Astro City Mini V Interview

Magazine/Site: Famitsu
Date: 12/17/2021

Introducing the Dream Mini Cabinet for Shooting Game Fans! And How Did Game Center Mikado Get Involved?

Yuuichi Aochi – An employee of Sega Toys, he’s the producer of both the original Astro City Mini and the Astro City Mini V. He generally oversees over all aspects of these projects.

Hirohiko Atobe – An employee of Sega Toys, he’s the project director for both the original Astro City Mini and the Astro City Mini V. He’s in charge of planning and design.

Minoru Ikeda – CEO of INH, and the owner and operator of Game Center Mikado. He did promotion for the original Astro City Mini, and is involved in the development of the Astro City Mini V.

From the Original Astro City Mini to V

It’s been roughly one year since the original Astro City Mini was released. How have the sales and user feedback been?

(Aochi) We received feedback from people all over the world since its release, and we’re very grateful for the praise people have given it. Of particular note were the title selections, and the amount of titles that had not been ported up until that point. Also many told us that the internal emulation felt just like playing on the actual arcade boards. There were some difficult aspects to the scheduling, but we’re very glad that we managed to overcome them and launch.

(Atobe) I came into the Astro City Mini project part way through. The Corona Virus had just begun spreading all over the world, and it was a period in which everyone was very unsure as to just how things were going to turn out. Not knowing what he should do next as the producer of the project, I was invited by Mr. Aochi to join the team working on the Astro City Mini. And when I got a look at how things were going, it was in a pretty rough state! (Laughs Wryly) From there we started bringing more Sega Toys staff members that had that “Sega Spirit” onto the project, and we managed to pull off the production. Since the Astro City Mini was a giant crown atop 60 years of Sega history, I felt quite a bit of pressure.

Mr. Ikeda, how did you feel when you first saw the Astro City Mini?

(Ikeda) As a user, I immediately thought it was really cool. There are all sorts of different types of cabinets in arcades: I think you’ll understand if you stop by Mikado, but almost all of the cabinets running there are made by Sega. And because of that, I’m a bit of a Sega fundamentalist! (Laughs) You might say I don’t want to let people play games if they aren’t on an Astro City, Blast City, or another cabinet from that line. They’re the easiest cabinets to play on, and stools sit at the perfect height in front of them. They’re also the cabinets I like best in terms of maintenance. I’m nothing but happy about the fact that you can enjoy them in a miniature size now too. The larger cabinet Sega games like After Burner and Outrun are always the most popular, right? But I was very surprised about the obscure titles that Sega included on the software lineup.

(Atobe) Thank you very much. We were very particular about the titles that we included in the lineup. It was a product to celebrate 60 years of Sega, so we certainly had to touch on the legacy of AM1 and AM2.

Were there any notable difficulties during the development of the Astro City Mini?

(Atobe) Any actual software development work was divided up. For example, we had someone in charge of planning, graphics, programming, etc. For the development of the actual product itself, I more or less handled the illustrations, packaging and logo designs, as well as the inventory control and submission of the planning documentation on my own. Of course it would have been impossible for me to also handle the 40 software titles going onto the Astro City Mini, design of it, the back and forth with outside companies, and the promotion for it as well. So that’s why we divided up the work.

And today you’re all here due to the announcement of its successor, the Astro City Mini V. It’s a version of the Astro City cabinet with a vertical monitor, but can you give us some of the details on how this new version came to be?

(Aochi) I think there are people who figured that we’d do a New Astro City Mini or a Blast City Mini next. This is the case with any kind of product, but of course developments that impact post-launch had been happening even during the planning phases of the Astro City Mini. And of course there were conversations that were essentially “If we want a hit, we should do a New Astro City Mini”. But the Astro City Mini went into production with us not knowing exactly how it would turn out amidst the challenges with development. And so we managed to launch it, and received positive feedback from people all over the world. Thanks to that we received the OK to ahead and make it into a series, so that’s why we have the Astro City Mini V this time around.

(Atobe) Of course we had ideas to make other cabinet versions that weren’t the Astro City Mini V. But we felt that there was more that we could do with the Astro City Mini still. It was a project that represented 60 years of Sega, and represented the company as a whole. And when we got in contact with Mikado about promotion, I think we realized that from a gamer perspective we weren’t really able to hit on the formative experience of those really hardcore games. Looking back on the 90s, it was full of those hardcore titles. With most of them being shooting or fighting games, the hardcore enthusiasm there is found in those edge of your seat matches or going for a high score. And thinking that we wanted our customers to have that experience along with us, we made the decision that we should do another Astro City Mini instead of a new model of mini cabinet. And this time it will have a vertical monitor, and feature mainly vertically scrolling shooters.

But Sega doesn’t have that many vertically scrolling shooters, and Sonic Boom and Scramble Spirits were already included on the first version.

(Atobe) It’s true that Sega doesn’t have that many vertically scrolling shooters, so we decided to work with other companies on adding their titles to the lineup from an early stage. Thanks to Mikado, we were able to get cooperation from several of them. And each one of the companies involved loves arcade games. Sega Entertainment, the company which ran Sega’s arcades, was sold off during our planning phase, so we have some sad memories of that happening associated with the project. So everyone feeling that same way was a big reason that this project happened as well.

So what made you decide on shooting games as a theme?

(Atobe) The lineup of the original Astro City Mini was themed around looking back on 60 years of Sega’s history. The Astro City Mini V will be all about experiencing fan enthusiasm together. And as we mentioned before, the 90s was a period in which fans were very enthusiastic about fighting and shooting games. I assumed most of the people involved would want it to be based around fighting games, but I wanted to propose that we try shooting games first. So we went with vertically scrolling shooters as the feature.

You said “first”…This may be jumping the gun, but could it be that you’re planning to do another mini cabinet featuring fighting games?

(Atobe) It’s a possibility. It could be that the next one will be a completely different type of mini cabinet, or it could just have a completely different theme.

By the way, what is the origin and meaning behind the “V” in the product name?

(Atobe) We’d decided on it during the earliest draft of the planning documents. It’s a vertical monitor, so the “V” stands for “vertical”. It also stands for “victory”. And this may be stretching it a bit, it also stands for “volcanic”, in the context of how hardcore and passionate we want it to feel. So those are the three meanings for the “V” in the title.

(Aochi) We also got a lot of opinions from higher up, but in the end we were allowed to do what we wanted.

Astro City Mini V closeup

Putting the Mikado Spirit into the Astro City Mini V!

Game Center Mikado is participating in the development this time around. But Mikado participated in the promotion of the first unit, by doing promotional streams and such.

(Atobe) That’s right. We had to think about promotion at the same time we were developing the original Astro City Mini. But no matter what, we just couldn’t figure out how to do good promotion on our own. When we were thinking of good ways to handle it, another staff member and I came up with the idea of asking Mikado to help us. But since Sega Toys is a toy company, a lot of people here recognize the name Mikado but don’t know too much about them. I talked so fervently about what a great arcade they were, ultimately the company decided to just put their faith in me and gave me the budget for it. Mikado agreed to it as soon I talked to them about it, and before we knew it they were setting up promotional streams for us. And they’ve been continuing to help us since the planning stages of the Astro City Mini V.

(Ikeda) I was thrilled that we got an offer to participate, and we wanted to contribute to an increase in sales in whatever small way we could. We thought that maybe if the Astro City Mini sold well, it would make some people want to come to arcades to play those games again, so we did whatever we could to make that happen.

So why is it that you asked Mikado to also help with development this time around?

(Aochi) We’re a toy company here at Sega Toys, which made us feel like we were a bit inadequate for this task. So we thought Mr. Ikeda from Game Center Mikado was the perfect person to consult with. It’s not like we’re constantly working on game related projects, and we all have our strengths and weaknesses. We were all hoping to reach an agreement, and thankfully they agreed to help us.

I see. In what capacity is Mikado helping with development in?

(Ikeda) For starters, we lent them the boards of the selected titles for dumping. We listed out the button arrangements on the control panels of the machines we have running at Mikado, and proposed them for the button layouts. We also handled contacting some of the external development companies, as well as consulted on the software title lineup.

In what way did you consult on the software title lineup?

(Ikeda) Mr. Atobe initially asked me “What titles do you think everyone would be happy with?”, so I came up with my dream list. It had a lot of titles on it that I figured would be impossible to include, but I figured we’d start with at least trying to get them first. There were a lot of conversations with Mr. Atobe in which I said it was our job to make them happen, after all! So there was a lot of enthusiasm put into it right from the start.

(Atobe) He gave me his dream list, with no real thought as to what was actually possible! (Laughs) We were going to make it happen as we were working on the project, but of course there were titles that wouldn’t make it. When I showed that list to management, they actually said “No, we can put some even more amazing titles on here!”, and they gave us back an even more unrealistic list…and I think that resulted in the pretty amazing lineup that we have for it today.

(Ikeda) Yeah, it’s pretty similar to my initial dream list. The basic thought process during product development was thinking “If this title was on here, it would really make people happy!” from the point where we put that list together. If we can make that happen, it would certainly make me happy as a huge arcade fan.

(Atobe) Thank you. This really was possible because of Mikado. Even now I can’t quite believe the title lineup is real.

(Aochi) Mikado reached out to these companies one at a time, and just worked toward making it happen. There were a lot of non-Sega titles on our list, and that was going to require budget. I think Atobe made it all work out very well, while chasing that dream through the eyes of a producer.

(Atobe) In the end it felt like I was just pushing the snack cart through the rear car or something! (Laughs) After all, Mr. Ikeda and everyone involved at Mikado all love games, regularly attracting everyone from around the country that also loves games at their arcade. And this made me think I should put my own love for games more up front. So this time around I really put everything I had into helping make the Astro City Mini V! (Laughs)

It really is a surprising lineup! Looking at it from the perspective of a shooting game fan, it’s like a treasure chest of games. Just what direction did you go in when determining the titles?

(Atobe) There are a ton of great vertically scrolling shooting games, even apart from the ones in our lineup. We approached pretty much every company from the titles we identified, apart from the ones for which we couldn’t determine who the license holder currently was. Thinking that we wanted to get some of these elusive titles no matter what, we exhaustively researched where the rights to them currently were. But there were some titles where we just slammed up against an insurmountable wall. There were also cases where the company that held the rights would say they wanted to go in a different direction with that particular title. And of course there’s absolutely no problem with that, we understand.

(Ikeda) There are some hardcore shooter fans that will say “Why isn’t THIS game on there?!”. But in just about every case our response to that would be “We looked into it, we tried!” (Laughs)

Absolutely. It seems like getting this all together was very hard work.

(Atobe) “60th anniversary” being the keyword for the original Astro City Mini, it felt like we were distilling that 60 years down to the top 37 games. And that was hard in its own way. But “V” was our keyword this time around, so it was a matter of figuring out with Mikado which of the carefully considered titles to include. Mikado and Sega Toys are 1+1 = 200! (Laughs)

(Ikeda) TenKoji! (Laughs) (Note: TenKoji was the nickname of the pro wrestling tag team made up of Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima. Their catchphrase was “We’re 1+1 equals 200. That’s 100 times!”)

(Atobe) So I guess you could say that selecting the titles wasn’t that painful, but rather maybe it was the process leading up to that point. Planning for this project felt really fresh, the initial ideas had such amazing passion behind them. From there it was passing it along through the company, getting a budget, and making it happen…and I think that’s where it started to feel a little less fresh. I’m the type of person who likes to eat while the food is hot, so I think I need to figure out a way to keep that passion from fading for the next project.

(Ikeda) Yeah. I’m absolutely not joking when I say that I want these to get progressively more and more ridiculous. I want the Astro City Mini V to be like a spark that ignites what might be coming in the future.

We just got some pro wrestling catchphrases there. But compared to the rest of the lineup, Wrestle War is the game that really stands out. Could that be due to…personal tastes?

(Atobe) Just as you suspect, Wrestle War was the game that I absolutely wanted to be on there. And there’s one very clear reason for that: I’m just guessing, but I think it was the first pro wrestling game to have a high kick as your normal attack. Wrestle War was a game made during the time when UWF was popular, which featured a lot of standing throws. So being able to go from a standing throw right into a high kick to your opponent’s face was so novel. It was a very well made vertically oriented wrestling game, and I hope everyone plays it.

If UWF’s shoot-style was the basis for it, in a way you could still call it a “shooting” game. Another reason to be happy is that there are 6 titles that are being ported for the first time, such as Armed Police Batrider.

(Atobe) There was a shooting game boom in the 90s, but fighting games were really big as well. And that game was never ported anywhere. Also the amount of shooting games found in arcades really went down to make room for more fighting games, so you couldn’t find a lot of them by the time that game came out. Now people who weren’t able to play it then can enjoy it now, and I think going to Mikado to play it after practicing at home would be a great idea!

(Ikeda) When I was a kid I had to budget my limited money for games, so there were plenty of titles I wanted to play but couldn’t. Now that I’m an adult, being able to play all of these games on the Astro City Mini V is really something of a dream come true.

And exactly because you’re an adult, it’s so nice to have so many of them on one device! I realize that it’s early on in development, but the ports feel pretty complete based on what can be seen from images and videos. I suspect fans are wondering about this as well, but about how far along would you say they are?

(Atobe) As you can see, we’re still in the early stages but just about all of the titles are pretty playable. But arcade boards require certain amounts of tuning in order to play them in arcades, so they’re specialized in that way. The Astro City Mini V is a toy that we’re making especially to be able to play a great number of titles. For various technical reasons when we connect an HDMI cable to it, there’s input delay and processing time. This is a tough wall to scale, but we’re in the middle of figuring out how we can use technology to do so and make them easily playable.

I’ve heard that you’ll be including vertical oriented TV output and one-button save states as well, as additional features.

(Atobe) Yes. Vertical oriented TV output is basically a necessity for vertical scrolling shooters. And I don’t think save states really work when someone’s really into a game unless you can use them without accessing a menu: Allowing for one-button saves and loads. However, Armed Police Batrider requires all 6 buttons if you go by the Mikado layout. We discussed what we should do about that, and at the current stage it seems like the one-button save will work for everything but Armed Police Batrider. We may be able to free up one button for it, bit we’re currently prioritizing the use of Mikado’s recommended button layouts.

Will you be able to use the Astro City Mini Arcade Stick as well as the other existing peripherals?

(Atobe) Yes, you’ll be able to use all of them.

Are there any other additional features?

(Atobe) It’s a very small detail, but Mr. Ikeda wrote all of the text that you’ll see on the game selection menu. Any text we would be able to write would be far too simple, so having Mr. Ikeda introduce each game in his own way felt like a much better idea.

Then finally, do you have any messages you’d like to send to all of the gamers out there eagerly anticipating the Astro City Mini V?

(Aochi) The Astro City Mini V has a lot of passion behind it. We hope to be able to bring it to everyone waiting for it before their own passion for it subsides. We’re trying our best to stay true to your expectations, thank you very much for your patience.

(Atobe) We’ll keep working to keep everyone happy up until it’s completed. It’s already been announced, but we’ve got more fun things in store so please keep an eye out for more in the future.

(Ikeda) It’s really amazing that Sega Toys would release something this crazy. It’s unbelievable, right? I mean it’s a mini arcade console that has almost all shooting games on it, that’s insane! And what’s more, it has many different games from different companies on it, so it’s like a dream come true. If you thought about this as a software release, there’s absolutely no way it would come out. It makes you doubt your own eyes and ears. Since I’m involved in the project, I’ll put everything I have into it. So please look forward to its release.

Original Article