Gaze into the mind of Working Designs’ Victor Ireland in this 1993 interview from the original Lunar: The Silver Star strategy guide. Silver Star had just wrapped and Eternal Blue was on the horizon, along with the 32-bit console generation!
The following article originally appeared in the Lunar: The Silver Star official strategy guide from Sandwhich Island Publishings, which has been out of print for roughly 20 years now. It was conducted by Zach Meston, one of the authors of the guide. We are providing this hard to obtain information for educational purposes. Everything that follows is from the original article.
One thing you quickly find out about the video game industry is that very few of the movers, shakers, wheelers, and dealers actually play video games. Victor Ireland is a welcome exception. He’s a game player who knows what other game players want, and he listens to them by importing the best games the Japanese market has to offer.
Ireland’s company, Working Designs, was one of the very few third-party companies to support the NEC TurboGrafx-16 (and the TTI Duo), and it quickly gained a reputation for excellence by bringing over the cream of the Japanese crop: Cadash, Cosmic Fantasy 2, Exile, and Vasteel. Now, Ireland is leading Working Designs into the Sega CD market with Lunar: The Silver Star.
We thought you’d like to find out a little more about the man behind the great games, so we called Ireland up in November of 1993 and talked with him for an hour or so about all kinds of stuff. What follows is the just-slightly-edited transcript of the conversation.
Victor Ireland: Since I was old enough to move a joystick. Pong came out when I was just big enough to get my head above the bottom of the console. Video games came on just as I was old enough to catch them, and I’ve been riding them ever since.
ZM: Do you think of yourself as a good game player?
VI: I’m not as good as I used to be. I think age is taking its toll. When Defender came out, I could roll it over [score so many points that the counter “rolled over” to zero]. I went and played it recently, and I totally sucked.
ZM: What are your favorite video games of all time?
VI: Defender is right up there. Asteroids was really popular, but I never got into it. Mappy was good. I liked Xevious a lot. I loved Crazy Climber. There’s a version of that for the Atari 2600 you can get somewhere. The programmer did an illegal function call that jumped into an interrupt it wasn’t supposed to, so the game wouldn’t work on about 20% of the 2600s on the market. The programmer got mad at whoever he was working for, so he took the programming code and left the company. Atari had the compiled code, but no way to decompile it, so they couldn’t fix the problem. They ended up producing the carts and dumping them. They lost a ton of money.
ZM: How did you get involved with Working Designs?
VI: Working Designs was originally formed to create computer accounting software for the transportation industry. Then the programmer doing the software died. I knew the programmer, and I was around, so I got recommended for the job. They hired me and I finished up the software, which took a few years.
By 1989, things were running smoothly. I was writing for Video Games & Computer Entertainment [now known as Video Games], I had lots of Japanese connections, and thought “Wouldn’t it be nice to bring out great PC Engine games?” I talked to Sylvia [Schmitt, president of Working Designs] and formed a partnership. The transportation software was running itself by now, so we left it behind and went into game software.
ZM: Why did you prefer the PC Engine over the Mega Drive? [The PC Engine is the Japanese version of the NEC TurboGrafx-16, also known in its most recent incarnation as the TTI Duo; the Mega Drive is the Japanese version of the Sega Genesis.]
“If you compare the PC Engine and Mega Drive marketing aside — the PC Engine has awesome games.”
VI: That’s kind of a loaded question. [laughs] Why the PC Engine? The color palette was bigger and the games were better. If you compare the PC Engine and Mega Drive — marketing aside — the PC Engine has awesome games. It was also the first system with CD-ROM, and I was very interested in that. There was a ton of software available for license, since the PC Engine had been out since 1988.
ZM: In your opinion, why did the TurboGrafx-16 fail?
VI: NEC didn’t understand their market. America is very image-driven. In Japan, they want to know how a game system is technologically superior to the others. In America, they couldn’t care less. They buy the image, not the product. Sega’s marketing agency understood that, but NEC’s never did. Sega has made some horrible mistakes, but their ad agency has this awesome ad campaign that gives Sega a buffer to recover.
NEC also brought over bad games. The voice acting on the early CDs was terrible. I was the executive producer for Dungeon Explorer II, and I gave the guy in charge of the project a copy of Last Alert as an example of what not to do. That has the all-time worst voice acting ever in a game.
“In Japan, they want to know how a game system is technologically superior to the others. In America, they couldn’t care less.”
ZM: Are you doing anything else for the TG-16/Duo, or moving entirely to Sega CD?
VI: We’re still doing King of the Monsters. World Heroes was canceled, because World Heroes II (being done by Hudson Soft) is almost finished, and World Heroes sucks by comparison. We might only release King of the Monsters in Japan if TTI doesn’t release the Arcade Card [a peripheral that increases the memory buffer of the Duo] over here. It’s been announced in Japan but not in the U.S. The games for the Arcade Card are awesome. World Heroes II looks like a carbon copy of the Neo-Geo version.
ZM: Why did you choose Lunar as your first Sega CD title?
VI: I looked at three or four RPGs before Lunar. It was by far the best, and I didn’t know anything about it, although I’d heard people talking about it. I looked in a Japanese magazine and saw that it was ranked as the #1 RPG of all time.
We heard rumors that the big Sega software manufacturers had tried to license it, but couldn’t get the deal made. I was wondering why not. It turns out the president of Game Arts — and I know this is going to sound egotistical — he thought we were the only ones who could do it right. It was a great compliment, but he could have just been stroking me. [laughs] He plays a lot of games, which was cool because we had an immediate rapport. Even though we couldn’t speak to each other well, we could communicate about games. He speaks better English than I speak Japanese, though.
“We heard rumors that Sega and then Virgin had tried to license [Lunar] , but couldn’t get the deal made.”
ZM: When was Lunar released in Japan?
VI: Lunar originally came out in June 1992. I don’t know the exact sales figures, but it was supposed to have sold around 100,000 units. The installed base of the Mega-CD is small, so basically everyone that owned a Mega-CD bought Lunar. ‘
ZM: Have you heard the rumors that Sega of Japan announced they would no longer be supporting the Mega-CD?
VI: I know that Sega of Japan is pulling programmers to put on the Saturn [Sega’s upcoming 32-bit game system], so it makes sense that they’re reducing support, but not that they announced it. I’m checking with three or four developers [about the rumors].
ZM: What are the differences in making games for the Sega CD and for the TG-16/Duo?
VI: Cosmic Fantasy 2 [an RPG by Working Designs for the TG-16/Duo] had a lot of innuendo in it. Sega flags that kind of stuff pretty quick. so we had to take some of it out. There was a line in Lunar where Kyle is bragging about putting another notch in his bedpost. Sega said it was “too suggestive.” Innuendo’s a lot of fun. If you don’t get it, it just sails right past you. We did sneak a lot of stuff into Lunar that Sega didn’t flag or didn’t know about.
Mel’s original nickname was Hell Mel. Sega didn’t want to use the word “hell,” so we changed it to Deadly Mel. I liked Hell Mel so much better. I could’ve gotten it through if I’d really pushed, and I probably would still have gotten an MA-13 rating.
“Cosmic Fantasy 2 [an RPG by Working Designs for the TG-16/Duo] had a lot of innuendo n it. Sega flags that kind of stuff pretty quick.”
[The upcoming Sega CD game] Rise of the Dragon has everything short of the F-word. It’s even alluded to. At one point, a character says “Get your effin’ butt outta Where!” The game sucks, but the language blew me away. I finished the game in a couple of hours with help, but you can finish the game in fifteen minutes once you know what to do. The first thing I look for in a CD game is voice acting, and the voice acting in Rise of the Dragon is so bad. It’s just horrible when you can identify the same actor doing three different voices. Spider-Man CD sounds like Shakespeare by comparison.
ZM: How long did it take to translate the text in Lunar? How much text is there?
VI: Four megabytes. 32 megabits. We did the translation in about eight weeks, but we were working like dogs. It sucked. There were moments of inspiration, but then it was back to the drudgery of messages like “Oh, I saw so-and-so go here.” One of the funniest lines is when Ghaleon runs over the Talon Mine in the Grindery. You talk to one of the people and he says “That jerk Ghaleon crushed the sun tea I had sitting out…then Nall pops off a great “one liner”.
“We did the translation in about eight weeks, but we were working like dogs.”
ZM: How about the new CD voice acting? How long did that take?
VI: Two and a half weeks from voice recording to final mix. The voice recording was about a week, and it took one and a half weeks to add sound effects. We have about 60 CDs worth of effects, and we had to sort through them all to figure out which sound effects would work in each scene. In every project, we need a sound effect we don’t have, so we end up buying a library of 10 or 20 more CDs.
ZM: It looked as though Dark Wizard was going to be the first RPG released for the Sega CD. Any idea what happened to it?
VI: I just saw in the latest issue of a Japanese Sega magazine that they have a release date for Dark Wizard again. It hasn’t come out in Japan, so it’ll be at least next year before it comes out here, I guess. What happened [with Dark Wizard) is that it sucked. I heard all sorts of rumors that it was so bad that Sega said “No way we’re going to release this.” From what I understand, it’s still pretty bad.
There’s a slam of Dark Wizard in Lunar. Not an overt slam, and it works in the context of the sentence. If you understand that Dark Wizard is a game, it works on a different level.
“Final Fantasy looks great, but the writing sucks. I wonder what it could have been with a good writer.”
That’s the whole reason we got into Sega CD. People were writing us, saying “Please make RPGs for Sega CD.” We said “Let’s do it, no one else can do it right.” Final Fantasy is great-looking, but the writing sucks. I play that and I wonder what it could have been with a good writer. It’s a good game, but only because of the strong graphics and sound. If only someone had written it for Americans to enjoy, not just to understand what’s going on. In Japan, they get a kick of their RPGs. There’s lots of humorous stuff in there.
ZM: What do you think of the new wave of game systems?
VI: I think 3D0 is too expensive, but everyone else does too. I can’t see 3D0 becoming what everyone says it’s going to be. A lot of developers are just sitting on their hands, waiting to see what will happen with it. The Jaguar? Atari has a real opportunity to make a great system, but their track record is less than stellar. I dunno. Of the systems to be available, I like the Jaguar and the Saturn.
VI: Unofficially, I’ve heard in early ’94. Sega of Japan is pulling programmers off Mega Drive stuff to have software available for the launch. I heard they would do a simultaneous release in the U.S. and Japan.
ZM: What about NEC’s 32-bit Iron Man system?
VI: The Iron Man in its current incarnation is dated hopelessly. If it was released two years ago it would have done well, but now NEC has to start from scratch.
ZM: What’s next for Working Designs?
VI: Vay [a Mega-CD role-playing game]. Lunar II. We’re trying to get one other title but we haven’t announced it yet. In ’94 we’ll do three, perhaps four titles. A lot depends on the Sega CD market and the release of the Saturn. We want to have a game out for the Saturn within a month or two of its release.
“The [Lunar II] game world is at least twice as big, and the artwork is incredible.”
ZM: Tell me about Lunar II.
VI: The game world is at least twice as big, and the artwork is incredible. The drawings of each character are great. The game is set in the future, so Nall, the baby white dragon in Lunar I, is a full-grown dragon in Lunar II. He’s the only character from Lunar I. There’s the same amount of animation – 12 to 15 minutes — but there’s more action in the animation. Lunar I has a lot of stills: Lunar II has more movement. Easily the best animation in a Sega CD game. It looks like a PC Engine game animation-wise. The cities have more animations — windmills that are turning, other stuff going on.
Game Arts says it will be out in the spring of ’94, but it will be the summer of `94, knowing how games slip. Lunar was supposed to be out when the Mega-CD came out, and it came out six months later. As soon as it’s finished, we’ll talk to Game Arts. We want to get close to a simultaneous release in the U.S. and Japan.
That’s all for the interview. You can read all about and check out loads of media for Lunar: The Silver Star here.