►►►The need for speed (control in STG before Gunhed)

I have a question for you. Context first: I am playing the PC Engine Mini at the moment, so obviously this has led to playing and replaying many shoot'em ups.

I was getting to write something (in French) about it but somehow my notes have bifurcated into a deep dive about the legacy of speed selection in shooting games. So I'd like to confirm with the brillant (and possibly younger, fresher) minds around here: could you help me figure out what is the first game, or first home port, that allowed for manual speed selection of your ship in a shooting game? To put the question in a more specific way: which game did that before Gunhed, released in Japan on the PC Engine in Summer 1989?

As long as I've known the console, this feature (and the ►►► iconography to represent the speed level) has been characteristic of PC Engine titles — and especially the Star Soldier family — but I had actually never paused and thought about the legacy of this feature until now. I naturally assumed the feature was already present in the first Star Soldier, even moreso because I remember it well being present in the remake Star Soldier R on WiiWare (which I admittedly played much more thant the Famicom game) but it turns out it's not the case.

On the PC Engine, unless I am mistaken, the first title to include this option is Compile's Gunhed. Developed together with internal staff at Hudson, Gunhed is the missing link between Star Soldier on the Famicom and the future Super Star Soldier series. It is also the title which changed the course for Aleste games by strongly influencing both Super Aleste and Spriggan (which in turn had an influence on Musha Aleste).

Yet, neither Zanac nor the first Aleste included such a feature, and I cannot find any Compile title prior to Gunhed that used that feature, despite their many home computer and console exclusives (I say this because the feature feels like it belongs to consoles moreso than the arcades). The challenge of scrolling on the MSX means it was probably not a realistic feature back then anyway.

The other suspect I had in mind was Technosoft, as the only non-PC Engine game which is synonymous with manual speed control to me is Thunder Force III. Same lack of result: I could not find any prior Technosoft game which included manual speed control, and Thunder Force III itself was released after Gunhed. I remember and have found a number of other games with a similar system but all of them released circa 1990 / 1992.

Gradius established the concept of complex upgrade systems in shooting game in 1985, but speed was still awarded as a one way bonus back then and most developers followed through this "linear upgrade" design philosophy (notably Toaplan).

I would be surprised if no game messed with the idea between 1985 and 1989, but I can't find any example in Japan, at the very least. It does sound like an idea early US arcade games would at least explore. Even if the direct connection with Japanese games would be unlikely in this case, maybe one example could be found there? Is there indeed no shooting game that made use of manual speed control before Gunhed?

Image Fight had a dedicated speed adjustment button way back in 1986, for one. It doesn‘t cycle but goes forward and back somewhat like shifting gears (so, 1-2-3-4-3-2-1), and changing speeds creates an exhaust flame at the back of your ship, so there’s a little more to it than just selecting your ship's speed.

MUSHA came before Spriggan, by the way.

Thanks! Image Fight is a great example. Isn't that from 1988 though?


It doesn’t cycle but goes forward and back somewhat like shifting gears (so, 1-2-3-4-3-2-1)

That's good enough! Most of these games work that way, I am not too worried about the cycling method as long as it
can be shifted by the player. It's even more interesting in the case of Image Fight because it is an arcade game and therefore button allocation / "real estate" was much more restrictive and a strong game design choice.

It seems some ports of Aleste 2 also allowed for manual speed change and that released before Gunhed as well, so that could be where Compile got the idea from, although I assume Image Fight was very influencial in its own right.


@chazumaru#792 Thanks! Image Fight is a great example. Isn’t that from 1988 though?

Yeah you're right, going off the top here, my bad.

I'm sure there are earlier ones too but I'm too sleep-deprived to think of any right now. I wouldn't be shocked if a Nichibutsu game did it first, they were doing rewind and slo-mo/fast-forward and all sorts of gimmicks quite early on.

There were also pseudo-3D games like Buck Rogers that had throttle buttons, if you want to count those.

I had somehow forgotten to check on Image Fight (I hastily crossed down Irem with the R-Type games and ports) but, regarding Nichibutsu, I had thought about double-checking on Formation Armed F because I remembered it being close in timing to Gunhed and that came up negative. I did not look up their earlier stuff and, while I am pretty sure Terra Cresta and Moon Cresta don't have this kind of mechanism, I must admit I quickly gave up on anything older than Tiger Heli and Gradius. Anyway, I am very happy with Image Fight; that makes a lot more sense than nothing betwen Gradius and Gunhed, and it shines a new light on a game I never managed to appreciate until now.

Random note but since I probably won't have another opportunity to share this: while I was trying to figure out who exactly at Compile and Hudson was responsible for Gunhed, to check on their earlier games for possible clues, I found out that the co-director of the game Kawada Tadayuki, originally one of the Meijin from the Famicom era of Hudson alongside Takahashi Meijin, is somehow still active today — 31 years later! — as a freelance producer on the recent Momotarō Dentetsu games, on behalf of Sakuma Akira (who has been in poor health for a few years). Kawada was last credited on the [3DS episode](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkNkNfs1hGc) released in 2017 and will probably appear in the credits for the upcoming [Switch version.](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CIoK4jLaJ8)

Super neat that Kawada Tadayuki (what an unusual first name) is still working on Hudson stuff!!

Anyway, I feel like I should have more insight here, but I'm drawing a blank. I tried checking terra cresta, but nothing there... ASO in 85 lets you collect speed powerups, around the same time as gradius, but yeah, no manual select.

It feels like toaplan must have done something, but I'm not seeing it.

I'm gonna have to think about this more, I don't know the famicom so well, but I can check into my memory banks with arcade stuff... I have noticed though that vertical shooters are more likely to have speed control than horizontal ones. Odd!

I'm not 100% on this but it seems like your speed is different depending on form in UFO Robot Dangar? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4N50JqBnNfg

I pretty strongly associate arrow-based speed control with the pc engine, but I bet with some of these "transformation" games there are a few more experiments out there.

The Compile developers on Gunhed were the typical Zanac/Aleste crew, with the main developer being programmer Takayuki “Jemini” Hirono who was the linchpin of all the early Compile STG.

Aside from Gunhed, Kawada was a lead on Super Star Soldier and Star Parodier (both outsourced to Kaneko) and supervised Soldier Blade (developed internally at Hudson), as well as the WiiWare revival Star Soldier R many years later. Momotetsu was his other big contribution, and he also did the Bomberman/B-daman crossover project.


@exodus#801 It feels like toaplan must have done something, but I’m not seeing it.

Toaplan never really messed with speed control in that fashion, but there is one game (Dogyuun) where you can collect different modules for your bomb button and one is a speed-up that lets you move impractically fast if you hold the button down.

Right, I noticed that around the B-Daman era, he was usually credited as a designer. This is also how he is credited on the Milon sequel for SFC, and both games are tied to the group within the Bomberman team that later joined the Mario Party team, then left with Endo for NdCube around the time Hudson was entirely folded into Konami. The designer role strikes me as odd because it is very uncommon in Japanese office culture that you would (technically) step down from a director role to a planner / designer role.

One big question I would have for Kawada is what exactly his role entailed on Gunhed as a co-"director", given how fishy and inconsistent staff credits were in that era in Japan. Most of the ideas of Gunhed seem to be an evolution of both Zanac (which itself was heavily inspired by Star Soldier) and Aleste's weapons upgrades. And clearly Gunhed then became the foundation for Super Star Soldier and its sequels, even without Compile's direct involvement. So I wonder if maybe he acted more as a sort of supervisor / coordinator for the development teams back then? This would explain why he is directly involved in the Kaneko titles (a coordinator would have been needed) but only a supervisor for an internally developed title like Soldier Blade.

In fact, this deep dive and stupid question all started backwards as I was replaying Star Parodier via the PCE Mini and wondering how that development came about and which elements referred to which game in closer detail.

Soldier Blade and Parodier were being made concurrently, with Blade being made by a relatively young team that Kawada essentially left to their own devices.

Like you said, you shoudn't put too much weight on titles for these older games, particularly ones made for a handful of people. I can say Kawada was directly involved with the design and balance of all those shooting games, in particular the caravan stages.

Incidentally, Konami's been publishing interviews with old PCE developers to promote the PCE Mini, which I may or may not translate depending on whether or not Konami does it themselves. They're mostly fairly light conversations but Kawada has appeared a couple of times to give insight on his roles on a few games.

Remember this ol’ convo from the distant past of a few weeks ago?

Not exactly a perfect answer to my question but this 1981 game from Sega, Space Odyssey, achieves quite a few interesting things for its time.


1- It features both vertical and horizontal scrolling stages, Salamander-style.
2- It has a speed system that influences the scoring. But rather than a dedicated button or dial changing the handling of the ship, here “speed” is a value determined by how far ahead the ship is located in relation to the scrolling direction, hence increasing risks of a collision with an enemy or projectile will reward you with more points.

Hmm, I wonder where it lies on the timeline vs SNK/TOSE's Vanguard, which also came out in 1981 and featured vertical, horizontal and diagonal scrolling.

Vanguard doesn't have any speed stuff that I'm aware of, so Space Odyssey beats it there!