The world is currently in the midst of a “retro boom. Sento (public bathhouses) and “Sharundesu (photo album)” are all the rage. The same is true in the video game industry.
The other day, Sunsoft, a game brand of Sun Electronics Co. The company is releasing a new online version of the classic game “Ikki.
Ikki” was an action game for the Famicom (NES) released in 1985. At a time when robots and fighter planes were the mainstream, the game attracted attention for its uniqueness in that it featured a farmer as the main character, and for its worldview that featured a ton of revolts led by just two people. Ikki” was the first game to be called a “beloved game” or “shit game.
When I visited Sun Electronics in Konan City, Aichi Prefecture, what awaited me was the original illustrations used in the packaging and promotional materials of the time. Along with these treasures, we asked the developers about various episodes of the Famicom boom of the 1980s.
First, let’s talk about “Ikki. Why did you make a game in which farmers were the main characters?
Akito Takeuchi (programmer): “ At first, I was making a (modern) war game in which soldiers shoot guns and other weapons at each other. But it was not well received. The team leader came up with the idea of changing the setting from a battlefield to a peasant revolt. It was a crazy idea (laughs). (Laughs.) We had to redo the background and everything.
Ikki” was a game that could be played by two players, but that was not the case at first.
Takeuchi: “ At first, it was a novel style in which two characters were played by a single player. You switch between characters by pressing buttons, but it was impossible to do that while defeating enemies. When one character moves forward, the other character is left behind and disappears from the screen (laughs). (laughs) It was too difficult to control, so I gave up.
First, a large arcade version of “Ikki” was released for use in game arcades, but even here problems arose.
Takeuchi: “ The title of the game at the time was ‘Peasant Revolt. But when we did a location test at a game center, we were asked, ‘Are you sure you want to use this name? We changed the title because we didn’t want to cause a recall or anything like that.
The arcade version of “Ikki” was a big hit, and when it was transferred to the Famicom (NES), it was also a big hit. The arcade version of “Ikki” was a huge hit, and when it was transferred to the Famicom (NES), it was also a big hit.
Bugs” are forbidden words
Next, Sunsoft released the adventure action game “Mystery of Atlantis. With 100 stages, this epic game was also a huge hit. The catchphrase at the time was, “It’s beyond Super Mario! The catchphrase at the time was, “It’s even better than Super Mario!
Takeuchi: “ I was the main programmer. The side-scrolling game “Pac-Land” was fun, and I wanted to make one myself. Then “Super Mario” came out, and it became an influential work (laughs). Is it that catchphrase? Hmmm… I can understand if customers say it, but to say it ourselves is …… (laughs).”
Mystery of the Atlantis” is famous for being full of mysteries. Let us ask about some of the mysteries that have been whispered about.
The main character is weak. Why does he die just from being hit by bat droppings when his profile says he is a “strong man with great training”?
Takeuchi: “ Well, …… I didn’t think about this at all when I was making it (laughs). (Laughs.) Fans followed up by saying things like, ‘There are actually rocks and poison in the feces. Also, the moai statues appear in the background, and I got a lot of comments like, ‘Why are there moai statues in Atlantis?
No. 2) There is an “unreachable aspect. Why are there aspects of the game that cannot be reached even if you proceed normally?
Takeuchi: “ I realized this later, too. The publisher of the game’s strategy book contacted me and said, “There are about three aspects that you can’t get to. (Laughs.) After the game was released, I received calls from people asking about it, but it would have been very difficult to recall the game, so I told them that it was just a specification. The word ‘bug’ was forbidden.
In fact, Takahashi Meijin, who led the NES boom in the 1980s, once said, “There are no bugs in the NES. In fact, Takahashi Meijin, who led the NES boom in the 1980s, once said, “There are no bugs in the NES. It’s a subterfuge.” ……
The only thing you see when you clear 100 levels is the word “Congratulations” on the screen, and there is no solution to the mystery. There are whispers like an urban legend that there is a true ending.
Takeuchi: “ The end is also halfway through. The truth is that we had planned to return on a balloon after completing the 100 levels. But we ran out of time and capacity. ……
Doodles to games.
Capacity was the biggest problem for NES developers. For example, “Super Mario” has a capacity of only 40 kilobytes. The Mystery of the Atlantis” required the creation of 100 stages in a space much smaller than the size of a single photo stored on a smartphone.
Atsushi Sakai (programmer): “ I mainly created the enemy characters for “Atlantis,” but development was a battle against capacity. The opening title screen alone took up a lot of space, as did the music. The key to making 100 screens without eating up space was how to use the same pictures over and over again. The colors can be changed, so you have to use your wits to change the same enemy to a different color, change the background color, and so on. If you make the floor blue, it looks like it is sliding, and if you make it black, you get a completely dark surface.
Also, although today we have the image of games taking years to develop, “Atlantis” was produced in only three months.
Sakai: “ It was probably one of the shortest at Sunsoft. I didn’t go home at all.
Takeuchi: “ It was normal for us to work about 200 hours of overtime a month. I came to the office on weekends as well and returned home after 11:00 am. I went home, but there were people who lived in the company’s nap room.
There is something even more surprising. Today, game development is the work of many programmers, but Takeuchi and Sakai were the only two programmers who worked on “Atlantis. At that time, Sunsoft was short of people anyway.
Sakai : “ There were no programmers, but there were only two salesmen in all (laughs). They were in charge of East and West (laughs). They were not good at games, so we programmers did the demos in front of the wholesalers. We were told to go to Shikoku tomorrow (laughs).
Takeuchi: “ We didn’t even have a designer (laughs). We recruited part-timers, and the good ones became employees.
Kazuyuki Sugiura (designer) “ I joined Sunsoft as a part-time worker, and I enjoyed it so much that I became an employee (laughs). One day I had some free time in the development office and was doodling. I liked designing logos, so I drew a random one, and someone said, ‘That’s a good one. Next thing I knew, it had become a game (laughs).
From Sugiura’s doodles came the action RPG “Madura no Tsubasa” (Wings of Madura). It is a popular game that is sold at high prices during the recent retro boom.
Sugiura: “ What does Madura mean? There is no meaning (laughs). I was just doodling because I liked the balance of the characters.
If you publish a game, you are in the black
Why did Sun Denshi enter the NES market in the first place?
Kaoki Shimizu (former programmer): “ Originally, we were making communication devices, so we had technical capabilities in the electronics field. Thanks to that, we were able to sign a contract with Nintendo at an early stage. Since we also made arcade games, we were able to predict that home video game consoles would also sell well.
Did you actually make money?
Shimizu: “ Atlantis” was made by two programmers in three months and sold several hundred thousand copies (laughs). (Laughs.) The NES was profitable as long as it was released. At that time, we received a “closing bonus” for the fiscal year ending in March, and it was like everyone buying a new car.
Sakai: “ Sometimes the bonus was 1 million yen for each year of service. I may have had a better time than other company employees of my generation. But the president was worried that if he gave a lot of money to young people, they might spend it all, so he forced me to accumulate time deposits (laughs).
Takeuchi: “ I was so busy developing games every day that I didn’t have much time to feel the boom.
Sakai “ What made me feel the boom was when I was unloading. All the games made at the factory were taken to the company once and then sent to wholesalers by truck. The amount of cardboard boxes was amazing. There was no end to the number of trucks coming in and out of the factory. There was no one around, so as I was loading the games onto the trucks (laughs), I was also impressed by the sheer volume of cardboard.
What do you think of the NES software boom at the time?
Shimizu: “ Games back then were created with passion by a few developers within the constraints of time and capacity. I think they were a little different from mere industrial products, as they were content that reflected the strong feelings of individuals. Perhaps this individuality is now being illuminated once again.”
After the announcement of the revival, Sunsoft received many welcoming comments. To be honest, I didn’t expect the response to be so strong. I realized how much it is loved by fans all over the world,” said Sunsoft’s public relations manager.
The passion of the Showa era has been revived in Reiwa. Why don’t you come and experience the games of that time?
The new “Ikki Danshitsu,” nostalgic yet new
The new “Ikki Unity,” which has been a big hit on SNS, is an online game that can be played by up to 16 players. The game has been improved while maintaining the quality of the NES version, which can be clearly seen on the screen. The controls and rules are simple, and the game is said to be enjoyable even for online game beginners. The game is scheduled to be released within the year, and the company aims to sell a home console version in the future. When I tried playing our software on the NES we had in the company, I found it to be interesting even today. We believe that we need to continue to actively work on retro titles” (Sunsoft PR).
From the September 16, 2022 issue of FRIDAY
Interview and photo by： Daisuke Yokohama