R-Type – 1987 Developer Interview
This interview with the original R-Type development team covers the influences and origins of the game’s design. Probably featured in Gamest, it's a unique window into arcade and STG development in 1987. This interview was found at the GSLA, a Japanese site that preserves develpoer interviews from older print sources.
Project and Design Origins
KINTE (Team Leader): We had just developed a new 16 bit hardware. It could display many sprites on screen and it had a fast processor speed, so we thought a STG game would be good for it. That was the start of R-Type.
ABIKO (Designer): It started out as a joke, but our idea for the Force came from the dung beetle. We were thinking of a system where you wouldn’t power up your own ship, but would instead power up the ball of dung. We wanted something where two players could play simultaneously within the same screen and fight together, basically.
Our programmer AKIO is a hardcore Gradius player, so we were very conscious of the existence of Gradius. If we were going to make a horizontal STG, we knew it would get compared to Gradius, so we were thinking about what we could do differently.
By the time we were asked to start coding, there had been many revisions and changes to the original game design. For example, we originally wanted to make the Force capable of deployment in 4 positions on your ship: front, back, top, and bottom. But it turned out to be too difficult to program, so we left it only front and back. The powerups changed almost completely too. At first we had typical STG weapons like a 3-way shot, but we felt that this wouldn’t distinguish our game enough from Gradius, so we added the reflecting laser. That was a real pain to code. (laughs)
AKIO (Character Designer): Another weapon we thought of was something that would resemble a jibikiami.1 At that time we were trying to come up with ideas that would really get people’s attention, so we focused on interesting and outlandish designs. After that we refined and cleaned things up to be more easily understandable and useable. We also had an idea for a weapon that you would fire out in front of you, and when it collided with a bullet it would explode!
ABIKO (Designer): Basically the first idea we had was the Force. After that, we thought of weapon power-ups that would match the different enemies we were creating. When we made the stages, we created them one by one and then put them in order later, according to their difficulty. The first one we created was the first stage. It has a little bit of the Gradius image. Next we made the crumbling, ruined stage 7. Then we made stage 2, the “Alien” stage. We thought of that one after we saw “Aliens.”
Then came stages 3 and 4. For stage 4, we were doing some programming simulation and I saw a character trailing a line behind him, and I thought if we can program something like this, we could try and use it as a game element. So we made stage 4 without a big variety of enemies, but mainly included enemies that created destructible lines in their wake, and then added enemies that erased those lines and enemies that moved along them.
In the story, stage 7 was the final stage of the enemy base, a garbage processing facility where all the enemies the player had previously destroyed were disposed of. Our impression of the stages as we made them was that stage 1 was made for the average person to play, stage 2 draws you a little further in, stage 3 makes you think “wow, I didn’t know a STG could be like this” and gets you excited for whats to come, stage 4 raises the difficulty sharply and builds income for the operator, stage 5 gives you a glimpse of another world, and stage 6 makes you wonder if you shouldn’t just give up. (laughs)
We didn’t really want to make a second loop, but we added it as a service to our fans. We raised the difficulty extremely high, so please don’t worry too much, and play it however you’d like. We figured that if we had to make a 2nd loop, we’d try and make it something where dying was part of the fun. That stage 5 boss in the 2nd loop is one where if you slip up just a bit it gets crazy. And if you die, I think its almost impossible to recover.
SCRAP (Sound): For the sound, I got many requests from the planning staff. The main thing was for it to be serious in tone. There were a lot of little, particular requests as well. One of those was to add sounds of an actual battleship, for the huge battleship you fight in stage 3. I actually couldn’t come up with anything for the sound of a battleship moving, and of course there are no “huge battleships” in real life. Sounds that don’t actually exist are quite difficult to make. (laughs)
The planning and design staff would give ideas for the rhythm of certain sounds. “It should be like, don, ta ta ta!” and so on. Their ideas were really vague, but I did my best to match them. It was really difficult. I was told “that won’t work at all” many times. For every successful sound, I had double the number of failures.
Another thing we tried to be conscious of for all of the R-Type development was film music. In film music the impact of a scene is conveyed to you in the space of 2-3 seconds, and we tried to keep that in mind as we went along. I also thought PSG sound might be better suited for this game. FM sound is very pretty, but it can sound too “natural” and be hard to hear in a game center. Well, in the end both have their drawbacks I guess.
AKIO (Character Designer): The number of characters I drew was… a lot. (laughs) There were characters I drew on my own and said “use this,” and there were characters I was requested to draw. I started drawing and submitting more and more on my own though. The first drawing I completed was the stage 1 boss.
ABIKO (Designer): He brought it to us, and we said “there’s no way we can use something this huge!” (laughs)
AKIO (Character Designer): There were times I realized I’d made a simple mistake, like adding cannons to an enemy that weren’t supposed to be there. The biggest change I’d have to make after finishing something was colors. The jets on the battleship in stage 3, for instance, were originally red, not blue.
SCRAP (Sound): If I remember, I told him that in an alternate dimension there would be no fire… I think he took me seriously. He’s very impressionable like that. (laughs)
AKIO (Character Designer): When the fire was red, it was more realistic, but I think changing it to blue helped convey a more unique impression. The snakes in stage 5 were also blue at first, a blue-pink pastel style. But later we made them much more austere… in general, everything got more and more austere. It became very different from our original impression.
SUM (Programmer): R-Type is a shooting game, and STGs tend to have a certain conventional structure that makes people look down a little on the amount of work that goes into them. But we really did a ton of research for this game and put a lot of time into small details. For example, when the Force is joined to the ship, it rotates in a different direction depending if you move up or down. I bet people didn’t notice that! Also, when you move left or right, the tendrils of the Force will flare out slightly or tuck in. ABIKO spends a lot of time fussing over things that most people won’t even notice.
Another thing that was difficult, from a programming perspective, was making the Force avoid walls and obstacles on its own. Depending on the terrain it sometimes gets stuck and just sits there. Since its supposed to act almost like another player, programming its movement was difficult.
YOSHIGE (Character Designer): When we were thinking of character designs, we struggled to make the image we had in mind match up with the actual designs.
MISACHIN (Programmer): Hello, I’m Misachin, the sole female R-Type staff member. It took a large amount of memory to swap the graphics data, so that was very difficult.
K.H (Sound Programmer): The main difficulty I had with R-Type’s sound was that for these new FM compositions, we didn’t have any development tools like a sound editor. So the sounds that were discussed during planning turned out to be very different from what we actually made. It was really problematic for SCRAP.
–What is the origin of the “R-Type” title?
R stands for “ray”, as in ray of light. It comes from there being many different types of ray weapons in the game.
–Where is the ship’s hitbox?
Its a single point in the dead center of the ship. To compensate, we made the enemy and background hitboxes larger than they visually appear so things wouldn’t seem unnatural.
–How many levels of speed are there?
–What is the pattern for the movement of the st4 boss?
There are 3 patterns, and they’re chosen randomly. Actually, it isn’t completely random… maybe if you investigate a bit, you’ll discover it?
–What is the pattern for the movement of the st5 boss?
Its completely random. A point near the top of the screen is chosen, and if you approach that it moves slowly, and if you’re far from it, he moves quickly. Then it repeats.
–Why does the score show at the end of each stage like that?
We wanted to encourage competition between players, and make them more conscious of the scoring. Its like a report card.
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“jibikiami” is a beach based human-powered trawling net, aka beach seine. No detail is given in the interview, and this is not an instance of a word having special meaning in STG terminology, so its open to speculation as to what this “net” weapon would have looked like in R-Type.↩