Assault Suits Valken - Staff Round Table Interview
Originally featured in the Assault Suits Valken Official Guide Book, published by ASCII, this round-table developer interview was previously hosted at gosokkyu.com. Compared with the other Valken interview at shmuplations, this one features more people and goes into greater depth about the making of the game, the various challenges the team faced, and which parts they're particularly proud of.
Hideo Suzuki (Director)
Tetsuya Ooya (Programmer)
Yukihiro Kawano (Programmer)
Akari Satou (Balance)
Keisuke Tadakuma (Graphics)
Takahide Saitou (Graphics)
—How did you come up with the idea for Assault Suits Valken?
Suzuki: We were asked to make a game for the Super Famicom, but we weren’t given any guidance as to what that game should be. So we started thinking about what kind of game would be good… there were two other people working with me on it, and the three of us threw a bunch of different ideas out there. We hit upon some ideas we thought were interesting, and it just went from there.
—About what time was this?
Tadakuma: Last year (1991), about…
Suzuki: The beginning, I think?
Tadakuma: Right, February or March.
—Did you assemble the full team for the game soon after that?
Suzuki: Actually, we didn’t have a full-time team. People would come and go, joining in and dropping out as it was convenient. At the beginning especially, we had very few people. But as things started getting completed, we added more people for graphics, data, and so forth.
—Can you tell us about some of the challenges of this development? Were there places where you really wanted to quit?
Suzuki: Hah, I’d say we were constantly wanting to throw the towel in. (laughs) The process of making a game itself is very fun, but there were challenges moving forward with so few people.
—Looking at the entire development process, which was the most difficult period?
Suzuki: The end of the development, definitely. We got to the point where we knew exactly what the deadlines were, and at that point being clear-minded about what you have to accomplish, how much work remains, etc., is very difficult.
—Suzuki, as director, I imagine scheduling issues were your number one challenge?
Suzuki: Yeah. When we started making Assault Suits Valken, we wanted everything to be very detailed… the challenge was restraining that impulse and making a game that could meet the schedule. Finding the right balance there was the most difficult thing for me, yeah.
Kawano: For me, this was my first job in the game industry, so I was still inexperienced as a programmer. Every time I had to bother Suzuki or Ooya for help, I wanted out. (laughs)
—Kawano, you handled the sub-programming, but what exactly does that entail?
Kawano: I coded many different things, but regarding the latter half of the game, I did the high-speed scrolling stage before the final stage (stage 6, the skiing stage), and the movement/behavior of that stage’s boss, the anti-aircraft battery boss outside the cave. I also did a lot of small details here and there, with the help from Suzuki and Ooya.
—What was the hardest part for you?
Kawano: Well, we constantly had to fix errors and revise the code, so… it was equally hard from start to finish!
—I’d like to hear from the graphic designers now: what were your greatest challenges in developing Assault Suits Valken?
Tadakuma: We were asked to produce both very high quality work and a great amount of it. Being asked both these things at once, it was very difficult knowing which to prioritize.
—And what would you say the hardest work was?
Tadakuma: The hardest? Actually, there were a lot of things we did for Assault Suits Valken that didn’t make it into the final game. (laughs) And those removed sections were some of the hardest for us as developers.
—Did you have to remove whole stages?
Tadakuma: We did. The truth is, it was mainly a memory problem.
—Well, tell us about the stages that did make it into the game, then. What was most challenging there?
Tadakuma: I’d say the final high-speed scrolling section, and the National Diet building. With the Diet building, if we ignored the interior scale and didn’t make it look realistic, it would be a failure. I used pictures of opera houses for reference as I created the graphics for it.
—About how many people worked on the graphics in total?
Tadakuma: If you leave out Satoshi Urushihara, who did the character designs, I think we had three people doing most of the work…
—That’s not many. It must have been challenging, working with so few people?
—Satou, what parts of the game did you work on?
Satou: I joined the team about four months before the game was complete, so my first task was to understand just what Assault Suits Valken was all about. After that, I paid the most attention to finding the right balance between what the developers wanted, what players would want, and what I wanted to do.
—So for your work, Satou, your efforts were focused on raising the overall quality of the game?
Satou: Well, compared with the other staff members, my job wasn’t that hard.
—Was it the same for you, Saito?
Saitou: I didn’t have any real struggles. Just the usual difficulties, like struggling to match my initial drawings with the world of Valken. Also, my main work was the opening and ending sections, and the large quantity of material needed was difficult to complete in time (I joined the team after the game had largely taken shape, so).
—Ah, I see. Interesting. Well, continuing on from the challenges of developing Valken, I’d now like to hear what parts of you feel especially proud of.
Tadakuma: Proud? Hmm. As far as robot games go, I think we achieved something more hardcore and realistic than other developers. Maybe “cinematic” is the right word… not like anime, but in a Hollywood style. (laughs)
—And of the work you did for Valken yourself, what are you most proud of?
Tadakuma: I think the high-speed scrolling section of stage 7 looks really awesome, especially the part where you burst out of the tunnel.
Kawano: I also worked on the high-speed scrolling stages with Tadakuma. When there was something I didn’t understand about the story or the stages, he would draw a little 4-koma manga for me, which helped me out. I studied them.
—Are you also very proud of stage 7, then?
Kawano: Yeah. The way the boss moves and such, it came out very close to how I imagined it. Tadakuma and I put our heads together and added many little details, like the pilot fleeing the mech after it gets destroyed. We really spent a lot of time on that stage, so I can vouch for it.
Satou: In my case, none of my contributions are directly visible, so it may be something of a cop-out to your question, but I’d probably say that just seeing players buy Assault Suits Valken and enjoy it is the thing I’m most proud of.
Saitou: As a whole, Valken is a game where the presentation shines. I hope players really enjoy that.
—Were most of the basic ideas related to the presentation (cutscenes, visuals, story) yours, Suzuki?
Suzuki: No, not just mine. I got lots of ideas from others. There’s ideas from the graphics side, for instance, where they’d see something and say “we should do this here."
Tadakuma: I came up with the scene where the President commits suicide. (laughs) It was a bit of a problem though, since we didn’t know if it would be ok to do a scene like that in a home console game…
Kawano: Tadakuma put his neck out on that one.
Tadakuma: I really, really wanted that scene to be kept in!1
—I think you must have spent an incredible amount of time and detail on the way the Valken mech moves and behaves. Getting that perfected must have been a big challenge. Could you say some words about that?
Suzuki: Our design plan for the movement of the Valken was to improve on the controls of Assault Suits Leynos (the Megadrive game that you could call the predecessor to Valken), so it necessarily came out as it did. Leynos had more weapons to choose from, but some of them weren’t very usable, so we removed them and left in the ones you see in Valken.
Saitou: As far as the Valken’s movement goes, I really love his rollerdash. It feels great to use.
Ooya: This is a bit of a programming tangent, but although the Laser weapon gets bigger when it’s upgraded, your mech itself doesn't get any larger or heavier. I hope people will see what I’m talking about and wonder: why is that…?
—It might be a little early for this, but if a sequel were made, what would you want to do?
Tadakuma: Restore the stages we had to cut, re-do some of the scenes we had planned, and "power-up” other aspects of the game. I’d like to make the gameplay richer overall.
Kawano: I’d like to add some depth to the story, with branching paths in the stages and several new elements.
Satou: If we did it, we’d take extra care on the presentation: a game full of the kinds of scenes that make players break out in a grin.
Saitou: I’d want to improve everything! I’d also like to add more parts where the story changes depending on how you did in the stage.
—Finally, is there anything you’d like to add Suzuki, as director?
Suzuki: Well, speaking from my personal feelings, I hope that players enjoy the slightly odd atmosphere that Assault Suits Valken possesses. Unfortunately it’s hard for me to speak in anything but generalities when talking about that. (laughs) Concretely, I want players to notice the way the robot moves. Also, there’s the first climax in the plot, where you escape from the Arc Nova space fortress… you’d think that the Earth should be blue, but its a crimson red instead. You’re fighting in the midst of a burning world, and I want players to observe that section very closely and think about it.
—From your perspective, Suzuki, what points would you like to improve upon in a sequel to Valken?
Suzuki: We had hardware limitations for this game, so we couldn’t add the assistant robots we wanted. They weren’t full-sized robots like the one you pilot—they were smaller robots that would give you support items and so forth. We had already drawn all the graphics for them and everything too. Also, on the story side, we had to cut out a variety of scenes. Adding those two things in—more story and the robot helpers—would be the areas I’d like to expand upon for a sequel.
Ooya: We were a little naive when we set the release date so soon. (laughs) It’d be nice to do another Assault Suits game where we aren’t scrambling like that just before the final version is due.
—A bit more breathing space?
Ooya: Yeah. We could have done a better job if we had had a little more time to work out all the kinks and refine things.
Suzuki: Yeah, I’d like to do a better job on the enemies. They didn’t come out as well as they could have this time.
—So how’s it looking? Is there a chance for a sequel?!
Suzuki: Well, I think that depends on the support it gets from players. We’re pretty much a cash company—and if Assault Suits Valken sells well, we’ll probably end up making a sequel whether I like it or not!
—So if players want a Valken 2, they should buy it and send the feedback postcard to Masaya with “Loved it!” checked off?
Suzuki: Exactly. (laughs)
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This scene was included in the original SFC version but removed for the international release (Cybernator).↩