Super Godzilla returns in the Reiwa era! A complete translation of an interview with Super Godzilla producer Masato Takeno, as found in the booklet for the Super Godzilla Original Soundtrack released this past September by CINEMA-KAN. From the boss monster selection to a lesson in game development, Takeno looks back on his time on the Super Nintendo title.
As usual, very special thanks to Noah Oskow for the following translation!
Interview with Producer Masato Takeno
Here, we were able to engage in a wide-ranging discussion with Masato Takeno of the Toho Visual Division, who was in charge of the production of the game Super Godzilla. Now that some time has passed, we were able to talk about the game’s development, its music, and other episodes from the time.
―First of all, Mr. Takeno, please let us know about how you came to be involved with the game.
Takeno This was back in October of 1990, the year following my entry into Toho. I carelessly let slip that I liked games at the department, and ended up assigned to the game section. The next month, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (hereafter, SNES) launched, and with Godzilla games having been released for the original Nintendo and the Game Boy, the SNES looked to be next in line.
―So it was inevitable that a game would come out for the SNES as well.
Takeno Yes, that’s right. However, the Super Nintendo had only just come out, which presented quite a difficult situation considering the hurdles resulting from the launch environment at that time. This basically meant we had to act prudently. When I was assigned to the game department, we already had a shooting game called Super Aleste and a 3D golfing game lined up, and we were told “once you’ve completed the golf game, we’d like you to do a Godzilla game next.” And that’s how it went.
―Mr. Takeno, at the time, what were your own thoughts regarding video games?
Takeno The way things were at the time, there were many games being made on the cheap using licensed characters; people would even say “licensed games are shit games.” When dealing with my own Godzilla game, at the very least I personally felt strongly that I wanted to create a game which would not simply use the character, but would rather truly encompass what makes that character great.
―Can you tell us about how you christened the game “Super Godzilla?”
Takeno At the time, there were a lot of titles on the SNES which used names like “Super Blah Blah Blah” and so on. Our own game initially took on the tentative title of “Suupa Gojira [Super Godzilla].” However, it would be boring to leave it as just that, so we wondered if we couldn’t figure something else out. On the poster for Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), it had a tagline which went “Cho Gojira [Super Godzilla],” and the impact of that line must have stuck in my head. I remember basing our name on that line. Of course, there was also the masterful shooting game Cho Aniki which had been released as well. (Laughs.)
※The Japanese tagline for Godzilla vs. Biollante reads 「超ゴジラ それはゴジラ細胞から生まれた！」, roughly translated to “Super Godzilla – it was born from Godzilla cells!”
―How did you decide which monster characters would be appearing in the game?
Takeno Since we were making a Godzilla game, the first thing we did was to meet with Shogo Tomiyama, who was acting as producer for Toho Cinemas. This meeting included gaining consent for all this. When we asked, “may we have original kaiju appear in this game?” Mr. Tomiyama replied that “we have this design here readied for you, actually.” He then provided us with the planned character design for Bagan, he of the phantom film Mothra vs. Bagan. We were also introduced to Mr. Minoru Yoshida, a kaiju designer from the Heisei VS Series who had been in charge of designing Bagan. We asked Mr. Yoshida to create the design of “Super Godzilla,” who appears in the game’s climax.
―What about creating your design of the character “Super Godzilla?”
Takeno We asked Mr. Yoshida to make a design for Godzilla who, having overdosed on energy, had gone beyond Godzilla, becoming “Super Godzilla.” I believe it was Mr. Yoshida’s idea to give Godzilla those large horns and his mutated skeletal structure.
―By the way, although this game has the monster “Super Godzilla,” it’s said that it became the prototype for SpaceGodzilla, which came later.
Takeno With Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), the VS Series ended for the time being, with the next thing on the docket being the American version. However, with the postponement of the American version, in the state of having to hurriedly create the Japanese version of the subsequent work, they ended up creating the design for the new monster SpaceGodzilla – I believe that Mr. Tomiyama and Mr. Yoshida may have been subconsciously inspired by images of the character “Super Godzilla.”
―Could you tell us about your choices for the other enemy kaiju who appear in the game?
Takeno At the time, the Heisei VS Series was screening to rave reviews, so we wanted to be able to harvest as many of that crop of kaiju as possible. Also, in terms of Mechagodzilla from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, his film had not yet been completed at the time of the game’s development. The timing meant that we had no footage of him, but we still really wanted to use him. We created a graphic of the kaiju based on a decided-upon character design sketch, and I remember that we inquired to special effects director Koichi Kawakita: “What sort of attack methods will Mechagodzilla possess this time around?”
―Please tell us about the game’s production.
Takeno As a sales agency in Toho, without the sort of department which did in-house game programming and such, we had to entrust the production to a software house which carried out consumer game software development. Starting with the game designers, the software house also had programmers, graphic designers, and people who composed the compiled BGM tracks.
―I imagine the production of this SNES game must have required some tough work.
Takeno Back when I was a middle schooler, I would dabble in BASIC in order to make Gundam games and the like, I remember being shocked when, while assigned to this department, I found out that consumer-grade games were major productions that took a good deal of funding and tens of people to make over the course of some years. There were also dedicated development tools for the SNES, and programmers used these for their programming. On the other hand, while we had the ability to drastically extend expressive abilities with the SNES compared to the original Nintendo, this just meant that making the game was all the more difficult for these people. They created this game, becoming increasingly more ragged as they worked multiple all-nighters, one after another.
―The production for games like these do tend to come with quite a bit of trouble…
Takeno Yes, we did have a fair bit of trouble. (Laughs.) Producing a video game like this for the consumer market is akin to thrusting your hand into a black box… Firstly, it’s extremely hard to get things done within your scheduled timeframe, and with our previous project still incomplete, it makes it quite difficult to get started on any new project. During all that, we had various staff from the software house gradually quitting and leaving… The staff we had left were now tasked with making this game, but the drafts they supplied all seemed to function like chess games which relied on Godzilla characters; for a while there, it seemed like we were on the verge of a fairly dangerous moment for the project.
I felt that I didn’t want to allow Super Godzilla to turn into a run-of-the-mill licensed character game, but the make-up of the game just couldn’t seem to solidify. Understanding my feelings, some of the young workers on staff enthusiastically offered to create a game that resembled Street Fighter II, which was hyper-popular at the time, but when I inquired whether they could really make a game like that, their response was “…please allow us around three years of development time…”
Essentially, it’s not that good of a thing to have producers getting too involved in the make-up of a game. Still, I remember, day after day, repeating these meetings with the production staff from the software house, discussing just how good of a game they could create within the confines of their development parameters. My greatest hope was to create a game which would feel like being able to control Godzilla while watching a CinemaScope movie. This ended up taking on the form of controlling Godzilla, seen from overhead, with a controller connected to the map on the lower half of the screen. From there, the idea for the “Fighting Spirit” system, which serves as the core of the game, came out during a meeting. This system involves doing one’s best to hold back Godzilla from moving forward, all while his fighting spirit begins to overflow. This allows you to build up that power into a special killer move. Basically, I ended up going beyond my original role as producer, and held an outsized weight in terms of the interventions I would engage in. As I said, this isn’t really a good thing, but the truth is the most fun I had on the project was when I was involved with the real production of the game, wherein we needed to confirm the form the game would take; this needed to be done in way in which we could meet the release schedule while facing a variety of constraints. Thinking of the map mode in the first half as the essential point of the game, we placed a separate order for its design from Yuke’s Co. Ltd., who would soon experience great success with their WWE games.
―I have this image of the final check after the finishing of the game being a pretty tough thing in of itself.
Takeno The scariest thing with consumer games are errors, known as bugs. With modern software, we can now use the internet to easily erase bugs via version updates, but the game cartridges of the time didn’t allow for such options. What was amazing about Nintendo was that they not only performed cartridge checks for their own in-house games, but also for games sold by third parties like ourselves. Their staff of dozens of people spent hundreds of man-hours playing through our game, finding all sorts of issues for us. Of course, if you can’t correct those points and clear out the bugs, you can’t release the product for sale, and we did have points where we spent a good bit of time while our programmers stressed over how to fix these bugs, which Nintendo had pointed out to us. The release date had been decided, and the deadline for completion was fast approaching. During that period, I spent many a day with an anxious pain in my stomach.
―From here, I’d like to ask you some questions about the music in Super Godzilla.
Takeno Michiharu Hasuya composed the background music featured in our game. He was a composer with a strong record involving game music, including being in charge of Tecmo’s Solomon’s Key and Rygar. I think that Junko Yokoyama, who’s featured in the credits, was likely Mr. Hasuya’s assistant. She arranged the various representative songs by Akira Ifukube, like “Godzilla Title,” “Godzilla’s Resurrection,” and “Great Monster War March,” and also weaved together the original musical compositions created by Mr. Hasuya, creating background music that really matched the scenes within the games.
―Continuing on this theme, I’ll ask some questions regarding the Super Godzilla music collection CD.
Takeno At the time, the Nintendo had 8-bit music, while the SNES had 16-bit music. However, these music generators made for music of poor quality, so it was popular at the time to release game music CDs with arrangements of the BGM played throughout the game. It was also brought to my attention that we might create a music collection CD for Super Godzilla in this same fashion. For this product, this meant compiling the BGM played during the game, as well as that from the music collection. I think when comparing listening to these two, I think it’s more fun to listen to the music while playing the game itself.
※The “Super Godzilla Super Famicom Music Collection” was released in 1993, and contained 8 arrangements based on music from the game. These tracks are also present in the Super Godzilla Original Soundtrack release.
―I believe the name Naoyuki Kato came up in terms of the head of illustration for Super Godzilla.
Takeno Although various incidents interceded to make us unable to use it, the reality is that Mr. Kato provided us with the main visuals and designs for the packaging for the game. We had Mr. Kato provide the main visuals for our previous project, Super Aleste. I felt especially excited at the idea of having the person who drew the powered suits for the SF paperback Starship Troopers for Hayakawa, which was attached to Studio Nue, draw his own version of Godzilla for us. I also appreciate Mr. (Noriyoshi) Ohrai and Mr. (Yuji) Kaida, but I wanted to see Naoyuki Kato draw Godzilla more than anything. We went as far as testing out a poster featuring this Godzilla, drawn by Mr. Kato, and seeing it really excited me. This was a Godzilla firmly placed within Kato’s stylistic world. Sadly, we were unable to use it, and it all ended up vanishing like an apparition. However, it was later included in the a published book of Kato’s collected art (“SF Artist Naoyuki Kato: Drawings from Time and Space” from Laputa Publishing, released in 2007), and I truly think it would be wonderful for many people to see it within its pages.
―Ah, that’s right, I’d also heard that when this game was sold in foreign markets, that the Mechagodzilla appearing in it was the Showa-era version…
Takeno Yes, that’s correct. It’s true that abroad, the Showa Mechagodzilla enjoys an overwhelming preponderance of popularity, so we changed the graphics for Mechagodzilla based on the request of Toho International (currently the Toho International Department), who handled the sales of foreign publications at the time.
―Looking back, what sorts of thoughts do you have about this game?
Takeno The development of the game in question ended up taking three years, and was plagued with a variety of restrictions and difficult situations, but I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when the game was packaged and sent out without issue. Given the range that was possible for our software house and the in-game system we had arrived at given those limits, I had been suffering under constant worries over whether our product could really be worthy to be called a “video game.” Was our Fighting Spirit-based battle system too much, after all…? Had we perhaps not coordinated properly in making the map mode in the first half? Those sorts of worries. I was wracked with fear that Super Godzilla would indeed turn out to be one of those “licensed games are shit games” situations.
Recently, however, there are people who upload gameplay videos of our game to YouTube and Niconico, and when I find videos of them playing all the way up to the ending, it makes me extremely happy. “Ah, they’re really playing our game.” I felt joy at this reunion with Super Godzilla, which, after such a long time, still endured past its own era. And with the re-release of our music CD, I feel very grateful.
―Lastly, please give us a word for those who are surprised at the release of this CD.
Takeno When a CD like this goes on sale, I feel as though the hard work of those who made the game or composed its music are rewarded. This is a reward we receive from far beyond the era in which such hard work was done. What I think would be best of all would be for those who listen to our CD to think back on those times, and say “how nostalgic.”
―Thank you very much for your spending so much time with us today.
Interviewer/Tetsu Nakamura, Natsuhiko Shimada (Draft composition/Tetsu Nakamura)
Date and time of interview/July 6th, 2020 at the Disk Union Cinema Movie CD DVD Record Shop
About Masato Takeno
Born in September of 1966. Started working at Toho in 1989, where after half a year of training, he worked on theatrical pamphlets within the operations department. In his second year working at the company, he was placed as a producer in the consumer game production section. From his work in the management of digital contents, he eventually began to manage the production of home media such as DVDs and Blu-ray.
Super Godzilla, as drawn by Naoyuki Kato. (No cropping)