Mahou Daisakusen – 2013 Developer Interviews
These developer messages were found in the liner notes of the Mahou Daisakusen OST, recently re-released in 2013 by Wave Master records. Being liner notes, music is the main focus, but the main programmers and graphic designers also share their insights about the series. Unfortunately, Hitoshi Sakimoto and Manabu Namiki, who were both involved in the music of the series, were not interviewed for this CD.
Mahou Daisakusen (game) – Planning/Game Design
Mahou Daisakusen (series) – Graphic Designer
The development for Mahou Daisakusen began in 1992, if I remember right. At the time it was just four men working out of a single room in an apartment: a picture of hell… yet, I think that thanks to that environment, we were able to produce a very strong, colorful game. During the planning stage we had intended to do a Chinese martial arts themed STG, but we ended up changing it to a more easily relatable fantasy theme.
He created a bright, catchy sound for Mahou Daisakusen, which I think explains why the atmosphere of the game isn’t darker/heavier, despite being set in a fantasy world.
The character select music expresses, with drums only, the excitement before entering the battlefield. We also used it in between the bosses during the Colliseum stage boss rush, providing continuity for that tension.
The first stage music is the player’s own theme, as you gallantly take off, ready for action.
Boss music in a STG should be the enemy’s theme, music that puts pressure on the player. Unfortunately, the boss music that Motoyama first presented to me was the theme of a player battling with a boss. This was really my fault for not giving Motoyama proper guidance.
When I put his boss music to the game and gave it a listen, it sounded like the music of a hero who had just gotten out of a tight spot and was about to deliver the killing blow to his foe! For a boss theme, it was overflowing with a sense of bravery. It was really a wonderful song, and while part of me thought this was good in its own way, and I should just leave it… in the end, swallowing back my tears, I asked him to rewrite the boss music.
Besides the great music, Mahou Daisakusen was full of wonderful moments: that stubborn rival boss Bashinet, the fanatical goblin underlings, the American comic book style art for the overseas release, and much more. Be sure to play it if you have the chance.
Mahou Daisakusen (series) – Programmer
Shippu Mahou Daisakusen – Planner
After completing Mahou Daisakusen in April 1993, we didn’t go to work right away on a sequel, but were tied up with developing a STG for an entirely different intellectual property.1 However, due to various circumstances, soon after we started it, it got passed off to another team. That freed us up to work on “Mahou Daisakusen 2”, as it was provisionally titled.
In the first half of the 90s, the arcade business was thriving thanks to the vs. fighting game boom, and an incredible amount of STGs were also released. If I recall, there were some years when nearly 30 STGs would be released in a single year. Although Mahou Daisakusen didn’t do poorly, we were worried that if we released a simple sequel into that competitive environment, it would inevitably be buried amidst the many releases. So we racked our brains trying to come up with something to make Mahou 2 stand out, and adding a racing element was what we came up with.
Vs. fighting games were the pride of the game centers, bringing in huge incomes. STGs, in comparison, let you play longer the better you got, which in turn meant less income for the operator. Therefore, we designed the game so that the higher the score a good player aimed for, the shorter his game would be.2
With the sound too, we wanted a different style from Mahou Daisakusen. We asked Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, who we had wanted to work with for along while, to do the music. The sound drivers used for both the Mahou Daisakusen and Shippu Mahou Daisakusen pcbs had lots of limitations (like being vsync based),3 and I think they were underpowered for their time. So it amazes me all the more that Sakimoto and Iwata were able to make such amazing compositions in spite of those limitations. I’m very grateful to them, and Atsuhiro Motoyama for his work Mahou Daisakusen, too.
At the end of the development of Shippu Mahou Daisakusen, it was time to name all the songs. Sakimoto gave me a sheet of paper with “titles we used while we were writing and talking about the music.” I’ll take a moment to introduce them now:
[[capitals are the actual song titles, quotes are Sakimoto and Iwata’s joke titles]]
SADDLE HORN – “Title Screen, 40 seconds”
LEAD CHANGE – “The Sound of Thunder”
LEAD DEPARTURE – “A cheerful old latino man (fail… haha)”
ROLL BACK – “Shining in the Sun, Your Neo Tiger Shot”
NOVICE REINING – “The People of the Island”
TRAIL – “It’s so CoooOOOLLL!!!”
Thanks to those titles, whenever I hear Tadakanobaba today I associate it with the music of FLAG RACE. (laughs)
Our dream of Shippu Mahou Daisakusen as a high income game didn’t exactly come true, but as a unique STG with a memorable soundtrack, it certainly swept through the arcades in 1994 like a gale.6 I hope players remember it fondly this way.
Mahou Daisakusen (series) – Graphic Designer
Dimahoo – Planning/Game Design
The person in charge of game design changed with each Mahou Daisakusen game. For the first, it was Kazuyuki Nakashima. Shippu Mahou Daisakusen was designed by Yuuichi Toyama, and I took on the design role for Great Mahou Daisakusen (Dimahoo). I had contributed to the design and story for both previous titles, so I had a lot of personal attachment to the series as I took on this new challenge.
We aimed for a STG that would be suitable for the arcade market of 2000, and while we wanted to challenge ourselves with a deep gameplay and scoring system, we wanted the basics to be simple. For the graphics we didn’t want to overturn the style of the first game, but rather to make it heavier, more substantial.
Not just a sequel, but something far beyond! That was our level of enthusiasm, and you can see it in both the crazy world filled with drills, as well as the word “GREAT!” proudly adorning the title screen. Well, whether we achieved our goals or not I can’t say, but when I look back on it now I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed.
Sound is an indispensable part of any STG game, and we were blessed with “GREAT!” composers in Atsuhiro Motoyama, Kenichi Koyano, and Manabu Namiki (who did the hardware and programming). They played a huge part in bringing Dimahoo to life. I love the Bashinet and Ending themes. Just thinking of them gets my blood pumping.
The characters in the Mahou Daisakusen series all join the fight in pursuit of their own “personal happiness.” Gain wants to become stronger, Chitta wants to be an idol, and so on–in the first Mahou Daisakusen, it’s all for personal or practical desires.
In Dimahoo, however, with Solo Bang and Karte it’s different. Perhaps it was the spirit of the times, but I made their motivations more conceptual and abstract. It isn’t shown in the game, but Solo Bang was suffering from emptiness after his family had been killed, and Karte sacrifices herself in the name of peace. They’re carrying heavier burdens, and I regret that we weren’t able to include individual endings showing each character being freed from them.
Since Dimahoo never got a console port, I don’t think it’s a game that many have had a chance to play. If you have the chance though, try listening to this CD and letting your imagination run free as you think about the characters’ exploits. And if these heroes’ adventures and triumphs can somehow bring a little bit of courage to your life, nothing would make me happier.
Mahou Daisakusen – Composer
Dimahoo – Composer
On the occasion of this release of the three Mahou soundtracks, I thought I’d go back and give them a fresh listen.
Mahou Daisakusen was the first work I had as a freelance musician. I was 27. Yes, those were the days of youth! Fast tempos that express an overflowing passion… a storm of syncopation that threatens to collapse from its own momentum… and a chaos born from chord structures that totally ignored music theory. Making such aggressive music requires a certain kind of constitution, and now that I’m coasting downhill in the second half of my life, I doubt whether I have the energy today to compose the same kind of music.
And of course, I have to talk about FM synthesis. 4 operators! You know, it’s been a long time now since PCM sampling became the main way of making video game music, so I have to wonder if it’s only me (and my generation) that feels such a passion for that transitional period of FM music. Its tones and colors defined that era of game music; when I hear that FM sound, I can’t help but feel a game-ness in it. There were so many musicians creating amazing music with FM synthesis back then. I too remember receiving an early model X6800 from my friend, and spending my days tweaking all the sound parameters.
I realize I now sound like some old man sitting on his porch, telling the youths who have gathered around him “Back in my day…”
Great Mahou Daisakusen (Dimahoo) came out 7 years after the first game. During this time, PCB hardware specs had improved, and the music had changed from FM to PCM. The limitations and worries of yesteryear, about whether the hardware could handle a certain sound, were no more: I was able to compose Dimahoo pretty much as I wanted. I’m most happy about the guitar samples we were able to include. It had been very difficult to make a passable guitar sound with FM sound before.
As for the compositions themselves, whereas Mahou Daisakusen had more melodious songs, with Dimahoo I wanted to change the sound a bit. I chord progressions that had less of a rollicking, forward momentum, and melodies that weren’t quite so sing-songy. Overall, I wanted a sound that relied less on melody. And I also wanted things a little less busy: chaos 30% off? Instead, I wanted the songs to have unpredictable moments (in a good sense). If you’re listening to the Dimahoo soundtrack and suddenly go “Whoa… what just happened there”, then I’ll be very happy.
I didn’t do that many songs for Dimahoo, but it was a very rewarding and fruitful project for me personally. It was my second time working with Kenichi Koyano, the other composer. Seeing his incredible skills again made me realize very keenly how much I still had to learn about sound and music. I also need to tip my hat to Manabu Namiki’s amazing technical skills. He did the sound programming and actual recording of the music data onto the PCB hardware. On Dimahoo I felt like I caught a glimpse of the secret that is the “Santaruru Sound.” Even today I feel so lucky to have had the chance to work with Namiki and Koyano.
There aren’t many chances to see the three Mahou games in person these days, so I suppose that most people interested in this cd will be those fans who knew the passion of STG back then, and played these games to death in the arcade. To them I have just one message: thank you!!! (and of course, thank you to everyone else involved in this cd) If you get the chance, please be sure to play these wonderful games again.
Dimahoo – Composer
Great Mahou Daisakusen (Dimahoo) was a joint project with Atsuhiro Motoyama and Manabu Namiki, who I had met before while working on the arcade fighting game Bloody Roar. Motoyama and I divided the composition work between us, and Namiki handled the sound creation, programming, and hardware operations.
I was in the process of looking through the development materials (graphics, concept art, and character designs) for ideas, mulling over what style would be appropriate for Dimahoo, when I made the unwise decision to listen to some mp3s Motoyama had already completed, one step ahead of me. His songs were, it goes without saying, exquisitely put together, and while they were catchy, they also had surprises in them. Upon hearing his songs I felt an intense pressure, and threw myself desperately into writing.
For Dimahoo, from the beginning Namiki was in charge of the overall sound design and direction. It was his ardent wish, and he proposed it to us, that the image for these songs reflect the keywords “straight” and “heavy.” I’m embarrassed to say, but writing straightforward melodies has always been a weakness of mine, so this was a big problem for me.
It was hard for me because my previous composition style had been to spend a lot of time on details in the musical phrases, and that was how I imparted the songs with my own sense of identity. Now that I was asked to do something simpler and more straightforward, I was afraid that, if done poorly, the songs would have no personality.
If we compare it to sculpting, with a small knife or tool you can make very fine details; here, it was like wielding a huge katana, and in one fell swoop, trying to carve out a composition. Would it work? A cloud of anxiety hung over me until the end.
The next several weeks was a series of trial and error. I would be lost in composing for days on end.
However, when I listen to the finished pieces now, I can’t help but think this challenge was a very good experience for me. The songs for stage 2, stage 4, stage 5, the ground boss, and the final boss were all shaped by the 100% effort I gave then.
They’re all wild and aggressive songs, but I’m happy that I was, in fact, able to imbue them with that personal sense of self which is so important to me when composing. Despite my fears, I think I learned to sculpt with both the small knife and the large blade.
In contrast, for the character select and stage clear themes, I was able to evoke the previous Mahou games, lending an important sense of continuity and unity to the series.
Finally, I’d like to mention what impressed me most during this project. Manabu Namiki worked tirelessly, around the clock, to overcome the various limitations and problems that arose in the hardware. The wonderful sound we achieved was realized by his efforts. Occasionally he’d come away from the hardware side and help out on the song arrangements. Even at the end his energy never flagged, and I think we owe him a round of applause.
And for everyone who enjoyed Dimahoo in the arcades, I hope listening to this cd brings back some of that excitement for you.
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Almost certainly Mazinger Z, which Raizing is known to have done initial design work for at this time.↩
In other words, for those who haven’t played Shippu Mahou Daisakusen, this means that winning a race (and accordingly getting a higher score) equals a shorter playtime.↩
Vsync based means the pcb runs each iteration of the sound update function every frame, so it can only change pitches or patch effects every 1/60th of a second.↩
A Japanese play on words. Read together, the characters 高田馬場 read Takadanobaba, the name of a district of Tokyo. Individually the words have various meanings, but they most likely refer to professional wrestlers– 馬場 (baba) referring to the famous Japanese wrestler Giant Baba.↩
This song does, in fact, sound like an homage to the amazing Rayforce soundtrack.↩
Another cheezy line: he uses the word “shippuu” here, which means gale/strong wind.↩