By Derek Yu
April 7, 2005
Last year a little Japanese freeware game called Doukutsu Monotagari ("Cave Story") took the internet by storm. Doukutsu is a 2D non-linear platformer in the vein of console classics like Metroid and Castlevania. With finely-tuned gameplay and great graphics and sound, this gaming gem boasted a kind of polish that is rare in commercially-developed games, let alone a freeware title. With the help of an English translation patch (developed by rom-hacking heroes AGTP), Doukutsu quickly became cemented in indie gaming lore.
And while the game's gameplay and presentation were great, it was, in this author's opinion, the game's storyline - a sad but sweet tale involving an amnesiac robot soldier, a power-hungry mad scientist, and a race of rabbit-like creatures called Mimigas - that really raised the game to the level of "classic". Wonderfully paced, the game starts you with no background information but quickly draws you into a mysterious plot that is a joy to unravel. And all the characters, from the courageous and enthusiastic robot Curly Brace, to the meek engineer-turned-Mimiga Itoh, to the loveable henchman Balrog, are simple, but tenderly crafted.
With Doukutsu's overnight success, it's not surprising that players soon became curious about the game's sole creator, who goes by the moniker "Pixel". How long did the game take him to make (for a while, there were rumors bouncing around that the game took only three weeks to develop)? Does he work for the game industry? Just what the HECK is Balrog, anyway? A toaster?
Well, those questions can finally be laid to rest! It is with profound pleasure that I present the first ever English interview with Pixel. The interview is the result of many e-mails exchanged between myself and the wonderful Shih Tzu, who worked with AGTP on the official English patch. Many thanks to him for taking the time to translate the interview - it wouldn't have been possible without his hard work. The TIGSource readers as well as the Insert Credit forum members also deserve mad props for helping me develop the questions for the interview. Thanks, guys.
And finally, thanks to Pixel, of course, for doing the interview and for creating such a great game.
So, without further ado...
TIGSource: Pixel, many of our readers are interested in your background - age, occupation, hobbies, etc. Can you tell us a little about yourself personally?
What is a typical day like for you?
Pixel: At the time I started work on Cave Story, I was a student, but now I'm an office worker. My entire life had changed by the time this game was finished.
I commute to and from work by bicycle. I work as a software developer, but not with anything that has to do with games. At home, I help with household duties and child care. Any personal software development of mine takes place primarily late at night.
TIGSource: How long did you spend developing Doukutsu?
Pixel: It's been five years since I first thought to myself, "Hey, why not try making a game?" I developed Cave Story at my own pace, taking my time, and while doing so I released a few other smaller games as well.
TIGSource: How much of the game did you plan beforehand, and how much did you create as you went along? How much does the final game resemble your initial design?
Pixel: Before I started, I wrote the theme music (the Plantation theme), but other than that almost nothing was set in place, because even if I decide on something beforehand, I'm never able to realize it as I imagined.
Just about everything in the game was made up as I went along. Thanks in no small part to support from my friends, the scale of the game grew larger and the level of polish grew higher than I'd ever imagined.
TIGSource: What inspired you to create such a game? Was it simply to make a good game and entertain players, or something more?
Pixel: When I was little, the video games I played made me want to try making my own. I've been influenced by several games that are already out there, as I'm sure players have noticed.
TIGSource: The story of Doukutsu only hints at the world in which the game takes place. How much of this world have you created that we don't see in the game? Will we get to see more of it later on?
Pixel: Nothing of that world exists beyond what you see in the game, as I don't have the skills to construct anything further. I leave the details of Cave Story's world to the player's imagination.
TIGSource: The characters in Doukutsu are very memorable. Are any of them inspired by real life people?
Pixel: No, none.
TIGSource: By the way, what is Balrog, exactly? And what is his relation to Pooh Black, since they look so similar?
Pixel: I leave that to the player's imagination.
TIGSource: What kind of coverage has Doukutsu gotten from the game media in Japan?
Pixel: It has appeared in several magazines, with more on the way, I gather, but none of them have had a page focused on Cave Story in particular. Rather, it's been mixed in on pages with lots of other freeware titles.
TIGSource: Were you surprised by the game's success?
Pixel: I slaved away for long hours just for the joyous moment of completion, but the period I finally finished it in was such a hectic one that joy took a back seat to simple relief. Something like, "That's the last time I'll ever work on something that's such a pain..."
TIGSource: What were the easiest parts of developing Doukutsu? What were the hardest parts?
Pixel: Oh, it was a world of trouble. Thinking up each new development was fun, but making it all cohere took far too much doing.
TIGSource: What have you learned from making this game?
Pixel: I learned a number of things from certain anonymous coders who cheered on my work. I'm not good at looking things up, so it was a great boon to me.
TIGSource: Is there anything you would have done differently?
Pixel: As it turned out, the game reached completion successfully, and I'm quite satisfied with that. However, were I ever to make another game, I would hope that I'd be more earnest with the construction of things like the map editor and the various specialized data-management tools. (My work on those this time was a bit slapdash, and that led to problems down the line...)
TIGSource: Have you worked in the commercial games industry before? What are your thoughts about it?
Pixel: I've never worked in the game industry. I don't know much about the current state of the industry, but I gather that they're making lots of amazing games that would've been unthinkable in the old days. If I can ever spare the time I'd love to sit down and give them a good solid play.
TIGSource: Since releasing Doukutsu, have you received any requests to develop games commercially? Would you ever consider it?
Pixel: Some people say they'd like to see Cave Story come out on household gaming devices, but I'm not sure how to go about that. If I were to get into commercial development, I worry that I might not be able to create things the way I want to, so...
TIGSource: Do you prefer to work alone? Would you ever consider working with other people on games?
Pixel: I've worked with others on projects. It was quite fun. However, when you carry out the planning and creation as a group, my impression is that you lose a lot of flexibility and have to take on all kinds of new troublesome issues. That kind of situation is for the pros (the ones who make games as a job), and I don't see a great deal of merit in it for individuals.
TIGSource: Do you play games often? What are your favorite games?
Pixel: I think I used to play an inordinate amount of games. Ever since I decided to make my own, though, my play time has dropped dramatically, and these days I haven't had any time for games.
I think anyone who plays Cave Story will figure out which games are my favorites.
Art and Music
TIGSource: Your artwork, both pixel and traditional, is also very good. Who are your artistic influences?
Pixel: I've always liked pixel art. I've been influenced by all the different pixel art I've seen in games through the years.
TIGSource: How did you create the music for the game? Any musical influences?
Pixel: I don't know all that much about music, as I'm not a terribly good student. But what I do is put some notes together, give them a listen, and decide if they sound good or bad. If they sound bad I erase them, and if they sound good I keep them. Then, repeat.
TIGSource: Do you have any plans for future games?
Pixel: No, none.
TIGSource: Any plans for non-game development?
Pixel: I'm working on a music-writing tool.
TIGSource: Will there ever be a sequel to Doukutsu?
Pixel: I have no plans to make a sequel.
TIGSource: Will your games continue to be free to play?
Pixel: If the benefits of going shareware were to outweigh the benefits of freeware, I'd go with shareware. Right now, though, I don't see much point in shareware...
TIGSource: What is your favorite food? We must know!
Pixel: While there are countless flavors of onigiri (Japanese rice balls), I find that just freshly cooked rice, sprinkled with salt and wrapped in a sheet of nori (seaweed), is the most delicious.
TIGSource: In closing, is there anything that you would like to say to your fans?
Pixel: Thank you very much for playing Cave Story. If I ever work on a game in the future, I hope you will play it as well.
TIGSource: Thanks very much!
When I sent my questions to Shih-Tzu, I asked him to ask Pixel if there was a chance that he could attach a photo of himself, since I figured readers would be interested. I thought it was worth a shot, although my impression was that Pixel was probably a rather private person and would politely decline this request. And I was right!
But he was kind enough to give me some good stuff, anyway. Here's what he wrote:
"I can't release a photo, but I can write down some of my features.
Height: 166 cm (5 feet 5 inches)
Weight: 56 Kg (124 lb)
My legs are short. I have a rounded back and sloping shoulders. My clothing is almost never fashionable. I wear tights in the winter. I recently bought glasses for the first time.
Also, I'll attach a pixel-art portrait I drew a while back. You're welcome to use it if it'll come in handy.
I've attached the picture, of course. The caption reads, 'The 26-year-old programmer commuting to work. 10 minutes by bike, standing the whole way.'"
And here's the picture he attached:
All questions and comments about the interview should be directed here.
The Independent Gaming Source © 2005 Derek Yu
Doukutsu Monogatari ("Cave Story") © 2004-2005 Pixel