Being a staple of the shmup arcade scene in Japan as it is, to think of Cave lacking a presence in the local Game Center is inconceivable. But while tourists may still gasp in awe at the arcade houses in Japan today, seemingly bustling with activity, the reality is very different for Ikeda. “When I was making shooters, back in the hey-day of the arcades as they were called, names like Toaplan and Cave were really big. Our games were an order of magnitude more successful then than they would be today.
“That’s not to say it was easier back then by any means, but because of the activity and attention you had a lot more room to play with in terms of the development schedule. You were able to take the time to make the game you wanted and to create something really effective.” As time has passed, Ikeda exclaims, consumers have higher demands and get bored of games much quicker, putting pressure on studios to create games within small windows of opportunity.
The rise in popularity of home consoles - and the graphical competence that allowed them to match and even overtake the power of arcade boards - was also a factor. “There wasn’t the idea that you might eventually port the game to a console. You’d make it for the PCB (arcade board), send it out and that was the end of it. That was the assumption behind all development. Now you have to apply your game to the rules of several platforms, achieve the same framerate and performance across them all - and as a final irony, you have less time to do it all in!”
With such fondness for his past works and a rather successful start on porting its back catalogue over to the Xbox 360, does Ikeda have any plans to bring back some of his first creations at Toaplan to something like Xbox Live Arcade? “You know, to be blunt... as a company, it’s not something we’re looking at,” the CEO says with a pensive look and a bit of a sigh.
“Obviously I have certain feelings about the games that I worked on - certain things I’d like to do with them and whatnot, but that’s not something that I can approach on a business level. So in that sense right now it’s not in any of our plans.” The room transforms into a cavern of laughter when I suggest that Batsugun 2 would suffice.
Wincing as if in pain, but laughing at the idea, it’s apparent that while Ikeda does have feelings for his past, it’s probably not something he wants to bring up again. “When I look at the old games I’m so embarrassed,” he laughs. “I feel like I want to die! When I go to the arcades and see the old games running there, I just want the electricity to switch off! I don’t want to deny that stuff in the past, but for me it’s just really embarrassing. There was so much I didn’t know at the time, that I can see when I’m playing the game.”
Of course, I couldn’t start a conversation about Toaplan and fail to bring up Zero Wing, a Mega Drive game that is famed in the West for its rather atrocious localisation. I ask the translator if Ikeda had any involvement with the game, and before speaking in Japanese he asks me to remind him of the internet meme that Zero Wing indadvertedly created - “All Your Base Are Belong to Us.”
Ikeda reacts like he’s taken a bullet, laughing hysterically as he’s probably fearing that the foreign journalist and company translator have ganged up on him at this point. “No, I don’t know anything about it,” he yells, unconvincingly. “All that happened while it was being localised... it happened so long after the original game came out that we didn’t know about it for ages.”
“When we saw the video on the internet for the first time, I couldn’t understand what was so funny about it,” Ikeda continues, interspersing his story with infectious squeaky fits of laughter. “I’m not that good at English, so I looked into it and realised why people found it funny. I’d like to say it was an isolated case, but we can’t really say much against other people’s English!”
The exec is referring to a legendary Engrish mistranslation of Cave’s old legal warning screens, which had the immortal phrase, “Violator and subject to severe penalties and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the jam.” Not exactly threatening. Still chuckling, he explains the potential reason for this inaccuracy, putting the matter to rest once and for all.
“Probably the reason why the “law” became “jam” is because someone wrote it down in handwriting - the ‘l’ became a ‘j’ and the ‘w’ became an ‘m’.” It’s a bit of a bizarre explanation, but it’s the best thing to closure we’re ever going to get to this mystery. “At the time, all the developers would see that screen over and over again, every single day - and not one of them noticed! That’s the level of a lot of Japanese people’s English, though. We were given this as official legal text too, so we didn’t think it could be wrong. But... it was.”