Skies of Arcadia – Developer Interview Collection

Skies of Arcadia – Developer Interview Collection

This massive selection of Skies of Arcadia interviews chronicles the development of the game from 1999 through 2000. After the two Famitsu Dreamcast interviews with Producer Rieko Kodama and Director/Planner Shuntaro Tanaka, I’ve arranged the remaining Dreamcast Magazine interviews in chronological order. Gameplay, characters, inspiration, worldbuilding, and more are all discussed in great detail.

—Skies of Arcadia takes place in the open skies. That’s quite an unusual setting... what were you aiming for when you chose it?1

Kodama: Our vision for the world of this game was an atmosphere of adventure and exploration. Historically there was a real “Age of Discovery”, in which people set out to explore new continents, find treasure, and follow their dreams across the oceans. I thought it would be so cool to make a game in a world like that. Then the idea came to me, what if it’s the sky, not the sea? To adventure in a world like that, with 360 degrees of total freedom in the wide open skies… it’s the perfect setting for one’s dreams, don’t you think?

Tanaka: We also intended to make something that could take full advantage of the Dreamcast’s hardware. To express a sense of depth and distance requires sufficiently powerful hardware, after all.

—I can see how travelling by ship would offer players a high degree of freedom.

Kodama: Yeah. What islands will you explore today? Or maybe you’re looking for a place to set anchor for the night, and you hear a tale of a “treasure island” to the south of here, and you decide to head out that way. You can do all that and more. Of course, there are some game-based restrictions we’ll be implementing, but basically, you’ll be free to go where you want. We just really want to make players feel like they’re on a grand adventure.

Tanaka: Exploration is obviously a key feature of the “Age of Discovery”, but in video games, too, there’s a simple joy of discovery and exploration. We’re hoping to intertwine those two pleasures (the exploration elements of the story and the exploration elements of the gameplay), so that by their synergy, we can provide an even more enjoyable experience.

—In the world of Skies of Arcadia, we’ve seen there are powerful imperialistic kingdoms, and the young sky pirates who rebel against them; is that struggle one of the central themes of the game?

Tanaka: No, we’re not going for a typical “small group of rebels versus the evil empire” kind of theme. It’s not structured like that. I think you'll discover the themes as you play the game.

—Is it going to have a serious story, then? The characters seem rather adult.

Tanaka: In terms of how the story flows, no, I don’t think it’s all that serious. It’s got more of a lively, action-adventure kind of feel… not something where you’re under some huge pressure to “save the world from destruction” or anything like that. It’s more of a journey that takes you outside of yourself and into the wider, unknown world. Set sail! Let’s see what’s out there! —more that kind of feeling.

Producer Rieko Kodama and planner / director Shuntaro Tanaka.

Kodama: Positive and cheerful are what we’re going for. We’ve added lots of gags and humor into the dialogue too. Of course, there are also sad scenes. But right now “serious” and “dark” RPGs are all the rage, and in response we want to do something lighter and more adventurous, so there’s an element of slapstick too.

—What kind of battle system will Skies of Arcadia have?

Tanaka: We’ll have to keep you in suspense for now. Sorry! (laughs)

Kodama: Visually, we want to make something with a lot of movement and animation. I know that’s a little vague, but it will be unlike any RPG you’ve seen before. The battle scenes will use the full capabilities of the Dreamcast hardware.

—”Flying ships” immediately makes me think of Leiji Matsumoto’s comics Captain Harlock and Queen Emeraldas. And Space Battleship Yamato, too. Will female pirate characters like Emeraldas be making an appearance in Skies of Arcadia, I wonder?

Kodama: I don’t know about female pirates specifically, but there will be a large variety of crew for you to encounter. Naturally, those encounters are tied into the story as well.

Tanaka: I think every person has stories they read as kids that really moved them and left a big imprint on their imagination. Stories about mysterious uninhabited islands, stories about battles with pirate ships, stories about treasure maps… those kind of nautical adventure stories, we all know them, and no doubt they captured your imagination and wonder at some point in your life. We want to seize on those “archetypal” experiences for Skies of Arcadia.

—Right, stories like Gulliver’s Travels and Jules Vernes’ Two Year Vacation.

Kodama: And Treasure Island. Yeah, I think we all read those as kids, and we were all fascinated.

Tanaka: So our idea for a game was to take those old stories and give them a modern arrangement, while utilizing the full capabilities of the Dreamcast. That vision was with us from the very start of the development.

Kodama: Yes, so if you’re an adult, I recommend reading Treasure Island again and re-immersing yourself in those memories. Then if you play Skies of Arcadia after that, I think it will double or triple your enjoyment.

Literary classics like Treasure Island were a huge influence on the themes and aesthetic of Skies of Arcadia.

—Please give a final message.

Kodama: I think Skies of Arcadia will really evoke those childhood classics like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. It’ll be something thrilling and exciting, I believe. Sailing your ship on a journey through the vast skies, cutting through a bank of clouds, beyond which lie unknown lands… that’s the kind of enjoyment we hope to convey.

The story, the graphics, the books you read as a kid, the gameplay systems—we’re working to mesh those together to achieve a singular enjoyment. Discovery, adventure, and treasure-hunting have been featured in RPGs before, but we’re trying to combine them into something new.

Tanaka: I want to point out the beautiful graphics as well, which can only be found on the Dreamcast. Imagery like a floating island with a waterfall spilling out from a cloud—we’ve got a lot of tricks up our sleeve to bring those 3D graphics to life. From the polygon count to everything else, this is a title that takes full advantage of the Dreamcast’s power. We want Skies of Arcadia to be a game where people see it and go, “Wow, I can’t believe video games have come this far.” The flying scenes in particular feel great. And it’s not just graphics—the gameplay systems will also make full use of the new hardware.

Kodama: Our team has years of experience making RPGs, strategy games, and adventure games, and Skies of Arcadia represents the pinnacle of all that accumulated know-how, so you can expect great things from it. We’ll be displaying the game at the upcoming Tokyo Game Show, so if you have the chance, be sure to come see it in action with your own two eyes!

Rieko Kodama and Shuntaro Tanaka

(Famitsu Dreamcast 2000/05/26)

—In this issue of Famitsu Dreamcast, you’ve introduced the Cannon Fighting Mode, a unique system for an RPG. Why did you adopt this system for Skies of Arcadia?

Kodama: One of Skies of Arcadia’s motifs was the “Age of Discovery”, so we wanted to recreate the feeling of the battles from that era in this game. We went to the trouble of creating these ships for players to fly around and explore the world, so it would be a shame if you didn’t get to see them fire their cannons in battle, right?

Tanaka: We weren’t 100% sure it was a good idea to split the battles into two different systems like this, but in the end it also uses the Spirit system and a traditional command-style (turn based) interface, so I don’t think players will be confused.

Kodama: There will also be customization options for your ship outside of the cannon battles. The main character is a boy who grew up riding on his Father’s ship, and now he has his own ship and crew, and you get to manage that and help it grow. We’re hoping we can connect that system to the battles themselves, which would be cool.

Ohba: This is my ship!—we want players to feel that sense of personal ownership. (laughs) If you want to create some massive crazy battleship with nothing but huge cannons, that’s fine—or if you want smaller auxiliary cannons with rapid-fire capabilities, you can do that too. When you have your own ship, you can’t help but want to “dress it up” to your own tastes, right? That was another reason we added the cannon fighting mode, actually: to give players a chance to see all their customizations in action.

—At the Tokyo Game Show, you also talked about the crew system a bit.

Kodama: In addition to customizing the weaponry, you can also swap out crew members, which will change your ship’s abilities. If you have a far-sighted crew member, for instance, and you make him stand watch, it will have an effect on the battles.

Tanaka: There’s a cook too.

—A cook? What does he do?

Tanaka: Well, having a good cook means you get to eat delicious food, of course…

—It restores your health, then?

Tanaka: Perhaps… but we don’t want to reveal any details yet.

Kodama: We wanted to give players a sense that it wasn’t just their party members who were fighting—the entire crew of the ship is there fighting alongside you, too.

Tanaka: Searching for crew members is another fun thing to do in this game. As you find more of them, perhaps you’ll decide “Ok, I’m only going to have women on my ship!”, and that’s perfectly fine, I think.

—When I think of naval battles, I imagine complicated scenarios with multiple (more than 2) ships fighting each other… will there be battles like that?

Tanaka: Controlling multiple ships, or having “party” style battles with multiple ships, would have made the game much more complex, so for this game at least, we decided not to. There are story battles that involve fleets though… times where a friendly vessel comes to assist you in a battle, things like that. And of course, there are some parts where you’ll have multiple cannon-mode fights back-to-back.

The one-on-one ship battles were a unique part of Skies of Arcadia.

—In the demo and the promotional video you showed at the Tokyo Game Show, it looks like there’s a rich variety of environments to explore. How big is this game going to be?

Kodama: You’ll be adventuring through a very large, open world. Just as the words “Age of Exploration” suggest, adventuring through the world on your own is one of our themes, and I really want players to begin the game as Vyse does: totally unaware of what lies in the world out there… so I’m going to refrain from giving any more details now.

—What has the response been like from people who had a chance to try the demo out at the Tokyo Game Show?

Kodama: What made me happiest to hear was that people enjoyed flying through the sky. It’s been difficult to convey in static screenshots up to now, but it’s something I really wanted players to get.

Tanaka: Players told me the character models were very expressive and seemed full of life—that made me happy to hear. We put a lot of effort into the battle graphics for this event too, and those were also praised.

Kodama: Naturally, it wasn’t all good news. One thing players told us was that the encounter rate seemed too high, so we’ll be taking a look at that.

—Do you take user feedback very seriously, then? I noticed there’s a feedback form on your webpage as well.

Kodama: Of course. Everyone on the development team looks at the comments on those feedback forms. We’re very happy to have people engaged like that, whatever they write. We’ve sometimes made revisions based on what their feedback said, too. We try to read all that feedback, be it e-mail or the questionnaires, in a prompt fashion. At present, all the game assets have been completed, so it’s all down to the programmers now I think. The designers will be working on improving and touching-up the assets, while the planners work on balancing, and the programmers try to stamp out any bugs. It’s the point in the development where user feedback can really make a difference, so I think it was probably perfect timing for the public exhibition at the TGS.

—And finally, what we’re all waiting to hear: any word on a release date…?

Kodama: Up to now we haven’t given one, but I can now say we’re aiming for a summer release. Hopefully we’ll be able to announce the exact day the next time we talk. Everyone here is working their hardest, so please look forward to Skies of Arcadia!

A screenshot from an early trailer for the game. The environment in this screenshot does not exist in the final game.
Rieko Kodama and Shuntaro Tanaka

(Dreamcast Magazine 1999/09/10)

—It’s official: “Project Ares” is now known as “Eternal Arcadia”. It seems the plans for this game have been in the works for awhile now, since the early days of the Dreamcast?

Kodama: We had a concept for a pure, fun RPG for the Dreamcast, and yes, we presented it very early on. We had drawn the plans up even before the Dreamcast console was officially announced.

—The setting for this adventure is the sky itself; where did this idea come from?

Kodama: First and foremost, the most important thing to me with this project was that it would return to the roots of the RPG experience: adventure, discovery, exploration… something that would instill that simple joy of searching for and finding things. As I brainstormed different settings, the imagery that came to my mind was stuff like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, books I read as a child that sparked my imagination. I like to refer to Skies of Arcadia as “The Age of Discovery of the Skies”, but specifically the idea was an Age of Discovery that took place in an unknown future, with characters adventuring in boats or ships.

Next, we thought it could be cool for the ships to sail in 3D space, rather than on the ocean. Flying vehicles are a common fixture in other RPGs too. Flying around the sky is just inherently fun, so we wanted to increase the freedom of that mechanic, and we thought it would be really fun to add exploration and adventuring to it. And that’s how we got to flying ships. It’s simple, right? (laughs)

—I’ve heard you love movies. Were any of the visuals in Skies of Arcadia influenced by film?

Kodama: More than movies, I would say Treasure Island, which I read a long time ago, was an influence. When I was a kid I used to fantasize about adventuring in that world, and that’s where I drew a lot of ideas from for this game.

—The image was of a Treasure Island adventure, then.

Tanaka: Yeah. In the book Treasure Island, there’s this line about an old treasure map: “beyond the skull rock lies a treasure…” When you read that, it sends a little shiver of excitement up your spine, doesn’t it? That’s the kind of excitement we really want to evoke in Skies of Arcadia. During the Age of Discovery, there were people who thought that at the end of the world, the oceans plunged into nothingness in a huge waterfall—it was a time in which no one knew what laid out there, no one knew what the future held. But by the same token, not knowing meant that anything was possible. “A giant waterfall, you say? Let’s go and find out!” The idea is thrilling, right? And we’re making Skies of Arcadia with the hope that we can tell a nautical adventure story which captures that same mindset.

By mixing that setting with the essence of Treasure Island, and of the whole concept of uninhabited islands and such, we’re gradually fleshing out the story and world too. “Searching” will definitely be one of the core themes, I think.

Skies of Arcadia employed a number of memorable “Age of Discovery” tropes, including a popular deserted island episode where Vyse finds himself marooned alone.

—Will there be something hidden at the edge of the world in Skies of Arcadia, too?

Tanaka: I can’t give a clear answer to that yet, but we have a lot of ideas. It won’t be a waterfall, but beyond the mist and fog, many an unknown mystery lie… (laughs)

Kodama: Obviously it’s part of the story and setting, but we want the gameplay—that is, flying around in the airships—to evoke that feeling of “how far can I go…?” That’ll be something you experience on-screen, I mean, not just in your imagination. We’re preparing a number of side-quests to that end, separate from the main story, for players to enjoy exploring.

There’s monster-hunting sidequests, quests where you have to go find or report something, a quest where you have to go inscribe a seal at some ancient ruins… stuff like that makes it more fun, right? When we’re children, we read about things like the Seven Wonders of the World and it sets our imagination running… and that’s the kind of excitement we’re hoping to achieve in Skies of Arcadia.

—Tanaka, did you end up researching any special material or resources to help you write the scenario?

Tanaka: I’ve always liked Treasure Island and stories with ships, so for the main part of Skies of Arcadia, at least, I didn’t do any special research. When it comes to evoking atmosphere, the devil’s in the details. On a ship, for example, there’s the bell that rings every hour to tell people to change shifts, and there’s a lot of specialized nautical vocabulary as well… we want to nail those details and really re-create the atmosphere of that time and place. For things like that, I am using reference materials, both fiction and non-fiction. Or say you get washed up on a deserted island, and you (the player) see the number of days you’ve been there carved on a cave wall… we’re all about those little details, which really serve to bring out the atmosphere.

—This adventure takes place completely in the skies.

Tanaka: That’s right. On a ship, you might scout a distant island on the horizon, but in the skies, things are hidden by clouds, and I think that makes the thrill of discovery all the more exciting. The seas have waves, but the sky has winds… we’ve prepared lots of little contrivances like that. At the beginning of the game, your map shows about 10 islands, but you’ll gradually find more—there’ll be exciting scenes where you discover whole new kingdoms beyond the clouds, lots of things like that.

—”Land ho!”… yeah, just thinking about those words, I can feel the excitement.

Tanaka: There’s all kinds of lands to discover, from huge continents to tiny islands. We want to have lots of varied terrain too, from vast sprawling deserts to smaller floating islands hidden within deep forests.

—Right, and all the varied terrain and islands means there will be many different cultures to explore and discover.

Tanaka: Yeah, obviously when you go to a new town, there’s lots of different shops, and local goods exclusive to that region. We want to include as many “travelogue” elements like that as we can.

—Changing the subject, I noticed the illustrations of the Skies of Arcadia heroes have a different feel to them from Sega’s previous games.

Kodama: One of our overarching themes for Skies of Arcadia was that it be a bright, cheerful game. That mood is reflected in the carefree optimism and spirit of the sky pirates themselves. However—and this may sound bad—but we were not trying to achieve an “anime” brightness. The characters are realistic, but not too realistic. That was what we aimed for in our designs, so the characters hopefully won’t appear too “CG”, if you know what I mean.

—What kind of boy is the protagonist, Vyse?

Tanaka: He’s a young sailor, so he’s very driven by his curiosity. He’s always thinking “I want to see things I’ve never seen before!” This makes for a natural overlap between your goals as a player and what Vyse wants.

Early concept art for Vyse, Aika, and Fina. Similar to the designers of Grandia, both Tanaka and Kodama wanted to avoid the darker style of RPG which had become somewhat cliched by this point.

Being driven by curiosity means wanting to see things with your own two eyes. I think this was true of the original Age of Discovery too, but the kind of person who is willing to journey to the ends of the world in search of the unknown—it’s insanely reckless, to be honest. But driven on by their belief that something must be out there, they’ll plunge forward into the unknown. I want to depict the kind of bravery and curiosity which is unhindered by fear.

Kodama: This is a basic point for any RPG, but of course we want to create a protagonist who the player can sympathize with and relate to. We don’t want a game where it’s like “here’s the story, now do this”—we’d rather something where you identify with the protagonist and advance the story accordingly. That’s the ideal.

—What would be some examples then, of how you’re creating that sense of identification and empathy?

Kodama: One example would be, how to put it, “the enthusiasm of the pirates”… that’s something I want to show, the gallantry of these sky pirates. It’s my hope that their overflowing chivalry will inspire players to feel the same way, nothing would make me happier.

—I think you can divide RPG protagonists into two general types: those who get caught up in a story bigger than them, and those who shape and advance the story through their own actions. Which would you say Vyse is?

Tanaka: The latter, someone who shapes the story. When Vyse goes to a new land, his arrival triggers the development of the story. At the start of the story the wider world is still unknown to him, so the story unfolds according to the ensuing drama as he visits these new places. He doesn’t just get passively caught up in events though: he’ll take part in events at the player’s will, I think.

Kodama: Obviously, the paths available to the player is something we’ve created beforehand ourselves. But our goal is to make a game where the player feels like they did it all themselves.

For example, when a player hears “You must save the world!”, in reality they’d probably think to themselves, “I don’t want to!”, or “No way.” But being a video game, people allow themselves to get into: “Ok, I’ll do it!” A good game involves both those feelings: of being slightly conflicted about the choices, but also enjoying these pleasures that can only be experienced in games and fantasy. These two sensations should be skillfully woven together. If not, you end up with a boring, stereotypical RPG, I think.

Tanaka: Of course, we’re working hard on the story, but we’re also putting a lot of effort into the maps and the battles. Putting all three together is like the “holy trinity” that makes a good game, I think. Right now our team is working hard together as one unit, so I hope people look forward to those other elements as well.

Kodama: Above all I think we want to make something that’s bright, fun, and refreshing. We aren’t trying to make some pretentious “masterpiece”—we just want to make something everyone can enjoy. Obviously, if you’re trying to make an interesting RPG, I think battles are an important part of that… but rather than an overly complicated battle system that alienates casual players, we’re aiming for something anyone can enjoy. We do want to add content that will be satisfying for players who like to “go deep” on the battle systems though, in terms of strategy and tactics.

We’ve assembled a team for Skies of Arcadia where everyone has their own particular obsession/passion that they’re dedicated to; I think if we can unleash their potential, then we will surely end up with a good game. The release date is a ways off yet, so I hope you’re looking forward to our future news and announcements!

Noriyoshi Ohba (executive producer) and Rieko Kodama (producer)
Rieko Kodama and Noriyoshi Ohba

(Dreamcast Magazine 1999/09/24)

See Skies of Arcadia in action at Sega’s Tokyo Game Show booth!

At the Tokyo Game Show this Fall, players will have their first opportunity to see a working demo of Skies of Arcadia. In this short interview below we asked Ohba and Kodama, (who will be giving a talk on the Sega Booth stage) what players can expect to see at the Tokyo Game Show…!

—What will we see on the stage?

Kodama: We haven’t decided everything yet. At the present moment, Ohba and I will be giving a live talk on stage, and that’s all we know for sure right now. We’ll be showing in-game footage on the screen behind us.

Ohba: This is the first time players have had the chance to see actual game footage. It’s really an amazing sight to behold. By the way, Kodama, is this also your first time appearing on-stage at the Tokyo Game Show?

Kodama: It is! I’m nervous about it.

Ohba: I’ve had the pleasure a few times now, but yeah, I’m no good at it myself. I always expect to do a nice presentation, but it just turns into a bunch of jokes. (laughs) For my part, I hope we get the chance to talk about the game systems soon… I’m worried that if we don’t explain the systems first, then players won’t understand the whole sky-based, “3D gameplay”, you know? Hopefully players will get a sense of the battle system from the video footage we show.

—Will there be any “secrets” revealed at the talk?

Kodama: Should we say a word or two about how the project got started? For the staff, we assembled people who used to work in the old CS2 research group. And I wanted to make a game with Ohba, that’s how it got started.

Ohba: My title may be executive producer, but I stick my nose into the little details too. You say you started the project because you wanted to work with me, but I bet now I’ve made you regret it! (laughs)

Kodama: We should talk about Ohba’s fascination with the girl characters. He dotes on them exclusively.

Ohba: I could say the same about your predilections… (laughs)

Kodama: You mean my special love for the boy characters. (laughs)

Ohba: Boy or girl, every character has a part to play in the story, you know? I want the characters to have clearly defined roles that they’re fulfilling.

Kodama: But at the same time, we don’t want the characters’ personalities to be unnaturally stiff and cliched… we want to leave some space for the player’s imagination. That approach also makes it easier to relate to and sympathize with the characters, I think.

—Will there be any top secret events…?

Ohba: For now, what I can probably say for sure, is that there will be new towns and islands that we’ve never revealed to anyone yet. So even if you don’t listen to anything we’re saying, you should still be able to watch the video and have a good time. (laughs)

Kodama: Are we showing event scenes too…?

Ohba: Well, we’ve got to show some of the scenes that depict the sky pirates doing their thing, right? We don’t want to let everyone down!

Kodama: How much we’re able to show will depend on how far the development team gets, of course. We’ll be showing lots of aerial scenes though, to really bring home the atmosphere and feel of the game.

Ohba: I think there’s one or two new characters we’ll be revealing, too? We’d like to show some characters besides the main three, but it’s hard. Personally, I love Aika. (laughs)

Director Atsushi Seimiya and Producer Rieko Kodama

(Dreamcast Magazine 1999/12/10)

—Today marks our first interview with you, Atsushi Seimiya. What kind of work does your role as director entail?

Seimiya: I’m the “general manager” for Skies of Arcadia. My title is director, but I also work on planning, design, and various other tasks as the need arises. I cover a lot of ground… you could say. (laughs)

Kodama: Seimiya is the guy who translates my and Ohba’s directives and into reality. (laughs)

Seimiya: I’m crushed between the demands of the producers and the realities of the development room. (laughs)

—Are Kodama and Ohba real taskmasters then? (laughs)

Seimiya: Well, let’s just say, if I’m showing them a graphics model and I say we can’t use this because there aren’t enough polygons, they’ll come back and say, “Ok, make this part round here, and it should work.” (laughs) They’re very specific about getting what they want like that. For example, we’ve developed special technology for displaying more detailed character models (which are distinct from the standard models) during close-up scenes. Doing my utmost to satisfy Kodama and their requests, that’s basically my job.

—Of course, I bet the problem is if you’re too good at fulfilling what Kodama asks for, it just leads to bigger demands. (laughs)

Kodama: That’s right. (laughs) Seimiya has to deal with requests from the development staff, Ohba, and me. He’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, as it were. That’s the director’s job, though, to field all those different ideas, connect them smoothly, and move everything along in the right direction. He adds his own preferences and ideas into the mix too, of course. One good example would be the enemy characters…

Seimiya: Kodama and Ohba handled the male and female characters, respectively, so I took on the enemies. (laughs) I gave special attention to the characters from the Valuan Empire, in particular. They aren’t tokusatsu characters per se, but I did give each of them a different special color.

Atsushi Seimiya (director) and Rieko Kodama (producer)

Kodama: Seimiya’s a bit of a strategy fan, so he’s proving a big help in designing the battle system too. (laughs)

Seimiya: I can’t wait for all the readers of Dorimaga to see the airship battles!

—Speaking of your previous works, Seimiya, you worked on Advanced World War: Sennen Teikoku Koubou. We could see there, too, your abiding love for ships and ship design.

Seimiya: Yeah, definitely. Thanks to all the research we did for Sennen Teikoku, I’ve got a mountain of reference materials on tanks and ships. So I was able to give all sorts of detailed points on the ship design for Arcadia. I’d point out things like, “oh, hey, this metal sheet probably wouldn’t be affixed with screws”. (laughs) Of course Skies of Arcadia has its own time period and setting to contend with. Our ship designs first started out by taking Age of Discovery-era ships and adding WWII-era technology to them… but along the way I realized, “Hold on. I wanted these designs to evoke the atmosphere of WWI ships. This is all wrong!” I was really insistent on that. For example—and this is a little detail, but—there was a question of whether the cannons should be equipped with range-finders (scopes). We justified their inclusion by saying, “ok, these would be like a brand new technology in this world, so we can add them.” As you can see, we were very particular, and even little exceptions like this had to be reasoned through. (laughs)

To my thinking, it’s this strict attention to detail that lends verisimilitude to the world of a game, and allows players to believe it and get into it. There’s a scene where Fina is rescued from Alfonso’s battleship. We designed that ship to be the spitting image of a WWI-era ship. Later, when Alfonso escapes, he uses a boat that we designed with a slightly older image in mind.

—Kodama, for the ship design, it seems you’ve got nothing to worry about. It sounds like it’s in very capable hands. (laughs)

Kodama: Yeah, all the mecha stuff, that’s all Seimiya’s domain. His official designation may be “director” but he’s also an active designer on Skies of Arcadia. (laughs) The problem with planners is, even if you get a bunch of them together, it’s very difficult for them to adequately convey their ideas to the rest of the team in concrete terms. On that point Seimiya is the perfect person to translate these ideas to designers, programmers, and other planners too. I think he’s very good at getting people to visualize things. It’s similar to how a movie director conveys his image to the staff, who in turn go on to create the storyboards and the rest of the movie. In that sense, Seimiya is most definitely performing the role of a director on this project.

Concept art for the Valuan Battleship.

—Is Seimiya also in charge of unifying the overall visual aesthetic (the bright colors etc) for Skies of Arcadia?

Seimiya: From the start, we decided as a team: “Let’s make sure Skies of Arcadia isn’t a bland, plain-looking game.” So I wouldn’t say it’s something I’m “in charge of” exactly, but rather my job is to make sure we adhere to that ideal throughout the development. It’s something everyone is following individually, really… tonally we didn’t want this to be one of those “badass” or “hardcore” games with a muted, dark color palette. To that end, I occasionally have to tell people “Oh, this looks too severe” or “This should be more colorful, I think”, but otherwise that’s about it. (laughs)

—And the sky setting itself contains a lot of expressive possibilities, too.

Seimiya: What we’re aiming for, at least, is to have a lot of different visuals in a single map: cloudy skies, dark skies, evening showers, sunrises, and other details which through their subtle dynamic changes, convey to the player the differences between the regions they’re flying through. For the event scenes, we’re focusing our efforts on the lighting effects, especially.

—Given that Skies of Arcadia takes place in the open sky, and with ships no less, I’m especially looking forward to the way you handle wind.

Seimiya: Regarding the wind, we’re paying particular attention to the way that the wind (in the climax of event scenes and also the town scenes) helps convey to players how easy or difficult an area may be to navigate through: like if the current is too strong, it could be deadly. There’s also scenes where the ship gets tossed about by the winds, stuff like that. And of course, the crew’s clothing will be flapping about heroically in the wind during those dramatic scenes. (laughs)

—I imagine wind must be much more difficult to convey in a video game than light, since wind is normally a sensation you experience with your body, not something you “see” with your eyes.

Seimiya: Yes, it’s been the cause of many a designer’s tears. (laughs) If you want to show the wind, you’ve got to use fabrics and light materials. Metal isn’t affected by the wind, so ultimately our designs had to incorporate a lot of fabric/cloth in their designs. We also explored ways to show other things moving from the wind. Clouds, trash… but you’re pretty limited to lighter objects, right? So yeah, in scenes without those items, cloth/fabric is the only way to depict the wind. I think our designers’ talents are on full display here, when it comes to the wind effects in Skies of Arcadia.

—Yeah, at the Tokyo Game Show, you showed some really impressive scenes where the ship pierces through the clouds, seemingly cutting through the wind.

Seimiya: Yeah, the designers told me they really wanted that one in there.

—Now I know Ohba was responsible for designing the women, but did he ever have any requests like “make sure their skirts are flapping!” (laughs)

Seimiya: Well, I’ll just say we’re doing all we can. (laughs)

—And were their similar requests from Kodama, for the men’s hair?

Kodama: It moves in the wind, yes. I had them show me that specifically. (laughs)

Seimiya: Like I said, we’re doing all we can. (laughs)

Images from a Skies of Arcadia orchestral recording session on 1/12/00. As mentioned in multiple interviews, using orchestral music was a memorable first for producer Kodama.

—I can imagine how once those requests start pouring in—”hey, can you make this blow in the wind too? and this here? and this, and…”, that ultimately it might make it very difficult to finish everything.

Seimiya: Right now we’re adding more and more, as much as we’re able to. When everything is finished I suspect there will be more requests to add wind effects, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, is my feeling.

—The still pictures you’ve shown us to-date already give me a really good feeling—I bet it will look all the more impressive once everything is moving.

Kodama: We want to make an RPG that isn’t just pretty to look at, but also feels good to play.

—Are you referring to the gameplay systems?

Kodama: Personally, I don’t like linear games where after you’ve progressed the story to a certain point, you can’t return to earlier areas. Nothing pisses me off more than missable items in a game, where despite your earnest efforts to collect all the treasure and items, if you advance the story too far you’re just out of luck. (laughs) For the player’s sake (and my own preferences) I don’t want to make locations you can’t return to later in the story. However, this isn’t a game where the story progression is driven by collecting every item; rather, our challenge is how do we create a world that draws players in and makes them want to explore it? And to that end, we’re including a variety of treasure-hunting mechanics for players.

—Are the gameplay systems mostly solidified now?

Kodama: Most of what we want to include is now decided and fixed, yes. Where we’re at now is verifying that it all works, and making adjustments and refinements to various areas. The battle and discovery systems are almost fully playable. Once we link everything up and get a picture of how everything flows together as a full game, we’ll be close to announcing a release date, I think.

Sound Director Tatsuya Kouzaki

(Dreamcast Magazine 2000/02/11)

—Why did you decide to use an orchestra for Skies of Arcadia?

Kodama: It’s something I had been hoping for. This is actually the first game I’ve been in that uses an orchestra.

Kouzaki: What we recorded this session was the opening theme, but the Dreamcast internal sound chip can output a sound that can compete with a real orchestra, so I don’t think it will sound awkward or out-of-place with the in-game BGM. Please look forward to it!

—Did Kodama give you any have any detailed instructions for the music?

Kouzaki: No, just “use an orchestra”, is all. We did talk about how orchestral music in RPGs is a little bit cliched, but given the setting and world of Skies of Arcadia, we didn’t see anything else fitting, so it was decided. (laughs)

Kodama: I want Skies of Arcadia to convey the essential joys of RPGs to players, so we aimed for something relatively mainstream in that sense, for the music. The music captures the breadth and expanse of the world, and I really like it.

Concept art for Cupil and the Looper (Elmo in Japan) enemy. The arrows show the evolution of their designs.
Character Model Designer Shinichi Higashi

(Dreamcast Magazine 2000/03/10)

—I’m going to cut to the chase. What IS Cupil…?

Higashi: He’s a guy who doesn’t have a thought in his head! (laughs) What? That doesn’t answer your question?

—Why is Cupil always with Fina?

Higashi: For the moment, it’s because he likes Fina, simple as that. As to the history of their relationship, that’s part of Fina’s backstory in the game, so it’s a secret for now!

—Cupil can transform into a frying pan. Is that because there are frying pans where he’s from…?

Higashi: No, he doesn’t have a thought in his head, you see, so he just transforms into whatever shape is appropriate for the circumstances.

Spring 2000 Tokyo Game Show – Pre Report

(Dreamcast Magazine 2000/04/14)

—So, what exciting new things do you have to show us for this year’s Tokyo Game Show?

Kodama: We’ve got a stage event planned where we’ll be sharing the latest news and info about Skies of Arcadia.

Ohba: We took it seriously and prepared something really solid this time. Primarily we’ll be talking about things we couldn’t show you in the playable demo disc.

Kodama: The stage event is a video presentation so you’ll get to see a lot. We’ll also be distributing the “Skies of Arcadia – Sky Pirate Version” (see discs, so please be sure to take one home!

—The playable demo disc you distributed earlier, for being a demo, it sure had a lot of content!

Ohba: We’re showing Skies of Arcadia at the Spring game show, but the demo disc is there to make sure players really get a chance to see everything fully. Of course, I say “fully”, but the demo is a mere 1/10th—or even 1/100th—of what the final game will offer. The “Miniature Navigation” event also offers a lot of bonus content that won’t be in the main game.

Kodama: I think players will really get a feel for the atmosphere of the game with the “Laws of the Air Pirates” mode. It’ll help players more fully understand the joys of sailing the open skies, the battle system, and other gameplay elements of Skies of Arcadia. There’s also bonus content that you can only find in this “Sky Pirate Version”, so please enjoy it. And for those who can’t make it to the game show, Dreamcast Magazine will be giving it out as a present to readers, so be sure to send in your request forms!

“Laws of the Air Pirates” demo, Dreamcast Magazine vol. 9

—Will you and Kodama be handing copies out personally at the Tokyo Game Show? (laughs)

Ohba: That might be a little much. (laughs) I believe it will be distributed at a counter at the appointed time. We’re also thrilled to have two cosplayers for Aika and Fina working at this event. We floated the idea of having them distribute the demos personally, but we thought it might cause a stampede so we decided not to. (laughs)

—Kodama, what did you think of Fina and Aika’s cosplay?

Kodama: They’re both very cute. Aika is bright and lively, while Fina gives off a more graceful impression—I’d like them to be the one’s greeting guests, actually. (laughs) The designer who created Fina and Aika remarked, “They got the clothing spot-on, didn’t they? If I was going to see them brought to life that’s probably the look I’d go for.” He was really impressed at how well they nailed the atmosphere of those characters.

—Besides the stage event, do you have anything else special planned?

Ohba: We’ll have the other playable demos (with gameplay not found in the Sky Pirates Version) available as well. We’re hoping it will be a good opportunity for players to experience content we couldn’t include in those demo discs.

Kodama: The standing monitors will feature the latest gameplay footage too, so be sure to take a look. Other than that… if you see Ohba or me around the Sega booth, be sure to stop by and say hello! Perhaps we’ll even be able to share some “top secret” info with you… (to the extent we’re allowed). (laughs)

—Maybe a little fan service too—like signing the cover of Dreamcast Magazine?! (laughs)

Ohba: Oof, that might be tough… I’ve never practiced my own signature. (laughs) But if anyone actually does bring the Skies of Arcadia cover issue of Dreamcast magazine, sure, I’ll sign it. (laughs)

—Seimiya and Kouzaki, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the new “Sky Pirates demo” as well.

Seimiya: With the Sky Pirates demo, I think you can get a feel for about 50% of what makes Skies of Arcadia so fun. There’s some tasty events in there too, so I think it’s something special.

—Where in the demo will we see your “personal touches”, Seimiya?

Seimiya: In the expression and appearance of the sky. An example would be the scene where Vyse and the party board the Valuan ship; in the old days, a blue sky like that could herald an early morning surprise attack, and it has a different atmosphere. We’re also going to try and depict the passage of time.

—And Kouzaki, how about you? Anything you’re particularly proud of?

Kouzaki: For this demo, I would definitely say the title screen. It’s the only place on the Sky Pirates Demo that you can hear the orchestra bgm. We’re holding back the other good scenes with orchestral music for the actual game, you see. (laughs). The battle scenes are also great. Depending on how the fight is going the feel of the music will change. We try to take those little details very seriously—they may be small touches, but they have a big impact.

The Aika and Fina cosplay at the Eternal Arcadia booth during Tokyo Game Show 2000. Executive Producer Noriyoshi Ohba poses with them in the bottom right picture.
Tokyo Expo Game Show – Post Report

(Dreamcast Magazine 2000/04/28)

—There were many highlight this year for the Skies of Arcadia presentation. How long did it take you to prepare?

Kodama: We honed in on what we wanted to do around January. The balloon above our booth, that was something that, right after the Fall game show, we knew with certainty we wanted to do. It was essential to the rest of the planning.

—That huge balloon, it was quite a sight.

Kodama: I think it was 10 meters in diameter, but it was a huge ordeal to actually make it float there.

Ohba: I was so worried it wouldn’t actually inflate and rise up—my heart was pounding!

—Will you be using it again, after this show? (laughs)

Kodama: We’d like to show it again somewhere, but it’s no mean feat to inflate it.

—You should display it in front of Sega headquarters to commemorate the release date, when you announce it. (laughs)

Kodama: Ohba was like, “What if we put it indoors?” Of course that’s impossible! (laughs)

Ohba: Hey, we went to all this trouble, and I’d really like to take a ride in one of those old-style blimps! (laughs)

Kodama: That idea did actually come up, of making it fly around the event hall like a zeppelin. But it would have been an annoyance to the other booths.

—How has the response been to the show?

Kodama: I was happy to see there were a lot of girls in attendance. It makes me wonder, maybe these characters will end up appealing to women too? I had also thought that the women probably wouldn’t play the demos we had on display, but they were lined up at the booth to try them out. “I want to try the ship battles which aren’t featured in the demo disc,” they said. I asked them after what they thought of it, and they said “The way you fly through the sky feels great!” (laughs) I was really happy—they totally got the thing I most wanted to convey.

Ohba: I said on stage that the ship battles would be easy to understand, so I’m glad that message was received loud and clear. (laughs) In practice it’s not that hard of a system to understand, but it’s everyone’s first time trying it, so I was worried they would get lost. I tried to explain it from that perspective, on stage, but I wasn’t sure they got it until I saw the feedback.

The huge airship balloon featured at the Tokyo Game Show booth for Skies of Arcadia.

—I think if you played it once yourself first, then heard your explanation, and then went back to play it another time, then it would all make sense.

Kodama: That’s true. I do wish we had explained the Guts Gauge (Spirit Gauge in English) system a little better though. If you understand how the guts system works, you can enjoy the strategic aspect of the battles more—that is, knowing how and when to best spend the gauge once it’s built up. For example, if you understand it, you could go “Oh, I need 30 more guts to fire the Ram Cannon (Harpoon Cannon in English), so I’ll just defend for now and build up more guts.” Of course in the real game, we ease players into it more gently, and the early battles are very forgiving.

Ohba: Keep building up guts, building, building… and then, BAM! Release it all in one big attack.

Kodama: The details of the system are still in the process of being updated. Ohba is something of a perfectionist, so he stays late at night testing it out with the rest of the team in mock battles… it’s like, “Here we go, Ohba vs. The DevTeam, round 6”!

—On the stage, we saw a fight against the Roc, but how many ship battles have you prepared for the game?

Kodama: It’ll be a lot. Of course there will be the boss battles, but in your normal travels you’ll sometimes come across warships and be thrust into a ship battle that way too.

—Can you explain how you came up with the Time Gauge system?

Ohba: Strategic ship positioning is a very important part of naval combat. You’re always positioning in an attempt to achieve the optimal strategic position—that would be where your ship’s front side is facing the enemy ship’s rear side. If we let the players control the ship movement manually though, it would become too much like a traditional strategy game. Instead of letting players control the ship, we’ve provided a separate helmsman to take care of that.

—It’s good that it’s not too complicated.

Ohba: I look forward to sharing it again with everyone, once we get to a point in the development where it’s more complete and I can explain it better.

—You also mentioned the “crew system” on stage. What kind of system could that be, I wonder?

Ohba: Basically, if you have special crewmembers that man the cannons then the accuracy goes up; likewise, if you have a dedicated pilot you can maneuver more effectively, and so forth. If you have multiple pilots then you get to fret over which one to put in control… but that’s part of the fun, right? (laughs)

—With this new playable demo, you’ve got people more excited than ever to play the full game.

Ohba: The main storyline will be the main attraction, of course. But we’re also trying to include more “play” in the other systems and the sidequests, so you’ll always feel like there’s something new to enjoy.

Kodama: We’ve finally reached a point in the development where the entire game is playable start to finish. The ship battle and crew systems we revealed today are finely intertwined with the story, so from here on out we’ll be working hard on the fine-tuning and balance, I think. We’re doing our best to raise the quality of Skies of Arcadia, so please look forward to it soon.

Post-E3 Interview

(Dreamcast Magazine 2000/06/09)

—What was the response like at this year’s E3?

Kodama/Ohba: We had a playable demo for people to try out, and those who tested it got to experience the thrill of flying the skies, and the impact of the impressive graphics effects during the battle scenes. The Dreamcast doesn’t have much in the way of genuine RPGs, so there’s a lot of hopes riding on this game from the overseas audience. And we want to make a game that’s worthy of their expectations.

—The domestic and overseas editions are being developed concurrently; will they be released at the same time, too?

Kodama/Ohba: The playable demo we showed at E3 was specially made for this event. For the mainline development we’re prioritizing the domestic (Japanese) release. We plan to announce the overseas release date sometime after the domestic version is out.

—Will the content of the overseas version be the same as the domestic?

Kodama/Ohba: Basically, yes. If we do change anything it will probably just be slight changes to the names, that kind of thing. The story and scenario will not be changed.

—You’ve updated the cannon fighting system from what we saw at the Tokyo Game Show. Why?

Kodama/Ohba: From the start we had always wanted the auxiliary cannons, torpedoes, and so forth to fire over multiple turns, which we believe adds more strategy to the fights. Likewise, we updated the battle timer design so the whole system would be easier to understand.

—You’ve also updated the textures for the human characters since the Tokyo Game Show. Was that partly done so you could change the facial expressions of the characters for the overseas version?

Kodama/Ohba: No, we didn’t have any particular intentions of that nature for the overseas version. We’ve updated the textures for the domestic version too, you see. We’re currently in the process of improving things where needed—not only for the textures, but for all aspects of the graphics and visual presentation, we’re aiming for to raise their quality.

L-R: Noriyoshi Ohba (executive producer), Rieko Kodama (producer), Atsushi Seimiya (director), and Tatsuya Kouzaki (sound director).
Discovery System Interview

(Dreamcast Magazine 2000/08/25)

—Approximately how many discoveries are there in Skies of Arcadia?

Tanaka: We’re not ready to reveal the exact number yet. (laughs) But there’s definitely a lot, hidden all throughout the vast open skies. We’ve prepared a few locations that are devilishly tricky, too.

—Is there any reward for finding all the discoveries?

Tanaka: Yes. What you receive is still a secret though. (laughs) All I can say now is that it’s something really good. However, it’s also possible that if Vyse takes too long searching, someone else will make the discovery before him. There’s actually another adventurer in the game traveling the world, and he can beat Vyse to the punch. If that happens you’ll still receive the reward for finding all the discoveries, but if you want to experience that “I was first!” satisfaction, you’ll need to be diligent in your search for the discoveries.

—Takamatsu, I understand you were responsible for designing all the different discoveries.

Takamatsu: Yes, I was. Tanaka told me “I want something like this, and this, and something like this here…”, and I mostly created the models as he requested… but some of his ideas could be a little vague, and I sometimes got lost. Of course, as he says, “It’s the designer’s creativity which takes these rough ideas and brings them fully to life.” (laughs)

—Of the ones we’ve seen so far, I noticed there’s also a “penguin” discovery—just like in the real world! (“Icebirds” in the overseas version))

Takamatsu: Yeah, having real-world animals is interesting in its own right, you know? Not everything we’re making is entirely fictional. If you look closely, though, these animals are a little different from real penguins—they’re penguins adapted to the world of Skies of Arcadia.

I’m also designing the enemies for this game, but with a few notable exceptions, I would say most of the enemies are fairly realistic. There’s no “demons”, “spirits”, or anything like that. The creatures in Skies of Arcadia have all evolved to fit into their specific environmental niche. Of course if the enemy is gigantic, or if it’s your first time seeing it in your adventure, you’re likely to be surprised and regard it as a “monster”. I believe that happened in the actual Age of Discovery too: they saw many of the new species as monsters. Other than the mysterious Elmos (called “Loopers” in the overseas version), all the creatures in Skies of Arcadia are naturally evolved and adapted to their specific habitats.

—Kanazawa, it says here you were responsible for creating the main field the player moves within…?

Kanazawa: I designed the sky, yes. It was my job to take this humongous 3D space and populate it with little islands here and there. Up to now in RPGs, airships were nothing more than a shortcut, or a faster way to travel than going over land, right? But in Arcadia we’ve added the third dimension (height), and when we tried to plot paths on the map like in 2D game, it didn’t work so well. It was a process of trial and error. The designers, the programmers, everyone struggled.

A screenshot of the Moon Stone Lake discovery that can be seen quite early within the game, but cannot be reached until much later in the game.

In a 2D game, there are lots of precedents to draw from, so you have a certain sense of how high the encounter rate should be before it starts to annoy players. With these 3D maps, we just didn’t know. The thing is, we didn’t know what the size of the maps should be too begin with. If the maps are too big, the player will get lost too easily. But if they’re too small you’ll reach the next island too quickly and feel unsatisfied—in fact, midway into the development, at one point we were asked to update the whole world map to be a lot bigger.

—With 3D, you also have to consider all the objects around you that you can fly over or beneath, like birds and such.

Kanazawa: Yes, and the fact that we had to prepare dungeons for the ship to fly through made it all the more difficult. (laughs) In a normal RPG dungeon, when you discover some stairs, that’s the game’s way of informing you, “you can go up to the next floor here.” But in these ship dungeons, the only way we can do that is to have a hole in the ceiling. In other words, if you aren’t paying close attention to the ceiling, it’s easy to get lost. I think they’re fun areas to play through, but they were somewhat tedious to design.

Manga interview with Itsuki Hoshi and Rieko Kodama

(Dreamcast Magazine 2000/10/20)

—The Skies of Arcadia manga, published in “Gekkan Magazine Z“, has finally become a reality. When was the decision made to do a Skies of Arcadia comic? Was it when Hoshi was appointed as character illustrator?

Kodama: Having a game that I made get turned into a comic has actually always been one of my dreams. I knew, though, that getting a comic based on an original video game and serialized by a publisher wouldn’t be easy.

Hoshi: When I got hired to do the illustrations for Skies of Arcadia, I had, by coincidence, just been talking with Magazine Z about other work, so I brought up Kodama’s ideas with the editor there. They were all for it…

Kodama: I absolutely wanted it to be a shojo manga—I wanted other women to read it, you see. When I spoke with the editor of Magazine Z, I learned they had a large female readerbase, so in that sense finding them was a huge windfall. (laughs) And I’ve always known that the gamer demographic includes a lot of devoted manga readers.

—Hoshi is drawing the comic, but the writer, Fujimoto, also contributed to the story in the game, correct?

Kodama: That’s right. We sometimes asked him for advice on the scenarios; that is, he helped take the plot we had created in-house and elaborate on it and transform it into individual episodes (scenarios).

Fujimoto has a wide breadth of experience as a writer, and he’s written for many different comics. So when we first brought our ideas to him, he had no troubles: “Well, if it was a comic, here’s what I’d do…” Of course comics have their own unique writing style, aesthetic, and demands, so you can’t expect to just take a 60+ hour game and cram it into a comic format as-is. That’s why Hoshi, Fujimoto, and I all worked together to figure out which characters we really wanted to focus on and depict there.

Producer Rieko Kodama and Character Illustrator Itsuki Hoshi.

—The comic features an original scenario, but is it going to diverge from the game in a big way?

Kodama: The foundation is the same, so I don’t think it will be all that different. That’s ultimately up to Fujimoto, of course. (laughs)

—Speaking of shojo manga, Vyse’s rival character, Ramirez, seems to be getting a lot more attention than Vyse himself—it seems we should expect to see more of his backstory in the comic?

Kodama: That’s the cool thing about comics, right? In a game, it’s difficult to show in much detail what’s happening to other characters besides the protagonist—you know, those “Meanwhile…” type of scenes. We can’t really go into any length about what Ramirez is thinking, nor can we depict Alfonso’s daily life. Along the same lines, we can’t even really depict Vyse and Aika’s day-to-day life either, not in any great detail at least. Accordingly I’ve asked Hoshi and Fujimoto to show those kinds of scenes in the comic. Rather than something which goes far outside the bounds of the game’s story, what I really want is for them to show details and episodes which flesh out the characters and the story more fully.

—Right, those things you could only imagine about the characters in the game—now you can read about it in the comic.

Kodama: Yes, I’m looking for those kind of imaginative ad-libs… “Vyse is DEFINITELY that kind of guy” or “Ramirez would probably make a gesture like this”. If Hoshi brings out those, it will really make the characters feel alive.

Hoshi: Don’t worry, the comic is already chock full of ad-libs like that. (laughs)

—I can’t wait to see how far you take Alfonso’s insufferableness. (laughs)

Hoshi: We’re not being overly negative with him. To me, he’s more of a person with his own individual sense of pride.

Kodama: I had always thought that if the comic became a reality it would focus front-and-center on Ramirez, and I was lucky to find out that Hoshi was of the same opinion. There’s many things we couldn’t depict about Ramirez in the game, so I think this is a chance to perfect him as a character by showing his more human side, his emotions, and his personality.

—Which character(s) have been particularly fun to draw?

Hoshi: Aika. She’s very straightforward and frank, and bringing out that quality visually has been very fun. It’s been fun to do her dialogue: it’s like, ok, if someone says so-and-so to her, how would she respond in her characteristic way?!

—I’m sure you’re playing the game as you work on the comic, but do you have a favorite scene from the game?

Hoshi: There’s so many, I don’t think I can whittle it down to one. (laughs) There’s lots of masterful scenes in Skies of Arcadia.

A snippet of the manga, from volume 1.

—And do you plan to insert any of those particularly memorable scenes into the comic?

Hoshi: I’ve been thinking about how I want to use certain really cool lines of dialogue in the manga, but in a different context/scene. I also want to show the way Vyse thinks, that’s a key thing.

—Which character made the biggest impression on you?

Hoshi: Well, Vyse is definitely cool, but… I love Gilder. (laughs)

—Makes sense, Gilder is handsome. (laughs)

Hoshi: So is Drachma.

Kodama: Hoshi… could it be you have a thing for older men?! (laughs)

—When turning a game into a manga, what are the things you pay special attention to?

Hoshi: This doesn’t apply to games only, but anytime I’m working from a pre-existing source, I take care not to do anything that would damage the world of that original creation.

—Hoshi, what is your image of the world of Skies of Arcadia?

Hoshi: It’s a grand adventure. To that end I want to move slightly outside the usual scope of shojo manga, and include lots of action scenes and such.

—The first chapter had a lot of action scenes, and lots of ships. I bet that was really tough, right? I know director Seimiya is extremely focused on getting the details of the ships right: “Not a single screw must be out of place!” (laughs)

Hoshi: So far, we’re doing ok. (laughs)

Kodama: Seimiya and I both used to be designers, so we know how challenging it is to draw ships. It’s honestly crazy difficult. (laughs) But so far, each time Seimiya has read the comic, he’s said “Perfect, just perfect.”

Hoshi: There’s distinct ship designs for each kingdom, so it’s surprisingly simple to distinguish them in my drawings. Of course, I would be lying if I said the work was “easy”. (laughs)

—What’s in store for the future chapters? Will there be new developments we’ll only see there—or perhaps even new romances?!

Kodama: I just hope there’s a lot more of Ramirez. (laughs)

—Geez, what about Vyse?! (laughs)

Hoshi: I want to show lots of him too of course. But in the meantime I plan to give Gilder his proper due. (laughs)

One of Hoshi Itsuki’s
favorite characters, Guilder.

Drama CD interview with Rieko Kodama and Itsuki Hoshi

(Dreamcast Magazine 2001/03/02)

—Well Kodama, it looks like another one of your dreams has come true. (laughs) What can we look forward to with this drama cd?

Kodama: In-game, the only voices you hear are shouts and yells: “Yaa!!”, “Haa!”, stuff like that. We’d actually been thinking about doing a drama CD from the point we solidified the cast, though. Now that wish has been fulfilled, and listeners will be able to enjoy lots of lengthy dialogues. (laughs)

—You’re releasing three discs over the next three months… that’s an amazing volume!

Kodama: It took three discs to fit the story. The story is a little different from the game, so I think it offers a different way to enjoy the world of Skies of Arcadia. The game, the comic, the light novel, the drama cd—they all have different stories, so I hope this encourages players to imagine their own short stories too. We tried to leave that kind of room for the player’s imagination.

—Will the drama cd basically follow the story of the game up to the ending?

Kodama: It’s made up of scenarios that we had really wanted to include in the game, but were held back for reasons. It’s a similar idea to what we did with the comic, wanting to show Ramirez more, his rivalry with Vyse, Vyse and Alfonso’s relationship, and so forth. There’s a big emphasis on things we couldn’t show in the game.

—By the way, which characters make an appearance on the cd?

Hoshi: Most of the main characters.

Kodama: This time we’ve included a one-on-one battle between Vyse and Ramirez. We thought everyone would want to see that for sure, but it also reflects our own personal desires, conveniently enough. (laughs) Also, at the request of scenario writer Tanaka, there’s a tea scene with Aika and Fina.

Hoshi: Hearing the voices is hugely inspiring to me, so you’ll probably see some influence from the CD in future installments of the comic.

Kodama: The drama scenario was written by Fujimoto, who also wrote the comic. The quality is therefore very high. If it ends up selling a lot, my next goal is to make a Skies of Arcadia anime! Hey, a girl can dream, right? (laughs)

Development staff and voice actors for the radio drama. Identified here are Yui Horie as Fina and Tomoko Tawakami as Aika.


Rieko Kodama Producer Interview

(Nintendo Dream 4/06/2003, volume 86)

—How did the Skies of Arcadia development get started?

Kodama: First and foremost, I wanted to make a solid, honest-to-goodness RPG for Sega. Another reason is that, when we were making the Dreamcast version, perhaps it was a sign of the times, but most RPGs then were relatively dark and gloomy. So I wanted to do something more positive and optimistic—an RPG which pushed the joy of exploration and adventure front and center (and that is really something that only RPGs are capable of delivering). I wanted the characters to be positive too. Those were the basic ideas we started with, and it all went from there.

—And in terms of the game structure, what were some of the ideas you started with?

Kodama: Practically speaking, the first conversations we had were about how to best make use of the Dreamcast hardware’s new capabilities. After that, we sat down to discuss what kind of setting we should have. Our conceptual starting point was, we wanted to make a game that would respond to the fantasy which every boy and girl has when they’re young, of flying through the sky.

—Did the sky pirates idea follow smoothly from there…?

Kodama: No, not at all. It was a lot of playing with different ideas, trial and error. (laughs) It was after director Seimiya joined the project that everything started to come together. And the very idea of ships sailing through the sky—I believe we figured that piece out after storywriter Shuntaro Tanaka joined up (he is the director of the Gamecube version).

Before that, all we had was a vague image of the open skies and floating islands… after that came the idea of ships, and of using the historical era known as the Age of Discovery as a backdrop for the story.

Rieko Kodama

That whole romantic idea of setting sail for uncharted territory—it’s just overflowing with the frontier spirit of adventure, so we decided to use it for our setting. At that time, people who traveled by ship like that, unbound by any fixed nationality, were called “pirates”. They couldn’t haven’t all been villains though—there were probably noble pirates as well, right? That’s what we were thinking when we developed the “Sky Pirates” concept.

—In terms of exploration, making an open sky your map would necessarily mean there’s a lot of “blank” space on the map screen, wouldn’t it?

Kodama: Skies of Arcadia is a little different from your typical RPG mapping system, in that the world opens up to you to the extent you explore it yourself. This means that your very first map is just a tiny little piece of the wider world, but through your adventures it will get larger and larger, until you finally have that “whoa” moment of realization at how just vast it really is. At least, that’s how we hope players respond to it.

—What were some of the challenges of using the sky as your setting?

Kodama: There were a lot of technical challenges on the visual side. With skies, there are no “walls”, so you should be able to see very far into the distance, right? Also, in terms of progression, when we didn’t want players to go somewhere we would put up a wall of air currents to restrict them, but depicting that graphically turned out to be quite difficult, technically speaking.

—On the other hand, what were some of the things which you feel came out really well as a result of using the sky as your setting?

Kodama: I think we were able to use sound really effectively to convey a sense of crisis. Also, the environmental sounds, like cutting through the wind, or the sounds of the engines… those came out well. And for the BGM, the music changes to reflect the culture and atmosphere of whatever region you’re in, and the music transitions seamlessly, it doesn’t suddenly cut off, which I liked.

—I also like how the battle music changes depending on the how the fight is going.

Kodama: That was something I had wanted to do for a long time, actually. It was very challenging to debug though. It evolves according to the stats of both allies and enemies, but sometimes the music wouldn’t quite match the situation, like it would play the “final offensive” music when you were actually about to die. (laughs)

—In terms of clothing and appearance, how did you envision the characters?

Kodama: I wanted to retain the pirate image, while adding a lot of leather, and avoiding the typical “shining hero!” look of a lot of protagonists. I wanted something a little more edgy and stylish.

—How old are the main characters?

Kodama: They’re all around 17-18, which is probably a little younger than the main userbase… but it’s also a nod to my own preferences. (laughs) We talked about possibly making them a little younger, but we figured 17-18 is right about the age where you really come into your own as an adult, where you surpass the limitations of your parents and dive headlong into the wider world.

—The game talks about the “Six Laws of the Sky Pirates”. Are these related to the themes of Skies of Arcadia, and can you tell us more about that?

Kodama: One is “never give up.” It’s less about pursuing some specific result or goal, as it is the importance of always having a positive attitude and pushing forward to confront challenges. That’s why when something seems absolutely impossible to everyone else, Vyse always says—no, that’s not the case, there’s always a chance, if we work together we can surely make it! It’s not that he has absolute confidence either, it’s more like he figures it will all turn out OK in the end. (laughs) The key is to not give up and just do nothing; you can’t know whether it will end in failure or success, but the important thing is to stand up and face the challenge head on. That’s the message I really hope gets conveyed to players.

“That whole romantic idea of setting sail for uncharted territory—it’s just overflowing with the frontier spirit of adventure, so we decided to use it for our setting.”

—How has the reception been to the Gamecube version?

Kodama: I haven’t seen all the data we’ve collected yet, but it’s not bad so far. It seems that people who didn’t play the last one—especially elementary school kids—are picking up the game. This is about someone at our office, but one of our employees has kids around 7-8, and they’re playing it together. They made cutlasses out of cardboard too. It made me happy!

—What games have you played lately yourself?

Kodama: I’ve been playing the overseas version, but “The Lord of the Rings” game—I love the books and the movies. I’m not good at action games so I can’t get very far, but I have other people show me what to do when I get stuck. From someone who also works in game development, I was impressed by all the different characters they brought to life in the game. It’s really well-done I think.

—Anything else you’re really into these days?

Kodama: The Lord of the Rings movies. I’m totally in love with the actor for Aragorn, I searched through his filmography and watched everything he was in. Now I’m impatiently awaiting The Two Towers.

—If you had a one-month vacation, what would you do?

Kodama: Well, now I’d probably go to New Zealand. I want to see all the locations from Lord of the Rings. (laughs)

—What kind of kid were you?

Kodama: As my parents tell it, they raised me in such a way that, if I took an interest in something, no matter what it was, they never said things like “Oh, that’s not for girls” or “You shouldn’t do that.” They let me experience things for myself. So that’s probably the kind of kid I was… though I never did anything as reckless as Vyse. (laughs) In middle school I loved soccer and F1 racing. As an adult I’ve gone to Europe to see F1 and soccer events, too.

—What attracted you to F1 and soccer, respectively?

Kodama: Part of it was how beautiful the cars looked to me when they raced, I believe. There was this movie that came out called “Pole Position” and I can still vividly remember going to see it with my girlfriends. There was also a manga called “Akai Pegasus” (Red Pegasus) which I was reading at the time. (laughs)

As for soccer, it started for me with watching high school soccer games. I didn’t start paying attention to pro soccer until the 1986 world cup in Spain, I think. Now I’m a fan of Argentina, so when they came to Japan at the end of last year, I started really hustling: “I’ve got to finish the Gamecube version before their match!” (laughs)

—Please offer a final word to players of Skies of Arcadia.

Kodama: No doubt anyone who experiences the story of Vyse and his friends flying through the open skies must surely feel a sense of freedom well up in their own breast. That’s the kind of RPG I believe Skies of Arcadia to be, and I hope everyone enjoys sharing in the emotion and adventure of Vyse’s journey.

Rieko Kodama – Part II

(Nintendo Dream 4/06/2003, volume 86)

—How did you first get hired at Sega?

Kodama: It was many years… or rather decades, ago… haha, did I just out myself? (laughs) Anyway, it was the dawn of the game industry, which was still quite young then. For home consoles you had the Famicom, and Sega followed that up almost immediately with their own console. I didn’t know much about video games yet. Up to then I had studied graphic design, and I figured I’d end up working for an advertising company or something, some place where I could make use of my skills.

Back then, games were made differently. The whole world of the game, that is—the sound, the music, the programming, the visuals, it could all be accomplished by a small group. What I had studied in graphic design was how to take someone else’s ideas and advertise them to others; games, however, offered something where I could create the vision from step one myself, and that sounded fascinating. The industry itself was still new and I thought there would be a lot of chances, even for someone like me, so I signed up with Sega.

—You didn’t necessarily join with that gamer mindset of “I want to make games!”, in other words.

Kodama: That’s right. Nowadays people who try to join the industry have spent a lot of time playing video games on their own, and they join because they love games. At that time, however, there wasn’t a big culture surrounding video games like there is now—it was a new culture still in the process of forming. It was that very newness that attracted people to it, and made up the first wave of developers, I think: people who saw the opportunities and thought, “what can I do with this new medium?”

—Was it very challenging at first?

Kodama: Yes, as you can imagine—because I didn’t know the first thing about computers. All I had done in my life was drawing and art up to then. Plus, when it came to the hardware of that era, you could only put out 8 colors max on the screen. The start of my education, and my first struggle, was figuring out how to represent an image on-screen with a limited number of colors.

This excellent video from Sega EUROPE goes deeper into Kodama’s history for those interested in learning more about her pioneering career.

—The development environment itself was very different back then, too.

Kodama: The biggest change has been how much more memory we have available to work with now. Of course, as developers, we’re happy to have more expressive power available to us now, but by the same token, the amount of work you have to put into a game now to make it up-to-snuff has shot way through the roof. So while I’m happy that graphics have improved along with the hardware… comparing then to now, it’s the difference between a pond an ocean. (laughs)

—Where do you get your ideas from, for making games?

Kodama: Basically I just think to myself, “wow, I bet it would be so cool if I could experience that!” Or, “I’d love to live in a world like that…”

—Do you get any hints from books or movies? Like, “Oh, I’ve got to use that idea!”

Kodama: Yes, it happens. Though I would say the bigger feeling for me there is, “I can make something even better!” Sometimes I’ll see a movie and be impressed by how far they took an idea, and I’ll think, well, if the audience received the idea in that medium, then a game would probably work too. Rather than just rehash ideas, it’s more like I want to make a game that evokes or shares that same spirit.

—Are you proud of Sega?

Kodama: They’ve always given me the freedom to make the games I wanted, and while there have been both successes and failures, they’ve never failed to approach me about doing another project, and I’m very grateful for that. They don’t discriminate against their workers for their gender or their seniority either, which I am also extremely grateful for.

—By the way, what were you favorite and least favorite subjects in school?

Kodama: My favorite subjects were Japanese History and World History. My least favorite was math. I didn’t study math at all, and I would never have thought I’d one day be working for a computer company. (laughs) Of course, even now I really should be studying more there.

—Do you have any words for aspiring game designers?

Kodama: You’ll never become a game developer if all you do is play video games. There’s a limit to the ideas you can get from playing video games. I’m not saying you have to be widely read and learned, but experiencing things for yourself is very important, and I think pursuing your own interests wholeheartedly, without boundaries or fetters, is probably the most important thing. Those are the kind of people we want on the Overworks team, too.
On top of that you have to also love games, of course, or I don’t think you’ll make it in this industry. There’s a certain extremeness to game development, both physically and mentally, so if you don’t have that deep love for games, I’m certain you won’t enjoy the work.

—The world of game development is as harsh as we’ve all heard, then?

Kodama: In our case at Overworks, I think it’s very important to go above and beyond what’s required. If you’re working your hardest to exceed your limitations—I think it’s ok to push yourself a bit then, beyond your comfort zone. I believe the fruits of that labor will show in the final game, and players will respond to it in kind.

Noriyoshi Ohba, first Nintendo Dream interview

(Nintendo Dream 2002, p 86-87)

—At last, you’ve announced the release of Skies of Arcadia Legends for the Gamecube.

Ohba: Yes, and this is the first interview we’ve done with a Nintendo-affiliated magazine. I think it’s the very first publicity we’ve done for the Gamecube version of Skies of Arcadia, actually.

—Thank you for giving us that honor. (laughs) Well then, to start off, could you give a quick explanation of Skies of Arcadia for readers who haven’t heard of it before?

Ohba: Put simply, it’s your standard text-based RPG.

—How did the Skies of Arcadia project get started?

Ohba: We felt like recent RPGs have been a little too “dark”, you know? So we wanted to make an RPG that was brighter, more optimistic—a thrilling adventure to enjoy. That was our starting point.

—Ah, so that must be why you chose the sky as your setting—the perfect stage for a “grand adventure.”

Ohba: That’s right. Our story takes place in the “Age of Discovery of the Skies”. The original Age of Exploration was a time when the great Western powers were advancing into the rest of the world. They discovered a route to circumnavigate the entire globe, and there were rumors of distant, exotic lands like the “golden country of Zipangu”…

—Yes, the world was still full of mystery then. It was a very romantic age.

Ohba: What we wanted to portray with this game, was a feeling of exploration and curiosity. “I suspect there’s a treasure island there” … “If we keep going due west, will we eventually be able to return to the East where we began? Let’s find out!” Those are the kinds of things we wanted to evoke—capturing that “I’ll discover it!” feeling was very important to us.

Noriyoshi Ohba

—Why did you choose the Gamecube for this port?

Ohba: I thought the Gamecube user demographic was a good fit for the game. I have a kid in the 4th grade, and he loves playing Skies of Arcadia. (laughs) He brings his neighborhood friends over and they play together, too. He has a hard time reading a lot of the kanji though. (laughs)

In the old days, memory limitations meant we couldn’t use many kanji, but now that memory has increased the kind of kanji we can use has increased too. However, that also means there’s now players who can’t read the games. So for the Gamecube version, I think we’re going to try to make it a bit easier to read for people.2

—What was the age demographic for the Dreamcast?

Ohba: The Dreamcast demographic was always older, with players from college age to mid-20s. The Dreamcast had a lot of female fans though, above the average for other consoles. And Sakura Taisen had even more female players than us, but we still had our fair share for Skies of Arcadia.

—What kind of players are you hoping to attract for the Gamecube version?

Ohba: Skies of Arcadia wasn’t made for a specific age range or demographic, so I think it can be enjoyed by players of all ages.

—Are you planning to alter the presentation in any way to account for the younger users on the Gamecube?

Ohba: No, we’re not doing anything like that. It’s like Treasure Island and Jules Vernes’ Two Year Vacation… even if you read those books when you were a kid, I think they’re still enjoyable as an adult.

>PR: Re-reading a book you loved as a kid when you’re an adult can give you a new perspective on it, too.

—Yes, the truly great stuff can be enjoyed even when you’re older.

Ohba: On top of that, there are some elements of Skies of Arcadia which are a little more adult-oriented, like the Invincible Armada, who becomes your enemy. When we were making Skies of Arcadia we would all ask ourselves, “What got me excited as a kid?” Battleship fights! Having your own secret base! Stuff like that. Also, an important keyword for this game is “sky pirate”. From that idea, we came up with various story elements: attacking evil warships in the role of the chivalrous thief; having the good sky pirates wear blue, while the bad guys wore black… those kind of things—really the stuff of kids’ dreams—Skies of Arcadia is packed with all that.

—Do you have any plans to turn Skies of Arcadia into a series?

Ohba: We hope to keep putting out as many games in this world as we can, yes. (laughs)

—Will they be on the Gamecube?

Ohba: We’d like that.

—That makes me happy to hear. (laughs) By the way, will Skies of Arcadia Legends be released within the year?

Ohba: Our plan is to release it by the end of the year. The goal is for a Christmas release, naturally. (laughs)

—How about overseas?

Ohba: We’re planning to release it worldwide, of course.

PR: The Dreamcast version was about as popular in Europe as it was in Japan.

Ohba: “I’ve never seen a world like that in an RPG before, it was so unique”—we heard that from a lot of people overseas. It was praised for the wonderful, different fantasy setting which used the skies and the Age of Discovery as motifs. It received awards in America and France, even.

—What kind of women do you like?

Ohba: Another difficult question. (laughs) Wait, I know—Belleza!

PR: We haven’t actually announced Belleza yet…

Ohba: Well, this is an interview, so why not now, right? (laughs) I love that kind of woman.

—Do you have any words for aspiring game creators?

Ohba: Game development is a 3K job. (laughs)

PR: You make it sound so bad! This is supposed to be Nintendo _Dream_ magazine! (laughs)

I think a lot of readers aren’t going to know what 3K means: kitanai, kitsui, kiken. [[Dirty, Difficult, and Dangerous]] (laughs)

Ohba: I mean, In general the work of a game creator is a lot of fun. If it wasn’t fun, you wouldn’t put up with working in a 3K workplace, after all. (laughs) The “dream” part of it is that you get to envision your own plans, see them take initial shape as the designers give them life, and then see them progressively fleshed out with animation and programming. “It’s aliiiiveee!” — you get to experience that feeling in game development. Seeing something come together bit by bit is very fun, as is the response you get back from players when you finally hand it over to them. So I would say, if you like bringing other people joy and happiness, please join us in the game industry.

Map Programmer Kenji Hiruta posing with superfan Ares_Arcadia (who commissioned the translation of these many interviews!). Hiruta explains a memorable episode from the development below. Incidentally, Hiruta was also mostly responsible for creating the demo of Skies of Arcadia, which took about 3 weeks to complete.
Skies of Arcadia Development Crisis!

posted by Kenji Hiruta on 5/10/2019

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the release of Skies of Arcadia Legends for the Dreamcast. I thought I’d take this occasion to share some of my memories from the development. Enough time has passed now that I feel OK about revealing some of the technical secrets behind its making.


“It’s not good. You’ve got to re-do it all.” Those words were hurled at me by the planner in charge of the airship movement. “There’s absolutely no sense of increased speed when you move to a new ship. We need to increase that speed somehow.”

The development had been going along smoothly, with everyone hard at work on their individual sections, when I heard this. Re-doing everything…? Impossible. Not having any interest in vague and unproductive conversations, however, I kept my eyes fixed on my monitor and answered back, “Well, why not just raise the speed then?”

“We could try shortening the distance between the islands. But then if we don’t raise the encounter rate, players won’t get enough experience. Ok then, so just make players encounter way more enemies when they go even a short distance, right? Wrong. That won’t work. We’ve got to enlarge the size of the world itself.”

Ah. Finally, he let out everything he wanted to say. I’m sure the wide-eyed and angry look on my face in that moment betrayed how I felt. I wasn’t angry at the idea of having to re-do the world—I was angry at how it had all been communicated to me. Well, I guess I’ll have to explain more now.

“But if we expand the world, won’t it feel empty…?”, I asked the planner.

“I’m aware of that. That’s why we’ll need to make the 3D models of the islands bigger too.”

“But won’t the areas between the islands feel empty too?”

“We’ll have to add more objects in there to liven those spaces up.”

“If we start updating the coordinate data for the objects in the world map, it’s going to mean re-doing the majority of the 3D models. Same goes for placing a bunch of new objects in those empty spaces. How much time do you think that’s going to all take?”

“Maybe 3-6 months.”

If, in fact, the extra work described here had come to pass, it would have entailed a major crisis. We’d have had to re-do our entire development roadmap, and the timing and plans related to sales and PR as well. It’s no exaggeration to say this change threatened the very existence of the development. In front of this planner, who just kept throwing out ridiculous expectations one after the other, I could only let out a sigh.

“Ok. But what happens if we make all those changes, but the sense of speed you want still isn’t sufficient…?”

“Then we’ll just expand the size of the world again!”

Thence began an unceasing stream of regrets and complaints in my head. Why didn’t we think about raising the speed earlier, when we were first making the whole world… I mean I thought it was a problem then, but I just figured some small changes would suffice… why is this happening to me?!… and on and on.

I sighed again. If this is how we’re going to go about this development, who knows how many years this game will take to finish. I looked at the planner and said,

“Now listen. I said this before, but there’s no need to change the world like you’re saying.”

“What?! But there’s no other way to do it!!!”

“Just calm down and listen to me. As I said, the player’s perception of speed, and the _actual_ speed things travel in the game, those are two different things.”

The planner stared at me blankly.

“Huh. What are you saying.”

“How do you think the player gets a sense of the speed his ship is moving at?”

“Well, I think they look at objects like the islands around them and can tell just by looking.”

“That’s right. However, because of perspective, for an island in the distance, small adjustments to the ship’s actual speed won’t affect that perception. In other words, changing the actual speed of the ship isn’t going to evoke the feeling of “speed” you’re looking for in players.

This stopped the planner in his tracks.

“Well, what are we to do then?”

As Hiruta explains here, getting the right sense of speed for the airships was a more subtle problem than one might imagine.

“The trick isn’t to move around things that are distant from the player. What we need are more objects closer to serve as references.”

“You mean things like clouds. If you have a thin layer of clouds that you’re flying through, it would be easy to feel that speed. But we already tried that.”

“I know. I’ve seen the ones you added. But what if you tried making those clouds move towards the player, opposite to whatever direction the ship is moving? Then you’d feel some resistance and speed, as if you were sailing into a headwind.”

The planner’s eyes lit up.

“What?! Could we do that?”

“Of course. All we have to do is change the speed that cloud layer moves at relative to the type of ship you’re piloting. Then we don’t have to change the speed of the ship itself at all.”

“Isn’t that kind of cheating though…?”

“It’s not about ‘cheating’ or not, you know. It’s whether it creates the effect you’re hoping to achieve.”

After an hour or less of work, we had implemented the system I described. The planner was jumping up and down.

“The sense of speed is amazing now! You really saved my ass! I still can’t believe it works!”


And there you have it—a story that might sound like a joke, but actually happen. The moral of our story? The final experience of the player depends a lot on such little tricks that the creators can come up with. We saved the production a bunch of money too. If we had tried to re-do all the world assets like he had first wanted, I doubt we’d be celebrating the 19th anniversary of Skies of Arcadia today!

Skills, tricks, and schemes—there’s always a crafty way to go about getting what you want, and that’s a mindset I’ve always kept close to heart for as long as I’ve been involved in the business of creating things.

Skies of Arcadia – Developer Comments

from the official Sega SoA backup

1. New Character – Piastol

Are you all enjoying Skies of Arcadia Legends? This is Tanaka, director of the domestically released version of Arcadia. To anyone out there who hasn’t bought it yet—rush out and pick up a copy today!

It’s been 2 years since the Dreamcast version of Arcadia was released, which was followed by a port to the Gamecube (unexplored territory for us) with new content added to boot… all of which is to say, it was a very difficult development. But hopefully you’re all enjoying the effort in the finished product, I hope?

There are new characters Piastol, Doc, and Maria… have you managed to see all of these lovely ladies’ event scenes now?

One comment we heard a lot from the Dreamcast version, was that players wanted to know the details behind Ramirez’s change of heart (referred to at the end of the game). Hearing those requests, it was decided: “We’ve got to tell everyone the truth about what happened that day!” Merely describing what happened in the past with some exposition wouldn’t be very interesting though, I thought. Instead we added this episode with Piastol, and her drama, and interwove that into the story with Ramirez.

In her early designs, her outfit was quite audacious in the amount of skin it revealed (her thighs and cleavage were on full display), but we were told it was too extreme and were asked to tone it down in consideration of the American audiences, because children would be playing it and everything. Reluctantly, I had the designer add those stockings.

On the other hand, personally I have something of a stocking fetish, so maybe this way has it’s charms too?

The “Black Spots” which Vyse is sent to, to find Piastol, those were inspired by a kind of letter which English pirates used to summon each other back in the day (at least, that’s what I remember reading in a novel somewhere or something).

Concept art for Piastol, a new character added for Skies of Arcadia Legends. I’m not sure if any art for her original, more risque design has ever been released.

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the Black Spot is used to summon Billy Bones to appear before his former crew. The name itself is cool, right?

2. On Character Names

So, Arcadia is all about sky pirates, as you know, but actually, in the beginning, I wasn’t very fond of the name “Vyse” for the main character, and I even tried to get it changed.

I thought something that evoked the sky, or ships, would be best… so I thought of “Kite” and “Mile”, but by that time everyone had already become too attached to the name Vyse, and everyone—even then-director Seimiya—completely rejected my alternatives.

Looking back at it now, of course, I’m glad we stuck with Vyse.

People have been discussing it already on BBSes, but most of the other names for the sky pirates were taken from different currencies around the world.

I’d like to be able to say we did that because of the neat connection, thematically, between sky pirates who circle the globe and the way money similarly circles the globe… but I’m afraid that would be a bit of a strain. The truth is, those currency names just had a nice ring to them, so we used them.

Drachma, Gilder, Balboa (US: Baltor), Krone (US: Clara), Centime, Dobra, Jao, Mao, and the new characters for the Gamecube—Piastre (US: Piastol), Rappen (US: Lapen), Rupee, Baht (US: Barta)… these are all different currencies from around the world. If you’ve got some free time, why not try looking them up?

The legendary sky pirate Ducat (US: Daccat), too—his name was taken from an old currency, the ducat, which once circulated in Europe.

At the end of the game, when Vyse is facing his moment of crisis, there’s a scene where all the sky pirates assemble and come to Vyse’s aid in a huge armada. What I love about this scene is connected to a memory I have from the Dreamcast development… during the hardest time in the development, when I felt pushed to the limit, that I saw this scene, and it served as a huge inspiration and cheered me up.

I personally love those moments that you find in games, books, and movies—those scenes that get you all fired up with passion, and it’s why I love that part of Skies of Arcadia. The event team really poured their heart and soul into it, I think.

The desires of mankind are manifold: “I want to be rich!”, “I want to eat delicious food everyday”, “I want to be with someone I love”, “I want to collect things”, “I just want to cut loose and break shit!”… the sky pirates, to me, lead an enviable life of indulgence in all these desires and more.

It wasn’t meant as a psychological litmus test or anything, but have you ever thought about your favorite sky pirate and wondered: what does my love for that character say about my own hidden desires…?

The colorful cast of Armada Admirals.

3. The Armada Admirals, Part 1

This time I’m going to talk about the admirals of the Valuan Armada

Being a big fan of Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu, from the very start of the development, I absolutely wanted to have interesting admiral characters with rich personalities, with each having their own unique flagships to boot. This was non-negotiable in my mind!

I guess, for Skies of Arcadia, they turned out to be very “colorful” characters, if you will. (laughs) The admirals are some of my most favorite characters in the game.

It’s quite common, to the point of a cliche, to see boss characters styled after Shitenou (Four Devas), but those are always super powerful demigod type characters. I mean, they’re cool for that reason, you know? But I had long wanted to design a character who went against that trend, and the result was the First Admiral of the Valuan Armada, Alfonso. His flagship, the Cygnus, is named after the constellation. My image was of something shining white and noble.

For Gregorio, the Second Admiral, I wanted to make an admiral called “Ironwall”, and so this was another character inspired by Ginga Densetsu. I’ve always liked characters who nearly die in the course of the story—who die tragic deaths in vain—and in that sense Gregorio and Alfonso each have very good death scenes I think.

Gregorio’s flagship, the Auriga, was named after the constellation Taurus. I felt it fit the image of the loyal and diligent Gregorio.

Vigoro, the third admiral, plays that same role that Gian plays in Doraemon. The name Vigoro, in Spanish, means “energy/vigor” and “peerless”. In English it’s “vigor”—the same root word as those infamous “Vigor Underpants”, that suspicious product of yesteryear.3 The transparent fishnet top he wears in the Grand Fortress was deemed too risque for the Western version, so we updated his costume there to be more sporty. He appears in this costume in the Gamecube version, by the way.

His flagship Draco is named after the constellation of the same name. I wanted an aggressive image for it.

Also, there was some special data distributed through local game shops in which Vigoro becomes a sky pirate, by the way. If you happen to have that data, be sure to share it with your friends!

4. The Armada Admirals, Part 2

For the Fourth Admiral, Belleza, I originally imagined her as a kind of female spy, inspired by Milady from The Musketeers, but perhaps partly because of her disappointment in love, her smart, stylish side was brought to the fore (I guess you can see her more sexy side in Bellena, maybe?). I personally really love this character. When we were developing the Western version, she was very popular with the American staff too. Her flagship “Lynx” was named after the constellation Lynx, for its supple image.

The Fifth Admiral is De Loco. In Spanish loco means “crazy person”, so when we release Skies of Arcadia in Europe, we were all secretly worried whether a name like this would be OK, but for whatever reason it wasn’t a problem.4 This character was built up more by the image of the concept art—that glass tube around his head, and his facial expression—rather than any kind of backstory.

Admiral Belleza, popular with both fans and the development staff.

His flagship, “Chameleon”, came from the constellation of the same name. It fits his ship, the way it can change shape freely, and the way the cannon platforms which retract reminds one of a chameleon’s tongue.

Ramirez, the Sixth Admiral. Recently I’ve been seeing a baseball player with the same name!

Regarding his design, at first I had imagined him with longer hair, but our producer Kodama, along with the rest of the female staff members, plead their case that that hairstyle wouldn’t appeal to young women today, so it got updated to be shorter and more modern. And right they were! When I saw the responses later that this character got, it was like, thank goodness we listened.

Last bosses in RPGs always have some goal like “Reviving the Ancient God!”, “Conquering the World”, or “Destroying the World”, but I always thought to myself… “What? Why do you need to destroy the world?! Where are you going to live after that…?!” Personally I just always found that whole “world destruction” motivation to be rather lacking and unconvincing.

On that note, we tried to give Ramirez a different motivation: the despair and anger he feels over having his beloved stolen away from him. How did that work for you guys? (I do think that if we had been able to explore the connection between Ramirez and Galcian a bit more deeply, that all would have been conveyed more clearly).

Finally, we come to Galcian, who is one of those old-school “conquer the world”-type villains. By giving him a futile death at the end there, I harbored a secret, contrarian desire (perhaps held only privately by me) to do something with a different flavor from traditional RPGs.

When I looked at the player’s response to Galcian, it seemed the people thought he was cool and liked him at first, but once he called Belleze a “cunning she-fox”, that was it: suddenly everyone hated him.5 I saw a number of comments like that. Well, as the saying goes… “be careful what you say!”6

These interviews generously commissioned by AresArcadia.

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  1. This first interview comes from Famitsu Dreamcast, 10/12/99.

  2. In fact, they ended up adding hiragana after some of the more difficult kanji.

  3. These were some bizarre scam product advertised mainly in Japanese magazines in the 80s and 90s. It was claimed that wearing them made you more “vigorous” in bed.

  4. In Japanese, calling some crazy—kichigai—is one of the ugliest epithets / curse words you can call someone, in a way that doesn’t translate to the relatively benign English / Spanish words for crazy, and this is likely why they were worried.

  5. This line was omitted in the English translation, which merely reads: “Farewell Belleza, you have served me well…”

  6. The Japanese proverb is more colorful, and literally means “the mouth is the root of all misfortune”.

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