When you sit down with a high-level executive of a company like Cave, it’s difficult not to get overwhelmed. This is a studio with a lot of history behind it, arguably formed of developers that have reinvented the 2D shoot’em up, while aiming to keep the genre alive in today’s era of 3D first person blasters.
Tsuneki Ikeda is one of those shmup legendaries. He was at arcade powerhouse Toaplan for two years before it declared bankruptcy and closed its doors in 1994, with credits for V-V
under his belt. He helped form Cave with the company’s chairman Kenichi Takano, and now as CEO is leading a new wave of shoot’em up developers such as Hiroyuki Kimura, Hideki Nomura
and Yukihiro Masaki
He admits to being the man that told Nomura-san to “just create a game where huge ninjas fought huge battleships” for Akai Katana
, by the way.
I needn’t have been nervous to meet with the charismatic executive - the sharp business suit he wears defies a laid-back, somewhat informal attitude when talking about his company. Particularly when talking about the illustrious history of Cave and his time at Toaplan before it, Ikeda is happily reflective of his past accomplishments.
Asked what he felt was his proudest work, Ikeda has a think and actually names three games. “V-V
[at Toaplan] was the first game I ever worked on,” he smiles. “It’s funny actually, because this actually came about as a training exercise! There were four of us - one of which was Takano-san - and we were instructed to make a game out of the blue. That was the first thing we did at the company.”
Akai Katana Shin
With the promise of an arcade release if the project ended up being successful, Ikeda recalled the fights that occurred due to creative tension. “I learned a lot about game design from that experience,” he nods. The game was eventually pitched, and developed, as a spiritual sequel to Toaplan’s 1986 classic Slap Fight
“I was basically still a new employee when Toaplan went bankrupt,” he said of the events that led to the formation of Cave. “But the thing about Toaplan was that they wouldn’t tell you anything about the project you were working on. The gameplay, world setting, game elements... The management basically wouldn’t share any secrets - I wound up making V-V
on my own, pretty much.”
But still the studio’s name carried a lot of weight in the Japanese arcade industry. After Toaplan’s closure, pockets of employees bunkered down and formed their own studios. Cave was one of them, and remains the only one still known to be active. However, the new studio’s first project actually ended up being an attempt to mimic the gameplay style that Toaplan had mastered for years.
“We wanted to make a game that evoked that same Toaplan spirit, and we also had a request for a game that was very similar to that,” Ikeda recalls. “The gameplay was left up to us though, and I had been thinking about a new ship system at the time.” This system was used in what would become DonPachi
- a game that the CEO says was a creative failure. “We got criticised from all sides that our game was nothing like Toaplan! So in that regard I don’t think we accomplished what we were trying to go for.”
However, by the time it came to work on the sequel to the studio’s debut - DoDonPachi
- the exec explained that he felt like he understood more about the shooting game genre, and was free from living under Toaplan’s shadow. The result ranks high as his second proudest achievement - in some ways, it was the first true Cave game.
and its sequel, DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou
, stand out as two other games close to my heart. With DoDonPachi
, I had the opportunity to make something I thought would be really fun, and I was able to put my all into it and get the satisfaction I was looking for.”
2002’s Dai Ou Jou
, however, stands out in Ikeda’s mind for other reasons. “For this particular release, there was the quite real danger that if it didn’t succeed, that we would be dropping out of the arcade business. We were able to make it in an extremely short amount of time, but it ended up being very successful. I have a lot of memories working on that game.”