R-Type Final – 2003 Developer Interview
In this interview the R-Type Final team talks about console STG design, the huge proliferation of ships, and the legacy of R-Type. Producer Kazuma Kujo, who also produced R-Type Delta, Metal Slug, and In the Hunt, recently left Irem to found Granzella. This interview was found at the GSLA, a Japanese website that preserves game developer interviews from older print sources.
Kazuma Kujo - Producer
Koichi Kita - Chief Designer
Hiroaki Yamada - Designer
Kujo: Until recently, Irem had regularly released games for the R-Type series. About 3 years ago, actually, we talked about releasing a new R-Type game for the PS2, but the plan fizzled out. There was a lot of anxiety about whether the game would sell, given that STG is not a mainstream genre. We all understand when a manager is worried that a game won’t sell and says to stop the project, but this time it seemed that the production staff at Irem also felt it wouldn’t sell, so it never got off the ground.
But from the perspective of people like myself at Irem who love R-Type, this just wasn’t acceptable. At that time I was working on the “Zettai Zetsumei Toshi” series, but I resolved to do something about it, and went to the staff one by one and tried to persuade them and gain their support for a new R-Type. I said things like “Now that you’ve joined Irem, you’ve got to make an R-Type game at least once!” Since almost everyone loved Irem’s STG games, it all went down rather easily. (laughs)
When I’d hear the developers say how shooting games can’t sell, I’d think to myself, “Don’t say that. If you think that way, you’ve lost before you’ve begun, and its an insult to the R-Type name.” So when we started the project, I was very determined.
The continual requests from players to make another R-Type was another motivator. Players wrote about R-Type on their personal homepages, too. Knowing there were people showing their love for the series was a big encouragement. It went beyond just liking it… they were really passionate.
The Final R-Type
Kujo: This will be the last R-Type game Irem releases. If we didn’t add “Final” to the title, players would be waiting expectantly forever. It gradually dawned on me how cruel that would be, so from the start I thought it would better to say up front, “this is the end.” I also felt that if we could make a STG that you could play for a very long time, then maybe players wouldn’t have any reason to wait for a new release.
Our slogan during the development was “Let’s make a STG you can play for 100 years.” This was our plan from the very start, so the title on the production papers also says “R-Type FINAL (draft title)”. Then all we did was remove the “draft title” part. Though I do think players who see FINAL in the title will probably get mad and think “what gives them right to say that?”
The final “thank you” section of the manual was our way of saying thanks to all the players who have supported us for so long. Within Irem, we realized it was the “final” game, and we were able to show our gratitude to the players in a variety of ways. For example, the box label comes in 4 colors, the first press comes with dogtags, and although at first there was talk of raising the price to 6800 yen, someone said “that’s not how you show gratitude to our fans” and it was dropped.
And whenever I asked the staff to redo things because this was the final R-Type game, the staff was like, “well, since its the final game, I guess we’ve got to do it.” (laughs) We knew it was the last game from the start–there would be no do-overs. “FINAL II” wasn’t going to happen!
New Ideas and the history of R-Type
Kujo: One of the first things we decided was that we wanted to do something unexpected and unpredictable. So, in that vein, one of our initial design drawings was of a girl jogging with the R-9 flying in the sky overhead. Inspired by the drawing, we thought it would be interesting to show the R-9 flying in our everyday environment, soaring past us in our commute, on the way to school, etc. The opening movie, showing the R-9 flying over modern-day cities, reflects that idea. That’s also why stage 1.0 begins with the R-9 flying over the ocean.
The main thing we were resolved on was: no more starting from a space station! We also made the location where you fight the huge battleship not some “space warp dimension” or such, but in the sky above high-rise buildings. When players destroyed the buildings, we wanted them to wonder, “Is it ok for me to destroy the city like this…?”
Recent STG games cover the screen in bullets, but we weren’t consciously trying to go to the other extreme. The original R-Type was released long, long ago, and we wanted to show players that we understand its essential gameplay. We didn’t have any anxiety about going against the trend of current STGs.
However, the image everyone has about R-Type isn’t just for its gameplay, but also for the design and world. There were many things that were considered fixed and settled like that. From all different corners people would say “R-Type has to be like this,” and to be honest, there were times when it was stifling. We wanted to break through those preconceptions, though by R-Type Delta we had already gone 3D and added cities you could fly through. (laughs)
I talked with some of the senior programmers, and it sounded like they had a lot of trouble creating the Force in the original R-Type. They originally planned for it to also be attachable above and below your ship. In the end, I think they did a good job refining the design. Since R-Type is a game for hardcore STG fans, I think only being able to equip the Force front and back gives it a nice simplicity, you know?
They also told me that it was originally a 3-button game, for missile, shot, and Force, but due to business reasons they were asked to reduce it to 2 buttons. I heard that they then tried out various things to compensate for the missing button, like making the Force shot come out by waggling the joystick back and forth. (laughs)1
In R-Type, the only equipment power-up for your ship are the missiles. You start with the wave cannon already. On top of that, the Force is never destroyed no matter how much damage it takes, which I think is very generous. From the players perspective, they may think the Force allows for an easy victory. But thats a trap. (laughs) As basic design rules, naturally we left those three things in R-Type Final: the Force is indestructible, you can release and fire it, and it can be attached front and rear.
During the development of R-Type Delta, we tested out whether dying or not dying when you crash into the terrain would be fun. To be honest, its easier to make a game where hitting the terrain will kill you. It makes it easier to set the difficulty of the game. When terrain doesn’t kill you, if the terrain will also stop enemy bullets, it becomes way too easy. But when we actually tried it for R-Type Delta, we found that making the terrain non-lethal didn’t automatically weaken the strategic nature of the game. I think it actually raised it.
Part of the fun of the R-Type series comes from its chess-like nature. When you die, the player thinks things like “I should have moved here,” or “I should have equipped the Force behind me.” Its important that little clues are left for the player to figure out what went wrong. That allows the player to progress through his own abilities. If he thinks “this part is impossible,” he’ll probably stop playing then and there. Feeling a sense of improvement, that he played better today than yesterday, is a strength of the R-Type series.
While developing R-Type Final, I was reminded again how good the first R-Type was. I have to admit that even now I often end up saying the first R-Type is the best. With R-Type Delta we felt like we were really battling against the first R-Type, trying to best it, but this time that sense of competition wasn’t there. Since I’d already created an entry in the series, to a certain extent I was more relaxed.
R-Type Console Design
Kujo: We were conscious this time of making an R-Type game that could only be done with consoles. To that end we tried to “raise the volume” by including more ships and stages. We wanted something incomparably greater than the standard equation of “3 ships, 8 stages.” (laughs) You have to play for 120 minutes to unlock ships, but if you keep playing it everyday you’ll steadily acquire new ships. Regarding branching stages, we wanted to suprise players: “Huh? I thought there was more water here yesterday.” That was an idea we had at the start, a stage where the water level would change.
The reason you can’t save during the stages is because we doubted whether the strategic tension could be maintained that way. When you start stage 5.0, we wanted the players to reach it with the feeling of tension that comes from just having cleared stage 4.0. Its goes against the trend of recent STGs, but we insisted on giving players that experience.
Regarding the AI battle mode, I actually developed the arcade game “In the Hunt“, and if you play with 2 players you can fight each other at the end. This time we wanted the player to feel a kind of cute, pet-like attachment to the ships so we made it so you couldn’t control them. While watching them battle it should feel like “No, not that!” or “Ah, more to the right!”
Kita: There’s a lot of ships this time, but at the start of development, I kept thinking that number would be reduced somewhere along the way. (laughs)
Kujo: No one took it seriously. So I drew a flow chart of the different ships on a piece of paper, and stuck it on everyone’s cubicles. Finally they all realized it was for real! But as the versions of the ships kept changing, I kept having to update that flow chart, and every time I pinned it back up they’d all complain. As the development went on, I worked on the flow chart by myself, keeping the story in mind… I’d make a lightweight version of a ship, or a version without armor, things like that. I also wanted to include ships from Image Fight and Mr. Heli, to give the game an "Irem All Stars" kind of feel.
I was wondering how to display all the ships for the player… not a hangar or a factory, but maybe a museum or a graveyard. If we went with a museum, I thought it would be cool to show people around the ships admiring them. The ship designs themselves started off with the R-9A as our base, and gradually got further and further from that, until in the end, anything was possible.
Kita: All the designers were saying we didn’t want to make ships that would look so similar it would be like a “spot the difference” puzzle game. Instead, we tried as hard as possible to differentiate one from another.
Yamada: We didn’t want them to all be seen as variations on the same ship. But I’m an R-Type fan, and there were also ships where I worried it was too strange of a design.
Kujo: For that reason I told everyone not to just make ships you personally liked–it had to be ones where you felt you really wanted to use it in the game. That way, for each ship there would probably be a player who found it their favorite. Without that kind of limitation, making a lot of ships would be pointless.
Yamada: I struggled with the designs that had only minor changes. If you changed them too much, it wouldn’t be like the original version anymore. With so many ships by the end of development, I ended up making more that looked stern and fierce, with antennas and claws and so forth.
Kujo: The ship design work was very popular among the staff. We ended up adding more and more designers to the team, and there were a lot of people who said “ship design” when I asked them what they wanted to do. The ship that has a canopy like a test-tube was done by a person who had never even played R-Type. He was trying to imitate the R-9, and had that accidental success.
Normally that would be a design failure, but with a lineage of ships this varied, I thought there would might be extreme designs like that, too. Someone joked that if it had a test tube like that, it should have measurement markings on it as well, and I was afraid someone would actually do that. (laughs) From that idea came the new story idea of a pilot who floats within the liquid filled “test tube” canopy.
Yamada: To get into the nitty-gritty, the first R-Type ship canopy actually has lines that go straight down on the sides–its not circularly rounded like a test tube. Somewhere around the Super Famicom R-Types, that curved canopy design came out. I’m rather conservative (laughs), so I made all my canopy designs look like the first ship.
Kujo: One thing I requested was not to make the bottom part of the ships too level or flat… I wanted the ships to look like they would get smashed up if they tried to land. Since its a horizontal STG where you fly through the air, if the bottom portion didn’t protrude to a certain degree, it would look unstable on the screen.
Yamada: That’s why we focused on having a triangluar balance to the ships, when viewed from the side.
Kujo: The robot transforming type ship was an idea I had long ago from the original R-Type. I thought it would be nice to include ideas in the final R-Type that couldn’t be realized in the first.
Kita: I struggled with knowing how far to go with the designs. I was excited, but also a little worried, about how people would react to particularly strange ship designs like the caterpillar shaped ship. I know a lot of designers also worried about the Force designs.
Kujo: Yeah, when the “Platonic Love” ship was finished, I remember saying to the designer “If the ship is going to be about love, I don’t see how platonic fits here.” He got really angry with me. (laughs)
Yamada: In R-Type, when the Force is attached to your ship, it rotates with it. I thought the level of thoroughness of the design was amazing. So if it wasn’t going to rotate, we still needed to make something that would look cool. I thought there were times when it would have looked better to have it rotate, and that was troubling. When coming up with ideas for the Force I looked to a variety of ships from other STGs. I wondered how a Force would look for the GALLOP ship? Though, I’m not really sure how many people there are who even know GALLOP. (laughs)
Kujo: Because of our fans’ ardent devotion to R-Type, we were able to make this game. Without that I don’t think it would have been made. We crafted the game carefully, transferring our knowledge of R-Type to the junior staff, so we hope our fans will enjoy the game. I’ve said it many times now, but this is the last R-Type game. I hope players see it as a farewell ceremony, like spreading the ashes of R-Type. Here lies R-Type! So please, try it for yourself.
Kita: We developed the game thinking it would be something you could really sink your teeth into, and find new flavors each time. So please enjoy it.
Yamada: Don’t be thinking, “they’ll just make another one.” Please enjoy our final game!
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The term used here is “rebaa gachi”, which means to fiercely waggle/move the joystick back and forth. Its usually used in fighting games to wake up from a dizzy/paralyzed state. I assume he laughs here because of how awkward a system like that would be.↩