L.A. Machineguns – 1999 Developer Interview

L.A. Machineguns - 1999 Developer Interview

This short-but-sweet L.A. Machineguns interview was originally featured in Dreamcast Magazine. Often called a spiritual sequel to Gunblade NY, the Sega AM3 team is in a jocular mood here as they discuss this game's intended market and design challenges, including a more robust scoring system and an ambitious (for the time) "AI" system for both camera and enemies.

Juro Watari – Producer
Yoshitaka Maeyama – Director

Shoichiro Kanazawa – Assistant Director

—Let's kick this off by going over what part of L.A. Machineguns each of you worked on.

Watari: I just went around saying "do this, do that." (laughs)

Maeyama: I'm the intermediary who passes Watari's "do this, do that" onto the programmers and designers.

Kanazawa: And I make a list of Maeyama's requests, and manage that list. (laughs)

Watari: List? You make lists? I'm scared.

Kanazawa: Hey, it's more scary for me. (laughs)

Maeyama: Your hand trembling with fear as you write each item out…? (laughs)

Kanazawa: Exactly. (laughs)

—How did this project get started?

Maeyama: First there was Gunblade NY, and our starting point was taking that game's system and trying to make something a little more exciting for scoreplay.

Watari: Also, games like Gunblade are surprisingly popular overseas. There's many Japanese players who don't really enjoy games that appeal directly to the body, if you will, but overseas, we often hear from many of our customers that these kind of tactile games are very appreciated. We discussed this, and decided that it might be a bad business move if we didn't make another game like Gunblade for those players. That was the very start of the L.A. Machineguns project.

The producer, director, and assistant director of L.A. Machineguns.

—Did the development start early last year, then?

Watari: I'm afraid the precise beginning is lost to the mists of time. (laughs) I honestly just can't remember. (laughs)

—But basically, it was conceived as a sequel, right?

Watari: Hmmm, I'm not sure about that. The gameplay systems certainly continued in the vein of Gunblade, but it was heavily reformed. It's definitely not a pure sequel, or a "part 2" in that sense of the word.

—As the developers, did you set out to do something very different from Gunblade or add a lot of new things?

Maeyama: Well, like Watari just mentioned, we decided we would partially re-use the system from Gunblade. The atmosphere and world though, we wanted to be more sci-fi, and for the visuals to have more immediate impact. In Gunblade the enemies were mostly ground-based, which was a shame since they'd gone to the trouble of incorporating a free camera system—it didn't feel very alive. This time we wanted to add more flying enemies, and make the camera movement more extreme, and in doing so up the sense of speed and intensity, and those ideas unified the development.

—What were some of the challenges you faced there?

Watari: Everything. (laughs)

Maeyama: The hardest thing was definitely the camera. It could move quite freely, but that meant it would often get stuck on terrain, or decide on its own to focus on an area where there's no enemies at all! That happened a lot. So to prevent that we had to proceed very carefully with the enemy placement, and make painstaking adjustments to the camera collision. That was a lot of work!

Watari: Also, everything is AI controlled, so sometimes things would move in ways we hadn't predicted. Ironing all that out was very challenging.

A nice overview of the (now rare) L.A. Machineguns cabinet.

—Could you explain a bit more about this AI system?

Kanazawa: Put simply, each enemy has his own AI routine, and will respond to your attacks individually.

Watari: To put it a little more simply (laughs), the enemies are able to think for themselves, in a sense, and they'll move where they want. You could also say the camera itself is partially AI driven. It's always making decisions in real-time to make sure it is tracking the enemies, and not interfering with the gameplay. When you combine those two systems together there's a lot of unpredictability, and we struggled to get all the kinks out.

—Wow, managing two different AI systems sounds very challenging!

Watari: Indeed it was, but that work was the domain of the programmers, so if I say something stupid-sounding now they'll get mad at me… "pfh, as if you know what you're talking about!" So I'm just going to leave it at that. (laughs)

—How did you end up deciding to set the game world in Los Angeles?

Maeyama: Watari said "Next stop after New York is L.A.!" (laughs) Opinions amongst the team about locations were quite varied. Taiwan was suggested, as was an international setting where we could set each stage in a different country as we saw fit. But ultimately we went with our producer's suggestion and settled on LA.

Watari: It sounds like you're blaming me. (laughs) Well, if I'm to take responsibility for, I'll say this… I mentioned the American audience we were gearing it to, and for them, I thought Taiwan might be too big of an ask. That's why I insisted on LA.

—I heard you did some location scouting in L.A. too, how was that?

Maeyama: I did visit L.A., but unluckily for me, when I was there it was a once-in-15-years thunderstorm, so I didn't have the greatest time. (laughs)

—What parts of your location scouting made it into the game?

Maeyama: The air battles are the main feature of L.A. Machineguns, and I wanted it to feel like you were flying all around the city. That meant a place with lots of high-rise buildings, so I wanted to use downtown LA. Also, since it's the West Coast, I visited Las Vegas and Alcatraz in San Francisco too.

—I think your excursions paid off. L.A. Machineguns has a rich variety of stages.

Maeyama: Yeah. Of course the location scouting was a big part of that, but in the beginning when we were first thinking about making this game, since we were using polygons for the terrain this time, I wanted to see if I couldn't design more three-dimensional, realistic looking stages, and that was how I initially plotted out the stage design. The very first stage I finished was Stage 4, the underground stage (Yosemite). From there I wanted to make sure there was variety and distinction to the stages, so I had the whole "flying around the sky" idea. I think that for other games, stage variety doesn't have much to do with whether there's polygons or not (laughs), but in our case, I specifically set out to make stages that relied and leaned into the polygon visuals.

—By the way, Kanazawa, I heard a story that you went out and bought a Hachiroku (Toyota AE86) after reading Initial D. Is that true?

Kanazawa: It is. When I was working late nights I would randomly watch the TV anime when it came on, and that got me hooked. So I went looking for a single-owner, normal grade used Hachiroku, and now I'm practicing drifting on it while I make my loan payments. I've realized it really needs an LSD (Limited Slip Differential) though. But I got busted recently for illegal driving, and with the ticket I have to pay, I'm afraid that's out of reach for now. (laughs)

A full playthrough of L.A. Machineguns.

—You mentioned scoreplay is at the heart of this game. Was there an intention to change up the gameplay from Gunblade in a big way, then?

Maeyama: I didn't have any part in the Gunblade development, but when I played it, I felt it would be far, far more interesting with a score attack mode. I get more fired up by a score attack with a time limit than the normal story mode. So we took that idea and decided to make scoring the main attraction of L.A. Machineguns. We came up with a lot of ideas for it, including the chain combo system in the game now, and we re-iterated and experimented with it until it reached its present state. So to answer your question, no, basically we didn't change the underlying systems from Gunblade.

—Do you have any tips for L.A. Machineguns, scoring or otherwise?

Maeyama: Well, it's really all about how many combos you can chain together. Though that only applies to people playing for score, I guess. Besides that, for true beginners, one tip is to remember to shoot down the missiles. The way shooting down missiles helps you, I don't think that's a feature in any other game. A common pattern for beginners is to be hit by a missile and get killed, so if you just remember to always shoot them down when they appear, you'll be surprised how much more smoothly things go for you, I think!

Kanazawa: My advice is just keep your eyes on the screen. (laughs)

Maeyama: Come on, don't f— around! (laughs)

Kanazawa: No I'm serious! If you overthink it you'll end up getting stiff and nervous and won't be able to score. Empty your mind… and the rest will follow.

—Thank you for your time today.

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