Treasure – 1993/1994 Developer Interviews

Treasure and the Megadrive – Developer Interviews

In these interviews from BEEP! Megadrive, the newly-formed studio Treasure promotes their earliest games: the critically-acclaimed run-and-gun Gunstar Heroes, the cult classic platformer Dynamite Headdy, and the forgotten licensed romp McDonalds Treasure Land Adventure. Treasure's craftsmanship was rarely rewarded with commercial success, but they've since become staples of Sega’s legacy catalog.

Gunstar Heroes

Hiroshi Iuchi – background designer
Tetsuhiko Kikuchi – designer
Hideyuki Suginami – programmer
Mitsuru Yaida – programmer
Satoshi Murata – sound designer

—Looking back at this year of development, could you each tell us about some of your favorite scenes or memories from Gunstar Heroes?

Iuchi: One memorable part of the Gunstar Heroes development for me was the beginning of stage 1. I re-drew the very first part of this stage—the area with the natives’ huts in the trees—about 4 times. The color palette and hue was more kiddy and game-y at first. We were reusing a palette, which was an efficient use of memory, but it looked kind of cheap.

Kikuchi: For me, it would be the pink lobster boss fight from stage 7. When we were working on Gunstar Heroes, the Megadrive game Mazin Saga had just been released, and I thought it was amazing. It inspired me to try designing the enemy patterns not with simple mathematical algorithms, but with data I inputted manually by hand. Pink Lobster and other enemies I made were the end result of my experiments with that method. I also love the outer space background in that fight. It’s the most beautiful scene in the game.

Suginami: Yeah, and it also ate up a boatload of memory. (laughs) Anyway, for me the most memorable part of the development was designing the rotating title logo. That was the very first program I ever wrote for the Megadrive.

Murata: I was in charge of the sound effects. With FM synthesis, it’s not as easy as sampling to get the right sound fx, like for a metal “chink” sound. That’s why that sound in stage 2, when Urchin Force is banging fiercely against the wall, was a really memorable one for me.

Gunstar Heroes’ impressive title screen: the logo’s not actually a texture-mapped cuboid, but it sure looks like one.

Norio Hanzawa did the music, by the way, but he’s not here today because he’s hard at work on the next Treasure game. It’s gonna surprise you.

Kikuchi: Shhh, that’s supposed to be a secret.

—Norio sent his regards though, and told us that his favorite scene was stage 5, when the melancholic music is playing against the backdrop of that beautiful sunset.

Suginami: That’s a favorite of mine too. It’s kind of got a Konami vibe, you know?!

Yaida: Yeah, and I’d add that, in terms of sound, we really could have used the support of another sound programmer. I hope we hire someone next time, we should put out an ad or something. Because as the main programmer I would have liked a little extra breathing room to polish things. I was really under the gun with our deadlines, it was tough.

Suginami: This was our first Megadrive game, so I guess everything was memorable in it’s own way. We were experimenting so much that I think it resulted in a very fun game that’s stuffed with interesting gameplay ideas. That doesn’t mean we’re satisfied or content to rest on our laurels, though.

Yaida: Exactly. Which is all the more reason for readers to get hyped for our next game, currently in development!

Just one of the forms of what might perhaps be Gunstar Heroes’ most memorable boss, Seven Force.

McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure

Masato Maegawa – programmer
Kazuhiko Ishida – programmer
Koichi Kimura – designer
Kaname Shindo – designer
Katsuhiko Suzuki – composer
Satoshi Murata – sound designer

—I’d now like to ask the same question to the McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure team: what were some of the most memorable scenes or moments for you?

Kimura: I like the little guys with hats that appear on the trains in stage 2. In the beginning of the development, I thought it would be difficult to render all the things I wanted to do with sprites alone, so I started adding a lot of “characters” in the background layers, and then later I revised some of them into actual sprites. (laughs)

Maegawa: Yeah, that’s because you were still in a Game Boy mindset, from all your time working with it at Konami. It’s hard to jump from that to the Megadrive, the hardware specs are way too different!

Ishida: Speaking of stage 2, those voice sound fx for the Catherine enemies are great.

Kimura: That’s actually a man’s voice you know—it’s Suzuki’s natural voice. All you fans out there, don’t miss it.

Ishida: The machines that try to squash Ronald in stage 4 are memorable for me, because they were very difficult to make.

Shindo: Mine would be the multi-jointed character Hayashima, who also appears in stage 4, just before that area. If you see him I bet you can figure out who we modeled him after! I also love BaraBara, the ultimate character.1

Maegawa: Everyone loves BaraBara. We plan to add more adorable (I guess…?) characters like this to our future games.

Shindo: The sumo wrestlers in stage 2 were popular too.

—Were they a parody on the stage 4 pig sumo boss from Parodius?

Everyone: Ahhhh!!

Shindo: Don’t print that. (laughs)

BEEP Magazines’s favorite enemy, stage 3’s seldom-seen barrel tosser.

—On behalf of BEEP Megadrive, I really loved the paunchy guy in stage 3 who tosses barrels.

Kimura: I had to overcome everyone’s opposition to include him. It took an iron will.

Maegawa: That’s not true, no one was against it. I just said it seemed a little boring. (laughs)

Kimura: Don’t worry readers. There’s still people at Treasure with a sense of humor.

—Why does the boss of stage 3 have those humongous lips?

Maegawa: That’s because in the beginning, the life items were actually hamburgers. For a number of different reasons, we ended up changing it to jewels later though.

Shindo: The graphics went through a lot of revisions. There were a number of sprites we had to change for the western version too. (laughs)

Maegawa: The difficulty is different in the American version too, and the European version is actually way harder.

—Do you have any other comments you’d like to share about McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure?

Maegawa: As with Gunstar Heroes, this was our first Megadrive development, and it was fun to see what the hardware was capable of. The Megadrive doesn’t have a lot of VRAM, but we programmed in a number of tricks to help give the graphics more visual depth.

Ishida: I tried hard to make the programming match the visual image of McDonald’s, so lots of comical actions and movements. The Megadrive CPU is very fast and can move lots of data around very quickly, a merit which I think we took full advantage of.

Suzuki: It was my first time working with FM synthesis, so I experimented a lot, and tried to create sounds that didn’t sound like anything else.

Maegawa: When working with a franchise character like Mickey Mouse of Ronald McDonald, you have to be very respectful of the character. We tried to create a lot of variety in the stage layouts. The enemies aren’t your usual bland baddies either, they have a lot of creativity in them so players won’t get bored.

Shindo: I hope players don’t just skip the opening demo. Please watch it carefully, we crammed a lot of cool stuff in there.

Kimura: For a character like Mickey Mouse, there’s a clearly defined world, but one challenge with McDonald’s Treasure Land was that the world of McDonald’s is a little vague. We had to think up a lot of original characters.

McDonalds Treasureland Adventure’s Japanese box art; according to recent comments from Maegawa, Sega rashly forecast the game to sell 500,000 copies.

Shindo: Yeah, and many of the characters that we, as developers, would be super excited to make, were ruled out for this game. It caused some dilemmas for us, but I guess it’s always that way with licensed games.

Kimura: There were just so many revisions. We’d get the OK on something, only to be told later “oh, sorry, actually that won’t work.” At one point it was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. …just kidding—it was worthwhile in the end. (laughs) License-holders, please give us more work!

Suzuki: The music had to match the image of the McDonald’s characters, so I paid extra attention to the first motifs I laid down for the songs, to make sure they fit.

Murata: For the sound effects, I wanted them to be heard clearly, so I made sure they didn’t overlap in frequency with the music. I think I achieved something distinct and original, compared with the Sonic and Disney games for the Megadrive.

Maegawa: Like Gunstar Heroes, I think this game shows some new possibilities for action games.

From left to right: Masato Maegawa, Koichi Kimura, Kaname Shindoh, Katsuhiko Suzuki, Satoshi Murata, Kazuhiko Ishida.

Dynamite Headdy

Koichi Kimura – producer/designer

—Where did the idea for Dynamite Headdy come from?

Kimura: The biggest reason for making Dynamite Headdy was that our team wanted to create something original.2 I’ve been a part of many game developments, but almost all of them were either based on pre-existing characters, or plans that were handed to me from above, which I then adapted and revised. I thought Dynamite Headdy would be a more fun and fulfilling development. Having worked in game dev for 5 years now, I thought it was high time to make something of my own creation. I knew that if I wanted to make my own game, I needed to make something that looked convincing from a commercial sales perspective, and I put a lot of effort into the initial design and conception of Dynamite Headdy along those lines.

—The head attack is very unusual.

Kimura: I had been thinking I wanted the character to use some part of his body when he attacked, and throwing his head was something new, and would make an impact on players. I made him a puppet because puppets are easy to deform and manipulate, whereas a living creature that detached it’s head would be weird, I thought.

—Why do many of the backgrounds use theater stage motifs? The spotlight, the curtains, rigging systems…

Kimura: It’s just my personal taste. There’s a director named Terry Gilliam, who creates these fantastic, magical worlds that take place in the real world. He’ll do things like add an artificial sun to a normal, everyday scene. While I was designing Dynamite Headdy, I thought that kind of world would be cool, so we made a few mock-ups in that style. After seeing it in-game, I thought it looked great, so we doubled down and tried to make that a visual theme for the whole game. At this point in the development it might look really lame if we only went half-way with that aesthetic. There’s a bunch of other cool things we still plan to add, too.

One of Dynamite Headdy’s early show-stoppers, the pseudo-3D platforms that shift the characters as they “tilt”. Note the obviously fake lava flowing underneath the platforms; it’s just one of many conspicuous artifices used to cement the puppet show motif.

—I have to give a shout-out to all the supporting characters too, they look great.

Kimura: Well, since went to the trouble of making an original game, I really wanted to take the opportunity to put my own original characters out there. (laughs) I also didn’t want the main character to be a typical “lonely hero” type. Yes, he always fights alone, but I wanted the backstory to indicate that his friends were always there to support him. That’s where I got the idea for putting those power-up items in every stage that are actually Headdy’s three friends, the “support trio” of Mokkun, Fukkun, and Yakkun.3 Those names, of course, are taken straight from the Shibugakitai idol trio.

Dynamite Headdy contains a lot of references like this that only Japanese audiences will understand—but we’re Japanese developers, so I guess there’s no way around that! The recurring boss “Maruyama” is another example, I just wanted to use an actual Japanese name there. I should probably offer my apologies to all the Maruyama-sans across the country…

—There’s also the mysterious female character…

Kimura: Yeah, her… sorry, I don’t want to reveal the actual names yet. She doesn’t have any connection to the actual gameplay, but she plays a central role in the events of the story. For an action game, Dynamite Headdy has a pretty solid story, actually.

—You’ve mentioned before that you love Western animation. Was that an influence on Dynamite Headdy?

Kimura: Yeah. Actually western animation was one of the things that influenced me to get into the game industry in the first place. I really admire the sensibility of Looney Toons, where you never know what’s going to happen next. Watching them inspires me to hone my own skills. The difference between games and animation, though, is that in animation the artist directs how the scene moves and unfolds, whereas in games, that control is given over to the players. But I think that’s actually a strength for gaming and could lead to even more interesting scenes, which is something I want to explore more.

A photo of the “real” Dynamite Headdy, plus a fun character profile written by the developers, which I’ve translated here for the first time.

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  1. These are both names of enemies, probably in-house nicknames from the developers. Hayashima likely refers to the UFO enemy that grabs Ronald, as it features the “multi-jointed” spritework that Treasure would become famous for on the Megadrive. BaraBara, however, is a mystery.

  2. Gunstar Heroes was an original idea, but Kimura didn’t work on it. Instead he made McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure, so when you consider his previous work at Konami, he had basically been working continuously on pre-existing franchise/licensed material for years.

  3. Headcase, Hangman, and Beau in the US version.

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