Yoshio Kiya – 1987 Developer Interview
This short interview with the famous programmer/designer Yoshio Kiya of Nihon Falcom was first featured in the 11/87 issue of Beep Magazine. The interviewer goes one-by-one through his early games up to Sorcerian, which he was working on at the time. Although short, the interview contains many valuable insights for fans of Nihon Falcom’s early games.
—What was the first game you made?
Kiya: My first game was a war simulation called Galactic Wars. It was a space combat game, where you departed from your home planet with your spaceship and fought the enemy motherships and fighters.
—And your second game?
Kiya: It was the infamous “Panorama Island”, which I made in BASIC. It came in this crazy huge box. (laughs)
—I played that one myself. But I remember it had a lot gameplay firsts for a Japanese game: the way you could cut down trees to find food, the 3D mazes, etc. Nowadays other Japanese RPGs are finally starting to include those kinds of elements.
Kiya: I was just ripping off Ultima though, wasn’t I? (laughs) But I do think that Nihon Falcom, as a company, has had a long history of experience with Apple software, so we knew a lot about games like Ultima and Wizardry; we were probably more knowledgeable than other developers about those games.
—Was your next game, Dragon Slayer, a conscious attempt to realize the things you couldn’t fully express in Panorama Island?
Kiya: No, the problem with Panorama Island wasn’t my own abilities, but the limitations of BASIC. And my ideas for it kept growing to the point where I wasn’t able to handle everything myself. With Dragon Slayer, I didn’t really have a clear objective in mind as I created it. Well, I at least knew that you’d retrieve the four crowns and defeat the dragon, but more than just accomplishing those goals, I wanted players to experience a new style of gameplay.
In the end, I guess the game left a somewhat confusing impression on players. Personally I think there’s a whole lot of things to enjoy about it, like finding and fighting all the different monsters, or luring them out so you can get past them.
—I felt like you were trying to add more puzzle elements. Like figuring out how to get around certain enemies, or how to get to a certain location.
Kiya: That’s the kind of game it was, but it turned out to be a mess after all. People didn’t like it. I think you have to have clear goals for the player, a boss to fight at the end and a moving ending, like Xanadu has.
—Was that idea the main impetus behind Xanadu? A game with a clear, defined goal?
Kiya: No, Xanadu was a little different. I started out by investigating how much data I could fit on a disk. From that I learned I could have about 100 monsters, and I learned the number of screens and the size of the maps I could use. Then the first thing I created was a document that resembled a game manual. It contained the different kinds of monsters, magic items, and a ton of stats. When I showed it to people they’d say, “there’s no way you can make this game… NO way in hell.” And of course that meant I had no choice but to make it. (laughs) Once I started working, it turned out to be quite easy after all.
—Was “Xanadu: Scenario II” something you made in answer to the wishes of fans, to include those things you couldn’t do in Xanadu?
Kiya: No, I don’t really think of that game as an individual installment of the Dragon Slayer series. It’s just an extra scenario. It was only meant to tell another story, but I ended up making some improvements to the programming as well.
—I believe your next game was Romancia.
Kiya: When I made Dragon Slayer, Wizardry and Ultima were the only two kinds of RPGs, and I wanted to make something new. Dragon Slayer was like a bridge to the “action rpg”, and Xanadu was taking those ideas to the next level. After that more and more action rpgs were released for the computer, to the point that I think you can now say action rpgs are one of the main genres of computer games.
This time I wanted to make an RPG where solving puzzles was the centerpiece. That’s how Romancia came about, as I aimed for a kind of adventure game-ish RPG. I also hoped my doing so might create another trend, and we’d see more good adventure-rpgs being released.
But you know, I feel like the games I want to make are already old-fashioned now, so I should probably just retire. (laughs)
—That’s not true! Besides, with Dragon Slayer IV (Legacy of the Wizard), you created a fresh new gameplay experience.
Kiya: With Dragon Slayer IV, I wanted to show Famicom users that games with monsters that are too strong are not good games.
—Your newest game, currently under development, is Sorcerian. Where does it fit into the lineage of your games?
Kiya: I see Sorcerian as an RPG like Romancia… the apex of that style.
—Sorcerian pushes magic to the forefront. Looking back at your previous games, magic has always been powerful, but it hasn’t seemed very important to the game.
Kiya: In my previous games you acquired magic as you leveled up and gained experience. The computer would give you a predetermined spell when you leveled up. I always felt there was something weird about that. Aren’t there stories that talk about magicians and wizards dedicating their whole lives to the creation of a spell? So I think magic is something people would teach to one another, not something you just mysteriously get as you become stronger.
So in Sorcerian magic is something you create yourself. I wanted to make something based around enchantments instead of “casting spells”. In this magic system, it’s like you’re drawing out the magic that is innately found in those materials. So the first time you use that magic, you aren’t really sure what exact effect it will have. Though you can kind of figure it out from the spell names.
I also wanted the combinations of herbs and the effects of items to be unknown to the player. Anyway, I wanted a game where the player could do anything, but that made balancing it very difficult.
—By the way, what is your process when making a game?
Kiya: I first get a very clear idea about the core of the game, and create that. After that I let my mind run free, adding as many ideas and inspirations into the game as I can fit. Being a programmer, I have the ability to make quick, reflexive judgments about whether an idea will or won’t work in the game. Then there’s just working with the memory limitations, trying to get all those excess ideas to fit. In any event, coming up with ideas has never been my problem, but the process of editing them down for the game is always hellish.
—Being able to quickly determine whether an idea will work or not sounds like a great ability. By the way, is there any type of game that you’d really love to make in the future?
Kiya: I use a computer to play games, so I absolutely do not want to use random numbers for things like combat results and the placement of treasure chests. I think the monsters you fight and the location of chests should be completely predetermined. RPGs are games where you make the decisions, right? So I’ve always thought there was something weird about randomized battles, fighting enemies you can’t see, whether you want to or not.
What I’d really like to make is a game with a system that allows total freedom for the player. For example, despite it being a sword and sorcery world, the hero decides to do nothing and just quietly enjoy his life as a local baker in town. If everyone could take up different roles in some kind of computer networked game, I think it would be really fun.
—Despite being hard at work on Sorcerian, you gladly took time for this interview and surprised us all with the wealth of ideas stashed away in that head of yours. Thank you for your time today!
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