Narrator: In France we would call them “shoot them up”, or “shmup” or “shooter”. In Japan it would be “shooting game” or “STG”, all of this is the same thing. That’s how we called the first genre of video games, the one who arrived before all of the others, the one who by his impact and long life was for a long time the symbol of the whole video games. It is time to see how all of this started, yes you know, the shooting game started in Japan!
Narrator: In the middle of the star wars trend, the Japan discovers Space invaders, the concept is simple but totally new. Shoot on an army of aliens before they touch the ground. The technical limits are strong, the ship can only shoot one laser at the time. But we already have all the fun parts of the genre: aiming, shooting and dodging.
Rolling UCHIZAWA (reporter): If I remember well, Space invaders came out in 1978 in the arcades, but when it came out it didn’t have a very big success. It was only one or 2 years later that we had the Space invaders Boom. At that moment we saw all over Japan what we called “invaders house” now we would call it a game center. And at the time these game rooms where filled only with space invader arcade cabinets.
Saku TANAKA (director): There were space invaders arcade cabinets in the places that kid’s went to, there were more in the places where adults went to have fun: there where some in the bowlings or Ski centers, wherever you went, whatever place you went to you could find arcade cabinets. I was still a kid at this time and I didn’t often have a 100 yen coin to be able to play. But I could still stay there watching people playing for half an hour a whole hour sometimes.
Rolling UCHIZAWA: And all over Japan, even in tea saloons, we could find cocktail arcade cabinets, like this one with space invaders. We would see businessmen sitting down with a pile of coins like this at a table, and who played for hours shooting aliens with their small ship. There, that’s how it happened at the time.
Narrator: It was never seen. Space invaders is a world wide success, amazing performance for a game put together in three months by a genius programmer.
Tomohiro HISHIKADO: So, concerning the programming and the concept the characters, the graphics, the production and the conception of the hardware. It was me that did it all by myself. It might seem surprising today but at that time it was totally normal for a game to be made from A to Z by one person alone. This is what I started from. These are my sketches from those days. I drew aliens a bit like octopuses or squids. I wanted to give them an aquatic aspect.
Narrator: The trend is launched; the success is so resounding that everyone is trying the genre, the next year, Namco launches Galaxian, then Galga in 1980. The graphics are getting better, the concept is filling out, but we will have to wait another two years before the next step. In 1982, the revolution is called Xevious, this shooting game is a splendid introduction to what the 80’s are going to bring us.
Rolling UCHIZAWA: Xevious was the first vertical (scrolling) shooter. We could see in the scenery a lot of elements on the surface of the ground. It gave the feeling of discovering a world a lot vaster.
Saku TANAKA: Up to now in video games we only saw very bright colours, like red or blue. But there, there was a green forest over which a silver ship flied. That gave a realistic and full of charm image. And when we played, we got so immerged by the game that we could imagine the story, it was very impressive. On top of that, there was a second weapon to hit the enemies who were on the earth. It enriched the gameplay a lot to be able to shoot individually the flying enemies and the ground enemies.
Narrator: We are still in the first half of the 80’s, the arcades are in rapid expansion, and that’s when the games have the nicest graphics. Every new release comes with his lot of advanced techniques. To play on the arcades is a strong experience, and every new game is a discovery.
Saku TANAKA: In the 80’s, when one talked about video games, it was shooting games. It’s patently obvious; it was the most popular type that era. A little like RPG’s nowadays.
Narrator: Even if the production is becoming more and more important. Some shooters are going to reveal to be decisive in the evolution of the kind. And when we ask Japanese players, what titles marked them in the 80’s; the answers are always the same.
Rolling UCHIZAWA: The games that I played most in the arcades are first Gradius…
Saku TANAKA: Gradius, and then a bit later R-Type.
Tomii (shooting gamer): No Doubt Gradius, and R-Type.
Rolling UCHIZAWA: …And then R-Type, developed by Irem.
Tomii: It was the first time we saw such big bosses, it caught the eye straight away when we saw something huge moving, exploding, Waaaa… It was all we talked about.
Narrator: Tomii works in the video gaming industry, he is a chef programmer, and his passion is the shoot them up. He has been a passionate shmup fan since the beginning that knows a whole bunch about the subject. And hopes to get one day the opportunity to work professionally on a shooter. Thing he has never done before.
Tomii: So, where do I have to start?
Narrator: Tanaka has a very similar profile. He works at the planning in a developing studio. As in Rolling Uchizawa, he is one of the pillars of the weekly magazine Famitsu. He knows all about the current events, but he remains trendy with the retro gaming.
Rolling UCHIZAWA: Gradius had something radically new compared with what was done before. We can pick up the bonuses by killing the enemys and use them to customise and upgrade the power of our ship.
Tomii: It was realy super to be able to give power up’s to the ship, and to see it become more and more powerful.
Osamu KASAI: I talked a bit with the staff that made the very first Gradius. And this is what they told me: They did a lot of tries before they fixed the design of the ship. They did at least 100 different versions. And among all of them, there was a ship that leaved a light trace behind him when he moves. It was from an evolution of this concept that was born the options system.
Osamu KASAI: Already the horizontal (scrolling) shooters were very rare at that time. But Gradius owed his success also to the design of the levels.
Saku TANAKA: Up to then, the levels in shooters were all the same; the only difference when we changed level was the difficulty that went up. But in Gradius every level is completely different visually.
Osamu KASAI: In retrospect, we can say that Gradius completely transformed the shooting, suddenly; this genre relatively simple has become a lot more complex.
Rolling UCHIZAWA: On it’s side; R-Type raised a style very close to the Alien style. Taking some elements of the design created by Guigers.
Tomii: A big novelty of R-Type was the possibility to charge the energy to throw a very strong shot and above all to manage the “force”, that little ball that protects you from the enemy’s shots.
Narrator: The second half of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s will be a festival of shooters, a fire work of sprites and of scrolling parallaxes. The big hits are followed one by another, Like Darius, Silk Worm or the continuations of Gradius and of R-Type. The graphics are getting better, so is the sound, but from now on, the system is not really innovating any more, apart from a few changes here and there, all the shooters are starting to look alike, which doesn’t stop the players to answer present. The games look alike, yes, but the quality is growing.
Narrator: During this time, consoles are gaining room. With more than 60 millions of units sold, the NES has become a worldwide success, and she also offers a lot of shooting games, often ported from the arcades. Then comes the master system, the 16 bits with the Super Nintendo and the Megadrive, all of these consoles will have a very rich catalogue of shooting games.
Tomii: On the end of the NES’s life, we saw absolutely stupefying shooters arrive. I don’t know if you know Recca but it’s a game that totally explodes the NES’s limits. If you ever have the chance to try it, don’t hesitate.
Narrator: But it’s on PC-Engine that we can find the greatest successes: Gunhed and the Soldiers series from Hudson will make the experts say that the PC-Engine is the console of shmups, and it’s not exaggerated, we get here to one of these
Rolling UCHIZAWA: The charm of shmups developed by Hudson, was the time attack mode.
Saku TANAKA: It was called Calavan shooting.
Rolling UCHIZAWA: Everywhere in Japan were organised tournaments. It started by eliminating heats and finished by a national final.
Saku TANAKA: Kids met around the console and passed their time trying to get a better score.
Someone: Everybody wanted to confront the others and do a maximum amount of points in a limited time of 2 or 5 minutes.
Saku TANAKA: Every year, Hudson released a continuation of his series with this famous Calavan mode. It was a really huge success.
Narrator: Beginning of the 90’s, between the arrival of the NEOGEO and the last arcade updates. Old school shooting hit’s his peak; titles are following each other at great speed, and have better graphics ones than others.
Narrator: But in the middle of the 90’s, paf it’s a disaster, shooting looses his notoriety. Have players had enough?
Saku TANAKA: Yes it’s true; we must say that dragon quest has been past. With RPG’s, no need to have good reflexes, anyone is capable to complete the game. Whereas in parallel, the shooting games are getting harder and harder, and very few people are capable to see the end of them. The most talented players are asking for harder and harder shooting games.
Tomii: Games with projectiles everywhere on the screen, the player doesn’t even know where he has to look.
Saku TANAKA: Finally, we have arrived in a situation where shooting games has become a genre reserved only to hardcore gamers.
Narrator: In Japan, we call it danmaku shooting, meaning a hail of bullets; it means what it means. The player must constantly dodge a wall of bullets that fill the screen. In France, we call them manic shooters, even is the appellation includes generally all the shootings with hysteric tendency. Dodonpachi from Cave is often quoted as the founder of the genre, but expert’s find earlier one’s.
Saku TANAKA: So the first of the genre was… what was that again? Hold on I loved this game… Ok hey, it’s going to come back… Ah! That’s it I remember, it was Battle Garega, yes the very first one, it was the game with loads of projectiles on the screen, it was really tempting, a real challenge for the amateur.
Tsuneki IKEDA (Cave –in charge of the Arcade department): Us too, we were really tempted to develop a danmaku with loads of bullets on the screen, but we were very scared of the reception of the public. So we forgot the idea. But when we saw that Garega was a success; we said to ourselves “there’s no reason, us too we need to do something like that”.
Narrator: The result is the famous Dodonpachi, one of Cave’s best successes.
Saku TANAKA: I will tell you why it was so great; in fact when you see so many projectiles, you say, “that’s a hard game”, you have the impression that you won’t be good enough, me too I thought that it was to hard for me, I didn’t even think I would last 10 seconds, but I tried anyway. And there, I managed to play quite a long time, it’s true that there are a lot of projectiles on the screen, but they are relatively slow, what allows dodging if you are concentrated enough. And there is also the Hitbox is a lot smaller than one could imagine seeing the ship.
Narrator: The Hitbox is the part of the ship that is vulnerable in the event of contact with enemy projectiles. This means that even if a bullet touches the ship, nothing will happen if ever the Hitbox is small enough. In some shooters the enemies’ projectiles also have a small Hitbox, which allows to get passed where visibly you have no chance. And it’s mostly that the big novelty in the gameplay of danmakus. Before, in shooters, the Hitbox corresponded to about the visible size of the ship on the screen.
Saku TANAKA: The result is that on the screen, you look better than you really are. And it’s glorious to think that in spite of all the bullets, in spite of the hell raging furiously around us, we can survive and fight, that’s the pleasure of playing Donpachi.
Narrator: So Dodonpachi is born in the Cave studios, an editor who has specialised exclusively in producing Danmaku shooters. Cave is a company with multiple activities, in addition to arcade games, they produce games for mobile phones, and even jewellery and fashion accessories.
Tsuneki IKEDA: So, in the end of the room over there, you can see arcade cabinets lined up, it’s the department that develops on arcade.
Narrator: The monitors are put on their sides to be able to test the games that are under development. Like here, with Ibara.
Tsuneki IKEDA: We were searching how to: keep our gamesystem and to increase the pleasure of dodging the bullets, by changing only our way of showing things. We found it a bit randomly; it was so easy. By reducing the Hitbox size, the ship would get touched less easily.
Narrator: And it’s like that that started the reign of Cave on the world of danmakus. Every game that follows, will bring finally few innovations, but will always offer a renewed challenge. The major change is the graphics. Every title doesn’t look like any other, and offers it’s characteristic graphical identity. We can also notice a constant; Cave develops only vertical (scrolling) Danmakus, apart from one.
Tsuneki IKEDA: We tried the horizontal scrolling for the first time with Progear no Arashi, but it doesn’t measure up to a good vertical (scrolling). In vertical (scrolling), everything is obvious, you can see straight away if you are going to get hit or not, but in horizontal (scrolling), impossible to see properly if you are in the path of a bullet.
Narrator: Mushihime Sama, their second last production before Ibara, has a little something extra, the difficulty mode: Original, Manic or ultra. The last one is already legendary, is pushes the limits so far compared to what we have seen before.
Tsuneki IKEDA: This time we have changed hardware to build the card that contains the game, it made possible for us to make even more bullets appear. We used the ultra mode to see up to where we could go, and we gave it all we had. For the capacities, we could still add a bit, but hey, the human being has limits!
Tsuneki IKEDA: We designed the ultra mode at the very end on the development. We were all tired by then, and to make all the patterns in this mode nearly made us become totally insane. We don’t think before hand “hey, those bullets should move like this”. We try things and see what happens. It often goes like that.
Tomii: For me, the bullet patterns, it’s like an enigma to solve, when a danmaku is well done, there is always a way to survive. For example at that point, you move there, it changes the angle of the enemies fire, and there, you can get through. You really have to think to find out how to survive. Ah! One second please.
“Hello… Ok cool, we’re waiting for you… Ok”
Narrator: Among the people Tomii knows, one named SWY, superplayer, specialist in Danmaku, known and famous. His reputation has even got to Cave’s ears. He’s here to do a little demo of Ketsui on Tomii’s personal Arcade cab. But that’s not going to stop him answering in the questions at the same time
SWY (super shooting player): Originally, I prefer playing for points, so I am what you call a scorer. Of course, if I get a game that’s already hard to complete, I will start by simply completing it with 1 credit, without worrying about the score. One thing’s sure; you have to be able to complete a game before playing for score. When I started playing Dodonpachi, I often saw another player who was a lot better than me, I absolutely wanted to beat him, and it was a real obsession. Only Dodonpachi gave me that feeling. We thing that we are never going to manage to, but finally, with practice, we finish by managing to. It is by believing in myself, by never giving up that I managed to perfect my technique at that time. I really felt myself progress.
Narrator: Whilst the Danmaku seduces Harcoregamers on arcades, mainstream gamers are all buying 32 bit consoles that are the Playstation and the Sega Saturn. It’s the beginning of the 3D in shooting, a purely visual contribution, because most of the time, gameplay doesn’t change compared to what we find in 2D games. Even if shooting games are getting rarer, we can still find excellent games like the famous R-Type Delta, who is one of the best episodes of the series. But it’s on Sega Saturn that will come out in 1998 THE legendary shooter, the one that all fan want’s to own one day: Radiant Silvergun. It’s pure everything, simply. Un game touched by grace, which marries an incredible realisation with a diabolic gameplay and leveldesign. Some say about this game that it has a new idea every 10 seconds, and it’s not exaggerated.
Tomii: The Treasure studios have really understood everything about shooters, it works incredibly, and the system is extremely complex. The game has an incredible deepness, and the music is great.
Narrator: Radiant Silvergun, it’s 3 different weapons that you can mix up to get an extra 3. It’s also the radiant sword, which allows you to counter the enemies’ bullets. It’s finally a bunch of details to increase score, like the “scratch”, which gives you points when you pass very close to enemies’ bullets or walls.
Saku TANAKA: As well is this game, there are no power up’s to pick up. But, when your score increases, your weapons get experience, and the ship gets more powerful.
Narrator: Finally, Radiant Silvergun is more than a simple shooter; somewhere it’s also a puzzle game and a RPG. It also distinguishes its’ self by it’s chaining system who incites to kill several enemies of the same colour following each other without killing the others. At last it's the first shooter to offer such a developed scenario, and the fact that it's so prominent within the game. Finally, its only bad point is it’s price, it’s become so researched, that it’s hard to find under the price of 180 euros.
Saku TANAKA: There weren’t many copies printed, and some time after it’s release, people started to realise that radiant silvergun was really a great game. The shooter fans, of course, but also normal players tried to get their hands on it. But there wasn’t enough for everybody, and that’s why the price raises constantly.
Narrator: When Treasure does the same thing by releasing Ikaruga for the Dreamcast in 2002, the console is already dead and buried. That didn’t stop the game to sell very well, especially beyond the fans that were scared tat the price would start to raise. Once again, Treasure does very well with a simple concept but super effective: the ship can swap from white to black at will, and it’s only vulnerable to opposite colour bullets. And in 2004, it’s Konami himself who will knock at Treasures door to ask them to make the 5th episode of Gradius, who will impose itself directly as the best shooter for the PS2.
Tsuneki IKEDA: At the beginning, Treasure is a company created by old people from Konami. We wanted to work with someone who has knowledge in the area of modern shooting. We also wanted a partner that could understand the Konami spirit. Because we absolutely had to do this production outside, Treasure was the best choice.
Narrator: Another particularity of the shooting culture in Japan is the amazing liveliness of the amateur scene. Here we call them dojin games. And they are sold for about 10 euros each. There is a bit of everything, from the most classic, to the most original. Like this very special shooter where you only kill bosses one after the other. Of course Tomii couldn’t stop himself from doing his own amateur shooter, he programmed it to run on GBA, and of course it’s a Danmaku.
Tomii: There I am doing a shooter like that, just to see if I can do bullet patterns that are fun to dodge. I really am doing this for me. Finally the concept is to know if it’s possible to do a danmaku on a portable console.
Saku TANAKA: There is a game on Sega Saturn that’s called Dezaimon and that allows you to create your own shooter. You can build your ship, you can draw the enemies, our own bullets, the enemy’s bullets, the backgrounds, you can do it all yourself. It’s even possible to compose your games music. You also have to plan the paths, and the enemies attack patterns. It took me about 4 months to do my own shooter with this soft, I will keep it all my life like a treasure.
Narrator: Meanwhile far away from the centre of Tokyo, at the very end of the outskirts a developing studio set up. Founded in 2000 by old guys from Taito, Grev is a society where the passion of shooting is in the air, same as love for a good done job, and it’s not for no reason that Treasure gave them a part of the job on Ikaruga and Gradius V. Here the people do as they like, no need to follow the trends, there is so much else to do.
Hiroyuki MARUYAMA (Grev studio director): Instead of walking on Cave’s traces and making danmakus, we prefer to take our own path, and it’s better like that for the world of shooting.
Narrator: Hiroyuki Maryama is not a beginner; he has spent long years working for Taito as a programmer, it’s the game metal black that revealed to him his vocation and that directed him to start his career.
Hiroyuki MARUYAMA: It was the very first time that I wondered how the creator did to structure the game. And at my entrance at Taito, the first shooter I worked on was this one: G Darius. Then Taito suddenly decided to stop doing arcade games, so I quit. But some other employees who thought like me, also quit Taito and we created Grev all together.
Narrator: First shooter, first success for Grev, Border Down is nice looking, well balances and original in the gaming system.
Hiroyuki MARUYAMA: I absolutely wanted to do a game that was at my image, a game in homage to Metal Black.
Narrator: Border Down offers also a lot of things: like the very original system of parallel levels: Every time you loose a life, you loose a grade, forcing you to take another road, harder that the original one.
Hiroyuki MARUYAMA: To do this game I searched for sponsors for a year, and I didn’t fond any, we had no choice, we had to develop it with our own money. To gather the capital, it took us about a year. This game was so important to us, that we were ready to loose our company, as long as we managed to complete it.
Narrator: Luckily Grev survived, and continued its road. His next title is maybe the most original and the most interesting of all. We are between a shooter and a fighting game.
Hiroyuki MARUYAMA: We were wondering what a shooter fight would look like. It’s an easy concept but that managed to do something quite interesting. When our life bar is nearly empty, we can go in to boss mode, and we change into a huge final boss to send a load of mighty attacks on the opposite player.
Narrator: Last game from the studio: Under Defeat, a lot more classical game, but very well made, and very refreshing.
Hiroyuki MARUYAMA: The two people from our place that worked on Gradius V were free, and I asked them if they wanted to redo something together. And that’s how it started. We can see the trees move when you go over them, and the smoke disperses when the helicopter gets close. We put a lot of small details like that in it.
Rolling UCHIZAWA: I’m sure that one day we will see shooters that will be mega hits, the trends come and go, even if the shooters are outdates today, it Will come back one day.
Hiroyuki MARUYAMA: What’s a good shooter? Good question.
Tsuneki IKEDA: For me there it has to be in the middle of good bullet patterns and freestyle. The player has to be able to react in real time to an unexpected situation and he needs to also be able to learn how to get past some passages.
Hiroyuki MARUYAMA: In a good shooter, you shoot, you kill the enemy and he disappears in a good explosion. Yes, that’s what’s good, if might seem obvious like that, but that’s what a good shooter is.
Saku TANAKA: It’s very hard to run a marathon, it’s very hard to climb a mountain, a shooter is at least that hard. And even if it’s happening in a virtual world, the efforts we do are real. It’s also the pleasure to feel an extreme tension, that’s what shooters are for me.