… "they've got frame buffers now!"

Fukui: In Mushihimesama, the number of sprite objects you can display on-screen is incredible, and every individual bullet even has tracing effects.

Ichimura: Yeah, since we were using new PCBs, naturally we wanted the games to feature new, groundbreaking things too.

—Ichimura, what do you think of the "Ketsui Style" arrange mode for DDP:DFK Black Label?

Ichimura: I wasn't involved in that, so…

(everyone laughs)

Fukui: The credits say "DOOM PROGRAMMERS: Takashi Ichimura, Yuji Inoue", so I thought you'd helped out there. Or maybe it was just that Inoue converted your original code, or something like that.

The DDP:DFK Ketsui Arrange, known as "KetsuiPachi" by fans, was previously only available as an obscure DLC. It's well-regarded by Cave fans, though.

—In September 2008, on the 5th floor event hall of Akihabara HEY!, the "Cave Masturi da yo!" event was held, and a special version of Ketsui, "Ketsui (2007 Cave Masturi Ver.)" was unveiled for this one night only.

Fukui: I went to this Cave Matsuri too. I was surprised to see that limited edition of Ketsui there. "What, this is awesome!" The first thing I noticed was the different color of the ship, and how the enemy bullets start out at the second-loop intensity.

Kubota: It's exquisitely balanced.

Horii: As someone looking on, it was astonishing to me that such a rich experience could emerge from Ikeda's tweaks alone. (laughs) And I heard he made it just for this Cave Matsuri.

Shuutarou: When people have told me about this episode, all I've heard are complaints. (laughs) It seems they were asked in a somewhat light, offhand way "hey guys… make something for the Cave Matsuri!"

—That's not a "light" request at all...!

Kubota: Nor did they take it as such, I think. (laughs)

Horii: From what I've heard from other Cave devs, Ikeda would often ask them to make things in a half-joking way like that. "Why don't you make this!" And it was the same here.

—I understand you've managed to include this Matsuri Edition in Ketsui Deathtiny as well.

Horii: Yes! We were lucky that the data… or should I say, the PCB itself, was still intact.

Kubota: We figured it couldn't hurt to ask, so we said to Cave, "hey, if you've got it, we'd love to add it to Deathtiny. This is M2, we can do it!" And it turns out it had been stashed away in a cabinet somewhere.

Shuutarou: The ROMs were just sitting there in Ikeda's desk. We asked Ikeda and he shot back right away, "Yeah, they're here!" I remember being so nervous as I brought them over to M2's office. (laughs)

Matsumoto: Yeah, they told you they'd disintegrate if they were exposed to ultraviolet rays. (laughs)

Kubota: Until now this version of Ketsui had only been available for 2 days. It's the rarest of rare PCBs, so it's great we could include it in Deathtiny. We announced that it would be called "Ike Supe" (short for the official name, "IKD 2007 SPECIAL") at the 2018 Cave Matsuri.

Shuutarou: Where did that name came from? (laughs)

Kubota: It was M2 who came up with it. There were several other candidates before that…

Fukui: There were a bunch. There was "One Night Edition"…3

(everyone laughs)

Rare footage of the Ketsui "Ikeda Special" version from the 2007 Cave Matsuri, now available for all to enjoy in M2's Ketsui: Deathtiny port.

Shuutarou: I remember we joked about calling it "Ikeda One Night Edition". (laughs)

Horii: I really liked the subtle adult insinuations of that name. The more familiar you are with Ketsui, the more shocked you'll be when you play this special edition, so I thought we needed a suitably impressive name to convey that. "It should be a little over-the-top!", I thought, and there were a lot of contenders.

Kubota: Ikeda was there in the room when Shuutarou proposed the "One Night" name. He made a very displeased face, and said, in a very serious tone of voice, "I'd ask that you please, please reconsider that." So I knew we had to come up with something else.

Shuutarou: He didn't like the whole "One Night Edition" thing, yet at the same time, he had been telling us how he made it in just one night!

Horii: I wanted to record Ikeda's pleading for the game. I thought it would be funny if, when a boss appeared, you heard his voice going, "please, please!" To give it a sort of Parodius vibe. (laughs)

—Ichimura, as one of the original developers of Ketsui, what are your thoughts on M2's new Ketsui: Deathtiny port?

Ichimura: To be honest, I hadn't really been aware just how much people loved Ketsui. But listening to the conversation today I can now appreciate that, and it's incredible.

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  1. Probably Takashi Ichimura.

  2. A play on words, switching the kanji of girl for the usual reading of child:「男の娘」. It means s young man with a feminine aesthetic.

  3. The joke here is that ワンナイト (one night) in Japanese is short for "one night stand."

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