As enjoyable as the recent Strider reboot was, the original will aways remain one of our favourite arcade games. Inventive, gorgeous looking and boasting fantastically bizarre bosses, it’s a masterpiece in videogame design and came along at a time when the arcade arm of Capcom was at the height of its powers. Here, creator Kouichi Yotsui reveals how it all happened.
“I had gone up to the rooftop in order to reflect on my mood,” remembers Kouichi Yotsui, the creator of one of Capcom’s most memorable arcade games. “It was only after the door had closed that I realised that it could only be opened from the inside.” Completely stranded in the second-biggest city in Japan with no way of contacting anyone – this was long before mobile phones – Yotsui’s next move was not only one of sheer desperation, but it would also spark a creative seed for the new game he was working on.
The bosses in Strider are weird and wonderful, although
they’re a little easy to kill.
“I was in danger of being frozen to death, but noticed that there were only a few metres between my work building and the one next door. I began to climb down the side of the building in order to reach the emergency stairs, desperately afraid that I would die from the fall. Even then, though, I was thinking about the game and came to the conclusion that anybody that wanted to do that kind of thing must be crazy.”
Yotsui safely made it back to terra firma and went on to create one of the Eighties’ most spectacular-looking arcade games. What’s particularly interesting about Strider, however, is that it wasn’t the result of just one man’s vision, but rather several, as Strider became a collaboration between Capcom and Moto Kikaku, a group of famous Japanese manga artists that had been founded by Hiroshi Motomiya.
“At the time I was working for Capcom’s first project team when a manga, Famicom and arcade collaboration project came up,” recalls Yotsui. I was placed in charge of the arcade version by [Tokuro Fujiwara], who was my manager at the time. When I asked him why he had chosen me, his simple reply was: ‘You have really good negotiation skills.’ I’m guessing he was expecting a lot of meetings with people outside Capcom.”
Strider’s second level remains the best second level of any videogame.
This is fact!
Although Fujiwara, Takashi Nishiyama and Yoshiki Okamoto were overseeing the project as Capcom’s heads of development, it wasn’t until newcomer Akio Sakai suggested collaborating with a media outside the world of videogames that Moto Kikaku was actually approached. After initial meetings, the core teams for each project were quickly assembled. Masahiko Kurokawa was placed in charge of the Famicom version, Tatsumi Wada and his manager Hiroshi Motomiya were chosen to front the manga iteration, and Yotsui was placed in charge of the arcade game. What followed was a rigorous meeting that would attempt to iron out the background of this new world.
“I remember Capcom’s president Kenzo Tsujimoto booking us into the Shinjuku Hilton Hotel and keeping us in there for a week so we could create the framework for the character, story and world view,” laughs Yotsui. “We were occasionally joined by both Sakai-san and Fujiwara-san at several points, and the meetings would get quite intense, but we were able to get the outline of the characters decided within that week. We came up with the name Hiryu and had the setting for his circumstances as well as a core outline for the story.”
Although initial ideas were put in place, Yotsui and Kurokawa found themselves constantly travelling between Capcom’s Osaka-based office and Moto Kikaku, which was based in Chiba. Lodging with Wada, they would constantly discuss new ideas over dinner. Needless to say, with three strong-willed individuals working on the project, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. “Of course, there were differences between our opinions, but as we continued each discussion it simply allowed us to place Strider’s world together more effectively.”
Anti-gravity rears its head in Strider, allowing our favourite ninja
to really show off his skills.
Another benefit, the trio discovered, was Kurokawa and Yotsui’s backgrounds in film. Having both graduated in the film departments of their respective art universities they were able to write out a suitable scenario for Strider Hiryu’s first adventure.
Tatsumi Wada employed a professional manga writer, who brushed up the script and the original design to make it feel more like a manga title, while Kurokawa drew inspiration from both the new manga concept and their original ideas. Yotsui, on the other hand, who had already proven his mastery of the CPS-1 hardware with Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, decided to utilise the raw power of the arcade board to make his version of Strider as spectacular as possible. Therefore, three distinct versions of the game emerged from one core idea.
With Moto Kikaku hard at work on the manga, Kurokawa and Yotsui set to work on their own versions of Strider. The Famicom version, while lacking the sheer spectacle of the arcade outing, is nevertheless an impressive piece of work that features tight level design, a well-paced story, and nicely animated sprites, although they’re obviously not as dynamic or well-animated as the arcade offering. Far more adventure-based than its arcade counterpart and with a story that ties in more closely with the manga, it shares elements with the Mega Man series as you gain new abilities after defeating certain bosses. Interestingly, NES Strider was only released in North America, despite its close ties with the Moto Kikaku manga. It was also released several months after Yotsui’s arcade offering.
The final stage sees you facing off against all the previous bosses again.
But why did Yotsui choose to create a title that stood apart from its two peers? “Well, the manga contains some excellent human drama, and it’s in that detail where the enjoyment is,” he begins. “I obviously wanted to represent that enjoyment, but considering that arcade games are meant to be one play for one coin, I didn’t feel that this approach was very suitable. If I wanted to tell Strider’s story literally I knew that it would be hard-pressed to compete with the Famicom version and that it would have an even harder time if compared directly with the manga. However, by describing the action through visual imagery, I felt that the arcade version would be able to turn the table in my favour. While Strider was obviously a collaborative project, I felt that we should all heighten the Strider world by using the methods that each version excelled at.”
Told via stylish cut-scenes that open each of its five levels, the story of arcade Strider is actually far more in-depth than what is shown in the finished game. A small European nation called Kafazu is attacked by an unknown army that quickly goes on to dominate the rest of Europe and several other continents in its ruthless quest for world domination. With the fate of the planet uncertain and now resting in the iron grip of Grandmaster Meio, Strider Hiryu is called in to defeat the ruthless dictator and restore balance. What follows is a rollercoaster ride through Kafazu, the icy wastes of Siberia, and the verdant jungles of the Amazon. Hiryu even finds time to take down a huge flying battleship before he finally tracks Grandmaster Meio down to his well-guarded fortress.
Usually consisting of nothing more than a few short frames to deliver the setup for the next level, Strider’s cut-scenes stay in the memory due to the multiple languages used in each scene. “It was mainly because I wanted to give Strider a really exotic mood,” begins Yotsui. “When I was young there were no networks like we have today and it was only television that was able to show you all these exciting places from around the world. My impression was that the TV programmes imported from overseas were far more light-hearted and often featured adventures that saw explorers searching uncivilised jungles or going on ocean adventures. I was there thinking: ‘Wow! There is a world out there that we cannot communicate within the language we know!’ I wanted Strider to be able to run around an immense world that was filled with marvels, and I based it on those early TV shows that I would watch.”
Another spectacular boss battle. This time Strider flies around it and must then outrun a deadly chain reaction.
While Strider’s locations were exotic and totally different to its arcade brethren, the many bosses that Hiryu encountered were even more outlandish, continuing the coin-op’s distinctive feel. One minute you’re watching in awe as a council of Kafazu dignitaries morph into a gigantic sickle-wielding millipede, and the next you’re facing off against an enormous metallic gorilla, flying around a huge drone in a gravity-free containment unit, or battling a golden dragon after hitching a ride on the back of a dinosaur. And let’s not forget the climactic battle against Grandmaster Meio that had Hiryu leaping desperately around the screen while avoiding the boss’s devastating lightning attacks.
Interestingly, despite Meio’s close resemblance to Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine, Yotsui’s actual inspiration came from a completely different source, with the designer combing everything from his childhood memories to works of literature in order to create the bosses that made Strider such a memorable experience.
“Grandmaster Meio was actually inspired from an image I saw in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings,” he begins. “I got the idea of Urobolos from an old children’s picture book that I used to enjoy, while Mecha Pon was simply my homage to the Toho movie character Mechani-Kong. Lagoumechanic, on the other hand, was a little more convoluted. I saw it as an evolution of the dinosaurs on the Amazon level, but gave it the frame of a fowl. The attack where it reaches out at you with its huge claw represents a chicken scratching around for food. Finally, I based its head on the front of an F-16 fighter.”
Strider Hiryu is quick on his feet, allowing him to get out of all sorts of trouble.
Another interesting aspect of Strider’s inventive mayors is that they’re one of the first examples of the boss rush, which would go on to become a staple part of Capcom’s newer games, especially titles like Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe. After taking down robotic drones that look suspiciously like Return Of The Jedi’s AT-ST walkers, and facing a breathtaking anti-gravity section full of dangerous spikes and a drop into deep space, Hiryu has to contend with virtually every boss in quick succession, before finally using Urobolos to hitch a lift to the waiting Grandmaster Meio.
It’s a fantastic, if thoroughly draining, end to an astounding game, but Strider’s boss rush didn’t originate from any reason other than to get the most out of the CPS-1’s limited memory. “We were obviously working to a tight budget, so I simply ended up reusing the earlier bosses as a way of saving memory,” explains Yotsui. “The basic idea is to compound enemies by simply reusing the same sprites; it’s a simple educational process when you’re making videogames. Of course, I applied this same structure to the bosses, but did make them far tougher in order to challenge the player.”
You can read the rest of our Making Of Strider in issue 76. Buy it now from GreatDigitalMags.com
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