Thexder – 1985 Developer Interview

Thexder – 1985 Developer Interview

This historical Thexder interview was originally featured in BEEP magazine. Despite being a massive hit in Japan, Thexder was mostly unknown in the west until the MSX port. This short interview mostly covers the development process and basic design inspirations. I've also included a brief excerpt from a 2022 interview with designer Satoshi Uesaka where he offers a few more details about its creation.

Hibiki Godai - Director/Designer
Satoshi Uesaka - Designer

—Looking at the diagram you've made here, I see that your ideas for Thexder are broken into three labels: a transforming robot game, a high-speed scroll game, and a "new type" game. Could you explain each of those?

Godai: First, with regard to the transforming robot game, we were thinking about commercial appeal as you might have guessed. That's the kind of thing that would appeal to elementary and middle school age kids, we thought.

Uesaka: Also, we saw a certain not-to-be-named transforming robot game and thought, "that's not how you do it!!" (laughs) That was another inspiration.

Godai: As for the high-speed scrolling, so far there have been no high-speed scrolling games on the PC-88 machines, so we thought it would seem fresh and new.

—Now low-speed scrolling, there's no shortage of those. (laughs)

Godai: Besides that, we wanted to add a lot of other new elements, so that's where "new type game" came from.

—The animation for Thexder's transformation is very smooth, by the way.

Godai: It was a great challenge creating the animation to get it looking that smooth.

Satoshi Uesaka (L) and Hibiki Godai (R). Note the Silpheed sticker!

—Was that something you did, Godai?

Godai: No, Uesaka did the character design. Well, we did it together.

Uesaka: Thexder himself has 48 animation patterns, and the 72 different enemies are also animated, so it was hundreds of animations we had to create.

—How did the two of you divide up the work? Excluding more recent games, in computer games, unlike arcade games, the programming and planning are not split up. How was it for you two?

Godai: I think it differs from person to person, but in my case, I like to do everything myself, from start to finish.

—Did you two clash often then?

Uesaka: For the character design, yeah, I would say I wanted the characters to move such-and-such a way, but he would say "sorry, that's impossible"… and I'd be like, is that really true? Then after spending two weeks trying to persuade him, suddenly without warning it would be done. (laughs)

Godai: We also argued about the animation. "This looks lame…" (laughs)

Uesaka: Or how the scrolling looked half-assed. (laughs)

—I see. But all this criticism helped elevate the quality of Thexder! By the way, how long was the development?

Godai: About two months.

Uesaka: One of those months, though, was just spent brainstorming.

—Did you stay overnight at the office during those weeks...?

Godai: Yeah, a lot of the time. Though it was mostly when we were working out our ideas together.

Gameplay of the original PC-88 version of Thexder.

—So the programming itself didn't take that much time then?

Godai: Yeah, the programming is relatively straightforward work.

—If Thexder was made in two months... then Godai, how many hours each day were you working in front of your computer?

Godai: I didn't have any real hard-and-fast rules, but when I'm into it, I'm fine working three days straight without sleep. Working for three days, then sleeping 20 hours, that kind of schedule. (laughs) A programmer must have focus and endurance.

—How much time did the character design take...?

Uesaka: I could create about 10 animation patterns in one day. After doing that for a few days I'd transfer my animations into the computer.

—What were some of the challenges there?

Uesaka: I created an actual model for the robot's transformation pattern. That was how I confirmed that the transformation animations actually worked. At first I was using paper, but before long everything started to get jumbled in my head, and I thought, "Well, no choice but to do this the hard way." So I got out some balsa wood and manually cut them to shape.

—Talk about dedication! By the way, the world of Thexder is surprisingly large.

Godai: Well, the faster the screen scrolls, the larger the maps need to be. If you don't make them large, it'll feel cramped and small to players. For Thexder, we've prepared 480 screens worth of maps.

—Wow, that's monstrous!

Godai: The game takes up most of the disk, in fact. It would be too technical to get into, but we're working very hard on the data compression. Compression isn't very effective for maps in scrolling games. It's a different kind of compression from what's used for the graphics in adventure games.

Technologically speaking—and this isn't only true of compression—but with things like high-speed scrolling, if the programming isn't up to snuff, even with the PC-88 SR won't be fast enough.

—I see. And that's why your diagram here has "high quality programming" written there. So we can say that Thexder combines a good concept with the exceptional programming technique necessary to achieve it.

Godai: Um… yeah!

Satoshi Uesaka hard at work designing Thexder's pixel art.
Thexder - 2022 Developer Comments

excerpted from Game Watch model kit interview

—I'd like to ask some questions about the original Thexder development. You were involved in the design of the Thexder mecha, correct?

Uesaka: Yeah. None of the founding members at Game Arts could draw, and I'd been a member of my schools manga research club when I was younger, so I had some degree of aptitude. That's why I ended up doing all of Thexder's design, from the concept sketches to the pixel art. (laughs)

—Did you have any experience drawing mecha before that?

Uesaka: No, none at all. I'd never even drawn robots before, to say nothing of "mecha". I loved anime and manga so I'd seen a lot of mecha before, but since this was my first time being asked to make one myself, the first thing I did was to buy a ton of plastic model kits and construct them all, one by one, taking notes and using them as a reference.

—Which came first in Thexder's design, the illustrations or the pixel art?

Uesaka: The illustrations. The cover illustration was a pencil drawing I did, and I asked an acquaintance of mine to do the coloring.

—It's reminiscent of Yoshiyuki Takani.

Uesaka: I was a big fan of Takani's work, so it definitely reflects that. (laughs) L-Gaim and Kazutaka Miyatake's work on Uchuu no Senshi (Starship Troopers) may have been a big influence too.

Did you also design the two-sided poster for Thexder around the same time?

Uesaka: No, I did that about a half year after Thexder was released. I recall that it was for a promotional event.

—By the way, do you ever think about making a new Thexder game?

Uesaka: At one time there was talk about making "Thexder 3", but we thought it just end up being too similar to Assault Suits Leynos on the Megadrive. So instead we took those ideas and made Alisia Dragoon. I also separated from the project halfway through.

The 2-sided Thexder poster mentioned here. This was re-released and restored with help from the excellent Japanese Game Preservation Society (GPS).

—And since then, the DNA of Thexder has died out, it seems...

Uesaka: Yeah, but the character positioning and AI movement routines we made in Alisia Dragoon, for some reason those were re-used for LUNAR Eternal Blue. So in a way, you might say its DNA lived on in a different form.

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