Senko no Ronde – 2010 Developer Interview
This interview with G.Rev director Hiroyuki Maruyama mainly covers the origins and design of the “vs. shooting” series Senko no Ronde, but also touches on some general questions about STG. Unfortunately, there is little detailed info about the gameplay design itself, and one senses that the interviewer was not especially familiar with the series. This interview originally appeared in STG Gameside #1.
—Please tell us the different game developments you’ve been involved with so far.
Maruyama: At my previous company (Taito) I worked on G-Darius. After founding G.Rev, I did the planning and producing for Border Down, the Senko no Ronde series, and Mamoru-kun wa Norawarete Shimatta! I didn’t do any of the planning for Under Defeat, but I handled overall direction and production duties.
—Of the different STG titles you’ve worked on, do you have any particular favorites?
Maruyama: It’s difficult for me to say “favorite” in this way, but in the sense that it left a lasting impression on me, I would say Border Down. There was the motivation of it being our first STG at G.Rev, and I had to overcome many practical hurdles related to budget and company administration. I have a lot of pride, even now, that we were able to complete that game. Although it’s true that when I look back at Border Down now, I see lots of things I’d like to fix. (laughs)
—In addition to G.Rev’s traditional style STGs like Border Down and Under Defeat, you’ve also created STGs in a variety of styles, such as the “vs. danmaku” series Senko no Ronde, or the action STG Mamoru-kun wa Norowarete Shimatta! What is a STG game to you, Maruyama?
Maruyama: In a broad sense, I think any game where you aim and shoot can be called a “shooting game.” For example, in the action sequences of Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles I get a similar satisfaction that I get from STG games.
Of course I understand that by “STG” you meant the narrower sense of the genre. But for me personally, what I try to pursue in a STG is just that sense of satisfaction.
—Do you think the new “danmaku vs. action-STG” genre of Senko no Ronde has attracted a new class of players to STG?
Maruyama: Well, it’s a brand new genre, so naturally I think everyone is new to it. As for whether it has attracted players to the STG genre proper, I think it probably has achieved that, to an extent. However, is Senko no Ronde really a “STG” game, in that narrow sense of the word? I would say it’s different. And I didn’t make it with that intention in the first place, either. So it might just be a kind of meaningless question in the end. If nothing else, I do feel that Senko no Ronde has introduced a new group of users to G.rev, and raised some interest in our other games.
—Do you plan to develop other “danmaku vs. action-STG” games besides the Senko no Ronde series in the future?
Maruyama: There’s a possibility, but at the present moment I want to do other things. (laughs) But there are a lot of things left that I want to communicate from the story of Senko no Ronde, so I’m considering that for a future theme.
—How did Senko no Ronde Rev. X come to be released for the Xbox 360?
Maruyama: At first we were thinking it would be released for the original Xbox. As you know, at the time the Xbox was having a really hard time in the market. So normally this would be an insane choice, (laughs) but I was really interested in the network capabilities of Xbox LIVE, so I contacted Microsoft to see about possibly releasing on their platform. They turned around and offered us the chance to release it for the Xbox 360 instead, their next-gen hardware.
—And how about the arcade release Senko no Ronde SP, which mixed in some elements from the console release? How did that come about?
Maruyama: I had decided that I wanted to release both the arcade and console releases concurrently, if possible. The online battles of the console release inevitably had some amount of lag, so in doing so I was trying to tell players I wanted them to try out the arcade release, Senko no Ronde SP. Ultimately that approach had both good and bad points, but we took it as something for us to improve upon in the future.
—The sci-fi world of Senko no Ronde takes place in space. How did you come up with that idea?
Maruyama: Hmm, exactly “how” is a difficult question for me to answer… Well, basically STG games and outer space settings get along quite well, right? (laughs) Since I was a kid, I have also loved reading reference books on space and astronomy, which I would check out from the library.
I’m just into space generally. I have a personal interest in it, but if you delve too deep into your obsessions for a game it will be difficult to tell a story, so I pulled it back a little. I think one shouldn’t go too deep with one’s niche interests when making a game. I guess I’m not really that obsessed though—I don’t read a lot of sci-fi novels or anything, for instance.
—What were some of the challenges you faced creating the world and plot for Senko no Ronde?
Maruyama: The story itself wasn’t very difficult to write, but for the first Senko no Ronde I decided to convey the plot entirely through character dialogue, only giving players fragments and glimpses of the larger story. That was very difficult. Despite all that work, players said the story was hard to understand, so I felt very discouraged for awhile after. (laughs) For that and other reasons, I didn’t include a story mode in the arcade version of Senko no Ronde DUO, but then everyone criticized that choice too…! So yeah, for the Senko no Ronde series, it was really how I conveyed things that was difficult.
—The Senko no Ronde characters have a lot of quirks and personality; were you conscious of the need for likeable, interesting characters in a versus fighting game? Also, what were some of the difficulties you had with making the characters (in both games)?
Maruyama: Before we even thought about that, we knew that in order to show developed characters, you need to create a pscyhology for them. I think the detailed characters were simply a result of us trying to do that.
As for what we struggled with… there were so many characters (especially in Senko no Ronde DUO) that coming up with distinct personalities for each of them was difficult. Creating and motivating characters who are have a completely different psychology from your own is a ton of work, so I would always try to find some fragment of myself on which to base each character. But predictably, since there were so many, I ran out of ideas… I think it’s going to be awhile before I can create anything with lots of characters again. (laughs)
—The Senko no Ronde series features a lot of attractive characters, but in Senko no Ronde DUO you added the archetypal “old man” characters with Detective Alessandro and Giles. What were your intentions in adding them?
Maruyama: I had wanted to add them in the previous game, but wasn’t able to. For making the world feel bigger, “normal” characters are an absolute necessity!
—The characters in Senko no Ronde, both male and female, are drawn in the bishounen style, and it seems like your intention there was to attract female gamers. Were there any points you worked particularly hard on, either in the difficulty balancing or the character balancing, with regards to female players?
Maruyama: That visual aspect was something I entrusted to the character designer Sogabe, but as far as the game itself, no, I wasn’t really thinking about anything like that. What was very present in my mind for the X360 version of Senko no Ronde DUO, however, was the need to include something so players could freely adjust the difficulty when fighting against the computer in Story Mode. But this too was done more for players who weren’t very good at difficult games and just wanted to enjoy the story, rather than any special considerations about gender.
—The character designers for the Senko no Ronde series are Shuji Sogabe and Mizuki Takayama, and the mecha designers are Kouichi Mugitani and Nanashichi Yamamoto. Please share any particularly memorable episodes with them from the development.
Maruyama: There’s a lot, but most of them I’m not really at liberty to talk about. (laughs) During the development of the first Senko no Ronde, no one on the team knew each other, but mecha designers Yamamoto and Mugitani really got on smoothly. My original plan for the character design was to subcontract that work out to an anime company, but Mugitani told me about a young man named Shuji Sogabe who wanted the job. I thought, hey, why not—it was already a somewhat experimental project, so I gave him a shot. I realize that sounds like a story from some manga, but it’s true. (laughs)
—Have you thought about turning Senko no Ronde into a multimedia experience, with manga, anime, or novel adaptations?
Maruyama: I have, but the conversation has never gone far because G.Rev doesn’t have that kind of money. I really feel the sting of that today.
—Please share any interesting episodes regarding the limited edition drama cds “kagayake! senkoro gakuen” that have accompanied both Senko no Duo entries.
Maruyama: For the Senko no Ronde Rev. X we had the entire cast participate in the recording. It was… how should I put this… in that moment I felt we were capturing a different “performance” from the in-game recordings. I also felt a lot of pressure having to direct everyone, since I’m just an amateur in such things. I guess it was alright, since in the end we got serious and finished it, and it was fun for what it was. (laughs) And Senko no Ronde DUO was similar, with the drama cd recording being a lot more casual than the game. It was a very memorable experience, seeing everyone doing lots of adlibbing and enjoying themselves.
—The composer Yasuhisa Watanabe has been involed with the music for a number of G.Rev’s games, including Border Down and Senko no Ronde. Are there any interesting stories about him from the Senko no Ronde development?
Maruyama: This is also difficult to talk about in a just a few words! We’ve known each other for a very long time, yet if you go by the numbers, he’s only worked on 3 of our titles. In that sense I feel there’s a lot about Watanabe that I still don’t know. But there is a side of him that I know very well, with regard to certain things…. that can be both a good thing, and a bad thing. In light of all that, just picking a single episode or anecdote to tell is really difficult for me.
—Do you have any desire to port G.Rev’s past STG titles Border Down and Under Defeat to current consoles?
Maruyama: It all depends on luck and timing. The truth is we had plans to do that several years ago, but ultimately they didn’t materialize. The important thing is finding people at G.Rev who want to do it when the timing is right. Naturally, the question “is this something players actually want to buy?” is also key.
—Strania (working title), your new sci-fi action STG game, had a location test in the arcades last year. Please tell us the history of that development.
Maruyama: Calling it “history” is a little much, but the development started from the concept of creating “a style of STG not seen today.” After the location test, the project was neglected for awhile, which I’d like to apologize for. Partly it was the state of affairs of arcades, and partly it was a number of circumstances we had to deal with, but we had to lay low for awhile as a company. I’m sorry. However, we are working on it again.
—Please tell us what STG games you think are interesting today.
Maruyama: Hmmm… from what I’ve seen around me, in the strict meaning of “STG” there aren’t any. There’s Cave’s newest STG, Akai Katana, at my local game center, but the cabinet has been down for repairs so I haven’t got to try it yet, unfortunately! It’s not STG, but lately I’ve been playing a lot of Sega’s Border Break.
—What do you the future looks like for STG games and the STG market?
Maruyama: To my thinking, making diverse, new STGs and attracting brand new players are two very important things, and at G.Rev we’re going to do our best to make games that answer both those themes. In that sense, my answer to your question is “please keep an eye on G.Rev’s upcoming games!” However, as for the present problem for the STG game market, given that STG is a niche among niches, I don’t we can really even talk about anything like the “trends of the STG market.”
—Please give a final message to fans of G.Rev’s work.
Maruyama: Thank you for playing our games! We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. We will continue to remember the needs of beginners/new players, and do our best to craft games that meet—no, exceed—your expectations. Thank you!
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