Daemon X Machina devs on the game’s origins, mech designs, making the graphics stand out, more
A few weeks ago, we translated a 4Gamer interview conducted with producer Kenichiro Tsukuda. The site actually ended up bringing back Tsukuda for a second interview, who was also joined by mech designer Shoji Kawamori. Topics include the game’s origins, designing the mechs, and more on the visual style including making the graphics stand out.
We’ve prepared a full translation of 4Gamer’s Daemon X Machina interview. Continue on below for the discussion.
The Arsenals’ Uniquely “Muscular” Design
4Gamer: Thank you for meeting with us today! Now, hearing that you two would be working together again – with Mr. Tsukuda as the producer and Mr. Kawamori as the mech concept artist – had a lot of fans thinking back to the Armored Core series. Can you tell us about how that reunion came to be?
Tsukuda: First I think it’d be best to talk some about how I came to be developing for the Switch. I met with my development team and we discussed exactly what we could do with the new hardware that the Switch provided – we eventually decided that we wanted to make some kind of mecha game. It would end up becoming a project that challenged us to create a mech action game that made use of the platform’s unique features in an entirely new way.
4Gamer: So, the first step in all of this was deciding to make a mecha game for the Switch…
Tsukuda: Right, and I figured that if I was going to do that then I’d definitely want to ask Kawamori-san for his help with the mechs’ concept designs!
4Gamer: It’s been a while since you’ve made a mech action game, right Mr. Tsukuda? And even longer since the two of you have worked together – it must’ve been quite some time, now.
Kawamori: It’s definitely been a few years. The months and years really went by without us even realizing it… A pretty long time, indeed.
Tsukuda: I can’t remember exactly how long it’s been, but it was almost 20 years ago now that the two of us first worked together.
4Gamer: And that first title was…
Tsukuda: Right, it was Armored Core 2 (released in August of 2000 for the PS2). I remember being extremely nervous the first time I met you – I’m still nervous! (laughs)
Kawamori: Aw, come on! (laughs) It really is nostalgic, though – we were at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku. I had been involved in the development of the first Armored Core, but I remember being told I could be even more detailed with my designs for the second game!
4Gamer: As development moved from the PS1 to the PS2, the scope of what you were able to express must’ve really increased. Do you remember much about the first time the two of you worked together?
Tsukuda: Nothing has changed, really; every time we meet we come up with a lot of great ideas!
If I say, “I want to do this,” he’ll say, “if you’re wanting to do that, then you could do this, too!”
We have lots of nice back-and-forths like that.
4Gamer: Is that the case for things outside of the mechs’ concepts – story and world-building, for instance – as well?
Tsukuda: More so how the game plays, rather than the game’s world. Wouldn’t you say so?
4Gamer: Well, Kawamori-san?
Kawamori: I’d say that’s fair. This might not sound great or be the best way to say it, but I’m definitely the person with the easy job. (laughs)
4Gamer: So, what exactly is “easy” then?
Kawamori: Making his proposals more definite, mostly; he’ll run an idea that pops into his head by me and I’ll immediately get to work scrutinizing it. It’s the same for this game, too. I try to steer clear of saying things like “that won’t work,” though – it’s more fun for both of us if we approach ideas with the question: “How can we make this work?”
Tsukuda: And I’m grateful for that! Basically, if I think something would make for an interesting mechanic, I’ll go to Kawamori-san for his advice. And I can say with certainty that it makes the end product better.
4Gamer: It sounds like you two really trust each other! I’d like to talk to you both about the game’s mechanical design, but before that there’s one other thing I’d like to discuss. Since the game’s reveal, the word “mech” has been used in relation to the game rather than the word “robot.” Why the distinction?
Tsukuda: It’s difficult to explain, but one reason would be that the word “robot” has different connotations in Japan and abroad. The word “robot” can have a wide range of meanings to Japanese people, and isn’t necessarily related to humanoid robots like androids, or something like that. What it primarily indicates is something that operates or moves automatically.
4Gamer: For a lot of Japanese people the word conjures up images of something that you can board and fight in too – something not unlike a human-shaped weapon.
Tsukuda: And that’s correct in some cases – and not necessarily incorrect in this case. The “Outer Gear” – or, Arsenals – in this game are more closely aligned with exoskeletons or power suits, so we felt that “mech” or “mecha” was more appropriate than “robot.”
4Gamer: I see. You say the Arsenals are similar to a “power suit,” but they’re around 5 meters/16 and a half feet tall; was your decision to make them that big based on anything?
Tsukuda: I wondered what size they should be to make them stand out in battle when compared to other things in the game – people, towns, tanks, and other weapons, for instance. I asked around within the development team and based the decision on that, and then asked Kawamori-san to come up with a design.
4Gamer: What kind of requests came your way, Mr. Kawamori? Did you already have a concept for the design?
Kawamori: As the project progressed the design gradually changed, but I started off with an idea:
“How could I make a suit of armor from the Middle Ages modern?”
4Gamer: The fact that you were able to make them resemble a suit of armor is impressive too, but their musculature in particular is impressive!
Kawamori: The Arsenals’ muscularity is something that would become characteristic of their design. When I was thinking about the game’s “identity,” I wanted the mechs to be representative of that identity. Rather than just having them be a suit of armor, I felt that it’d be better if they were modeled after the musculature of a living thing and were covered with reinforced parts.
Tsukuda: And that was what gave birth to the “fighting while exchanging equipment” concept, in which you can switch out your Arsenal’s weapons and equipment mid-battle. Kawamori-san was able to convey the image of a mech laden with bulky weapons yet still have it be able to move as if it were human.
Kawamori: I tried to take into account the fact that the player would most likely be fighting with a good deal of weapons. Again, this isn’t the best way to say this probably, but an object’s weight is something you can get away with skirting around in things like games and anime. There were times where I wondered if that kind of thing was okay, but in the end, we decided that it’d be better if the Arsenals’ movement felt light despite being burdened with heavy weapons.
4Gamer: So, even though the player might be maneuvering a big suit of armor, or carrying a lot of weapons, they can still move around pretty freely, then.
Tsukuda: Right – that was the kind of thing we were discussing when we put out our first draft for the design. Things had changed considerably from when the design was supposed to resemble armor; we were a bit sad to part with the original design, but we knew the changes would be for the better in the end. From that point on, we decided it would be better to try to consolidate the mechs’ design based on Kawamori-san’s draft than to fuss too much over it resembling armor.
Having the Player’s Actions Reflect the Game’s Mechanical Design
4Gamer: What difficulties did you face in coming up with a solid design for the mechs?
Kawamori: When it comes to designing mechs and robots in general, the legs are actually pretty difficult. In terms of having a mech’s design exude personality, designing the legs and feet are about as difficult as designing the head! As of late, I’ve been seeing a lot of mechs’ designs where the feet just aren’t visible – I definitely know why. (laughs)
4Gamer: (laughs) So what kind of measures did you take to ensure that your designs had personality?
Kawamori: I imagined ski boots! It’s something that I’ve wanted to implement even before development for this title started, because for some reason I always end up making the legs look too short. I would wonder, “how can I make the legs look longer while giving the footwear some kind of unique characteristic?” So, I tried seeing what the design would look like before and after adding ski boot-esque footwear to it. The tip of the boot has a little protrusion, and there’s a bit of tension to the side of the boot – that could be interpreted as something like a nozzle or a thruster system, so I felt that the image was a good fit for the Arsenals.
Tsukuda: What’s more, hatches on the player’s Arsenal’s legs open up whenever you use those weapons – Kawamori-san came up with that one too. It looks incredibly cool!
Kawamori: They open up when you dash as well, which I felt was a pretty neat touch.
Tsukuda: Agreed. At first the development team was coming up with relatively small touches like that; they were pretty reserved. Kawamori-san noticed that and said: “You should be putting everything you have into this, don’t you think?”
Kawamori: “Putting everything you have into it” connotates me asking them to have the legs open up all the way though, doesn’t it? From a mechanics perspective it’s a gimmick, but it allows the player to understand visually what’s going on as well.
Tsukuda: The Arsenals’ pylons* serve the same purpose. In battle, you can pick up weapons lying around the battlefield and equip them. In Kawamori-san’s words, though, “it’s more than just picking up and equipping weapons.” He made it a feature of the Arsenals’ design because “players can easily understand gimmicks.” From there he designed the Arsenals so that outside of battle the mechs’ weapons would be stored away but could be deployed when the player equips them for battle.
*On aircraft, pylons are external mounts for engines and other equipment. In Daemon X Machina, they are structures on the Arsenal’s back that allow the player to equip more weapons.
Kawamori: I couldn’t have the Arsenal physically expand too much though due to the limits of the game, though, so I asked about that, too.
4Gamer: Right, the width of the screen is finite; you wouldn’t want to obstruct the player’s vision in any way.
Tsukuda: That’s true. If too much of the Arsenal were to jut out, the superfluous parts of the mech would cause the player to accidentally collide with more things. Having a big weapon equipped might also be problematic in that it might be clipping against the Arsenal’s leg.
Kawamori: There was also the thickness of the pylons themselves. They look so delicate that the player might be hesitant to equip an enormous weapon to them out of fear that they might break! When I was first shown the pylons in a test it was clear that even a minute detail like that was being considered. I ended up saying “it’s interesting, but they can’t be that big… we might’ve been a bit too focused on the actual science behind it in this instance.”
Tsukuda: We also consulted each other concerning weapon design. So as to keep them from clipping through the model’s leg we’d have the player carry them diagonally or have them floating a bit off the model’s back. To keep the weapon from covering the model’s back completely we’d make it a bit smaller, and so on and so forth.
Kawamori: The weapons would be mechanical-looking no matter what, and we had finally settled on the muscular design for the Arsenals, so what was next? Consolidating those things allowed us to focus on how we could convey movement in a way that’s easy for the player to understand what’s going on. Since both the mech itself and the weapons are very mechanical-looking, it could become difficult for the player to differentiate between the mech’s form and its details.
4Gamer: I see, that makes sense.
Kawamori: For instance, look at the back of the head of this mech here, you can glean lots of things from it: “This was manufactured by so and so” or “this was made during this time period.” Those are the kinds of characteristics we include in the designs, and by including them, it makes it easier for the development team to arrange it all.
Tsukuda: And those kinds of details are everywhere throughout the designs, they really are a saving grace. There are quite a few variations on the mechs’ design, so if we didn’t have those conceptual details the game’s world would become quite muddled.
4Gamer: All I can really say is “I see.” I’ve wanted to be able to talk Mr. Kawamori for some
time now, and I definitely wanted to make sure I asked this question: Are there any differences between anime, industrial goods, and video games when it comes to mechanical design? If so, what are they?
Kawamori: The biggest thing is something we refer to as “Back View,” probably. When it comes to games, designing a mech basically starts from the back. No matter how cool looking the front of the mech is, the player will still spend most of their time looking at the mech from the back, so the back design is absolutely crucial. I was conscious of “Back View” even when I was working on the mechanical design for the Armored Core series. Nowadays, though, there are so many games that revolve around robots or mech action, it has become even more important to make sure that you differentiate the design of the mech’s back to set it apart from other products.
Tsukuda: The Arsenal is the “backbone” of the world and the setting, so, naturally, its “radiant back” has become its defining characteristic. I knew the design was centered around a backbone-like feature, but I could immediately tell what it was just by looking at it. The design conveys everything – even while watching the Arsenal fly around I was thinking, “this looks awesome, as expected!”
Kawamori: Thank you very much. That’s most likely because the Arsenals fly in a forward-leaning position rather than a standing position. In keeping with the theme of making the design unique, we also added details to the bottom of the Arsenals’ feet, as their flight posture makes it so that they’re visible. To that end, we also added slit-shaped nozzles to the pylons that I mentioned earlier – we felt that all of those additions would add at least a little more character to the design. In working on the mechanical design though – and this applies to anime as well – we felt that the most important thing to keep in mind was “the reality of the game’s world.”
4Gamer: What do you mean by that?
Kawamori: In designing industrial goods, it is important to consider whether or not the product will realistically be able to move. Even if you wouldn’t be able to move around while wearing that kind of armor and carrying those weapons in reality, that kind of thing is possible in games and anime.
4Gamer: Right, that overlaps with what we were talking about earlier. So, would you say it’s a balance between fantasy and reality, then?
Kawamori: Exactly. One misstep could cause the player to become too much like an invincible super-robot. Yet, on the other hand, if things are too realistic the game feels less heroic and becomes less interesting. That’s the conflict that we’re constantly grappling with. There are plenty of other things to consider, too: how does it feel when the player moves around, does the handling feel good, does it feel good to perform basic actions? Think about all of the equipment and weapon-centered gimmicks that we’ve mentioned so far: boosting the player’s movement through the Arsenal’s leg thrusters, flying around in a forward-facing position, etc… Those aren’t just things that you can easily see in an image – they’re a part of the game’s mechanical design.
Tsukuda: When we had our first design consultation, all of the accompanying members of the development team were shocked! Kawamori-san completely understood everything we wanted to do after hearing about it just once, and immediately started suggesting all kinds of ideas based on those things. On our way back, everybody was excitedly talking about the meeting: “He said he completely understood everything aside from the things we didn’t explain! How’d he manage that!?”
4Gamer: After listening to Kawamori-san today, I think I understand that feeling pretty well!
Tsukuda: I’ve known him for a while, so I said, “Kawamori-san is pretty much always like that.” (laughs) And as we implemented the ideas he gave us, the game gradually got better and better! Thanks to him we were able to start development in pretty high spirits!