Milestone STG – 2006 Developer Interview
This interview with (former) Milestone President Hiroshi Kimura was originally featured in the Radirgy INH superplay dvd+cd. Unfortunately Kimura was arrested for securities fraud earlier this year and Milestone is now defunct, but in this 2006 interview we hear him talk about the founding of Milestone, their connection with Compile, and the origins of Chaos Field and Radirgy.
Hiroshi Kimura – President
—Hello! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet for this interview today.
Kimura: Thank you. I didn’t create our games though, so I’m not sure I’ll have much interesting to say… (laughs)
—No no, I’m sure there’s many things players want to know about Milestone’s founding, history, and stance on STG games. Well, let’s get started then, shall we? It’s a well-known fact among hardcore fans that Milestone’s staff was formed from ex-Compile employees. You must have been from Compile, too?
Kimura: Yes, I was.
—At Compile, what kind of work did you do?
Kimura: Before Compile I was working at an advertising agency in Hiroshima, and we were hired in 1996 by Compile to advertise their “Bayoe~n Tour” event. From that connection, I was invited to join Compile in 1997 and I accepted. I was placed in the sales division, so my main work was in publicity and organizing events.
—I see. Do you have any memorable experiences related to your work at Compile that you’d like to share?
Kimura: Let’s see… well, it’s for the Playstation and Saturn, but I think I’d have to say the development of “Waku Waku Puyo Puyo Dungeon.”
It was the first time I got to work closely with the game development side. Schedule management, creating commercials, things like that. As my first substantial experience with game development, it’s probably my most memorable work from my time at Compile.
—Ah, so “Waku Waku Puyo Puyo Dungeon” was your first experience with game management. Incidentally, what other titles were you involved in at Compile?
Kimura: In 1998 Compile moved to a location near Miyajima, and I managed the promotional department, working on Puyo Puyo~n and all the following games in that series. That was a very difficult time for Compile, and the hard work of my amazing subordinates stands out in my mind more than anything I did personally.
—I see. After Compile, how did you end up founding Milestone?
Kimura: I left Compile in December of 2002, and on April 22, 2003, I founded Milestone. Actually, when I quit Compile I hadn’t thought about founding another company at all. I set about looking for a new job, but for a variety of reasons some opportunities came up, and I was given a bit of a push by people who would become employees at Milestone, so I took the plunge and started the company.
—It sounds like it was a fairly painless process, your road to independence?
Kimura: I just got very lucky. (laughs) And there were many periods of poverty where I couldn’t even afford to eat a decent meal. (laughs) But you know, I think it’s essential to have those difficult experiences too.
—I see… no pain, no gain. It was the same way for us at INH. (laughs) Was there a reason you moved your offices from Hiroshima to Tokyo?
Kimura: I had worked at the Tokyo branch of Compile before, so I felt like I knew the area well. We searched for a cheap place in central Tokyo and settled on our current location. I had also lived in Saitama prefecture before.
—Were the founding members of Milestone all people who had quit Compile, like you?
Kimura: Yeah. When Milestone started it was composed entirely of ex-Compile members: planners, programmers, sound, everyone.
—So Milestone was founded in April 2003, and did you get started right away on developing your first STG, Chaos Field?
Kimura: We did. It was released in 2004, taking us over a year.
—If I can be direct, why did you choose an arcade STG game for your first title?
Kimura: Everyone, including me, was of the same mind on that: “Let’s make an arcade STG!” Everyone loved the STG genre. And game centers too.
With arcade game development, it’s great being able to communicate directly with players via things like location tests. You can see what players like and what they’re puzzled by, and you get to see your game played in ways you couldn’t have imagined yourself. So we thought very little about whether arcade STG was waning or not, and our attitude was that even if it was currently unpopular, well, “we’re gonna bring it back!”
—Did you decide on the NAOMI hardware just as readily?
Kimura: Yeah. We’d had lots of experience developing for it, and we owed a lot to Sega from out time back then. So we decided we would release Chaos Field for Naomi at a very early stage.
—You said it took over a year for you to develop Chaos Field, but was there a reason it took so long?
Kimura: Yeah, actually, by September 2003 we had finished a prototype, but something didn’t feel right about it. So we scrapped the entire thing and started over from the beginning.
Kimura: Yeah. The player didn’t fly a ship, he controlled a robot instead. And the backstory and all the game’s content was different. The stages all took place in real cities, too.
—Wow, that is surprising!
Kimura: The first stage took place in Tokyo. You started out in Shinjuku, then fought the boss in front of the Shibuya 109. We did have the two-field system in place at that time, though.
—Why did you determine the prototype was no good, then?
Kimura: Well, our vision was the first stage would be Tokyo, the second Osaka, and the third Nagoya… but to make them look realistic and convincing would have taken over three years I think. (laughs)
—(laughs) That’s true.
Kimura: Moreover, this is my personal opinion, but I think games are supposed to be a form of escapism from this world. If our first release was too realistic, I was worried it would end up being boring to players. So the developers agreed to make major changes to the game setting. When I think about it now, though, our original plan probably would have been really interesting in its own right. (laughs)
—Many of Milestone’s games, including Chaos Field, have been ported to other consoles. Was that something you planned from the beginning of their developments?
Kimura: Yeah. Our staff has development experience with the PS2 and Gamecube, and my personal philosophy was, to the extent feasible, to release our games for as many systems as possible.
—When we first heard Chaos Field was being released for Gamecube we thought it was pretty exceptional.
Kimura: Oh, really? Nintendo was actually really good to us. If we can, I’d love to continue releasing our games for different hardware platforms.
—I see. After you released your first title Chaos Field, did you feel that Milestone was starting to find its footing as a developer?
Kimura: I’m not sure we’ve found it yet, honestly. (laughs) But yeah, it really gave us a certain kind of confidence.
—I’ve heard that during the Chaos Field development, Milestone also worked concurrently on several subcontracted games. Is that true?
Kimura: We did! And we’re always ready to accept new work, by the way! (laughs)
—(laughs) If you don’t mind my asking, what titles did you work on?
Kimura: I’m sorry, but for various reasons I can’t talk about it here. But if you look in the credits of the subcontracted games we’ve done, there should be a credit to Milestone, so see if you can find it. (laughs)
—I see… too bad though! After Chaos Field, did you get started right away on Radirgy?
Kimura: Yes. It was mostly completed by August 2005.
—Why did you decide on another STG for your second title?
Kimura: We'd decided that we wanted to do at least one STG title per year. There was no special deliberations or anything. (laughs) But our approach to creating Radirgy was very different from Chaos Field, so its concept was entirely different too. We wanted an older “Caravan STG” vibe, with a high-risk, high-return scoring system woven in.
—Like Chaos Field, was Radirgy also developed with an eventual console port in mind?
Kimura: No, for most of the development we weren’t thinking about it. After seeing the response to the location test, we started to think “hey, maybe we should release a console port too…” But we wanted to do things more efficiently than we had with Chaos Field, so we started working on the port at the same time as the arcade development. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen circumstances the announcement came late, and I apologize for that.
Also, when we released Radirgy to the arcades, a number of other STGs were also released at the same time, so that made it really difficult for us.
—Yeah, I do remember that. If I recall, the PS2 version of Radirgy was getting a lot of harsh reviews from players. How did you react to that, I wonder? I’m guessing it turned out to be very difficult to port Radirgy to the PS2 hardware?
Kimura: Yeah. We try to take criticism like that in stride. The PS2 development for Radirgy was very difficult for us. If only we had more time… but, we don’t want to make excuses for ourselves, so. We take our fans opinions very seriously, so if we ever have the chance, we’d like to make those improvements.
Independent of its sale performance, though, at Milestone we felt like Radirgy was a big success. In a different sense from Chaos Field, overcoming the challenges of the Radirgy development gave us a lot of confidence, and we see it as a success in that it added another pillar to the Milestone brand. I’m really glad we developed it.
—Finally, I’d like to ask about Milestone’s new STG Karous. Just looking at the screenshots, I get the impression it uses Radirgy’s system as its base?
Kimura: That’s right. We really liked Radirgy here at Milestone, and we wanted to evolve it further. We’re just starting to do some location tests too.
—Each Milestone STG feels fresh, and somehow your games manage to confound our expectations (in a good sense). Is that a quality you consciously aim for during development?
Kimura: In my view, STG is a genre that can never be perfected or put into a final form. For each title, we try to challenge ourselves with new systems and graphics, so maybe what you described is true. And of course we hope to continue that spirit for our new games. You’ve always got to find a way to keep challenging yourself. (laughs)
—Do you have any final message for everyone today, or perhaps a word about your future ambitions?
Kimura: Ambitions, hmmm… actually, in the next 2-3 years we’d like to open our own game center in the Shimoigusa area.
Kimura: There’s a school in this area and a lot of youths, but not many places for them to play or hang out, and I think it would be cool to open a game center. But you know, unlike the major name game centers, ours wouldn’t be run for profit. I want to make it a community based game center. And it would be a very convenient place for us to do location tests and bug checking for our games (laughs)
—(laughs) That’s a really good idea. If it becomes a reality, the INH staff will be visiting daily. (laughs)
Kimura: Yeah, right? (laughs) We’ll do our best to make it happen. For a final message I shall tell you the meaning of our company name Milestone. It has two meanings: the first is “one by one, each of our games is a milestone along our way.” The second meaning is “always aim for something new.” About the name, when I was in college I was enrolled in Jazz programs for a time, and I really loved the trumpeter Miles Davis. He released an album in 1958 with a song called “Milestones” on it.
—Ah… I see.
Kimura: That song was composed with the cool new modal techniques which turned the world of bebop and 4-beat Jazz upside down. The song title was a play on words, and could be read as “Miles – Tones” or “Mile – Stones.” Anyway, that was why I chose the name for our company, because it embodies the idea of creating something new, that has never existed before, that transgresses people’s “common sense.” And we hope to continue making games here at Milestone that other companies don’t make, always pushing for something new. Please look forward to out future work!
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