Silhouette Mirage – 1997 Developer Interviews

Silhouette Mirage – 1997 Developer Interviews

These two Silhouette Mirage interviews from 1997/1998 first appeared in game hihyou and Sega Saturn magazines. The first is a standard discussion of game design, story, and characters with lead planner Koichi Kimura and main programmer Masaki Ukyo. The second was part of a unique “self-criticism” feature column that ran in game hihyou, where developers looked back and offered critical remarks on their own work.

Masaki Ukyo – Programmer/Director
Koichi Kitamura – Planning Lead

—Silhouette Mirage is different from previous sidescrolling action games in the way it incorporates elements of the vs. fighting genre such as throws.

Kimura: I wanted to try making a game that wasn’t strictly memorizable for players. Of course you don’t usually see throws and grabs in your typical action platformer—I suppose the idea would only have occurred to people who play fighting games. However, it wasn’t just because we wanted to add “vs. fighting mechanics” per se; we added them because they were fun in the context of the overall system.

Ukyo: In our original planning documents, the idea was simply to make an action game that incorporated the concept of “attributes”, and to create a new, distinct kind of action gameplay. Grabbing, throwing, cash bashing, etc were all added later, as was the Reflector mechanic. It was more like during the development we got all these cool ideas and wanted to add them. It was the same way with most of the game rules, too, like what happens when you fight enemies of the same or different attributes. And the mechanic where your power goes down if your Spirit gauge falls was added at the last minute.

—It kind of sounds like you wanted to turn this into a vs. fighting game. (laughs)

Ukyo: I actually wanted to give the player fighting moves. Programming those games is my specialty, after all. (laughs) I asked Kimura if I could add punching and kicking moves, and he said no. (laughs) We settled on adding throws, although that meant changing the direction the character faces. In the fight with Megido, though, there’s a bunch of vs. fighting moves.

—Do you feel like this development took advantage of your experience, then?

Ukyo: Well, the system itself is based on Guardian Heroes, but sort of remade to fit the gameplay and design of Silhouette Mirage.

—Was it difficult to build an action game around the concept of “attributes”?

Ukyo: In the very beginning, the idea we had could hardly be called a game. (laughs) Basically, we just had a system where you had to hit enemies with the opposite attribute, and if anything it felt like annoying busywork for the player. We had an extremely hard time coming up with ways to make such a system more fun. The Reflector mechanic was one of our solutions.

Masaki Ukyo, main programmer.

—It sounds like you came up with a lot of the ideas for Shyna’s basic movements and actions as the development progressed, then.

Ukyo: Yeah. If there’s someone out there who can come up with every aspect of a great game from the beginning, and then just execute that with no changes, well… I’d like to meet that person! They must be a genius.

—What parts of Silhouette Mirage do you think came out really well?

Ukyo: Well, I think it was a very good call to add the Reflector mechanic. It came about just through random conversations with the team, but it allowed us to liven up the gameplay without abandoning the core attribute concept. I also think that Dynamis, the stage 2 boss, came out really well. That boss makes the best use of the attribute concept.

—The scenes in stage 2 where Dynamis is reflected in the windows must have been very technically difficult to program.

Ukyo: Those scenes were definitely a challenge. Kimura, you see, would usually come to me with a bunch of his ideas and be like, “Ok, put these in the game!” And making all of those ideas work within the basic system was very hard… hah, sorry Kimura!

—Are there any parts of the game that you really obsessed over?

Ukyo: Not really… (laughs) Ah, I just thought of one actually—the crouch. For one example, there’s a certain boss fight where I made it so if you crouch, you can completely dodge his attack. The crouch is useful in a lot of other situations too, and I’ll be happy if players use the Crouch Dash a lot.

—I’m surprised to hear that about crouching. It seems like a pretty standard element of action games. Why did you focus on it?

Ukyo: In the beginning everyone was saying “we don’t need a crouch”, and that annoyed me. So I set out to prove them wrong by making it really useful. (laughs)

—How do you think Silhouette Mirage should be enjoyed?

Ukyo: The way I want players to see Silhouette Mirage is not “it’s an action game so we had to do it this way”, but rather, “it’s an action game AND look at all the cool things you can do!”

The “cute but badass” character designs of Silhouette Mirage.

—What is the one element of Silhouette Mirage that you really want players to see, then?

Ukyo: Obviously this is my personal opinion, but I definitely want players to try the Crouch and Crouch Dash. But the truth is, when I watched testplayers during the debugging, I noticed that they all had their own way of playing. Some would Cash Bash every enemy, while others would methodically destroy everything before moving forward. Even when it comes to maneuvering around enemies, some players would use the slide, while others would intentionally throw enemies behind them to set up an attack. I enjoyed just watching all their different techniques. In other words, there isn’t really one right way to play Silhouette Mirage.

—Kimura, where did the concept for the protagonist Shyna come from?

Kimura: If we’re talking purely about her character design, my first image was a witch at a Halloween costume party. I love witches, and my first idea was to create a game with a fantasy world that could feature them. Unfortunately, I’m just no good with fantasy settings (laughs), so I changed the setting to a modern one, but left the witch part in. Along with that, I had the concept for an action game with “attributes”, which eventually became the two colors.

—Judging from the dialogue I’ve seen so far, this doesn’t sound like your typical “I’m going to save the world!” protagonist.

Kimura: That’s right. That was intentional. I didn’t want Shyna to be just another cutesy character, and I don’t really like “good guy” characters either. On that point, I think Silhouette Mirage came out just as I had hoped. There were almost no revisions needed for the characters, and they appear in game just as I imagined them in the beginning. And while there were many problems we had in terms of incorporating Shyna into the game system, thankfully the designers had a lot of ideas up their sleeves.

—Putting aside Shyna for the moment, the Kupito [[“Polly Peeper” in the English localization]] enemy character seems to be gaining a lot of popularity at the moment…

Kimura: (laughs) I like all the characters, but the Kupitos are definitely my favorite. As far as their design goes, my thinking was the same as it was for Shyna and all the others: I didn’t want characters that were just cute cute cute. With Kupito, her sweet face is just a mask, and underneath that she is actually mummified. And they’re cute, but they’re wielding guns and explosives… things like that help distinguish them.

—Some of our writers who have played Silhouette Mirage have said they think the story is really great, too.

Kimura: In the scenario I wrote for our last game, Guardian Heroes, the story was very event-driven, and had some tension from the very outset. But with Silhouette Mirage, I wanted things to start out on a comical note. Then right before the climax, things suddenly get really serious. For players who are into the characters, it might feel too intense, but if they stick to it and get through it, I think they’ll understand what we were going for.

The Kupito enemies (aka “Polly Peepers”)

There’s more than one ending for Silhouette Mirage, but neither are “bad” endings; we didn’t want players to feel like one way was right and another was wrong. In Guardian Heroes, there’s one ending which clearly feels like the Chaos ending, and if you choose that path, the game kind of ends on this “you’re an asshole” note. (laughs) We decided this time that none of the endings would be “wrong.”

Also, in retrospect I think the development of the story in Guardian Heroes was a bit too complicated. That was another thing we tried to improve on in Silhouette Mirage, and make it easier to understand.

—It sounds like you accomplished a lot that you wanted to try in this game. Like setting the story in modern times, for example.

Kimura: Yeah. I had an idea for a modern setting in my mind, so I tried as much as possible to feature modern buildings, cityscapes, etc. The settings you usually see in fantasy games—open plains, underwater worlds, and so forth—I intentionally avoided using those. Personally, I really love night cityscapes, and I thought it would look cool to have a setting that expressed that beauty—the section in Stage 2 where the city lights are reflected in the building windows was my idea. Visually it turned out to be one of the big selling points of the game, which I’m very happy about.

—The way the stages are constructed, it seems you put a lot of effort into the visual perspective.

Kimura: Yeah. Today games are exploring new perspectives with 3D, but we wanted to see how far we could push the idea of extra visual perspectives/depth in a 2D game. All our developers have been playing and making games since the Famicom era, as you know. We wanted to take one of these “next generation” machines like the Sega Saturn and use it to do all the things that we could never do before, and try to give a greater sense of depth/perspective. It’s not the true depth and space you get from a real 3D game, of course, but I hope it makes people feel that way.

—What was the most important thing you focused on in this development?

Kimura: The attribute system, as you can probably guess. The challenge was to design gameplay that wouldn’t just feel like an extra burden on players.

For example, when you shoot an enemy with the opposite attribute, they lose life. That’s the way it is in most games. But what should happen when you shoot an enemy with the same color? In almost every game, the only difference is that it’s faster to kill enemies with the opposite attribute… but if that’s all it is, it really makes the whole attribute concept meaningless.

On that point we struggled a great deal, trying to find gameplay that would make the attribute system more strategic and meaningful. The development really proceeded slowly then, moving one step at a time, shaving off mechanics that felt superfluous or inconsistent, making adjustments, and testing it all over again.

The stage 2 boss battle with Dynamis, where she is seen reflected in the buildings windows, was a technical feat on the Sega Saturn. It also showcases planner Koichi Kimura’s love for modern settings and city nightscapes.

—Was it your decision to go with small chibi character sprites?

Kimura: Yeah, because I’ve never been very good at drawing very serious or realistic looking characters. (laughs) I know the style will come off as absurd to a lot of people, but in my case, those labels and standards don’t really mean much to me. Or maybe it’s more correct that I am my own standard (laughs), and that being the case, I didn’t really bother myself with those concerns and just let myself draw what I liked.

Generally speaking, I don’t like “cutesy” stuff, but what I really don’t like is stuff that’s cloyingly cute through-and-through, where cute is all it is. Like my other games, I think that Silhouette Mirage conveys that aesthetic too, of characters who look cute but act badass. That could be the motto for my games!

Silhouette Mirage – 1998 Developer Retrospective

originally featured in game hihyou magazine

By Koichi Kitamura (planning team lead)

One day not long ago, the President of Treasure came to me nearly in tears, and tugging on my sleeve pleaded: “You’ve got to help me with this article, or I’m done for!” He then shoved some paper into my hands and promptly departed. It was simply titled “Silhouette Mirage Self-Criticism.”

I have a lot of different memories of the Silhouette Mirage development; it would be nearly impossible to write about them all in this small space. Nonetheless, I see this assignment calls for a pretty big word count, so I’ll do my best. Here we go.

I suppose it all began with the concept of “attributes,” and of course that was the big selling point of Silhouette Mirage. Personally, I had only envisioned the gameplay system in terms of the opposite attributes, and insofar as it goes, I think it was successful (it didn’t really matter to me, by the way, how those opposites were expressed, but colors looked cool, so we went with that). I think players who got past that hurdle were able to really enjoy the game and all the gameplay that built on those basic skills. The stage 4 boss, Delia, who you defeat by knocking Spectre enemies into the soup bowl, for example, was really popular, and that made me happy.

The world was not so kind to Silhouette Mirage, however. For the people whom the system didn’t really click with, this was a perplexing game, one where you don’t even know how to kill the enemies! I unloaded all the details of the gameplay system (reflecting shots, money, etc) on the player all at once, right at the beginning… I wonder if that was my mistake? Perhaps I should have given the players less to focus on in the beginning: just teach them that attacking with the same attribute means you damage Spirit, and opposite attribute means you damage life. The in-game text also bears some of the responsibility, of course. It’s really a lot of things.

Shyna cosplay by miyuka.

Anyway, let’s change the subject—this is getting depressing! As for the enemy algorithms, people have told me that once you get used to them , they’re too easy. However, for me, I mainly thought of the enemies in terms of the attribute system, and how to make that more fun, so I didn’t want them to be too difficult in their own right. For players who have realized that grabbing enemies and throwing them is the most efficient strategy, I suggest trying a new playstyle sometime that doesn’t use throws.

Unrelated to the gameplay, another reason we set the difficulty low was out of concern for those who were playing the game for the characters and the story. Wanting to know more about the world/characters, but being unable to progress because the game is too hard—that’s an experience I’ve had myself numerous times, so I made sure the difficulty in Silhouette Mirage wasn’t excluding people.

There were a lot of women in particular who bought the game because they liked the characters, and some of them told me how they really liked the ending… so I can’t help but feel glad that I set the enemy difficulty low enough to allow them to experience the entire world of Silhouette Mirage. As such, for my goals, the enemies fully served their purpose.

In contrast, there was an aspect of Silhouette Mirage that served to raise the difficulty—I’m talking about the save system. It’s something I now regret. It was an unkind system. People also told me that it discouraged them from short, quick playsessions because it took too long to save. The whole thing taught me an invaluable lesson, that you can’t just focus on the substantive content of the game to the exclusion of the elements that frame it. Basically, I just want to offer my apologies here.

Turning to the characters and story, I handled all the character design except the giant gun and the two-legged robot (there were many people better than me at mecha design). Ever since Dynamite Heady, when I draw I pay mind to two processes: that of simplification and that of abstraction. Maybe it’s because the games I’ve designed have all been action games, but I focus on creating characters whose shape and form will allow for easy, attention-grabbing movement and actions. In addition, I try to give everything a sense of unity in terms of design. On both accounts, I think the characters I made for Silhouette Mirage were a success.

The stage 4 boss Delia. Kimura says this fight made particularly good use of the attribute system.

I also personally really like the story. It’s the tale of a world where the past is not very clear, so I didn’t try to explain it in much detail in the game. I wanted to emphasize the problems of the present: “what do we do now” rather than focus on the past, you see. There are two endings, but neither is “good” or “bad.” Also, I sometimes hear the opinion that action games don’t need stories, but if a game has characters, then I want to add as much story as possible—taking care not to have too much text slowing down the action, of course. I don’t think we did a bad job this time, but there’s still room for improvement.

Also, Silhouette Mirage has almost no options for the player to adjust. Obviously it would have been better to allow players to adjust things to their liking, and thereby broaden the appeal of the game. It’s a definite minus point.

I’ve written a lot here, but I have no idea if this really amounts to “game criticism” or not. And I worry that maybe I’ve pissed a bunch of players off: “how dare he say that… bastard!” Well, I guess if I don’t see the President around my desk for awhile, then I’ll know I screwed it up!

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