Treasure has long forged a defiantly idiosyncratic path over the course of its nearly 17-year history.
Founded in 1992, the company immediately began working on the action games which would become its signature -- beginning with emblematically side-scrolling shooter Gunstar Heroes, which was released in 1993 for Sega's Genesis/Mega Drive platform.
Over the years, Treasure has balanced creating its own gameplay-intensive titles, such as Ikaruga, with carefully working with established series -- as was the case with the Nintendo-published Wario World for Gamecube -- and licensed properties, such as fighting games based on the popular manga and anime series Bleach, again with Sega.
Most recently, the company has revisited its Bangai-O series with a new installment on the Nintendo DS, Bangai-O Spirits. Originally released to the Nintendo 64 in Japan only and followed up on Sega's Dreamcast, the series features massive stages of shooting and fighting action.
This time around, an innovative level design tool and sharing mechanism, which allows users to record audio from the Nintendo DS and post it online to trade levels -- led to an interesting promotion in which professional designers from studios such as Infinity Ward and Foundation 9 created in-game levels.
This article talks to CEO Masato Maegawa about the inspiration for the Bangai-O remake and its new features, discusses the titles the company has released throughout its history, and raises questions about where things can go from here -- presenting a comprehensive Treasure overview as we head into a new year.
With Bangai-O Spirits, where did the idea for the Sound Load level trading come from?
Masato Maegawa: Well, basically, back during the 8-bit generation of computers, people saved their data on cassette tapes, recording audio pulses that represented 0 and 1.
We realized that you could still do the same thing today if you wanted, trading MP3s with each other. Of course, that probably shows how long I've been involved with the computer industry (laughs) -- but really, it's not a new idea at all.
Once we got into the PSP era, developers got a lot more freedom to have downloadable content and patches and so forth, but there's really no easy way to connect a DS to a PC. As we tried to find a way around this, we came up with the Sound Load solution.
I should add that now that the DSi has been released, that situation might wind up changing. Of course, what we have right now is pretty good! In terms of exchanging data, Sound Load is probably the best solution available at present.
What makes you say it's the best solution?
MM: Well, I don't how know it is overseas, but I mean that in Japan, you have people opening up websites devoted to the game where you can freely download and exchange data between other users. That's what I mean. Putting things up on YouTube, and so forth.
Basically, Nintendo tends to set up their online structure with safety and security as the number-one priority and freedom as the second item on the list. You can't connect your DS to the internet and just do anything you want to with it.
You would need to exchange friend codes before trading stages if you were doing it [via Wi-Fi], but doing it this way lets gamers exchange data without any of that, without getting Nintendo involved. (laughs)
And I'm not saying that Nintendo's strategy is the wrong one, but asking gamers to get friend codes from people they've never met or talked to before is enough to make any of them a little hesitant about online. It's not as fun, either, if you're only able to share levels with your personal friends.
It's sort of like how they used to sell records where the last track would be a data track, and you could read that into your ZX Spectrum and play a game or something.
MM: Were you guys around for that era?
We read about it on Wikipedia.
MM: (laughs) You're still pretty young!