StellaVanity – 2012 Developer Interview

StellaVanity – 2012 Developer Interview

StellaVanity is a doujin shmup created by Tris-Gram of the circle Feather Ether. A danmaku style shmup, it's especially polished for a doujin and has a very complicated system (not besting Hellsinker in that regard, of course). Although the game can still be purchased by westerners, the developer ceased English language support due to someone uploading a torrent of the game, apparently. This interview originally appeared in STG Gameside #5.

—When did you start developing StellaVanity?

Tris-Gram (TG): I began working on the initial version in November 2008. I distributed the final version at the 2011 Winter Comiket, so it took about 3 years total. I developed everything myself.

—It seems that StellaVanity is the first game you’ve developed. What made you choose the shooting genre?

TG: Since I began learning to program, I’ve been dabbling in STG programming. But it goes without saying that my skills were lacking, and I was also surprised at my lack of experience as a player, so I wasn’t able to create something that would be an actually playable game.

Later I really got into arcade STG, and as my love for STG intensified, I tried programming some things and it didn’t feel bad at all. That made me think “I can do this now!”, and from there I got completely lost in STG programming... and here I am today.

—Please tell us what your favorite STG games are.

TG: When I look back on the history of my STG experiences, the one that first comes to mind is the first one I played, the Galaga series. I especially like the PC Engine version of Galaga 88. One game I have a lot of emotional attachment to is Area 88 for the Super Famicom. The shop system certainly stands out, but I feel its really excellent as a STG. The game I love the most and have spent the most time playing is Ketsui. I played it so much I even cleared the Ura second loop. I also enjoy games with fast aimed shots like in Raiden. As for gimmicky games, Exzeal surprised me that a game like that existed, and was very interesting to me.

—When making StellaVanity, were there any particular games that influenced you, or that you wished to pay respects to?

TG: The main one would be Ketsui. As far as the graphics and presentation go, the “Touhou” and “Danmaku Soeur” doujin STGs were a strong influence. As for others, I think there’s influence from games both new and old, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I included little things from those games unconsciously. (laughs)

The complex system of StellaVanity.

—The weapon system in StellaVanity is very unique.

TG: Yeah, the most obvious being the Raid and Overkill systems. The idea for those is that the Raid system is for large enemies and thick bullet curtains where you can’t get in close, and then Blade is used to finish them off. The controls are simple and the weapons are very useful, and players liked those systems a lot.

The Overkill system is the core of the scoring system. With many different weapons, there’s a variety of attack patterns you can employ, and I was thinking that how you combine those weapons would add an element of strategy to the game.

—At first it was very difficult to use those attacks to their fullest. The system and controls are fairly complex, and I thought it would have been great if there were a tutorial. 

TG: Actually, I had planned to make a tutorial, but due to problems with the production timeline I couldn’t do it. I’m thinking I might add it as a patch for new players.

—I look forward to you adding it so a wider audience can enjoy StellaVanity! Another new experiment for StellaVanity was the story mode, in which you can develop different stats and aspects of the game. 

TG: STG is a genre in which the starting conditions of a game are always the same, and its a player’s skill alone which determines one’s success. However, I felt that style was too stoic for today’s world, so I added the story mode. With STGs, if you just want to play, you’ll use continues and clear the game, and then its over. Conversely, if you aim for a 1cc then you’ll have to persevere through the same scenes over and over. And while the Super Famicom and Famicom era STGs were impressive games, if you follow that pattern today it can easily come off as overly mannered and cliched, I think. So one strategy I had for avoiding those problems was the “Collection / Development System.” But, again due to time constraints, its hard for me to say that I’m perfectly satisfied with it, and in the future I want to improve and develop this idea to its fullest potential.

—Is there anything in StellaVanity you were particularly insistent about?

TG: Since the system is complex, I made sure the controls didn’t unduly stress out the player. For example, the delay shift and ethereal shift use the same button, and are started and stopped using the same button. I was really careful to avoid situations where the player would get frustrated and throw the controller away due to some problem with the game controls.

I also tried to avoid situations where the player is always dodging the same way, by adding, for example, indestructible needle bullets under a danmaku pattern. There were many places where I did fine tuning like that. I also added the tate screen mode simply because I like it myself. (laughs)

A good and recent review of StellaVanity.

—Conceptually, was there anything you were aiming for in StellaVanity?

TG: I wanted to make a game that would be enjoyable to play casually, but would also offer that special “something” that challenges hardcore players who like to take a game to its limits. For the former group, I added Type-C mode, which has simple controls and can be enjoyed even by those who don’t normally play STGs. As for hardcore players, it might sound foolish, but I wanted to make a difficulty mode that wasn’t completely impossible, that would be created from your own personal shooting experience.

I also didn’t want to make a scoring system where the most optimal scoring route would be too obvious. While memorizing scoring patterns is difficult in its own right, I wanted a high risk system that would reward you the more risks you took.

—Its good that there’s a Type-C mode that will be easier for beginners to get into. Were there any other points during development that you struggled with?

TG: Above all, the development timeline. Ideas kept coming, but even after selecting the best ones there still wasn’t time to implement them all. In the end I prioritized the important parts, but it was really tough letting go of things. Another thing is that the initial response from players far exceeded my personal evaluation of the game, so I thought I really needed to raise the quality, and because of that pressure I ended up getting stuck in the development for a time. What I learned from this protracted development is that, whether good or bad, you can’t take others’ comments to heart too much. You’ve got to go at your own pace.

—Yeah, people were talking a lot about StellaVanity before its release, and I was really looking forward to it myself. If there are any other episodes or anecdotes surrounding the development, please share them.

TG: It was my first time participating at Comiket, and I was working on the game up till the last moment. That week before Comiket I didn’t sleep at all. I ended up getting help from some people in a doujin circle I knew and safely made it, but without a doubt, that week was the most intense pressure I’ve ever experienced in my life.

—You really went all the way for your first time! Finally, please tell us about any future plans for StellaVanity, and any message for our readers.

TG: I’m thinking about a sequel to StellaVanity. I want to challenge myself with newer technology, and I’m thinking I’ll work at a more relaxed pace. The subtitle for StellaVanity, “Prelude to the Destined Calamity” suggests some event in the future that I want to tell the story of, so please look forward to it!

—We will eagerly await this sequel. Thank you for your time today!

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