Cave On Developing For Japanese And Overseas Audiences

By Ishaan . June 13, 2010 . 11:15am


As part of a rare and insightful interview with Develop magazine, members of Cave discussed how they approach developing shoot-em-ups for the Japanese audience and how, going forward, they feel they will develop them for a Western audience via their iPhone releases and other avenues. Here’s an excerpt:


Espgaluda II is one of your first games to see release on home platforms outside of Japan. How does considering an international audience affect how you design a game when first creating it?


If by design you mean graphic design, Deathsmiles II and Espgaluda II were both designed with Japanese domestic users in mind, so we went with a design that pressed human characters instead of ‘ships’ to the forefront. However, if we look at shooting games supported overseas — especially North America and Europe — we think that stylish looks like those of Geometry Wars and Rez, should be taken into consideration.


With regards to game design itself, although 2D scrolling shooters are still the mainstream in Japan, overseas we see topdown arena shooters with multi-directional shots, or full 3D FPS and TPS games, as the mainstream, and we think it may be important to tailor our games towards that direction.


Interestingly, later in the interview, Cave refer to the genre as “bullet heaven,” rather than bullet hell, which is the term most of us are familiar with. To read the entire interview, grab the online copy of Develop magazine #106 at this link. (It’s free)


Many thanks to Denpa no Sekai for the awesome tip!

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  • RupanIII

    Cool, downloading the mag now.

    “With regards to game design itself, although 2D scrolling shooters are still the mainstream in Japan, overseas we see topdown arena shooters with multi-directional shots, or full 3D FPS and TPS games, as the mainstream, and we think it may be important to tailor our games towards that direction.”

    About that last bit tho: don’t. :P

    • Once again, a developer is suffering from me-too syndrome in trying to mainstream their game for a wider audience, but threatening to alienate their core crowd in doing so.

      • RupanIII

        Yep, happening a lot these days

  • Save for the cutesy parody shmups, I think audiences of all backgrounds can enjoy a good shmup. The genre is more open to all aesthetics than others, which is why a “realistic” military-themed shmup is no less valid than one with espers flying around in a brassy steam-powered world.

  • thaKingRocka

    Don’t even worry about us, Cave, except to give us the games. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing. That’s what we love.

  • Generally when Japanese developers specifically target Western players and mindsets with games, the end result is usually…

    You know.

    • EvilAkito

      I definitely have to agree. Japanese developers need to learn that pandering to western tastes (or at least their very warped idea of what western tastes actually are) simply alienates the western gamers who enjoy Japanese style games and, in most cases, fails to appeal to people who prefer western games anyway, making the whole effort a lost cause.

      • Code

        rar, I think the problem is when Japan tries making westernized games, they sometime lack that ‘something’ which just leaves them feeling rigid and empty. Reminds me of 0 Day Attack on Earth, and Death by Cube, they both felt kind of pseudo to me T_T’ At the same time when the West tackles trying to make eastern style shmups a lot of the time, they have the same problem. Which sums up my post below in a much friendlier bite size sentence >w<'

      • agreed. There is a reason we turn away from US-made games or have a preference for Japan-made this or that. For them to deviate too far from their formulas that work, well are they CAVE anymore? Are they wanting to try new things or are they wanting to just expand their market share? Clearly, people want to buy their games when they are not region locked. I suppose from a business standpoint, it would make sense to want to appeal to US since technology/gaming is now considered in many ways #1 in US.

        What I don’t get is why Japan isn’t thinking about how to recapture that awe from the 80s-90s. There was something “different” almost futuristic(?) about their products. Surely all the GREAT games were releasing in Japan first and then US back in the day. Maybe the Internet partially destroyed Japan’s mysticism.

        Anyway, this could go on for hours. I guess I just hope CAVE doesn’t ruin their brand name in USA. As much as I love them, I won’t support an FPS unless they revolutionize the genre, as I hate it except for Metroid Prime. I can’t get enough bullet heaven: animated sprites, wonderful colors, pumping BGM.

        Cave won’t know until they try, as region free JPN games like Mushihimesama never make it into Gamestop or Walmart. If US penetration fails, I say just go back to region free and let everyone who loves what you do be able to enjoy it.

      • Exactly. I’m sure we all eagerly await Quantum Theory.

    • malek86

      Japanese companies trying to do a western-styled games, usually fail. Western companies trying to do a japanese-styled game (though it happens less often), usually fail.I say it’s better if everyone remains in their area of expertise. Of course, not that companies shouldn’t try some different things once in a while, but if the end result is almost invariably bad, there’s clearly some problems here.Rather than trying to imitate the other’s style and utterly fail, they should just take a few pointers and put them on their own style. There’s certainly room for both parties to improve. For example, some western games could use more colours, while some japanese games could work with less linearity. If they find a way to improve their own style by borrowing a couple features from overseas, I’m all for it. Just, don’t blindly imitate them.

      • SeventhEvening

        It’s like when hollywood attempts to remake Japanese movies. It becomes a bloody nightmare….and not in a good way.

  • ECM

    No more arena shooters! Please! And here’s another neat idea: make a game that’s accessible to more than just hardcore shooter fans. (My friends see me playing these games and they are instantly turned off due to the screen-choking amount of bullet rain–and these are people that, once upon a time, enjoyed shooters when there still primarily shooters first, dodgers second.)

  • Slashlen

    They could always stick with human characters, but add a bald space marine to every game.

  • Aoshi00

    It depends on my mood, sometimes I like ships, sometimes I like people.. maybe they should make people in ships, like Dodonpachi and Ketsui, those still have military theme. Of course, you have suggestive ones like Mushi or Deathsmiles. I like Jpn themed shmps too, like Musha and Sengoku Blade.. Guwange needs to come out alrdy (never played that one before).

    I like Geometry War or Zombie Apocalypse too, but I think Cave should stick to what they do best, just side scrolling or vertical shooters, because nobody makes them anymore, not as good as them anyway.Germany vs. Australia 2-0 half time yay :)

    • And at full time Australia earnt a 4-0 drubbing.

      I’d be sorry, but I can’t help but wonder at all those Australians – “What other result were they seriously expecting?”

      I instead settled for winning a bet, because I like capitalising on other people’s misery.

      For most part, at the end of the day, my only real concern is and always will be (to everything) ‘Will their approach work?’

      If they can make their beliefs work for them, all the better for them, because just like everyone else in the industry, they’re in it to turn a profit.

      I just personally make sure I’ve got options on both sides of the fence…

      • RupanIII

        To paraphrase one of the announcers, “The socceroos taking an absolute spanking here today..”

        • Australia always takes a drubbing, when they get their egos inflated. For those Australians reading – “They were playing against the Germans. What were they expecting OTHER than an absolute smashing?”

          I have to admit, finding pins to pop is so much fun. Particularly when you can cash in on it.

          Anyway, for most part, as long as cave can evolve while continuing to make good games, it doesn’t concern me WHAT they make – If they don’t experiment or try anything new, they’ll stagnate, and that’s a problem in itself…

          • RupanIII

            I wouldn’t mind if they incorporated some Western elements without losing what makes them unique. It’s just that so many Japanese devs don’t pull this off well. To echo what Code and others have said, too often it comes off as forced, pseudo, pandering, etc. Take FFXIII. Sure it’ll make S-E boatloads of cash, but ask anyone who’s played FFX and earlier if it compares and they’ll tell you no. But then, it’s becoming more about the $ than the more personal vision of Sakaguchi’s FFs. That’s part of the reason I find Kojima’s games so interesting. Sure, they make a lot of money, but they still feel personal, something of a gaming auteur.

  • Code

    rar, honestly compared to a lot of people I’m still really a noob when it comes to shmups, but around 2004 I found myself exploring this marvelous genre while looking for fresh interesting challenges, and upon sitting down with some shmups I absolutely fell in love. Sure I had played them before, but I guess at that point in my life I finally realized and could appreciate the rawness and beauty of shmups.rar, I’ve definitely noticed this myself with shmups how there definitely is a gap between east/west ideals >w<' Don't get me wrong I do love Geometry Wars/Geometry Wars 2 and there is a good handful of western shmups which have enjoyed (many of them indie too~!).My problem though with the western branch it feels like it heavily lack the diversity and creativity of eastern shmups. I love Geometry Wars, but even I can admit that ever since it came out, the west has seemingly had a hard time budging from that formula. Sure you might have eastern shmups with stereotypical spaceships, but you still get all these amazing games, that all feel marginally different — they have there own worlds and mechanics, not one person here can argue that R-Type and Gradius, feel similar, and that’s like the late 80 — diversity has always been so incredibly strong between eastern shmups.

    It’s that creativity and diversity I sorely miss in western shmups. I mean early on the sort of abstract look many western shmups have gone for I thought was really neat and pretty fun, but eventually when the west’s shmups kept on heading that direction (western, and lots of indie) I started to become concerned. There is a lack of growth, an urge to be unique. I mean if Cave wants to explore the western shmups, go for it maybe you can inspire some diversity. But I think it’s important to keep in mind what makes your game’s so special, and why Japan has always reigned king in this genre.

    Also just on a related note if anyone hasn’t played Hydorah yet (it just came out), I HIGHLY recommend this indie shmup. Don’t write this off, despite it looking like Gradius (honestly Gradius is one of my least favorite shmups >w<''), this shmup has a feel all it's own!

    • Aoshi00

      I hope Cave makes more 2D shmups though for their new titles instead of 3D (like Deathsmiles II X which looks kinda cheap, the 3D models aren’t very detailed at all except maybe the bosses). It just seems that a certain charm is lost when it goes 3D, looking like a bad indie game if it’s not very well made. If Cave does make a top-down arena shooter, I hope they would incorporate some interesting themes like you said, I remember I loved Smash TV though. We all need more 2D sprite fighters, platformers (Muramasa), and shmups. BTW, I’m like you getting into this genre rather late, I mean I played Salamander, Gradius or Parodius before, but it’s not until the 360 ports I start appreciating shooters again. Made me even get an arcade stick (which is good for Super SF IV too)

      • Code

        rar, totally agree lol >wwww<''

        • RupanIII

          I played plenty of horiztonal shmups, but only very casually vertical ones until Ikaruga came out. There was so much hype surrounding it, I got a DC for it. That first stage entrance was epic, blasting off with that BGM. After that I starting importing Cave’s stuff on PS2. I wonder why they switched to X-Box this gen

  • Please don’t change your ways Cave….I’m not a fan of those types of shooters you mentioned…

  • godmars

    the annoying thing is that during the 80s and 90s they pretty much had the formula about “catering” to the West down pat. Trouble is they want/need more than the anime fanbase has to offer. Nevermind Western growing aversion to sexed-up 10 and 8 year old girls while there’s almost nothing but loli and moe characters in games and on TV.

    • RupanIII

      Yea, if you can extend beyond the anime fanbase to the mainstream there’s big bucks to be made. I was surprised to see that in the interview tho, you think of Cave as being really hardcore and not one to waver from what they specialize in. Of course, it was just a passing comment in an interview.. for now anyway heh. Nice to see there’s someone else who thinks the moe focus has grown a bit out of hand. I don’t mind it as a genre and actually like some moe shows, but I think in the 00s (I refuse to say ‘aughts’ :P) it went beyond, kinda starting to dominate and cause other genres to dwindle, at least in anime. I think in addition to U.S. publishers bursting the market bubble, the market in Japan has changed and stuff like Jyuu-issai Moe Nurse Piku-Piku-chan: One-chan Pantsu High School Deluxe plus+ Rabu!!1 just doesn’t have the same reach. In any case, maybe it was cause I was preoccupied with Uni until very recently, but I didn’t notice as many classics in other genres in the 00s like there were in the 80s/90s. The Akiras, the Cowboy Bebops, the Evangelions, stuff that can really hold its own as art. I mean, Miyazaki’s still going strong, and Anno is remaking Eva, but overall I think the market has kind of narrowed to moe. But I digress, I’m getting off-topic here

  • Artavasdus

    – (double post :P )

  • Artavasdus

    “…overseas we see topdown arena shooters with multi-directional shots, or full 3D FPS and TPS games, as the mainstream, and we think it may be important to tailor our games towards that direction.”Yeah, because western Cave fans have been importing your danmaku shmups (buying japanese X360s in the process) only to push the development of a low budget japanese fpstps done by people who have absolutely no experience with those genres. I could have understood an interest in mixing their style with that of the western shmups (that could actually be very interesting), but this kind of talk about tps and fps is a bit mind-boggling.I really can’t understand this kind of reasoning, and Cave was the last developer I would have expected to utter statements such as those. They manage to sell 20k copies with some of their ports and to have one of their games localized in the USA and the first thing they think isn’t “japanese and western fans like us for our tradition, let’s keep up the good work and spread the shmup love” but “hey, western fps and tps sold three zomgillion copies, maybe we should do that too!”.Rants aside, I don’t think that this statement implies any kind of actual development (at least not for now, since they are probably still working on their shmup ports lineup).

    • puchinri

      I thought it actually sounded logical. Not necessarily like cash-cowing logic, but if it’s mainstream, it must be what the people enjoy so it’s something to consider doing. It certainly leads to the logic of more money earned, but it’s still a matter of what everyone seems most interested in.

  • I’d really like to buy any and everything CAVE can throw at me, but they seem to have something against releasing their games on the PS3. I don’t like playing shmups on the 360’s controller, and their lack of PS3 releases renders my ability to import moot.

    • Has anyone ever asked them why this is? I would be very curious as to whether or not there’s a reason we PS3 owners get ignored by them.

  • 5parrowhawk

    I don’t see why human characters per se wouldn’t work for the West, provided they’re well-executed and – relatively – culturally neutral. Think ESP Ra.De rather than ESPGaluda – the idea of teenagers in a near-future context with telekinetic powers etc. is similar enough to your average superhero flick that it still works, as opposed to “flying gothlolis” or “girl in ersatz schoolgirl outfit minus panties riding on giant beetle”.

    Cave – ESP Ra.De II. Do it. (And please give us a console port of ESP Ra.De as well.)

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