The Man Who Made Ghosts’n Goblins

Posted By at 3:02 PM on Friday July 20, 2012

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Tokuro Fujiwara

The following is a translation of a March 3rd, 2009 blog post by Fuunoshin, retrieved from the site NESGBGG. The post includes excerpts from interviews with various game developers, with the majority of excerpts originating from an interview with Tokuro Fujiwara, the creator of series such as Resident Evil. It appeared in Vol. 12 of Continue, a Japanese gaming magazine, published in 2003. The translation was commissioned by sharc.

Because this is a translation of a blog post, the author interjects from time to time to offer his own commentary. His comments appear in green, in order to differentiate them from the interview text. Let the translation commence!

The Era of Pooyan & Roc ‘N Rope

You’ve been introduced in recent magazine articles as a leader of the game industry. Was it joining Konami in 1982 that triggered your entry into the world of video games?

That’s right. I was attending the Osaka Designers’ College, and one day a recruiter from Konami came to the campus. They had an opening for a product planner, and the pay was good. Not to mention that, at the time, Konami’s headquarters were situated in Toyonaka, which was pretty close to my house.

And you didn’t actually realize that Konami was a game company?

That’s right, I was just interested in the product planning part of it. Until I went to take the entrance exam for the company, I didn’t know what type of business they were. I didn’t start out as a game planner. At first, I worked on acrylic boards for coin-operated games, leaflet designs, that sort of thing.

I didn’t really play video games, back then. Even in the golden age of Space Invaders-style games, I was never really into them. Originally, I just wanted to create something tangible.

Pooyan (1982)

It could be said that your wish came true when, upon joining the company in 1982, you were quickly put to work creating Pooyan. Up until then, many games on the market had a distinct sci-fi flavor to them, such as Space Invaders and Scramble. Why did you decide to do something fancier, all of a sudden?

I didn’t start from nothing, there had already been some planning done for the game. The details weren’t solidified, it had already been decided that the main character would be a pig.

So, the game was based on The Three Little Pigs?! Were you the one responsible for turning it into a shooter that allowed you to shoot horizontally from a gondola that moved on a vertical access?

That’s right. It allowed players to use the vertical arcade screen in order to move horizontally.

You certainly chose an original design for your first game. [laughs]

Why did he use the background music from I Met a Bear in the opening of a game based on The Three Little Pigs? That’s something I’ve always wanted to ask him.

Roc ‘N Rope (1983)

Was your next game, Roc ‘N Rope, something you planned yourself, starting from scratch?

Yeah. The hardware I was using wasn’t too far removed from the Space Invader era. I figured things out by trial and error, trying to work within its limitations.

In what could be called a pioneer of the wire action genre, players cast wires and crossed ropes to make their way up the screen. If you weren’t very good, however, it was hard to get past the starting point. [laughs]

It also posed quite the puzzle in terms of development, intuitively speaking. I made use of a variety of characters to construct the stages. I found myself constantly battling with the ROM capacity. I used to have dreams about it. I’d constantly be talking in my sleep. “There aren’t enough colours!” I’d mutter. Or, “I’ll put these assets together and use them to make a rock.” [laughs] These days, the trend is to only use as many characters as necessary.

It sounds like he really struggled with the memory capacity that the hardware of the time allowed. Roc ‘N Rope is frustratingly difficult. I used to get upset at the unreasonable number of enemies blocking my way, but that just meant I was all the happier when I finally reached the pheonix. “Booyah, bitch!” I’d yell at the screen.

Capcom & Joining the Arcade Industry

You were employed by Konami from 1982 to 1983. Then you moved over to Capcom, following in the footsteps of Yoshiki Okamoto. Did you two discuss the transfer with each other before deciding to leave?

Yes, it was only him, me, and another guy doing game design work. Okamoto was making Time Pilot, and he ended up on a totally different path through Konami than I took. We both got invitations from different people to join Capcom, and we decided to join the company together.

More on Yoshiki Okamoto

Looking for information that wasn’t published on Okamoto’s Wiki page, I came across an interview called What Games Do Famous Game Designers Hold Dear?, published in the Jan. 27th, 2006 issue of Famitsu. Here’s an excerpt:

Yoshiki Okamoto

Yoshiki Okamoto

The Game He Holds Dear: The Legend of Zelda

“It set my heart aflutter… To tell you the truth, I never imagined there could be a game as fun as the original Legend of Zelda. I remember being so happy that it was almost unbearable. At the time, I was living in Osaka, and when I returned from a business trip to Tokyo, I found someone else had already beaten my file… I was like, you’ve gotta be kidding!!”

The CONTINUE Interview Cont.

So, the people behind the first golden era of Konami all transferred out of the company. [laughs]

Back then, Capcom was a small company and just going into game development.

Vulgus (1984)

In those days, it was still called Capsule Computers. What was the first game you made after transferring to Capcom?

That would be Vulgus.

Perhaps Vulgus should be commemorated as Capcom’s first game!

The original plan was to have Okamoto’s SonSon come out first, but, in the end, Vulgus was finished faster.

How long did the game take to develop?

Around 3 months. Physically, the game didn’t have much memory, and the development period was probably about average for the time.

It sounds like game development usually really did take around 3 months back then. Sega’s Yuji Naka mentions the same thing in an interview found in the June 30th, 2006 edition of Famitsu. Yuji Naka is a famous game designer and father of such hits as the Sonic and Phantasy Star series.

Yuji Naka in Famitsu

“I was a programmer in those days. I’d worked on a variety of titles like Space Harrier and Out Run, ever since the days of the Sega Master System. Thinking back on it, though, I had a pretty crazy schedule. Unlike today, back then we’d finish a game in 2 and a half months. Right after I finished making the first Phantasy Star on the Master System, for example, I completed Super Thunder Blade in under 3 months to finish it in time for the launch of the Sega Genesis.”

What a life that must have been. Dragon Quest II was completed around 8 months after Dragon Quest I came out. A schedule like that would be impossible, these days!

It’s amazing that they were able to release games according to plan. Shall we continue on to Ghosts’n Goblins?

Commando (1985)

Ghosts’n Goblins (1985)

Commando and Ghosts’n Goblins were developed concurrently. Most importantly, they both happened to sell well.

So, these two famous titles that went down in history were developed at the same time! Wasn’t it difficult to develop 2 completely different titles at once?

Developing two completely different games at once made it easier to capitalize on new ideas. If they had been similar, everything would have gotten jumbled up. Of the two, Ghosts’n Goblins was the most fun to make.

Every screen had a part that would kill me. The game was so cruel it made me want to cry!

Creating the game was exhausting. For awhile there, I didn’t feel like making a sequel. I conducted location testing in arcades. If the players that tried the game tended not to get stuck at a certain point, I’d have to hurry back to the company and redo that portion. I couldn’t let them get by so easily. There are tricks you can use to avoid dying, right? Once I figured out what they were, I’d quickly thwart players who attempted to use them. You’ll have to forgive me. [laughs]

So, you’re saying that, by the time the game actually went on sale, the level of difficulty had shot up outrageously.

Not necessarily. If you make it too difficult, people will quit playing. Back then, it was tough to constantly be burning and erasing EPROM.

Firebrand

Firebrand

I heard a rumor suggesting that the model for the miniboss of Ghosts’n Goblins, Red Arremer (known as Red Ariima in Japan), is modeled after Capcom’s Toshio Arima. Is that true?

That’s right. When Capcom first started developing games, he was one 4 staff working on game design, and the programmer for Commado. Someone had already done concept art for the monster, and we still had to name it. Somehow, we ended up calling it Red Ariima. You can sort of see the resemblance if you look closely. Once we realized that, there was no going back. The name stuck. Perhaps that was a little unforgivable on our parts. [laughs]

I didn’t realize that Red Ariima was named after Arima the programmer until I read this article. The more you know!

Each of your games boasted new innovations. Even these would frequently be copied by other companies.

That’s why location testing could be scary. Back in those days, when developers could put out a game in 3 months, there was a risk that competitors would copy our ideas and release their title ahead of ours.

What did you think when you saw SNK’s Ikari Warriors?

That’s just how things were back then, so there was nothing I could do. It was disappointing that they released two more Ikari games, while we only did one Commando.

There was, eventually, a Commando sequel released, but not until quite a bit later. The delay left the market open to competitors.

Not to mention, there were other games similar to the sequel that had already been released by then.

Bionic Commando – Resurrection of Hitler (1988)

You went on to make stand-alone games that didn’t receive sequels. Bionic Commando and its port for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Resurrection of Hilter, were notable examples.

The arcade game came first, but we kept going due to the number of consumers. Bionic Commando for the NES is similar to the original, but not exactly the same.

Both Bionic Commandos make use of the wire action we saw in Roc ‘N Rope. Was it an expanded version of the type of action pioneered by their predecessor?

Yeah. Roc ‘N Rope had a lot of limitations due to the hardware of the time. I quite a few ideas I’d been wanting to try piling up on the back burner.

Why wasn’t the protagonist able to jump? Bionic Commando was released during the golden age of games that featured jumping. Would it have been difficult to plan the game that way?

If the players had been allowed to jump, they would have grown too dependent on it. You ask me why I didn’t put in the ability to jump, but the game would’ve been ruined if I had! So, I did my best without it. That belief of mine lives on in other titles, including the later Mickey Mouse games. I was pretty proud of it.

You could’ve cashed out if you’d put a patent on wire action, considering how many other companies used it in their own games. [laughs]

It would never have occurred to me to put a patent on a game. I was even surprised when I heard about Nintendo patenting the Famicom’s D-Pad controller.

I knew Roc ‘N Rope and Bionic Commando were similar, but I thought it was just because they were made by the same company. It seems there were actually a lot of game designers who were influenced by this game. Sega’s Takumi Yoshinaga, for example.

Slaving Away On Strider & Ghouls’n Ghosts

Mega Man 2 (1988)

So, Mega Man came next?

I didn’t work on Mega Man 1. Once I was transferred from Capcom’s arcade division to its domestic console division and took over the domestic console titles, I created Mega Man 2.

That’s right, it was around that time that Capcom split into 2 departments. One was to continue working on arcade titles, while the other would focus on the domestic console market. I hear that when you were asked by the president which division you wanted to be part of, you said you wanted to keep going with arcade development, but you got orders to move to the domestic console division. How did you feel about that?

I couldn’t believe it. [laughs] Up until then, arcade games were being ported to domestic console consoles, so the arcade controlled the flow to the domestic console market. But the Famicom market was big business, and making games for the system wasn’t just something you could do in your spare time. That’s why people started talking about dividing the company into separate divisions.

I was always saying how I wanted to make arcade games, and Okamoto was always saying that he wanted to work on domestic console games, so we had just been remarking how everything seemed to have worked out perfectly for us.

Then things took an unexpected turn.

We had a little back-and-forth, him trying to persuade me over lunch. “You’d be better suited to the domestic console market!” he’d say. “No way!” I’d retort. Eventually, I was convinced. [laughs]

Starting with Mega Man 2, you were put in charge of the domestic console division. Did you end up changing your attitude towards the move?

Not exactly. I wasn’t earning a daily income, we didn’t do any location testing, and get to didn’t interact with players. The hardware was a step down from what I was using before. Not to mention the fact that I’d originally wanted to make arcade games. All this made it hard for me to see the change in a positive light, at first.

I loved the background music for Mega Man 2′s Flash Man stage. Also, seeing how the Famicom was capable of animating such large enemy characters really made an impact on me. The game was a masterpiece.

Ghouls’n Ghosts (1988)

You also worked on Strider and Ghouls’n Ghosts. The games, the first to make use of the CP System, a game board that revolutionized Capcom’s arcade games, made a huge impact on the market in their explosive debut.

Those two titles were the last arcade games I ever did. That must have been around 1988 or ’89.

I bet you were sad to have been pulled away from developing for the brand new CP system… It’s a well-known fact that Yuji Naka’s burning ambition port Ghouls’n Ghosts to the Genesis stemmed from his visit to a game show, where he was shocked by how amazing the game looked. He managed to finish his port in just 5 months.

It bugged me that his port was so close to the original game that it even had the same bugs. Not cool. [laughs]

Did working with leading-edge technology make handling the CP system a struggle?

The CP system’s operational capabilities weren’t that big a deal. It was the ROM capacity that presented a challenge. Chips were lined up all across the circuit board. In order to make use of them, we had to put all our efforts into the design front. We ended up using 30 graphic artists. If we’d just stayed with the 2 or 3 artists we’d been using for previous projects, there’s no way we could’ve pulled it off.

Did you work on Super Ghouls’n Ghosts as well?

That’s right. By that time, the Super Nintendo was out, so I chose to develop the game for the SNES. There was more I wanted to put into the game, but, again, I found myself having to balance my ambitions with the limitations of the hardware. Because of the effort and care I’d put into Ghouls’n Ghosts, I also was put in charge of the rest of the series.

On that note, a new Ghouls’n Ghosts has just been released for the PSP. I read about it in Famitsu. I wonder how good the game is, and whether or not Fujiwara was involved in its creation?

Designing Sweet Home

Sweet Home (1989)

You always tend to go overboard with your games, but, in terms of how scary it was, Sweet Home really took the cake. The title was groundbreaking, and blazed a trail for future horror games.

Sweet Home caused me a ton of trouble. Up till then, I’d taken a lot of influence from arcade games. When I planned out original titles, I wasn’t focused on dealing with consumer limitations, but rather getting rid of monetary and temporal roadblocks. Then, talk began about doing a game based on a movie, and I figured I could make use of my ideas.

Sweet Home wasn’t based on a movie, but rather an idea. Isn’t that right?

Even the man who directed the film version of Sweet Home, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, told me not to worry if the game didn’t follow the movie exactly. I figured I could pull it off, if that was the case.

Unfortunately for him, everyone said the game was even scarier than the film. [laughs]

Only because I was able to use the movie as a reference. I got to see the movie and take a tour of the film studio, and use whatever essence I thought would work in the game. I carefully considered how to go about bringing elements from the movie to the game screen.

That movie has a lot of elements that I don’t think you’d be able to put into a game these days. Burning maggots with a candle, for example.

I did bring that part over from the big screen. Actually, on the contrary, there were items that I wanted to have in the game, but had to cut because they didn’t match the atmosphere of the movie.

The canon ending to the game leaves a bit of a bitter aftertaste. Was this done in order to match the movie as well?

Yeah, since the film didn’t have a happy ending either. If someone else had made the game, I’d have wanted there to be a happy ending. When I’m put in charge of something, however, it somehow ends up being sad. [laughs]

Horror games are often thought of in terms of their graphics. Even though primitive hardware makes for poor graphics, it means that you don’t run into issue when making games with extreme content. With advanced hardware, you can show off more realistic graphics, but the better the graphics get, the stricter the censorship becomes. Would it be too much to say that both ways have their pros and cons?

Resident Evil – Making It Nastier!

Resident Evil (1996)

Resident Evil was based on Sweet Home, was it not?

Yeah. Once the Playstation was released, conversation turned towards the idea of launching an original franchise. The basic premise was that I’d be able to do the things that I wasn’t able to include in Sweet Home. It was mainly on the graphics front that my frustration had been building up. I was also confident that horror games could become a genre in themselves.

Was Resident Evil an example of one of the things Mikami didn’t want to do?

Mikami hated it. This is how our conversation went:

“You hate being scared?”
“Yep.”

So I figured we should do it. [laughs] If he’d answered that he never got scared, I couldn’t have trusted him with the project. People who aren’t afraid of anything don’t understand what’s frightening. In my view, you can’t make a horror game if you don’t have any fear.

So, you came up with concept of zombies and an old mansion, and Mikami was in charge of the actual work? Is that how things were divided up?

You got it. The hardware had just debuted, and we hit a wall with the technology. Originally, the game wasn’t going to use a fixed camera, and the environment would have changed in real time. We continued to investigate the possibilities. In the end, it took us almost a year to realize we wouldn’t be able to pull it off and then abandon the idea.

At first, Resident Evil used a 1st-person view, meaning players would get a subjective view of the game world, being able to see it through their own eyes. However, once the camera was changed to an objective 3rd-person view, the controls were altered, allowing players to move the characters around via a system similar to remote control.

I was the one who ended up making that judgement call. With the first-person viewpoint, my desire was to generate fear by using figures. When I actually tested it out, however, I found that I had to reduce the quality of the graphics. Aligning the characters’ movements with the directional button meant that when the player moved to the next screen, the controls would be reversed. Getting the remote control system working was no easy task. The style of play wasn’t the most intuitive, but, provided players were able to get used to it, I think it was the best way we could have done things. We were weighing the pros and cons of the different control systems right till the very end.

The Scary Zombie in Resident Evil

Does the zombie that turns to face you at the start of the game have any relation to the man that turns to face you in Sweet Home?

You might be onto something, there. I like scenes where you ask someone what they’re doing, and when they turn around…

Anyway, I made a special cutscene for that part. If we’d had the Playstation drawing the graphics in realtime, it wouldn’t have been as scary.

I know you went to a lot of trouble with Resident Evil in terms of technology, but did you find that the game posed an ethical challenge as well? It was a pioneer of the horror genre, after all.

It was pretty harsh for its time, so, of course, there were some people opposed to it. It was almost like an adventure. We developers also had a good amount of logic and common sense, so, of course, we sometimes put on the breaks as well. Instead of worrying about whether the team would go too far if I left them alone, I encouraged them to make things even nastier. After all, if something ended up being really bad, we could always cut it later.

So, you threw caution to the wind. [laughs]

Biohazard

The Triangle Warning

It’s normal for people to self-censor, so it’s not an easy task to stop worrying and just do whatever you like. The red triangle mark that appears on certain Capcom games was created for Resident Evil. We were somewhat successful when the topic of the triangle mark was brought up in a meeting at Sony Computer Entertainment. However, true success only came upon getting the OK from the higher-ups.

Did the look of the game not undergo any revisions, then?

All the content got a pass in Japan. People said the opening movie was scary, so we made it black and white, but that actually made it even scarier. [laughs] We also changed the colour of the blood for the overseas release.

When the game was first released, it didn’t sell a huge number of copies, but it gradually got more popular through word of mouth. Like an urban legend, people would relate the existence of such a scary game to their friends.

It was a one hit wonder. I felt that we had to make a sequel. If it were up to me, I’d have taken a break before releasing the next one. I knew that trying to make the series even scarier would be no small task. [laughs] But, business-wise, it made more sense to get on with it.

It was the advent of the horror genre, after all. Previously, you mentioned how some of the fear stemmed from not having full control over the camera. I think it’s admirable that you managed to turn a negative into a positive. Having the door creak as the game loaded the next area would be another example.

Not everything like that was precalculated, but I did my best to try and make use of things. How could I go about creating a game that would inspire feelings of revulsion in its players? One that would make people feel ill as they played? Even though we sold a million copies, I’d originally been targeting the game to more of a core audience. I only expected to sell 200,000 or so.

Alone in the Dark (1992)

People often compare Resident Evil to Alone in the Dark. Did you ever look to the game for inspiration?

I did end up using it as a reference. It was an example of how a horror game could be done.

The creators of Alone in the Dark worked hard to build their horror game out of polygons. Unfortunately, the game was too bright, and ended up not being scary. It’s really too bad…

Our team also struggled with the 3D aspect at first. We started by putting in sprite art, rather than CG. It was tough because we didn’t have specialized designers on hand, and we didn’t know what our limitations were.

The section of the interview concerning Biohazard was all interesting, so I just included the whole thing. According to the interview, Mikami was Fujiwara’s apprentice, of sorts. The sounds like Fujiwara trained Mikami, starting from when he was new to the company. In the words of Fujiwara…

I made sure Mikami experienced a lot of things. In general, though, I didn’t let him do the things he actually wanted to do. [laughs] It’s better practice to work within a genre you aren’t a fan of. [laughs]

The interviewer then retorts by asking whether making someone do the opposite of what they want to is Capcom’s company motto.

“If he’d answered that he never got scared, I couldn’t have trusted him with the project. People who aren’t afraid of anything don’t understand what’s frightening. In my view, you can’t make a horror game if you don’t have any fear.”

Maybe this is obvious for everyone else, but I really agreed with his statement. I’m a coward, so I have a lot of trouble with horror games, but maybe that means I’d be good at making them. (LOL)

Resident Evil made the horror genre into something mainstream, prompting the creation of age restriction rules for video games. As the interview states, the camera originally presented the game from a subjective viewpoint, similar to an FPS. It’s possible that, had the game been on the Nintendo 64, rather than the PSX, they wouldn’t have been able to release it. After all, Nintendo’s censorship is strict. Once age restriction rules were created (?), however, Resident Evil 2 was ported to the N64. Speaking of which, there was a comic about the development of Resident Evil in some magazine. I think Mikami was the protagonist. I should have saved it instead of throwing it away. (LOL)

The Scary Zombie in Resident Evil (Wii)

This is what the zombie that turns to face you looks like in the Wii remake, by the way. Talk about scary!! Resident Evil 5 got a near-perfect 38 points in Famitsu. Seems like it’s a pretty good game.

After developing Resident Evil, Fujiwara branched out on his own. He seems to have had a hand in games like Tomba! for Whoopee Camp, Extermination for a short-lived development company known as Deep Space, and Hungry Ghosts. He was interviewed about these titles as well, but since they’re not very well known, I left those parts out. (Sorry!) Now that I think about it, a lot of developers from Capcom have gone independent. Fujiwara, Okamoto, Street Fighter II and Monster Hunter’s Funamizu… I don’t think this necessarily means they were dissatisfied with Capcom, though. People who can make it on their own should try.

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4 Responses

  1. [...] gaming history is notoriously poorly-documented. Beloved community translator GlitterBerri has put together a series of interview excerpts detailing his career in the arcade days and involvement with a number of those previously-mentioned [...]

  2. David Louis says:

    This is an incredible archive! I have to say, being an american Caucasian, it can be very disappointing to miss out on news, interviews and other articles published from one of the greatest video game hubs in the world, japan. I cannot thank you enough for making these submissions so easy to reach and read!

  3. Zorak says:

    >leave the part about Tomba about

    The one game this guy made I wanted to learn more about and you leave that bit of the interview out? I know this article’s almost 2 years old now but that’s some absolute douchebaggery right there.

    • GlitterBerri says:

      Hey, I resent that! The part about leaving Tomba out is a comment from the Japanese author of the post I was translating. He didn’t include any interview quotes about Tomba in his blog post because of the reasons he stated. It wasn’t a decision on my part!

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