The “Shooting Samurai” of Stunfest
This unique interview recounts the experience of Stunfest by shmup superplayer Clover-TAC and two of the key organizers, Jon and Pikachu. As described within, Stunfest was a 3-day speedrun / superplay video game festival held in France in 2013. Although I don’t usually translate the editorial comments, I retained them for this interview since it provides important context for the event.
Did you know? Japanese STGs are silently spreading through the Western world. In this new “Western STG” column we’ll be reporting on the various developments in the Western STG scene.
Our first feature is a report on the “Wasshoi! in Europe” event held at Stunfest in France. Every year in Japan at the Wasshoi! event, top STG players present their incredible skills during live performances. The French gamer group “Team SuperPlayLive” invited three of these players to perform at Stunfest, kicking off the Wasshoi! overseas invasion!
Today we interview Clover-TAC, one of the superplayers invited to Stunfest, as well as the Wasshoi event organizer Mr. Pikachu. They are joined by Jon Rodgers, a shooting player living in Japan who worked tirelessly as a volunteer to help organize the event. Today we ask the three of them about the tribulations of Japan’s top superplayers and hear their observations on the current STG scene.
Clover-TAC: STG theorist who holds the world record for many Cave titles, including Esprade (J-B5th, Irori), Mushihmesama Futari (Maniac/Reco) and others. He also appeared in the American documentary about Japanese arcade culture, “100 YEN.” At Stunfest he performed a run of Dodonpachi Saidaioujou.
T3 Kamui: Genius player of that most famous of games in the STG world, Battle Garegga. Using Gain, she continues even now to pursue new scoring possibilities. Her new world record, with Gain, is 20,812,270. This is her second time performing Battle Garegga at Wasshoi!
NAK: A younger player in whom we see our hopes for the future of STG. He is the master of Mushihimesama Futari God mode, a STG reknowned for its mind-bendingly dense bullet patterns and intense scoreplay. His current high score is 7,196,096,330, which of course is the world record.
—Can you tell us how you came to be involved in Stunfest?
TAC: Mr. Pikachu runs the live shooting event Wasshoi!, which in August of last year was featured as part of the “Game Summer Festival,” an outdoor event held in Narita. Some people affiliated with Stunfest came to Wasshoi and approached me, saying they would like to hold the same kind of event overseas. Those people, by the way, were Jon who is here sitting next to me, and two others named Dmitri and Matthew.
—Who are Matthew and Dmitri?
Jon: They were the staff who managed the STG section of Stunfest. They helped out with “3HIT COMBO” (the main group at Stunfest) and the live performance group “Team SuperPlayLive.” Dimitri’s determination to bring Wasshoi! to Stunfest all began when he saw the Wasshoi! event in Japan at Game Summer Festival. But realizing that dream was in no way a straightforward matter.
—Clover-TAC also helped organize Wasshoi, correct?
Pikachu: He always gives us good advice from the player’s perspective on how to organize things. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you only think of the things you want to do from the organizer’s perspective, so we really value his objective opinions.
—Was it your goal to reproduce the Wasshoi! event as-is in France?
Pikachu: On the official Stunfest homepage it’s called “Wasshoi! in Europe”, but strictly speaking, it’s a slightly different kind of event.
TAC: Initially, the idea was just to invite Japanese superplayers to Stunfest. After it was decided that Japanese players would head over, on the webpage I saw in French “Wasshoi! in Europe”, and I thought to myself… “is it OK to call it this?” (laughs)
Pikachu: But in the end it was fine to use the name. The name Wasshoi! conveys the image of watching a superplay and getting rowdy, after all.
TAC: There’s a group at Stunfest called “Team SuperPlayLive” that does superplays of all different genres of games, so it made sense to designate the Japanese superplayers there with the original Wasshoi! name.
Jon: On the organizational side, the first thing we did was to decide on games that we’d like to exhibit to the French, then we contacted the top players for those games.
—Were there many hurdles in getting everyone to France?
Jon: Well, from my perspective as someone helping out, the difficult thing was the money. We started a fundraising campaign and solicited donations from people overseas.
Pikachu: This is really a cultural difference. There’s no way you could do a fundraising event like that in Japan. The Stunfest event itself is pulled together through the goodwill of the participants, after all.
TAC: Yeah, everything gave me the impression it was organized around a participatory model.
Jon: The reason behind that is the fact that overseas, game centers have been dying out. In Japan there are still game centers where gamers can get together. Overseas, that space vanished over 10 years ago, so now you have to recreate it on your own.
TAC: Stunfest was held at a college gymnasium. The area was divided in two, with one half being for fighting game match pools. The other half had the stage we performed on, as well as console games set up for people to try out. I was told that almost all the games were Japanese.
Pikachu: The entire space was like, “Cool Japan.” (laughs) People were very friendly and would come up and talk to us just because we were Japanese, which was nice.
TAC: Even more than gaming, a lot of the folks there were really into Japan.
—I understand they had a lot of pcbs and candy cabs setup, just like a Japanese game center.
Pikachu: That really surprised me.
TAC: There was this guy in France named James, who is a real arcade cab maniac. He lent all the cabinets for the superplay stage and the public arcade playing area. Of the 500 cabs in his personal collection, about 300 of them are broken down in some way, so he repairs them one by one himself. That’s how crazy about cabs he is. (laughs)
Pikachu: He apparently keeps them stored in a cattle stable. (laughs)
TAC: We brought our own sticks with us to France. I brought a Sanwa stick, but James told me “I’m a seimitsu fan, so none of my cabs have control panels that can hook up a sanwa stick.”1 I had been assured before we came over that the Sanwa would work. (laughs) I was pretty stressed by this turn of events. In the end I borrowed NAK’s seimitsu stick.
—It seems weird even hearing a French person talk about Seimitsu and Sanwa. (laughs)
TAC: After we played, James came up to me with a grin on his face, and was like “So how was it? The seimitsu was good, right?” (laughs)
—Mushihimesama Futari Black Label has an X360 port, but at the time of Stunfest, Saidaioujou was only available as a PCB. And they had it there?
TAC: I heard there’s only 2 copies in all of France. A French pcb collector named Phillip lent us his.
—Stunfest lasted 3 days, each day had two runs. Was it difficult to maintain your focus for that long?
TAC: I’m used to that kind of do-or-die pressure from the Japanese events, so I was ok there. I thought Kamui and NAK, who both had to play on the first day, had a lot more pressure, since we had absolutely no idea how the crowd would react.
—But once it started, the crowd really got into it.
TAC: Both NAK and Kamui had amazing runs. Thanks to their getting the crowd excited, the next day I was able to challenge the game in a relaxed state of mind. I even received a standing ovation after my run… I was moved beyond words.
Pikachu: This time, at Stunfest, I was able to see things purely from the audience’s perspective. I was very curious about how the audience would react at a French game event, but I thought the superplay commentator’s work was amazing. One thing I noticed about the sound was that they kept the game volume low. It was mixed to give priority to the commentator’s voice. The next loudest sound after that was the audience’s clapping and cheering. Coming in a wispy third place was the game soundtrack…
TAC: You could barely hear the game music from the audience seats and it seemed a little barren, so from the second day on they adjusted it.
Pikachu: Personally, I think that the charm of STG is the way the game and the music sync up together. So at Wasshoi! we always turn the volume up very loud. But in France they place a lot of importance on informing the audience about what’s happening during the superplay. It’s a completely different style of presentation.
—During the final battle with Hibachi in Dodonpachi Saidaioujou the commentator started reciting the games in the Dodonpachi series so rapidly, I wondered what on earth happened.
TAC: The bullet patterns of Hibachi in Saidaioujou are an homage to the patterns from Hibachi fights in the previous Dodonpachi games, so I’m guessing he was commenting on those.
—Ah, that makes sense!
TAC: But yeah, as you can see, the commentating was very detailed. While I was waiting to go on, he read a short profile to introduce me, and it began with “Clover-TAC, whose name is an abbreviation for Cave Lover…” When I heard that, I was really surprised… how in the world did they know that? (laughs) It seems they’d done some really thorough research beforehand.
Jon: The main commentator was a French shooting player known as BACK. He’s played a lot of danmaku STG in recent years, and he’s regarded in the community as being one of the most knowledgeable people about STGs. There were other commentators as well, and their common goal was more to get the audience hyped up.
—In addition to commentary, there was also a live performance by Team SuperPlayLive.
TAC: I hope you add Japanese subtitles for the commentary on the replay videos. (laughs) As a player I really want to know what they were saying. The people who came to Stunfest are the really hardcore group of French gamers with a passion for games. So it seemed to me that one of the goals of these gamers was to find new games to play through Team SuperPlayLive’s live performances and replays on PCBs and consoles,.
Pikachu: It felt like what we would call a “game show” in Japan.
TAC: Yeah, and having a very detailed commentary also served that purpose of introducing people to new games, it seemed.
—Clover-TAC, after you finished your Dodonpachi Saidaioujou run you said something very memorable: “Like figure skating, there is artistry in playing these games. I want people to enjoy that side of it.”
TAC: Unlike fighting games, where winners and losers are clearly delineated, scoring in STG is a competition that takes place against a distant third-party. Each game has specific “scoring tricks” that are the same every time, and you must discover and perform them one by one. So in high score level playing, there is an inevitable element of artistry involved. In that regard I think it’s just like figure skating. I’ve been using that metaphor for quite awhile now, in the hopes that it conveys some part of the essence of STG.
—Given the chance, would you do Stunfest again?
TAC: Definitely. I want to see everyone again who I met.
Pikachu: Like the game center, the special charm of these events is the connections between people.
—Even though you don’t speak the same language?
Jon: I think people’s feelings and passion are communicated through playing. When I looked at the overseas STG community message boards, I saw someone say “Even though I couldn’t talk with Clover-TAC, we communicated through the games we played.”
—After being a part of Stunfest, do you think the French STG scene has evolved?
TAC: To be honest I don’t know yet, but I hope so, even if it’s just a small step. At first I was hoping for the number of STG players to increase… but I still think it means a lot if more people think “watching STG is fun,” regardless of whether they jump in and play or not. In all genres, there’s the joy of playing, but there’s also the joy of watching, and I think that’s important too. For the development of STG as a genre, and especially for getting the attention of the world, I think that may end up being key.
Pikachu: The culture of game festivals has its origin in Japan. Having superplays performed live on stage for everyone to see was also done first in Japan. And of course the game machines used are made in Japan. So at Stunfest you saw manga, anime, and other non-game subcultures that, as the “Cool Japan” name suggests, showed everyone’s appreciation for Japan. I strongly felt that events like this the best of our country is being broadcast to the world. I felt that through Wasshoi! I was able to participate in that exchange too. Although for me it isn’t a job, but merely as a hobby that I helped out. (laughs)
TAC: During an interview at Stunfest, someone asked me: “Do you think the number of people playing STGs is increasing?” In 2008 the first Wasshoi! event was held, and the next thing you know, in 2013 a similar event was held here in France. Just from that, I think you can definitely say STG is expanding to a wider audience. Here’s hoping this trend will continue and we can connect with even more people in the future.
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Sanwa and Seimitsu are the two main arcade stick makers in Japan. It's often said that Sanwa sticks are looser and not as well suited for shmups, but it ultimately comes down to personal preference (as the many world records of Clover-TAC attest to). Annoyingly, both sticks use different style mounting plates, so they can’t be immediately swapped.↩