ZUN Didn’t Make It Into Comiket?! The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil and the Birth of Touhou’s Spell Cards, Story, and Characterization to Make Bullet Patterns Interesting
Applying to Comiket as a Music Circle
Let’s start from where we left off. You were busy at work, but you were also considering getting into Comiket.
Were you thinking of quitting the company then?
I resigned in 2007, so that’s still far ahead.
I applied for the 2001 Winter Comiket, but I didn’t feel like developing games yet. Instead, I decided to apply as a music circle and release an album. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the cut.
What was the name of the music circle that you applied under?
The Shanghai Alice Fantasy Ensemble. That name was originally for a music circle, after all.
That makes sense!
But I didn’t make it in. I did check out the place as a regular visitor and, like what I said last time, I thought the supply for doujin games didn’t meet their demand. I went, “Alright, I’ll give it a shot”, and applied as a game circle in 2002’s Summer Comiket. This time, I got through.
Column 1: The Origins of Shanghai Alice
The Beginnings of Touhou on Windows
On August 2002’s Comiket, you released the first ever Windows Touhou game: Touhou Koumajou ~ The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil*. You also released the aforementioned Hourai Ningyou ~ Dolls in Pseudo Paradise album as well.
*Touhou Koumajou ~ The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil
The first Windows Touhou shoot em’ up, this was the sixth title and would be the base that Perfect Cherry Blossom and Imperishable Night worked off of. It also showcased the spell card system, which would be a trademark of Touhou titles to come.
How did you fare in Comiket after being out of the scene for so long? Ya sold some stuff?
I sold everything. While I expected fans from the PC-98 era to come along, I didn’t expect them to come in big numbers. Four years might have passed, but the transition from PC-98 to Windows really changed things around.
Did you see Scarlet Devil as an update on what you had for game systems and worldbuilding in your PC-98 days?
I’ve always thought I was working from scratch with Scarlet Devil. In the past, I had this thought about making games in secret because I wanted to surprise people with a super good game. Haha.
I didn’t try to weave any story threads together, so anyone could start their Touhou journey from here without a problem. I also accumulated so many ideas while I wasn’t making anything then.
You mean, when you were working for Taito in developing games, you were also brainstorming about Touhou?
I sure was. Taito was interested in making a shoot em’ up, so I even tried my hand at proposing one.
Why didn’t Touhou come out of Taito then?
That wouldn’t be Touhou then. It’d be another game, just with similar ideas.
If that proposal went through, then you think it’d be a trademark of Taito?
If that happened, I don’t think Touhou would’ve had this success. Its popularity seems to stem from Comiket. You’d have a different approach on players’ feedback if you’re working for a company versus working solo. That said, indie studios aren’t that different from big companies these days.
When you were making Touhou for yourself, were you actually putting in effort for the company? Did you ever go “Man, I wanna quit” and just goof off elsewhere? Hehe.
I never thought of it like that. If I didn’t get paid by the company, I wouldn’t be able to make the game the way I wanted to. That’s why I also worked hard for the company.
Did you mention that you were getting a game out at Comiket?
Nope, not a mention. But the cat was out of the bag almost immediately, haha.
Developing Games on Windows
Why Spell Cards are Born
Did your philosophy on game design change from the PC-98 to the Windows era?
I added a lot more story and characterization for the Windows games.
What made you think adding story to the games was a good thing?
One big shortcoming in shoot em’ ups is that enemy attacks often lack a distinctive identity. I tried my hand in naming these attack patterns. After doing so, the bullets started to gain meaning and I thought they became more interesting.
And that’s what the spell card system* is about. It feels like those special moves from fighting games.
But I didn’t just stop at naming the bullet hell patterns. Without a story behind it, the names meant nothing. That’s why I believe that if you want to make the game’s bullet patterns interesting, one factor is including a story.
Shoot em’ ups back then had some story too, but nobody knew and it’s not like people cared either.
Also, the story in Touhou wouldn’t be interesting in and of itself, haha. But the lack of story elements make it hard to care about these bullet patterns. If I want to make players interested in them, I need to make them care about the characters who are using these patterns.
So what you’re saying is that to get someone interested in shoot em’ ups, you gotta make the characters cute and give easy to remember names for the bullet patterns.
Precisely. In the end, every element discussed previously all came down to this: it’s all about the bullets. If you don’t shoot, you die; if you avoid the attacks, you might clear the stage. My favorite thing in the world is shoot em’ ups, so if I want to make it as fun as possible, I’m going to try incorporating as many elements as I can.
All that said, I didn’t have to make the characters all girls or create the story the way Touhou is now. There’s a simple reason why I did all this: it’s because the elements I chose appealed to me. I thought it would be great if I could make a game that’s composed of all the things I like. But even with this philosophy, the spirit has always been about making the bullet patterns interesting.
To be continued in Part 6…
Interviewer: hiroyuki, Saitou Daichi
Writer: Seinosuke Itou
Photographer: Fukuoka Ryouji (GEKKO)
ZUN Didn’t Make It Into Comiket?! The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil and the Birth of Touhou’s Spell Cards, Story, and Characterization to Make Bullet Patterns Interesting End