Rieko Kodama on Phantasy Star... er, One

(Sega Community, 4/4/03)






Q: What sort of problems did you run into while drawing the backgrounds?

"As a designer, I'd always get asked by the planner to make some background or another within 150 tiles... then once I finished it, he'd go up and say 'Sorry, but can you cut out 20 tiles?'"

RK: Well, background scenes like this one are mirrored vertically to save ROM space. On the Mark III mirroring sprites requires a separate tileset, but you don't need to worry about that with fixes.

[Fix: An internal Sega term for the background image in games.

To display graphics stored on a cartridge, images must be divided into 8x8-pixel tiles (also called cells). These tiles are stored in a character-generator RAM and then are placed onscreen based on the character map data, which determines what tile goes on which location in the screen.

However, you also need to keep space open in main memory for the program, sound, and other assorted data, so only a certain number of tiles can be used in one scene. When the scene changes, new tiles can be loaded into the character generator.

Tile mirroring information is stored in each scene's map data, so when mirroring a scene, the overall amount of memory used does not increase. However, this does not apply to sprites--the player character and other objects that move around freely onscreen--so even if some sprites look mirrored, they are actually two different tiles.]

I wanted to include a shadow on this part of the dome, but thanks to the mirroring, you'd never actually see shadowing like this in real life... but I just said "Oh well" and moved on. (laughs) I wanted the backgrounds to take up the whole screen, and that's how we ended up doing it.

Q: A lot of players probably remember the infamously difficult scene where you had to buy a shortcake in a shop at the bottom of a dungeon in order to meet the Governor... Who designed that?
RK: Hmm... I think that was Otegami Chie, the planner. The trend back then was just to make everything as difficult as possible, I think. The encounter rate in this game's pretty high, too. So I think that event was built under the stance of "You think you can beat it? Just go ahead and try!" (laughs)

Q: Were the 3D dungeons included in the game from the planning stages?
RK: They were already in the planning document by the time I joined the project. As far as 3D dungeons go, if you want to make them run as smoothly as possible, then it's not that hard; all you have to do is draw all the frames for the advancing walls. However, if we did that, then we wouldn't be able to get all the frames into the ROM, and it wouldn't look as good if we dropped some frames and left others in... so, we thought, how about we make a wireframe 3D dungeon in the program itself?

That's how I ended up having [Yuji] Naka build a wireless 3D dungeon program for me. The basic idea was to take art and place it on top of the wireframes. After that we just had to experiment with which frames we could drop and still keep things smooth and pretty. Once we got it right, we found that we could run around the dungeon faster than we ever expected--several times faster than it is right now, in fact; it was almost to the point where the program, not the graphics, was the main bottleneck. ...So, anyway, the 3D dungeons were already decided upon in the planning phase.

Q: In your eyes, what do you think of the world and basic image of Phantasy Star?
RK: I think all the designers and programmers have their own thoughts, but as the designer of the world itself, I naturally had my ideas.

Take Dragon Quest, for example. I thought it was a pure, simple fantasy game, so I wanted to make something that wasn't like that. Like Star Wars, maybe... except not the whole thing, but just a few parts. As for which parts--well, with Star Wars, doesn't it feel kind of like they took Western culture and added Japanese things here and there sometimes? I mean, it's an SF movie, but Luke's outfit looks like a judo uniform, and the light sabers are used a lot like samurai swords...

In designing the Phantasy Star world, I wanted to use what I learned in Star Wars about borrowing something from a completely different universe. So that's why I thought that it'd be neat if the people in this world wore medieval clothes, even though it's an SF story and there are robots running around. That was the image I had when I made this world.

Q: Finally, tell me what your favorite piece of art is from the game.
RK: Well, for the ending sequence, I absolutely wanted to include a picture of Alisa and the four-member party, but by that time we had pretty much used up our four megs, so there was no space to put a picture in anywhere. But then, however, Naka squeezed the program code down a little and went up to me and said "I freed up a little space, so get me some art to fill it with," so...

Really, it was a tiny amount of memory, but I wanted to repay him for cleaning up the code, so I stuck in this picture.

As a result, it might not be the greatest piece of art ever made, but it's a picture that's stayed in my heart for a while now. Phantasy Star was the first RPG I made, after all, and I have a chance to get involved with it again almost every year. I'm glad to see that I'm still not talking about it in the past tense--"It was this kind of game."


Back to the first page

Back to the main page