Bohemian Archive in Japanese Red/Interview

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Introduction to "Touhou" Game Design


To accompany this spin-off, along with the upcoming release of Phantasmagoria of Flower View, the kannushi of fantasy, ZUN, will reveal the inner workings of his mind. The goal of this interview was to have ZUN talk about his gaming history and his stance on game systems, as well as to express the concept behind his new game Phantasmagoria of Flower View.
The power of the kannushi's sermon shall now stimulate your imagination to its core...


The Philosophy of Establishing the Foundation for a Game World



Today, we will be asking ZUN about the philosophy at the heart of his games. First, may I ask when the first time you played a game was?



It was when I was in kindergarten. My parents placed a table arcade machine in their cafe to lighten up the atmosphere. That kindled my interest in games, and during elementary school, the Famicom came out and we bought one right away. When I got a new game, I'd play them with my friends inside and out. But normally I would go outside and catch bugs and stuff, too. I was a normal countryside kid, after all.



What games from back then left an impression on you?




Super Mario Bros. left the biggest impression on me. Before then, games didn't scroll, and there were still many games with black backgrounds. But in Super Mario Bros., if you went underground, there was an underground world. If you went above the clouds, there was a world up there, too. All the different places you could go in itself surprised me, and the fact that the music also changed with the setting was impressive.

The next impact was from... Street Fighter 2. It was almost like a second revolution. Everyone would play the game, so it was a way to fight without physically hurting each other. The play control was incredible, too. I would put in up to 10,000 yen in a day sometimes. That made my allowance disappear in a flash. (laugh)



In both of these games, what points about the game's system or quality were important?






Those games were revolutionary because they had things like different systems from games before them, creating new atmospheres within themselves. Later, people would say stuff like "that game engine was revolutionary" or "the characters had a lot of appeal", but at the time, no one really thought about the individual aspects because they were too busy playing. Games don't become hits because of those kinds of reasons. The systems in those games weren't just the pinnacle of all the games made up to that point, there was also a decisive difference. If I had to put it into words, I would say they "created a new world". Though it's a little different from the usual meaning, let's just go with that.

Now to speak about my thoughts on game design, about establishing the foundation for a world. I try to design my games to exist in their own world. At the base of everything is the game world, and I structure the game's genre and system upon that, from which the pictures and music flow. One can feel this establishment as they play the game, so I believe. That's why the game's quality as it is called is just one part of the game, so if you get too obsessed about that, I'm afraid it will lose all meaning as a video game.

A lot of people say "the true nature of a game is its quality, and quality and setting are different things", however, I don't think that they are exclusive concepts, and that they should be thought of as one. If you look at Xevious or Space Invaders, it is obvious that even at that time, games weren't mere collections of symbols. Even the very first video game was only about bouncing a ball back and forth, but even though it was a brand-new way to play it, it was still called Pong. So, the way I see it, this was a "world" that just happened to have nothing but ping-pong.

However, even with that theory, if it's not interesting, it probably can't be considered a success. On the other hand, only focusing on the basics isn't interesting either, so it is important to be able to connect both aspects to make a fun game. Based on experience, being able to fine-tune a game's quality or system is unmistakably engaging, but I think that games without that extra coat of paint are mistaken as "genuine". Before it can be played as a game, I think it is very important for it to have its own setting.



Now, when you say "creating a world", that comes with very broad implications, so I imagine there will be many different approaches to establishing a world.





Please think of the quality of a setting and how well it is established as different things. For example, take sci-fi worlds or retro worlds. How well they are liked relates to the quality of how the setting is established. On the other side, how well the music and the backgrounds match the setting, how the game controls feel, even up to entering a name for a high score, those are aspects relating to the quality of a certain setting.

The way I see it, however you decide to establish a world, you need to decide it on based on the design of the created world. During the establishment of a game, particularly when making characters for the so-called world creation, people make the mistake of saying "This won't have any effect on the game", but even among these same people there are those who say "Because this character is in the game, I hate it." This claim is proof enough that even characters can influence a game. If it truly didn't matter, then the game would be playable no matter what the setting is. This means that the "hate" that is felt is proportional to how much influence the aspect has on the game. Conversely, I admit that there are bad games with well-designed worlds.

In Battle Garegga (*1), there was a very charismatic last boss called Black Heart. That is a good example of how a game's design can really make a character appealing. Before his boss appearance, you would see a bunch of smaller Black Hearts come out and do stuff. That was very important.



Is creating a world the same as giving meaning to every individual element in the game?




For that, I'd like to talk about CAVE, who have always done a great job in creating their worlds. In Progear (*2), the look of the game changes as time passes from morning to evening, then to night, and when you start the second loop, it's morning again. A simple thing like the flow of time gives a real feeling of "progression". There is a similar effect in Guwange (*3), where it goes from the white color scheme in the town, to the darkness of Hell at the end. The stages flow smoothly, and in addition, it starts out in summer, and goes to fall, winter, and spring. The look of the game's stages have meaning. The player gets absorbed into the world of these kinds of games.

In Darius Gaiden too, even though it seems like the most attention was given to its quality, I think the reason for its popularity was the world inside it. The fact is, I was influenced by Darius Gaiden when I made the Touhou games.



Can you give any specific examples of this influence?



In Darius Gaiden, there would be boss battles as long as 2/3rds of the stage, and the bosses would have personalities. Another characteristic is that the game would be organized solely to keep things exciting during the middle. Until then, when talking about games, people would only say things like "stage 3 was fun, stage 4 was...", but in Darius Gaiden, there was Octopus and Great Thing, and people could call bosses by name when they talked about the game. It meant that these game symbols were becoming something else. This "change" of turning symbols into characters made its way into Touhou, too. So, the first point of influence is making the games heavily favor boss battles, the second is the "Spell Card" system that tied characters to specific attack patterns, and the third is the result of making bosses no more than mere game symbols obsolete.



So when creating a unique world for a game, it's fundamentally impossible to create something like Touhou with more than one person?




That's my opinion. In games where there are many people working on it, even in a best-case scenario, only a few people are working on the game design. As the game nears completion, they have to pull double duty, working on other tasks in addition to design. It's definitely the hardest phase of making a game. For my latest game, Phantasmagoria of Flower View, while I had to ask a few people for help, I was the only one working on it, so it was still largely a solo effort. I think it was best for the game.

For Phantasmagoria of Flower View, the theme I made was "enjoyable while playing and after playing". Usually, you may think "playing is fun", and it's exciting to do so, but if playing is all there is, then it's unexpectedly not fun. Music that is enjoyable, an enjoyable world, setting, and characters, and the entire atmosphere. If everything doesn't have that feel-good quality, then it feels bad. To sum it up, if you only focus how it feels to play the game, you won't see anything else.


The Attitude of Doujin Developers Not Focusing on Sales and Continuing to Make Games They Like



I would like to say that even if a game doesn't sell very well, it can still be a good game. Making a game sell is a different story, though.



You think that doujin developers are not trying to make their games sell?



There's no effort whatsoever. They believe that since they're small outfits, there's no obligation to do so. They'll go on making their own thing, never accepting or even seeking criticism of any kind. As an extension, they won't even care about publicizing their games. No advertising or anything to draw attention to new releases, not even on their own website.



So those developers purposefully isolate themselves?



There are instances where they are just so busy it's hard for them to find time to handle PR, but otherwise, I would say yes. However, while it's natural to get inspiration from other works, if you get too caught in being worried what other people will think of your game, that's going to do nothing but hurt your productivity. Of course, I think that in the case of businesses, not caring about a game's reception is a real issue. They should be proactive in getting opinions through people who fill out surveys, fan sites, and other sources.



But in the case of doujin developers, it's better not to do that?



Doujin developers are basically mini-businesses, so they should still act like businesses, and always be looking ahead. I think that consumers demand too much from doujin creators, things that are not doujin-like. When you compare the differences between businesses and doujin developers, too many requests and criticisms can wear down on the creator, so the market atrophies as a result. However, in the case of Touhou, its scope is still widening, and there are as many people playing it as there are playing commercial games, so it's gotten to the point where I can't ignore the fans even if I try. That's why those the production side should not be so aloof. That's my general mindset, although I get the feeling I've been a bit cold towards my fans recently. (laugh)



By the way, what programs do you use in the development of the Touhou games?


同人ゲームを作る人が一般的に使う機材とソフトしか使ってないですよ。パソコンは自作のDOS-V,開発環境はコンパイラ、「Visual Studio」、画像だって一般的な「Photoshop」、音楽も「Cubase SX」というソフトで、プロユースではないです。10年前は同人ゲームを作るのも大変でしたけど……どうして作れるようになったかというと、血の滲むような努力があったということです。努力を前面に出すのは好きじゃないからあまり見せないようにしてますけど(笑)。

I don't use the software or programs that most doujin developers generally use when I make my games. On my computer, I use my own version of DOS-V, and my development environment is a compiler, Visual Studio. For pictures, it's generally Photoshop, and for music I use Cubase SX, but not Prouse. It was a lot harder for doujin developers to make games 10 years ago. No matter what you made, it took a lot of blood, sweat, and effort. I don't like my expression when I exert a lot of effort so I don't do it very often. (laugh)



Do you have any advice for people who want to make games?




I think that people who want to work for a game company and those who want to make games should receive separate advice. First, to those who want to work for a game company, the ratio of people who want to work for a company versus the number who are actually hired is incredibly large, so to stand out, it's important to hone and improve your unique qualities. I presented Touhou to demonstrate mine, but that was because I had to put a considerable amount of effort into it.

Also, there are a lot of people who want to work for a game company who go to college or technical school, but because they feel the gap between what they want to do and the regular office work they actually do, almost all of them quit. That may be because they didn't want to make games, just work for a game company. To those who want to make games, you might want to exclusively study that field, but I recommend you go to college and get a regular education. If you can adapt to your surroundings then, you can improve yourself as a person.


Pursuing the Feel-Good Quality for Phantasmagoria of Flower View



The theme for Phantasmagoria of Flower View seems to be very cheerful, being about flowers (laugh). How would you describe it?



It's something I've always wanted to make. Phantasmagoria of Flower View is a game I made with the notion of something that you can play casually and still have fun. I would like to think that even those who didn't like the moderately serious settings of the previous games still enjoyed them, but on the other hand, I realize you can't please everyone. The response to the trial version has been positive, though, so I'm actually a little confused. (laugh)



So the music is enjoyable as well?



While it's not like the music hasn't been suited for its stages up to now, there were considerable limits. But this time, there is nothing resembling progression within a stage and the only thing that flows is the background. It felt good and because of that reason, I thought I could compose some really beautiful songs. As a song repeats during a game, it gets stuck in your head. By doing away with any forced mid-stage dialog, I didn't have to think about arranging the music around them.



How does the story feel?



There are a few tense, interesting parts to it, but it's still a little long so I'm presently fine-tuning it (laugh). This time, each character will have their own ending, so with repeated playthroughs, you can learn all kinds of things about the characters as well as their relationships. If you play through it once, you won't get the whole picture, just as the characters themselves don't fully understand the events that unfold by the end, but that's just another Touhou-like thing about the game.



A versus shmup was unexpected. What was your intention?




While I wasn't planning on making a game this year, it's Touhou's 10th anniversary so I thought really, really hard about it. A lot of people are playing the Touhou games now, so I wanted to do something that would get everyone excited... so I intended for this to be a fan-service game and make it like Twinkle Star Sprites.

Maybe the people who play Touhou haven't played Twinkle Star, maybe they have. I don't think I'm trying to "compete" with it though. For example, people can only eat so much, so restaurants have to compete with each other by creating their own unique aspects. However, the same isn't true in the case of games. Instead, the thought process is that by creating something good, regardless of source, then everyone who is interested in those kinds of games will also be drawn in. Among shmups, this doesn't necessarily steal a share of the customers, and instead, it's called respect. This kind of synergy increases the whole shmup scene by another level. That's what I'm aiming for.



Finally, I'd like to ask about where you place this book, Bohemian Archive in Japanese Red.



This book and the game, Shoot the Bullet have a mutual influence on each other, and I wanted to make something that would give people who already know about Touhou even greater enjoyment. That's why the story of this book is a bunch of interesting news articles about all kinds of things. While I don't think there are THAT many people who play the games, I wanted to give anyone familiar with the series and in-depth, up-close look at it. So I guess I didn't make this book for newbies, but for people who have had at least some experience with it. But if by accident someone new does read this book... they might be surprised. (laugh)


Released by Eighting
Mechanic brothers challenge a federation in this vertically-scrolling shmup.
The player controls a fighter plane.


Released by Capcom
Young children fight tyranny in propeller-driven planes in this horizontally-scrolling shmup.


Released by CAVE
Set at the end of the Muromachi period, a trio of shikigami users face a trial in this vertically-scrolling shmup.


Released by Taito
A horizonally-scrolling shmup, the side story to the original game released by the same company in 1986.
Famous for its bosses based around an aquatic creature motif.

05年7月28日、PS2用に大幅にリニューアルされた『ティンクルスタースプライツ ~La Petite Princesse~』がSNKプレイモアより発売された。

Released by ADK
A very unusual versus-style shmup.
On July 28th, 2005, SNK Playmore released a remake called Twinkle Star Sprites ~La Petite Princesse~ for the PlayStation 2.

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