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Taito is one of the most venerable and respected names in the console and arcade business. Its late '70s hit, Space Invaders, remains one of the most iconic video games ever to be released. And the company has had major success in the new market with its Cooking Mama series, released by Majesco in the west (except, of course, on the iPhone and other mobile platforms, where Taito handles the business itself.)
The company's strategy is heavily factored around revisiting its classic series like Bust-a-Move and, more recently, its Darius series of 2D scrolling shooters -- with new Japanese PSP release Darius Burst.
Here, Gamasutra talks to Hiroshi Aoki, a 20-year veteran of the company who joined to create arcade shooters like the Darius series and has stuck with it since that time, working on everything from its '90s fighting game series Psychic Force to its odd attempt to enter the Devil May Cry-alike genre, Bujingai, starring Japanese rocker Gackt. His most recent work was as producer and lead planner of Space Invaders Extreme 2.
He has also lived through the 2005 Square Enix acquisition and has perspective on what Taito brings to the RPG house's business.
Can you give some of your personal game development background first?
Hiroshi Aoki: My background? Well, I joined Taito in 1989, and I worked on a series of arcade games over there. I didn't move to the consumer game market until after 2000 or so.
Can you name some of the titles that you've worked on?
HA: In the arcade business, the one that probably got the most support from gamers was Psychic Force, a fighting game. That turned into a series of sorts, and I both directed that game and did the programming for it. In the console market, there was an action game called Bujingai, the one that [popular musician] Gackt played the hero role in.
After that, there was Exit, the PSP puzzle game, and after that is the Space Invaders Extreme series. My current project, meanwhile, is Darius Burst.
Did you get to meet Gackt?
HA: What? (laughs) Just once.
I'm a big fan of his.
HA: (laughs) Oh, really?
I actually finished Bujingai.
HA: Really? Well, thank you very much!
For Darius Burst, are you involving any of the original team?
HA: Not with this game, no. There actually hasn't been much of any carry-over between development teams ever in the Darius series.
Of the previous Darius games, from which did you draw the inspiration?
HA: Well, there's Darius Gaiden in the arcade, as well as G-Darius. I think those two are the most popular titles in the series, and I think Burst contains a lot of elements from those two games.
Those are the best ones, so...
How heavily will you be pushing the nautical theme of Darius?
HA: Certainly, having boss battles against machines themed after aquatic creatures is one of the really recognizable aspects of any Darius title. We're definitely continuing that tradition.
What are your expectations for shooting games? Generally, the shooting genre appeals to a niche group -- do they make their money back? You worked on several shooters, and Taito's also got RayStorm HD, so, how well do you expect shooter games to sell?
HA: That's kind of a tough question. When people think about Taito, even today, one of the first images that come to their minds is the shooters we released in arcades. It was what we were good at, and since shooters were the most popular genre in arcades for a while, it's always been a major support for Taito.
More recently, though, Taito's kind of gone away from that, hasn't it? I joined this company because I was inspired Taito's shooters -- not just the gameplay, but also the back story and worlds built behind them -- so I've always had a desire to bring that sort of feeling, or texture, back into our games. That's what led to this sort of series of consecutive shooter releases we're seeing right now.