We recently reviewed the Steam port of XIIZEAL — a great Shmup with some really interesting and unique features. We also got the opportunity to interview Fujino Toshiaki, the president of XIIZEAL’s developer TRIANGLE SERVICE, and one of its only staff members! It was a really interesting insight into the world of arcade gaming and shmup development, so check it out!
Bori: Congratulations on the release of XIIZEAL for Steam! It’s great that PC gamers and fans overseas will now be able to enjoy this classic shoot ‘em up game (shmup). I heard that you’ve managed Triangle Service all on your own thus far.
Fujino: Originally, I created DELTAZEAL at a different company. However, the publisher ended up backing out of the project while the development costs were still unpaid. Triangle Service was created when I decided to take over the project on my own. Previously, I had a couple of staff members, but ever since we finished the arcade version of Shooting Love 2007, I’ve run things by myself. When I first went independent, I wanted to have employees like a normal company. But the games didn’t sell that well, so I had no choice but to keep things going on my own. I created Triangle Service in order to create arcade games, but ever since the year 2000, arcades have been disappearing. The big companies have started to step out of the scene, especially where shmup games are concerned. Konami and Capcom were among the first to leave, and now PSIKYO and CAVE, two mainstays of the genre, are gone as well. The only people left now are the ones who are running everything on their own, like me. If you decide to focus on shmups, you end up running the company by yourself.
If you decide to focus on shmups, you end up running the company by yourself.
Bori: Are there people outside the company who assist you?
Fujino: For my newest game, Arcade Love Plus Pengo!, I had an outside company handle the graphic design, since that was their forte. I always have the same person do the music. Other than those two things, I do everything on my own.
SEGA is another big helper of mine. SEGA is the reason Triangle Service is still alive today. After I released my first game, XIISTAG, I welcomed in a new graphic designer and started working on TRIZEAL, which was a really tough project. It was our first time creating a game with polygons, and even though I was in charge of programming, I was doing really poorly with the numbers. In the end, not many arcades ended up purchasing the finished product, and it looked like Triangle Service was going to come to an end. TAITO graciously offered to port XIISTAG to the PS2 for us, but they refused to do TRIZEAL as well. And so, without any options left, right when I had given up, the developer of Castle of Shikigami introduced me to someone from SEGA. Then, after asking him if he would be interested in releasing the Dreamcast version of TRIZEAL, which was already finished, he suggested that I publish the game myself, as it would give me a greater profit.
I decided I would at least try to leave one last mark before I stepped down
That’s when I sent out the message: “SOS from Triangle Service”. I figured the Dreamcast version of TRIZEAL wouldn’t sell, so I decided to use what little profit I made to pay off my debts so that I could close up the company properly. But the idea of just giving up like that left a bad taste in my mouth, so I decided I would at least try to leave one last mark before I stepped down.
I poured the last of my development funds into this next message, which introduced a lot of people to Triangle Service. I’m very grateful for this. If SEGA hadn’t published it, Triangle Service would have died a long time ago.
Bori: Did you have any trouble with the Steam release?
Fujino: It was originally a PC game, so we had no trouble with the port. As I mentioned earlier, we had to use polygons on SEGA’s NAOMI system for TRIZEAL, but I didn’t understand how the polygons were being rendered, so I tried calculating them dot by dot on the PC. After practicing it like that, I tried to port the arcade version of XIIZEAL to PC.
Bori: This next question is about XIIZEAL. This game has a really interesting feature: the side attack. How did you come up with this?
Fujino: There are two reasons. The first is that we started working on XIIZEAL and DELTAZEAL in the same year. They originally ran on the same system, but we didn’t actually intend to start working on them at the same time. DELTAZEAL is a normal Raiden-style shmup, so I thought the game market didn’t need any more of the same type of game. The other reason is that one of the core elements of the most famous Toaplan shmups from the 80s and 90s is the manual rapid-fire. When fighting bosses that had a lot of HP, you had to get near them, fire quickly, and destroy them before their attacks got too dangerous. This really let players feel like they were actually controlling the ship. Shmup game design is a series of trial and error that shows us what works and what doesn’t in the results of the actual gameplay. Which rapid-fire finger technique works better? Spasmic fingers? Piano fingers? Rubbing fingers? This is what’s really fun about shmups.
“Bullet hells aren’t what shooters are really about. Shooters are about manual controls – the player!”
But around the year 2000, when I was developing XIIZEAL, rapid-fire functionality started to come built-in with games, and games like Castle of Shikigami and CAVE shooters that didn’t require any manual rapid-fire skill started to gain popularity. These were bullet hell games, where how well you could avoid the streams of enemy fire became the focus. I felt that these games were something different from the shmups that I loved. I went along with the times and included a rapid-fire feature in XIIZEAL, and replaced the comfort of manual rapid fire with stick controls that could destroy the enemies. Bombs were also used not as a means of emergency escape, but as a way to create an area of invincibility on screen where you could focus on attacking. I thought that if the player used the side attack and bomb barriers well, it would produce a sensation similar to that of shmups from the 80s and 90s. XIIZEAL’s catchphrase at the time was “Bullet hells aren’t what shooters are really about. Shooters are about manual controls – the player!” That’s the message I wanted to send. The person in charge at TAITO had also worked on Psyvariar and Night Raid, so perhaps he was influenced by them. The lever controls in those games are also important. You move the stick to the side in XIIZEAL, up and down in Psyvariar, and all over the place in Night Raid.
Bori: Did you receive any other game design inspiration?
Fujino: I read a lot of novels. I have books at the office, too. I recently read Takano Kazuaki’s Genocide, which was pretty good. I also like unpredictable mysteries, like Tsuji Masaki’s works. I don’t know much about music, but I like it. I used to listen to music all the time when I worked. When I was developing XIIZEAL, I’d listen to Carnations albums all day long. I like The Carnations and Yano Akiko. Maybe the rhythm has something to do with it.
I used to listen to music all the time when I worked. […] Maybe the rhythm has something to do with it.
Bori: It’s OK for us to call you a shmup-centric developer, right? Is the shmup genre your favorite? How do you feel about other genres?
Fujino: Gradius 3 is what brought me into the world of making games, so I was always drawn to arcade shumps the most. That is still true now, but I’ve created quite a few shmups so far, so currently I’m also working on an ‘action skill test’ that should appear to a wider range of gamers.
Bori: What are some non-shump games that you like?
Fujino: I figure the Xbox 360 is on its way out, so I’m playing Dead Space. I know I’m late to the party. The horror elements really fit well with the action.
Bori: Non-Japanese users aren’t that familiar with the ‘arcade world,’ so do you have any interesting stories from that sort of development that you’d like to share?
Fujino: Location testing for arcades is a lot of fun. Especially the location tests for Shooting Skill Test. Those were the best. Shmup location tests are pretty quiet. Even with popular games like CAVE shooters. They’re normally very quiet. But when the Shooting Skill Test location tests started, lots of people gathered up, started watching, and burst out with laughter over and over again. There’s this one game where you have to shoot asteroids, and if you screw up, it calls you an idiot. That game gathers droves of people.
You should show your work to people, even if it’s half-finished.
Bori: I see. Do you have any advice for people who are starting to make their own games?
Fujino: Try to entertain the people around you. Even if you don’t finish the game, just try to get your friends to say “That’s cool.” You should show your work to people, even if it’s half-finished.
Bori: That’s some pretty clear advice. We also heard that Shooting Love Trilogy is slated to be released on the Xbox One. Do you have any new info on this that you can share with us?
Fujino: I’m doing my best. (LOL) It’s a completely new game, so I just hope you’re all looking forward to it.
I think Windows is the main platform for arcade shmups
Bori: Are you planning to release it on any other platforms?
Fujino: Currently, we aren’t planning to release it on the PS4 or WiiU. I’m not sure about the PC. It’s company policy to prioritize arcade games first.
Bori: I’m pretty sure that the golden age of shmups is over, but here you are, still creating them. How do you think the shmup world is going to change from here on out?
Fujino: There are a lot of individuals who are developing shmups on a very small scale. My company puts arcades first, but as far as the 2010s are concerned, I think Windows is the main platform for arcade shmups. The Xbox One runs on Windows, you know, so I think Windows is really the only platform option we have right now. I think there will be some people who release their games on Xbox One first and then take them to the arcades afterwards.
I could make a brand-new shmup game and then release it through Early Access on Steam as a location test
Bori: Gotcha. So, how about the PC? Any plans to release any upcoming games for it?
Fujino: XIIZEAL is our first venture to Steam, so if it sells well, I’d like to port some of our other titles. I think the Early Access system is interesting. Recently, I purchased the Early Access version of Dirt Rally. Early Access is a good idea. For example, I could make a brand-new shmup game and then release it through Early Access on Steam as a location test. Then, after brushing it up a bit, I could release it in the arcades, then finally release it on the Xbox One.
Bori: That does seem like a fun idea. Thank you very much for the interview!