Interview with Ryuichi Nishizawa
Ryuichi Nishizawa is one of the founders of Westone Bit Entertainment - the name of the company is derived from his last name ("nishi" = "west"), as well as fellow founder Michishito Ishizuka ("ishi" = "stone"). He is one of the major figures behind the Wonder Boy and Monster World franchise, having directed, programmed and designed nearly all of them. Nishizawa-san graciously accepted our request for an interview to discuss their development, as well as to elaborate some of the more confusing points of the series.
What was your role in the Wonder Boy/Monster World series?
Wonder Boy (AC): Direction, Game Design, Level Design, Sound
Sega or Hudson developed all of the other ports. The only version we ported was the Game Gear version of Monster World II. We made it more fun, too.
How was the original Wonder Boy conceived?
I want to make an action game with the feeling of pressure. Therefore I made a horizontal scrolling platformer where the player could not stop moving. It was too difficult, and I was unable to play it, so I regretfully had to change it. That became Wonder Boy. The skateboarding item is a remnant of the initial plan.
If I understand correctly, when creating Wonder Boy, you originally wanted a platformer that scrolled automatically. Was this the inspiration for Wonder Boy III: Dragon's Lair?
Your inference is not bad. But, the answer is no. Because Monster Lair had two players at the same time, it was easier to play an automatically scrolling game.
Can you elaborate on the relationship between Westone and Hudson? Did Sega actually own the Wonder Boy character? Many of the Wonder Boy games were released on non-Sega platforms by Hudson, but starring different characters, like Takahashi Meijin, Bikkuriman and the beetle guy in Dynastic Hero.
"Wonder Boy" is only a trademark that Sega owns. My company owns all of the copyrights. Therefore, there is no problem in letting the Wonder Boy character appear in any game that Hudson releases. However, Hudson almost always changed the character...Why was that? I once politely asked the staff at Hudson, but they would not tell me.
Was there any communication between the Hudson team that made Takahashi Meijin and Westone? The later games in that series (the fourth for the Famicom series, the second for the Super Famicom) seem to borrow heavily from the Monster World structure.
My company was not involved with the game design for the Adventure Island series at all. I'm not really familiar with Adventure Island 2 and Super Adventure Island 2 either. Of course, my company still approves the license. I did, however, supervise the first Super Adventure Island. But otherwise, the staff at Hudson developed them on their own.
What prompted the switch from the straight-up platforming of Wonder Boy to the action-RPG mechanics of Monster Land?
It's because I got absorbed in Wizardry. After Wonder Boy was released we played "the great game" every day while avoiding work. Therefore, I wanted to combine RPG elements with an action game.
Is the character from Wonder Boy (Tom Tom), supposed to be the same character from Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Bocke)?
I'll leave it your imagination whether they are the same character.
By the way, TomTom and Tanya are not the names that I originally gave them. They were initially called Bocke and Tina. Tom Tom may be the name given by Sega for the overseas editions.
What were Monster Land's biggest influences? I thought maybe Tower of Druaga or Dragon Buster, since they both combine action and RPG elements in an arcade setting.
I often played Tower of Druaga and Dragon Buster, but I don't like either of them very much. They made me irritated, both maybe because there is no one to talk in the stages. On the other hand, there was no one to talk to in Wizardry either. Haha!
But, I love the music of Dragon Buster:
Have you seen the European console ports? They have some...interesting artwork. Personally, it looks more like Wonder Boy is wearing a diaper than a loincloth.
I did not know there was a version of Monster Land for the Amiga. I tried looking at Youtube in order to verify its quality. I found it here. It looks like the real thing, I was not aware of its existence.
That costume was also known as a diaper even in Japan. Because it was so lovely, I was quite fond of it. I even used it as my icon on Twitter.
On the Amiga, I must've played "F1 World Championship" a million times. Game software back then, that was the most realistic game on the Amiga, with beautiful graphics. Those were the good old days.
The original Monster Land didn't seem to have an official English arcade release, but there was a (badly translated into English) bootleg. Are you familiar with this, or is there any story behind it that you're aware of?
Yes, I am aware of it. It is a MAME, isn't it? (Youtube)
Hardware is always evolving. When I want to confirm a game I developed in the past, I use MAME. It is a very convenient program. :-) At that time, I knew there was an English version. I did not know whether it was a pirated edition. Because I am interested in making new products, I do not mind these things from the past.
The recent Virtual Console/XBLA/PSN versions of Monster Land use the same English translation as the European 8-bit computer ports from many years before. Do you know why this was? Was there originally an official English translation that just wasn't released?
I developed the English version of "Monster Land" in 1987. When the staff of Sega was in charge of the English translation, I kept a record of it. In other words, the English (computer) versions were based off this translation. But I do not know whether Sega sold the English (arcade) version abroad. The English version delivered this time is based on the master ROM from 1987. The producer of this project found out the ROM looking in a Sega warehouse. Therefore this is a completely genuine article.
Is there any particular story behind that smoking, eye-patching wearing pig shopkeeper in Monster World II? He's such a silly character!
One of the designers drew that on their own. The instructions I gave her was to create "a character like an animal but not an animal". Thank you for liking the "one-eyed pig".
In Japan, Monster World III for the Mega Drive was technically released before Monster World II for the Game Gear. How did this come to be?
When we were working on Monster World III and the Game Gear was released, Sega wanted to port Monster World II from the SMS to the GG. However, the GG is a portable game machine with a tiny LCD screen, so it was difficult to port without compromising the game. It was necessary to remake the game because of the small screen. I then decided to develop the remake myself. This was the only port developed in-house. Since I made Monster World II twice, I was able to perfect it.
Do you know why Monster World IV was not released outside of Japan until recently? It's such a beautiful game, that it seems odd that Sega would not localize it when it was initially published.
I do not know the reason. At that time, Sega of America and Sega of Europe just decided not to sell it. They may have thought it would not have been commercially successful. Alternatively, there may have been other big titles at the time, and they may just have been too busy.
Was there a specific reason behind moving away from "Wonder Boy" and putting in Asha, the female hero, in Monster World IV?
Because of the constantly changing nature of the series, it was necessary to come up with something new and different from MW3. With good intentions, I wanted to betray the expectations of the fans, but in a good way. About the protagonist becoming a female, there were some pros and cons, some from within the team, but I was glad to change it to a girl. Asha's running animation is incredibly adorable.
Was Westone involved in the recent Sega Vintage Monster World collection? If so, was the new translation of Monster World IV handled by Westone or Sega?
My company was not involved in the development of the Monster World Vintage Collection, we only granted the license. We left it to Yousuke Okunari, a producer at Sega. He has the nickname "Game Archaeologist", as he is a big fan of retro games. His passion for retro games is second to none. It's no exaggeration to say that the "Monster World Vintage Collection" was born from his obsession. If you play some of the Sega Vintage series that have been released, you will be able to understand his passion.
The translation of MW4, under his supervision, was a brand new product. We have heard that his translation was completely redone. His uncompromised enthusiasm is amazing. I am very grateful to him. Because of him, you are able to play the MW series on big screen televisions.
Have you played Shantae, which feels to many like a spiritual successor of Monster World IV? If so, what are your thoughts on it?
I only found out about Shantae just recently. It was never released in Japan. Recently, I downloaded "Shantae: Risky's Revenge" for the iPhone and played it. There is indeed a similarity to MW4. The heroine and the world are all drawn with beautiful 2D graphics, and the excellent controls are all aspects it has in common with the MW series.
My impression is that Shantae is a very high quality game. WayForward's staff is very talented. In Japan, 2D graphics designers are becoming rare. I would like to release 2D games on a regular basis from now on.
What is your favorite Monster World game?
Monster World II. I loved it so much I made it twice.
Are you familiar with how the series was handled in Brazil? The games now star characters from the "Monica's Gang" series.
Yes, I am familiar with it. Because of the popularity of Monica in Brazil, Wonder Boy was able to draw fans over there. There is even a fan page for it on Facebook, but unfortunately I cannot read Portuguese. :-(
Is there any chance for a new Monster World or Wonder Boy installment in the future?
Yes, I'd like to make one if I have the opportunity. I have ideas for both Wonder Boy and Monster World already in my head. Of course, I want to make both in 3D. I want to start from creating an image of the world, but where to find a good 3D artist?
Where do you think a new Monster World game would work best; digital distribution platforms (such as WiiWare, XBLA and PSN), handheld consoles or television consoles?
It is a very puzzling problem. Because I want the world of Monster World to be filled with deep emotion slowly and carefully, a console game may be better. But, as for me, a handheld game may be better because I want children to play. Please tell me which game platform is appropriate for MW.
How do you feel about so many independent Western developers taking inspiration from Japanese video games of the 80's and 90's?
I was a boy who loved movies. I was very impressed when watching "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Star Wars" in the movie theaters. It was an opportunity and I came to think that I wanted to do creative work such as the filmmaking. My production activity is always affected by movies, from Hollywood in particular. In other words, I get inspiration from Western creators, too. The game industry has become huge. Therefore game developers must make products for a global market. In the near future, the developer of various countries will combine teams and will come to develop a game.
The PC Engine game Blood Gear is referred to as Aurail Scenario 2 in the credits, so it's meant to be a sequel to the Sega arcade game. How did this development come about? It seems to parallel Wonder Boy, in that it started out as an arcade game, then became an action-RPG for the console audience.
That's an extremely geeky question (laughes). I didn't even think Blood Gear or Aurail were released in foreign countries. I don't even think there's anyone in Japan who can answer this question! (laughes)
I think that calling it "Aurail Scenario 2" was a joke from the younger staff members developing Blood Gear. Aurail was produced for and known by hardcore gamers. Did you enjoy it?
Last year, a soundtrack was published for an unreleased Westone game called Tokei Jikake no Aquario (時計じかけのアクワリオ). Unfortunately information about this game is scarce. Do you remember anything about it, or why it was not released? There's only one screenshot currently out there, and it looks like it has a really cool visual style similar to the Monster World games. (On a side note, you wouldn't happen to have any more screenshots or art still remaining from this game, would you?)
"Aquario of the Clockwork" was the last arcade game developed by my company. I had been working and suffering for a long time to complete it, but the location test results were poor. It was an eccentric action game with three player simultaneous play. The graphics were quite excellent, but it was not released, unfortunately. The program is located in the archives of my company, so I do not have any screenshots.
If "Aquario of the Clockwork" were released as part of the "Sega Vintage Collection", would people be interested in buying it? I would be very interested to know. :-)Thanks for your time, Nishizawa-san! Please check out the Monster World Fan page on Facebook to share your thoughts on the series! Perhaps with enough interest, there will be a new Monster World game!