Episode 23: Battleship Godios

[00:00:00] Christa Mrgan:

[00:00:04] Before Nintendo’s Famicom and took over MSX machines were the home video game systems of choice in Japan in the 1980s. MSX wasn’t a single device, but Microsoft’s attempt to create a standard for home computing, similar to the VHS standard for video. So there was a wide variety of hardware options from manufacturers like Yamaha, Canon and Panasonic.

[00:00:23] Developer TPMCO began creating games for MSX in 1985 and never stopped. The limited processing power and decidedly retro graphics capabilities of MSX machines, meant that TPMCO was ideally suited to create a game for Playdate. His arcade inspired action game Battleship Godios combines a side scrolling shooter with some of the mechanics from the classic "Breakout," along with an innovative bullet- recapturing system, plus a few shots at redemption via a time rewind mechanism. In this challenging action game, your goal is to destroy battleships without taking enemy fire or running out of bullets.

[00:00:58] Welcome to the Playdate Podcast, bringing you stories from game designers, developers, and the team behind playdate, the little yellow game console with a crank. I’m Krista Mergen Today, I’m talking with Battleship Godios creator, TPMCO.

[00:01:14] Thanks to tremendous help from Noby Hasegawa, President of Panic Japan K.K., Panic’s Japanese division.

[00:01:20] During this episode, you’ll hear both TPMCO’s voice in Japanese, as well as the English translation by Nob y. And, just a heads-up: there are mild spoilers for Battleship Godios in this episode, in terms of game play mechanics. Okay. Let’s meet the developer. .

[00:01:35] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: Hello, everyone. This is TPMCO.

[00:01:40] Christa Mrgan: TPMCO was the sole creator of Battleship Godios.

[00:01:43] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: I work in everything from game design, dotting, music, sound, effect-- everything.

[00:01:50] I developed exclusively for Playdate. It’s inviting players to a new experience that combines the eighties retro style side-scrolling shooter and the B reakout.

[00:02:01] Christa Mrgan: Playdate seemed like a perfect fit for TPMCO, who has a lot of experience with this kind of game development.

[00:02:07] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: I started developing games in 1985 and have been posted and published in a lot of game magazines. I’m focused on MSX, tAROTICA VOO DOO, which has been developed since 1993, and Utauta-uh for PlayStation.

[00:02:27] Christa Mrgan: TAROTICA VOO DOO is TPMCO’S unusual, uncategorized adventure game with fully hand-drawn animation. And Utauta-Uh is an action game published by Enix in 2000.

[00:02:38] So, how did he hear about Playdate and decide to make a game for it?

[00:02:46] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: In 2014, I was exhibiting TAROTICA VOO DOO in Tokyo Game Show. And Panic guys came there and told me, " would you please make the next title for our Playdate?"

[00:02:59] Christa Mrgan: Yeah, Panic CEO Cabel Sasser and Panic Japan K.K. President Noby Hasegawa met TPMCO at the annual Tokyo Game Show or TGS, held in Chiba, Japan. TPMCO was intrigued by the nostalgic element of Playdate, and wanted to make an arcade style game for it.

[00:03:15] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: I guess I heard or understood the Playdate concept that defined the history of video games on Playdate at the very beginning. If so, I want to incorporate the Breakout rule it’s a classic game history.

[00:03:33] Now, on the other hand, I’ve always wanted to make side scroll style scrolling shooter. The giant battleship that appeared there was made up of block-like parts and you can break blocks. I thought that this idea of scrapping them would be interesting and I was able to immediately imagine it. So I started testing soon.

[00:03:59] Christa Mrgan: I really like the “Breakout” element of this game. “Super Breakout” for Atari 2600 was one of my favorites as a kid. But Battleship Godios isn’t just a copy of Breakout or Super Breakout. It uses that gameplay mechanism as a jumping off point.

[00:04:13] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: Normally in the Breakout, a ball is shot, the ball is hit the block to break it, and then bounce the returned ball with paddle and hit the block to break again and again.

[00:04:29] In order to combine the taste of side -scrolling shooter, while using that rule structure, I first thought of the specification that put something like R-TYPE option in front of the player’s ship and the bounce off

[00:04:47] Christa Mrgan: R-Type is a side scrolling shooter arcade game, published by Irem in 1987.

[00:04:52] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: However, it’s very difficult to bounce what I intend to, so I decided to abolish that option and let it catch. I came up with the idea that if you catch it and uh fire, it again, it same as bouncing back.

[00:05:15] On the other hand. It still look like a side scrolling shooter. People who play cannot escape the habit of the shooting, this disposable bullet endlessly. So at the starting of the game, I try to use one shot to get used to release and the catch system.

[00:05:34] Christa Mrgan: Yeah, Having to recapture your bullets is an interesting system that definitely takes some getting used to. I found it really challenging, but I like being able to rewind after messing up. And you can do that up to three times before it’s game over.

[00:05:49] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: Originally, the idea was to rewind my favorite vertical-scrolling shooter. Several decades ago, I came up with the idea when I was rewinding and forwarding cassette tapes using multi-track recorder that I used to record my band. The image of the retro shooter, rewinding was very attractive.

[00:06:20] However, the idea of manipulating this timeline was very difficult to make into the game rule, and it was difficult to realize it until now because just rewinding does not work as a game rule. Especially most people hate redoing.

[00:06:42] Games that rewind time have been released sometimes such as "Braid." Every time oh, I was impatient that I was overtaken. But most of titles prepare the two or more timelines, so my idea has been kept.

[00:07:06] Christa Mrgan: Braid as a puzzle platformer where one of your abilities is to rewind time. It was created by Jonathan Blow and released in 2008.

[00:07:13]

[00:07:13] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: Multiple timelines means that there is an object or something that does not affect the other. Even if it’s rewind or that moves on another time line.

[00:07:29] Christa Mrgan: Yes. Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure for Playdate has this mechanism. You can move Crankin’ forward and backward in time, but the enemies in the game persist in their own timeline. So you play the timelines against each other strategically.

[00:07:40] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: Most developers don’t design on the single time line because there’s no change when rewinding and no change can be made in the game story and the experience.

[00:07:54] It’s very understandable as a game developer, but I wanted to do a single timeline, but it didn’t become a game and I was very struggling. On the other hand, I was fortunate to discover that the crank is very compatible with the operation of rewinding.

[00:08:18] This idea of the shooter to control timeline has been planned for MSX for a long time, but I have been stuck because it could not control it, and only same speed with the left and right keys.

[00:08:39] This time I was able to realize that uh, variable movement by the uh, crank is a very good match. And in the game rule of losing bullets, I was able to discover the strategy of where to make the this restoration point. So finally it was established, decided as a game.

[00:09:07] There are three types of game quality.

[00:09:12] First the quality of the workmanship of the game. This is that can be just verified by the creator without validation by others, such as graphics control, usability, et cetera.

[00:09:30] This is my sense of learning from the art and culture that has survived over time, such as painting and fine arts, stored in museums and classical music such as Bach. I will use this to improve the quality until I am satisfied.

[00:09:53] The easiest thing to do is to keep things as simple as possible. For example, a game that use three buttons always asks myself if it can be reduced to two or even one button. Always ask myself, never give up, and uh, always trying.

[00:10:20] The same is true for game rules. Can I put together a lot of prepared items, weapons, attacks method, et cetera.

[00:10:32] Of course this is different from making many variations with different efforts. It consolidates similar things into one gather power and has the quality of synergistic effect effects with other things.

[00:10:53] Also the process of asking myself what is the essence of the fun of the game I’m trying to make? And continuing to find and improve what form is most appropriate to express.

[00:11:10] This is the same of graphics. It’s possible to reduce colors as much as possible, or to simplify complicated images. By continuing to take on challenges, quality will improve because what survives over time is usually simple.

[00:11:35] Of course the simplest thing that survives after being selected from a huge number of candidates. So it has power.

[00:11:49] This will make the infographics design easier to understand, for example the information marks of the airport are very simple and easy to understand because the design has already been verified and polished for many years so that it’s easy for visitors all over the world to understand. There are uh, so much to be learned from here.

[00:12:20] Second is the quality of the game playability.

[00:12:27] Even if the game is artistic and uh, elegant, if it’s difficult to play, players don’t choose it.

[00:12:36] If the game genre already exists, there are many verifications and ingenuity so if the developers imitate the ways people can give a fine playability to players. I ask someone to play, observe where the player gets stuck, how to fix it so it doesn’t get stuck. And if everyone enjoy it as I enjoy it.

[00:13:17] I think it’s essential to improve the quality that having a many good friend who give straightforward impression without complimenting and always preparing environment like own mirror.

[00:13:40] It’s also very important to exhibit at the event such as a game show that many people play to constantly observe and get hints for improvement.

[00:13:55] The last thing is don’t show or get the reputation for others until the basic fun of the game is fixed.

[00:14:08] If you accidentally show it, not only will the values of others be mixed into the game. If it’s more innovative, it is the more fragile it will be. Resulting in aerial decomposition.

[00:14:32] First, make it until you are satisfied. After finished, you will start the Process of devising how to convey the fun. Doing so will protect your original inspiration.

[00:14:51] Of course, this is only if you want to create your own original and uh, innovative game.

[00:15:00] Christa Mrgan: TPMCO strives to create games with unique gameplay as well as graphic style. And since he’s been creating games since the mid- 1980s, He felt right at home with Playdate’s one -bit screen.

[00:15:11] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: I am used to one-bit graphics in MSX since then, so I’m always enjoying it very much.

[00:15:20] it a great environment for simplicity…

[00:15:25] In addition, I configure one dot with two by two to give a more dot in the development with Playdate.

[00:15:37] Christa Mrgan: so each dot or square, he draws us actually four pixes square on Playdate’s screen. That scale helps it look and feel more like a classic arcade game. So does the little flashing “insert coin” message on the title screen. In keeping with that, the sound design and limited music in Battleship Godios are inspired by old Namco games.

[00:15:53] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: This time the sound is perfectly linked and generated to the rewind operation, like MTRs and video tapes. I have established a way to fully simulate it, but I’ve kept it to a minimum due to Playdate performance limitations.

[00:16:17] The B G m

[00:16:20] Christa Mrgan: BGM" is background music

[00:16:22] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: At the start of the game is Namco’s XEVIOUS-like. This also takes into account that music is easier to hear when rewinding. Godios does not play BGM during the game. This is to correctly convey the player, the sound, when the bullet is lost catch or hit. That’s information.

[00:16:48] Christa Mrgan: I was super interested to learn that the background music at the start of the game was inspired by Xevious, a vertically scrolling shooter arcade game released by Namco in 1982. The music reminded me of Namco’s Pac-Man but Xevious was actually way more popular in Japan than Pac-Man.

[00:17:02] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: of course, I designed those sound effects so that they can be heard effectively when rewinding. All sound effects are not what it’s all playing in scale like the eighties Namco games. Since it’s played in the scale, it can be played in reverse.

[00:17:25] Christa Mrgan: But getting the backward sound effect required, some extra work, just playing the sounds in reverse didn’t quite achieve the results he wanted.

[00:17:31] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: The problem was that when the position jumped due to the crank, the sound reproduction position also jumped one after another, and it did not sound like it was rewinding. This is solved by bringing the sound, reproduction point toward the crank position. " Impossible is nothing," I thought at that time.

[00:17:59]

[00:18:00] Christa Mrgan: Like a lot of arcade style action games, Battleship Godios is designed to be challenging requiring precision and skill. But how did TPMCO balance making it challenging while keeping it fun?

[00:18:10] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: Uh, Initially, the Godios was made up of blocks and programmed to be scrapped when hit by the bullet. However, as a result, Of the blocks being broken, little by little, the shape of the original battleship disappeared. So it became impossible to know what was broken. When you destroyed the last piece you have destroyed the battleship, but it was so boring that I was surprised.

[00:18:47] After all, the battleship is not present unless it explode in its in entirety at once, like boom. As a result of various trials there, I settled on the current style that the black skeleton of the battleship remains. However, the Breakout feelings that I had originally imagined has faded a little… The first challenge in this game is getting used to the release and the catch mechanism. Next whether or not you can learn the basic technique of continuously hitting bullets by holding down the button. Hitting the enemy ship continuously, and catching and collecting the returning bullets continuously.

[00:19:41] This is also a pleasure to wait until the injection timing to the last minute, and release it at once. As long as you shoot a single shot. It’s not very fun.

[00:19:56] I played this repeat during development and made the best adjustment. It’s finished so that the player can feel the pleasure of operating in the series of roles from attacking, destroying, and ending. This is close to the pleasure of playing the musical instrument, a characteristic of older video games.

[00:20:24] Christa Mrgan: Yeah, definitely. It does have that similarity of timing and technical precision that requires practice and skill building in playing a musical instrument. I also think the rewinding mechanism adds to that since it’s kind of like retrying one section of a piece of music after messing it up.

[00:20:39] So Battleship Godios was one of the games that was started pretty early in the days of Playdate. What was it like working with the SDK? I’ve been involved with it since I didn’t have the device yet. So every time the SDK changed, it slowed down. The display was buggy and the whole things was redesigned.

[00:21:04] Yeah, Playdate’s software and hardware went through a lot of design iterations while developers were creating their games for it. Eventually the SDK smoothed out, but game development was somewhat tricky to manage early on.

[00:21:16] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: I was convinced that in order to appeal Playdate to the world, it was essential to have a game that used its characteristic crank. If I use a crank, the genre is action game, and the action games I need to move certain numbers of characters. Uh, But, initially Playdate had low performance while reducing the number characters didn’t make the game, so I was stuck.

[00:21:49] Even in the shooter it will not be possible unless there are enough moving enemies and bullets on the screen. How do speed up? I spent years researching and, uh, Testing.

[00:22:06] But passing performance with extreme techniques that have driving MSX feeding back the issues and, uh, improvement. Plus Panic team’s remarkable effort. The performance speed that were initially unthinkable in the last few years will come out. Now, my development has become quite comfortable.

[00:22:36] Of course, it’s not possible to move the huge number of characters like Unity.

[00:22:47] Christa Mrgan: Unity is a cross-platform game development engine.

[00:22:50] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: Important is like human being, aim for the limit at the Olympic Games. I think that aiming for the limit in the hardware of Playdate will impress people. This is a consistant policy from MSX.

[00:23:07] I haven’t used Lua before, but I liked flexibility and easy to use in this development.

[00:23:21] Christa Mrgan: Lua is one of the programming languages you can use to make Playdate games. It’s a scripting language. So it’s generally considered by developers to be easier to use than

[00:23:29] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: Similarly the development with MSX, I think that the style of assembling the parts that do not need speed with BASIC, and the parts that need speed with machine language in the most uh, stable for development. Of course there is also C API in Playdate uh, but it’s very easy to develop and uh, improve the game when I built it with Lua.

[00:24:01] As you can see from the fact that we have been developing games for many years, it’s a good game programming practice to build a system, so that interesting bugs and unexpected, strange moments occur during development. You program it specifically to work only as there’s a designed these are not occur. Incorporating the bugs that occur into the game will make the game even more innovative.

[00:24:40] I think this game will give you an experience you have never experienced, but since it looks like a classic side scrolling shooter from the eighties it may not be fun at first because it does not get what user expect.

[00:25:00] Should be more bullets or should come back over time but there is a way to play that you can experience only with this game. Please do not give up and play!

[00:25:19]

[00:25:24] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: For the first few years I didn’t know how to use the crank, and I could only think such as a fishing game

[00:25:35] Mark Lentz: Everybody comes up with fishing!

[00:25:37] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: Or charging item or controlling my own machine that changes the angle of the tank with the crank or just. Using uh, conventional game controller I was totally stuck.

[00:25:52] So far, many small retro game consoles have been released tirelessly, so people will expect new experiences. I have to provide a new play experience for Playdate and give surprise, however, there are a few examples of crank games in uh, playing history, and I couldn’t find any hints. So I’ve been searching for years.

[00:26:24] At some point I realized that I should operate it loosely instead of using the D-pad or another controller. Uh, And then I understood how to make the Playdate games. The winding idea is one of them.

[00:26:42] So I think I can make more mini games for Playdate using crank.

[00:26:51] Christa Mrgan: Awesome! I’d love to see another game from TPMCO. And I hope you can build your action game skills and destroy the enemy ships in Battleship Godios.

[00:26:59] you can learn more about TPMCO, his games, and his music, via the links in the show notes. Thanks again for listening and stay tuned for more episodes coming soon to the playdate Podcast feed. Bye for now!

[00:27:12] The Playdate Podcast was written, produced and edited by me, Christa Mrgan. Cabel Sasser and Simon Panrucker composed the theme song. Additional music and sound effects were composed by TPMCO, and come from Battleship Godios.

[00:27:34] The Xevious theme was composed by Yuriko Keino, and the Pac-Man theme was composed by Toshio Kai.

[00:27:39] Extra special thanks to, Noby Hasegawa for translating my questions into Japanese, interviewing TPMCO on my behalf, and then translating his answers back into English. Thanks so much, Noby!

[00:27:50] And special thanks as well to Michael Buckley for his Xevious insights.

[00:27:54] And as always, a huge thanks to Tim Coulter and Ashur Cabrera for wrangling the podcast feed and working on the website, James Moore for making me an awesome .pda file extraction app, and Neven Mrgan who created the podcast artwork and site design.

[00:28:07] And of course, thanks to everyone at Panic. Playdate is shipping now and available for pre-order at play.Date.

[00:28:13]

[00:28:13] Nobuhiro Hasegawa: As far as the eighties video games are concerned, you can insert coin and, uh, start playing and, uh, when the game is over, you will have to start over. No save, no continue. Start from zero. But so far I played it over and over again. It’s like listening to your favorite music all the time.