Posted: Thu Jun 30, 2011 9:32 pm Post subject: Tokeijikake no Aquario (arcade game by Westone)
Tokeijikake no Aquario (時計じかけのアクワリオ, "Clockwork Aquario") was an arcade game under development by Westone Bit Entertainment (the developers of the Wonder Boy series) that was unreleased. It underwent location testing in 1993 and had at least three different revisions (each with drastic rule and control changes, such as reducing the number of buttons from three to two) before it was ultimately canceled. Apparently the source code no longer exists, but EGG Music somehow managed to get a hold of the soundtrack and released an official album (the same situation that happened with Thunder Force VI). There's also an illustration of the game's heroine, Elle Moon, by former Westone character designer Mina Morioka, as well as transcripts of notes taken during location testing.
Interesting. That screenshot sure has the Wonder Boy/Monster World style all over it. I wonder if Westone recycled anything from Aquario into Monster World IV, which came out the year after Aquario was canceled.
Unfortunately, that's the only screenshot I could find on the internet. I don't even think the game was covered by Gamest (at least it doesn't appear listed in Dummy's Gamest database). Apparently the game failed location testing due to lack of interest. This was around the time when the fighting game boom started, where everything that didn't resemble Street Fighter II was shove aside.
Even though the soundtrack was released as a download, not many people know about the actual content of the game. I've uploaded the notes taken during location testing in 1993 since I don't think they're available on the internet.
Tokeijikake no Aquario (Westone, canceled in 1993)
Note: The content of the game varies depending on the date of the location test. At least three versions have been confirmed.
*June 14, 1993
These notes contain information about a location test held by a video arcade operator. It was immediately upon passing through the shop (the Spo-Lan in Shinjuku Nishiguchi) where I found Tokeijikake no Aquario (henceforth abbreviated Aquario).
My first impressions of the game were simply that it was "pretty and cute". I imagine this feedback must had been quite difficulty for Westone to accept, as they were pretty aware that they weren't making much of an impression as a game company at that point.
Aquario was a Super Mario Bros.-type side-scrolling action game. The controls originally consisted of three action buttons ("throw", "jump" and "invincibility").
Enemies are attacked first by jumping over them, rendering them unconscious. When the player moves towards an unconscious enemy, he automatically picks it up. At this point the player can throw the enemy by pressing the throw button. Enemies that are thrown flies off in a single horizontal line and are defeated by flying off-screen or being bashed to a wall. Thrown enemies can be used to knock other enemies unconscious as well. Moreover, by holding the joystick upwards, enemies can be thrown to the top of the screen as well.
Pressing the invincibility button makes the player invincible to enemies for a brief period. In the upper portion of the screen, there's an invincibility gauge underneath the score display and when it reaches zero, the player's invincibility will wear off. The gauge can be replenished by picking up items.
The key to the exit of each stage is kept by a sub-boss. By defeating the sub-boss, the player can obtain the key and use it to enter the boss' lair. Each boss can be defeated by jumping over him repeatedly or by throwing his henchmen to him. The boss of the first stage in this version was a crab.
The game featured a 2-hit points per life system similar to Ghosts 'n Goblins and Midnight Wanderers, in which getting hit once would make the player's clothes look tattered, and then getting hit a second time would make him lose a life. The player's clothes can be restored by picking up a health power-up.
* Impressions of the June 14 version.
This version was really difficulty. I couldn't defeat the crab boss after several plays. It was a pretty difficult experience for novice players, since enemies move quickly and a lot of fake-outs are used by them. The invincibility button was difficult to use as well. Because it was difficulty to predict what kind of dangers would face in these kinds of action games, getting through them was simply a matter of "pressing the button on time". There were also unfair trap placement as well, such as the snapping trap in Stage 1. The game was still unfinished at the time, as there were bugs such as glitched text display during the playing instructions at the start of the game. However, the colorful graphics really caught my attention.
*August 15, 1993
Another location test for Aquario was held, this time in the comic book shop near the Spo-Lan in Shinjuku Nishiguchi. The content of the game were greatly altered since the last location test, to the point that the game was almost completed.
Impressions of the August 15 revision.
The number of action buttons was reduced to only two (punch and jump). This time, invincibility is only provided by a power-up item for a limited period (similar to the Starman in Super Mario Bros.). The invincibility gauge was replaced with a 1UP gauge that gives player an extra life when filled and it seems enemies are now defeated by knocking them unconscious with a punch, moving onto the unconscious enemy, and then throwing them. It was also possible to defeat enemies by simply punching an unconscious enemy further until he disappears . Since players were irritated that they were unable to defeat enemies quickly in the June 14 version, the resulting changes in this version made the game easier to play in longer periods. Perhaps because of this, the game was still deemed unsafe to release to the market yet.
*August 29, 1993
Once again location testing was held in the Spo-Land store in Shinjuku Nishiguchi. I was wondering at this point why it wasn't already released yet (how unfortunate).
Changes made in the August 29 revision.
The differences are very minor this time. However, there seems to be a 2-Players competitive mode this time (there wasn't one in the August 15 version). I have no idea how it worked because I never saw it in action. From what I remember, a few graphical details were changed, but I didn't have much difficulty. Even though I wanted the game to come out already, I had a bad premonition at the time.
It was the last day I ever saw the game. I heard stories that another location test was conducted in the Spring of '94, but I'm not sure what changes were done at that point. Because of this, I now associated location tests with the process of a game company coming up with the decision of having to cancel a game. I thought to myself I shouldn't get too involved with location tests. However, I must consider myself fortunate to have the chance to had played this game due to my fascination with the company's Monster World series.
Published on November 19, 2006, authored by [Root].
There's an interview with the composer in EGG Music's website. I'll translate that a bit later.
Last edited by Johnny Undaunted on Sun Jul 10, 2011 4:54 am; edited 1 time in total
This is a very rough translation, so feel free to point any mistakes and inconsistencies.
To commemorate the release of the Tokeijikake no Aquario official soundtrack, here's an interview with composer Shin-ichi Sakamoto (of Westone Bit Entertainment).
The Making of the Aquario Soundtrack
A mysterious 3-players simultaneous game that ended up being unreleased.
Harry (the interviewer): Let's start by asking what kind of game Aquario was going to be like?
Sakamoto: It was going to be similar to Monster Lair. It was going to be a forced side-scrolling game, but with a bit of a cooperative multiplayer mode. It was originally going to be a 2-players game, but then we decided to add a third player as well. The three characters consisted of a boy (named Hack Rondo), a girl (Elle Moon), and a robot (Gash). The method of attack was by stomping on enemies and then grabbing them to throw them out. Oh, I think you could even catch enemies thrown by other players as well or something like that. You could even head butt thrown enemies thrown at you. (laughs)
H: Can you explain the "clockwork" (Tokeijikake) part of the title? I'm really anxious to hear...
S: What is it you mean? ... Well, originally I think there was going to be a clockwork motor that also served as our time limit system... (laughs) I really wish I could tell you more, but I don't remember that much. Ah, wait, I remember the game was originally going to be called "Ghost Hunter" (laughs).
H: It's been 13 years (as of this interview) since the game was canceled and no source code or board has ever been found, although it might still be out there. Did it ever went through a limited release during the location testing phase?
S:It seems it went through such a phase, but I believe not many played it.
For the download soundtrack, the original character designer Mina M. drew an all-new illustration for the cover jacket. From down to up, we can see the game's heroes, Hack Rondo, Gash, and Elle Moon. Above them is a goldfish equipped with a clockwork spring, who appears to be the "Aquario" of the title...
An unexpected connection with Manabu Namiki.
H: But there were people who played through the location test version and spoke highly of the game. In fact, composer Manabu Namiki has told stories of playing the game during location testing.
S: Are you serious? Ah, now that you mention it, I was talking to Mr. Namiki today about unrelated matters and now that I remember, I discreetly gave him the music data from Aquario around that time. I can tell you that I converted the GS sound source file made with "Recomposer" into ISH files, they were in PC-VAN format I think, and then I delivered the files online. At least that's what I recall (laughs).
H: That sounds like another interesting story. (laughs) It seems the sound data originally produced in GS sound source after all. If that's the case, could there be a MIDI version of the soundtrack as well?
S: No, I didn't find any MIDI tracks in the leftover data I extracted from "Recomposer".... At least that's what I think. (laughs) However, I did find a floppy disk today labeled the "Aquario Sound Master File". However, I've tried to access the disk, but I can't read it since it's for a PC-9801 with a three-mode floppy disk drive. I got a feeling that there's something of value inside. (laughs)
H: Well, this firm has companies such as Project EGG that specialized in releasing numerous old video games on PC and right now they have numerous PC-98 games available. Please allow us to help you in preserving the disk's data. (laughs) On a related note, had you ever been acquainted with Mr. Namiki before that moment?
S: No, I never talked to him prior to our recent exchange. However, Namiki was an old classmate of a member of Westone's sound team who did the music for Riot City and Monster World IV (Jin Watanabe perhaps? - ed), so I knew about him very well due to his connection with our company. He used to come to our company to play as well.
The Final Purpose of Aquario
S: The sound staff of Westone were an incredibly wonderful group to be with. There were two other guys besides myself and the aforementioned classmate of Namiki.
H: I see. People sometimes have the impression that you, Mr. Sakamoto, was composer working for Westone.
S: That's not true at all. The others were probably more talented than me. No, I'm serious. (laughs)
I always questioned my decision whether I should have ever transferred from my studies of engineering to this industry. But everyone else in the division wanted to make music in the first place and they intentionally chose the game music industry. I feel completely embarrassed since I studied something completely different, but ended up making music on CD-DA. I had unlimited potential for my skills, but I ultimately never did anything with it (laughs), so I ended up having no use for my studies (laughs).
In the end, the quality of my work depends very severely on what kind of equipment I have.
Even though I made a few game soundtracks with CD-DA, I never fully understood how the format works.
H: A genuine chip musician (laughs). With that in mind, was Aquario Mr. Sakamoto's final substantial work?
S:When I was working on Aquario, I always felt it was going to be our final arcade game. The marketplace started shifting towards home consoles by that point and if we had continued making arcade games, I don't we would had been around for much longer.
H: The master tape for Aquario is dated August 14, 1993. That was during the fighting game boom, so it was definitely a severe marketplace to release a game like Aquario at that point.
S: That's right. The location test was conducted in Shinjuku and Ueno in 1993. Even though I truly wanted the company to release it, we had to cancel it because the game's reception was not good.
The master tape that was used to record the soundtrack. Sakamoto recorded the music from the actual PCB after having the bad premonition that he wouldn't be able to listen to the game's music in the future. He has held on to the tape since then.
I'll translate the remainder of the interview tomorrow.
Anyone who wants to translate the rest of interview can feel free to do so. There's way too much technical stuff about sound drivers and musical styles that I don't want to botch, and he talks more about the soundtrack itself (and how it was influenced by House music and Acid Jazz) than the game itself. He does reveal that the game ran on the Sega System 18 hardware. Maybe someone in Sega has the source code?
Joined: 26 Aug 2003 Posts: 1589 Location: beneath enemy scrotum
Posted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 11:45 pm Post subject:
Johnny Undaunted wrote:
Anyone who wants to translate the rest of interview can feel free to do so. There's way too much technical stuff about sound drivers and musical styles that I don't want to botch, and he talks more about the soundtrack itself (and how it was influenced by House music and Acid Jazz) than the game itself.
Someone take up Johnny's suggestion, this sounds fascinating Thanks for the translated portion you've provided, it's a neat read.
Information about Aquario is very scarce (searching the Japanese title on Google only gives you around 750 results). I learned about it after seeing it listed on Westone's official website and made this thread in hopes of increasing awareness of its existence. No doubt it would've been a decent game, seeing how Westone has very rarely made a bad game. Even Riot City/Crest of Wolf/Riot Zone was pretty entertaining for a blatant Final Fight clone. Perhaps someone out there (like a 40s-something game center own who might have assisted in the location testing process) might own one of the proto PCBs and might be willing to dump it for MAME.
I might translate the rest of the interview myself, seeing how no one is willing to help me out, but it's going to take a while.
Here's the rest of the interview. As usual, feel free to make any corrections or clarifications. The interview ends with a "to be continued", but as far as I know, there was no follow-up interview. In fact, the page seems rather unfinished now that I think about it.
H: Speaking of the musical aspect. The game's soundtrack has a House-like taste that doesn't feel anything like you did at the time, but at this very moment there seems to a trend towards clubtrack approach towards game music. I think the soundtrack of Aquario would've been noticed, even if the actual game itself would've made little impact.
S: The moment I've first listened to acid jazz and house music, my reaction was "wow, how interesting". J-Wave (a radio station in Japan) used to play house music back then at night. It was a very peculiar feel that you didn't hear often in game music back then, so I wanted the capture the feel in a chiptune, even though I don't think it sounds like house music to me (laughs).
H: I meant it a good way. I think it sounds a lot like house music, but it has a Sakamoto-like feel it. It has a mood very close to Yuzo Koshiro's work on Streets of Rage. That game came out earlier in 1991.
S: I knew of Koshiro, since he was in charge of the music for Hudson's Super Adventure Island, but at that time I wasn't aware he also did Streets of Rage.
If you say it sounds like house, then it probably is (laughs). It's not possible to do much in such ennui mood. Usually if I use a sequencer and synthesizer I might capture such a style, but you're not suppose to do such a thing if you don't want to drown the game's sound.
H: So you put on the brake just in case? I see...
S: The truth is that I'm not very good with rhythm. I have composed without drums for years and most of my music didn't have much rhythm to them, so I didn't know how to give it one. However, even in such a genre, since the same rhythm is used continually, shouldn't it be easy to learn? (laughs)
H: Perhaps you could do it without worrying about the rhythm. (laughs)
S:The data size becomes small as well.
Another theme, Escaping FM sound module.
S: Another theme in Aquario was what could be called an "Escaping FM sound module". I've worked with using an FM sound module since my days at Tecmo, so I was already tired of it by the time I was working on Aquario. That's because when you're using FM, analog sounds won't come out since various parameters of the sound source chip are rewritten while outputting the sounds and noises that usually don't come out because of VCF tampering is emitted. Because of that, CPU interruption is processed on a rate of 1/240 seconds instead of 1/60.
H: It's easy to understand how much sound drivers have evolved from listening to it. The pitchbending (the undulation of sound) is rather peculiar compared to other works that were released until that point.
S: The pitchbend was easy to do. Our driver could achieve the pitchbend for a while back then by using a part of the LFO (vibrato). However, nowadays we use MIDI data and I think we put in the pitchbend information into the data.
H: I noticed that in tracks like "Blast'em up (Boss!!)", sounds effects such as screaming is played during the music.
S: That's right, you could say there are sound effect-like noises in the music, I worked hard with pleasure to put them it.
H: I imagine the ability to produced sound effect-like music has improved to perfection.
S: Nope, not at all. In such driver the same function is used for music and sound effects, so they share the same structure. The sound effect can be called from the sequence data. Therefore you have sound effects that make you go "that sounds awful" if you use for everything. That's why it was a changeable driver.
H: That sounds like too good of an equipment for something used for an unreleased game.
S: The circuit board is similar to the one used in Aurail, but I didn't think it would have made much sense if we didn't improve the drivers, so that's why I made such elaborations.
Speaking of which, the CPU can sometimes make really good sounds when you overclock it. I remember trying to get such results by experimenting with sounds by overclocking the data (laughs) and I got lots of sounds that wouldn't had been possible this way.
I did it often during development. I do create a lot of sound drivers though, in case I make a mistake in the data sequencing. If a mistake is called by an affected address, then a terrible obnoxious noise is caused. I really don't know why I do such things (laughs), when I want to reproduce and analyze such sounds, I emitted them through all sound channels, and in the end it becomes impossible to use them... Such things happens like that.
As for the tone, during the final days in which I used FM sound module, I approached it for their voice synthesis function, but then I stopped since it didn't sound very well. I experimented with the voice coder a lot, but it gave out nothing but bugs. (laughs)
It was around that time I've started being involved in console games. I began with Monster World III. It was a very new to me at the time. I connected the MIDI terminal from a PC to a Mega Drive and then composed music firsthand with a "Recomposer".
H: That's such a terrible story. There are people who want to do such things, but they don't turn out so well. Going back to Aquario, the master tape suddenly begins from the Round 5 BGM. Why...?
S: Unlike when I worked on Aurail, Aquario was mostly made before I worked on the music. The music was not added until the last moment. I think that tune was the first one I've composed for the game. I felt it was easier to make a music for the final stage (Note that the track title is "Clockwork Aquario", the English translation of the game's title).
The Groove of Aquario
H: Finally, which track would you say is your most favorite?
S:My most favorite is definitely "Cooney Droop (Round 2 BGM)". I definitely think of myself when I listen to it. The first half is made so that the euphoria does not occur as much as possible all the way through until reaching the high point of the tune.
I pointed this out to Namiki today, but I often change the arrangement by the first chorus and the second chorus. I've wrote down all the details just in the case for the production of the CD, so that the person recording it wouldn't leave anything out (laughs). Yes, that's how I felt it.
In the old days I would copy and paste a lot, ending up with two identical choruses, so I would think about adding a few twists as well.
My next favorite would be "The Land of Pureness (ending)". Maybe I was influenced by Toshinobu Kubota (Japanese singer/songwriter). By this point, I began understand what a groove was for the first time. Even though I devoted myself to it like any other tune, it somehow felt different as well. After many trials and errors, I finally understood what it was. Although modern sequencers usually have a quantization feature that lets you know how much groove it's giving out.
Aquario was the first soundtrack I made which featured some groove. A sixteenth note for example, usually becomes the same length like all other when processed by a sequencer. However, the groove is delayed when the beginning is a bit too long. I didn't know what I was doing back then, but now it feels natural.
H: The sequencers sold back then in Japan weren't good for determining the groove.
S: That's right. It eats lots of memory as well. Although the data can be easily optimized only if the sixteenth note continues for a long time.
H: I learned about such things from Sega's Fantasy Zone and it managed to stay with me since.
S: Fantasy Zone was good. That was System 16, which was close in terms of structure to the System 18 hardware used for Aquario. There's another tune I want to comment on... "Frisky Brisky (Round 1 BGM)". This brought out the Julianna (a Japanese discothèque) in me. Because of the circumstances of PCM, it wasn't possible to employ an orchestra hit, even though I've never went to Julianna's (laughs). At any rate, it seems as if two or more rhythms can be heard at the same time while the tune is played, the reality is that PCM only has one channel. Therefore, the sound of a cowbell and the sound of a snare for instance, are not only separately recorded, they're recorded together as well, giving the impression of two sound channels playing when it's really just one.
H: The PCM chip must have a bad tone quality then.
S: Yes, the sampling rate is too low, so the high-hat system was not good. I had no other choice but FM. I already did PCM rhythm with Aurail, but that could only be used for voices, but I had to use it by force.
H:I think it's possible to improve the sounds by just taking advantage of the bass like PCM does. It seems Aquario focuses a bit on bass.
S: Yes it does. It's a problem of balance. It was necessary to reduce the volume of the other parts in order to make the bass stand out. When it was put on a video arcade, people thought the sounds were too low and tried to increase the volume of the board. I've assumed increase the bass would've solve such problems. I remember making the same mistake while working on Senjyo during my days in Tehkan (laughs).
H: I see, so it was revenge after ten years. (laughs)
Hardcore Gaming 101 interviewed Westone's Ryuichi Nishizawa, and he mentions Aquario at the end.
Last year, a soundtrack was published for an unreleased Westone game called Tokei Jikake no Aquario (時計じかけのアクワリオ). Unfortunately information about this game is scarce. Do you remember anything about it, or why it was not released? There's only one screenshot currently out there, and it looks like it has a really cool visual style similar to the Monster World games. (On a side note, you wouldn't happen to have any more screenshots or art still remaining from this game, would you?)
"Aquario of the Clockwork" was the last arcade game developed by my company. I had been working and suffering for a long time to complete it, but the location test results were poor. It was an eccentric action game with three player simulaneous play. The graphics were quite excellent, but it was not released, unfortunately. The program is located in the archives of my company, so I do not have any screenshots.
If "Aquario of the Clockwork" were released as part of the "Sega Vintage Collection", would people be interested in buying it? I would be very interested to know.
I don't use Twitter, but I'm getting the Monster World Collection to show him my support (and because I've always liked those games, of course).
Also, somebody please tell M2 that, in these Vintage Collections, the only way to get the games running full screen on 4:3 TVs is, ironically, putting the console into 16:9 mode and then selecting 4:3 aspect in each game's screen options, which is stupid.
Last year, a soundtrack was published for an unreleased Westone game called Tokei Jikake no Aquario (時計じかけのアクワリオ).
Nitpick. The soundtrack didn't came out "last year". It's been available on Project EGG since 2006.
Either way, I'm glad that this thread has helped raised awareness for Aquario, although I'm a bit annoyed that my translations of both, the location test report and the Sakamoto interview, were reposted on NeoGAF without being linked back to this thread.
Mr. Nishizawa has set up a Togetter page in order to gauge interest on the game. I recommend everyone who has a Twitter account to support it.
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