Ranger X – 1993 Developer Interview
This short interview with the creators of the classic Megadrive action game Ex-Ranza (Ranger X in the US) first appeared in Dengeki and Marukatsu Megadrive. The questions mainly focus on the game’s amazing graphics, which is probably what Ranger X continues to be known for today. Incidentally, programmer Toshio Toyota previously worked on Granada at Wolf Team and was an avowed lover of arcade games.
Toshio Toyota – Programmer
Toshio Yamamoto – Graphic Designer
Yoshinobu Hiraiwa – Composer
Noriyuki Iwadare – Sound Operator
—Lots of people are talking about the amazing quality of Ex-Ranza’s graphics. What do you think of that?
Yamamoto: We made this game without trying to copy any previous games—it was made with a lot of intuition. We didn’t want to be bound by the need to imitate others; our intended goal was to make a high-quality Megadrive game. I think people’s comments about the graphics quality reflect those efforts.
To be honest, we didn’t really think that deeply about the graphics. But because we placed so much emphasis on creating a game that was very polished overall, the graphics ended up having a lot of shine too.
—What were some of the things you focused on during this development?
Yamamoto: One big thing is that we didn’t use a planning document for this game. Instead, we went along and added things whenever we had the available memory.
—For a robot action game, the way the mechs move feels very different. Their movements are very intricate.
Toyota: That was something we aimed for. In a traditional plane-based STG game, there’s not really much point in having complex animation for the player character. Compared to that, with robots you have a lot more possibilities—just controlling them and seeing all the different movements is fun, right?
—Yeah, and the enemies have lots of nice touches too: they look up, turn their heads towards you.
Yamamoto: My feeling about “movement” is that it shouldn’t be reduced to simple, repeating patterns. It should be more complex and reactive than that. We worked hard to create as much animation as possible for them.
Toyota: We didn’t want to make enemies that only existed in order to be blown away. We thought a lot about how they would actually move, and how we could express that in-game.
—Did you have an image in your mind of how Ranger X would look and play, before you began development?
Toyota: I’d been thinking about a side-view robot action game for a long time. And of course I imagined it being on the Megadrive. There wasn’t anything that I really used as an example, though. I hate imitating others anyway. (laughs) We simply began with the question, “what makes a game fun…?”… and the result we came up with is Ranger X.
—Whether it’s the colorful graphics, or the detailed movement, I’m sure Megadrive users will be delighted with how far you’ve pushed the hardware.
Toyota: We’ve created some specialized software tools that allow us to push the capabilities of the Megadrive to the limit. If you know the rights tricks, it’s actually pretty easy to increase the colors on the Megadrive. The Megadrive has a number of problems, but I think it’s relatively easy to work with. The issue with the colors on the Megadrive isn’t so much a numerical or quantitative problem, as it is a question of subtlety on the designer’s part.
—Turning to the music, was there anything in particular that you paid attention to in its creation?
Hiraiwa: Since Ranger X is an action-STG game, as a basis I wanted exciting, lively sounds. For the compositions, overall I would say I went for something a little “darker.” Not only and simply dark, though; at times I wanted it to be surreal, and at times energetic. That matched my personal image of the game.
—Were you able to see the actual game during the development?
Hiraiwa: Of course. I really liked the palette and colors they used. For me, the tone of the colors is what best reflects the tone of the music. In this case, those colors led me to write music with a rock and progressive rock vibe.
—There’s 23 songs in Ranger X. That’s a lot for an action game, isn’t it?
Iwadare: I think it’s pretty typical. Well, maybe a little more than normal.
Hiraiwa: It’s often with game music that songs in a game all feel kind of the same. We didn’t want to do that.
—How were the sound effects made?
Iwadare: The first thing I did was spend a lot of time trying to create a bunch of sounds that were unique—sounds that haven’t been heard in other games yet. For the guitar sound, I actually made a bunch of different patches for tonal variety.
Normally in a STG, the sound effects are used just to give you a sense of thrill with big explosions and the like, but in Ranger X, they’re more on par with the music in terms of importance. I really want people to hear it in stereo!
—Please give our readers a final comment.
Toyota: The games coming out lately haven’t had any fresh surprises, have they? Why is that? It’s because too many makers are only focusing on “what sells”, and modeling their games on types that have sold well in the past. I’m sorry, but we have no interest in that: that’s why we filled Ex-Ranza with as many new ideas as we could. Maybe it won’t be profitable. (laughs) But I’ll tell you, this way is a lot more fun.
Yamamoto: I first met Toyota at Wolf Team. I’ve also got programming experience myself, but he’s amazing. He could take the pictures I drew and have them animated in two seconds flat. My other graphics partner also did a tremendous job, so I can proudly say that Ranger X is a highly polished game.
Whether you buy it or not, please be sure to give it a try!
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