A team of shooter enthusiasts have taken on the challenge to tell the story of Toaplan. It is titled All Your Bases Are Belong To Toaplan in reference to the comical Engrish in Zero Wing. The legendary Japanese developer created some of the finest shmups to grace our arcades and I speak to the guys behind this intriguing documentary. I ask what we can expect, what its like to meet your heroes and when its out. Lots of shooter fans decided to back the project in the meantime lets find out about it from the filmmakers, Ilya Kay and Joe Pierce.
A full length documentary is a huge task, so I started by asking why the pair love Toaplan so much. Joe explains that ‘Toaplan is my favourite developer of all time. My obsession with the company really started when I bought a Hishouzame (Flying Shark) arcade board in 2017. But after playing the game I was overwhelmed by how brilliantly designed the game was and felt like a child discovering games for the first time. I then purchased Kyuukyoku Tiger and I my obsession with the company got progressively deeper with each passing day.’
I can understand, those early Toaplan shooters are amazing and IlYa and has fond memories of the 80’s shooter craze. ‘For me it starts with nostalgia. These are some of the first shooting games I grew up playing as a kid and fell in love with, not just in arcades but at home, first on an NES, then later on PC Engine and Mega Drive. So aside from all the gameplay and musical aspects nearly all of the games hold important memories for me. I certainly have rose tinted glasses when it comes to how I still play and experience them today.’
Being fond of the games is one thing, but I wanted to know where the idea for a documentary came from. In a twist of fate, Joe met two Toaplan developers at a music concert. ‘I stumbled across a video of a band called “U-Brand” and to my surprise I found out it was Uemura Tatsuya playing the song he had wrote!! U-Brand often has fan meetings after their concerts and here I met Yuge Masahiro, another legendary developer who worked for Toaplan. I got to hear a lot of their stories and I felt that it is a shame that fans worldwide couldn’t hear them with me. That’s how the idea of filming them came about.’
Joe continues with ‘originally, I wanted to film their stories to be put on Mark Bussler’s channel, because I knew he really enjoyed Toaplan’s games, but unfortunately Mark had just went on hiatus. He was very excited about the idea though and said to me “This shouldn’t be just some series of YouTube videos, this should be a proper documentary” and that really encouraged me to take the project to the next level.’
Ilya has recently joined the team after chatting to Joe. ‘I came onto the project several months ago due to Joe reaching out to me after finding some of my history videos on YouTube. He really liked my editing and work, realizing I was already making the type of video he wanted to produce, only I didn’t have the benefit of actual developer interviews we’ll have for this project. Having grown up during that era and being a big fan of Toaplan myself, I naturally was ecstatic to help any way I could!’
Looking ahead to the actual documentary itself, backers can expect a lot of love going into its content. Joe tells me that ‘it’s a documentary made by fans and people very passionate about Toaplan. We aren’t some studio trying to cash in on the popularity of video games and who only has a half understanding of the companies they are talking about. My relationships with the developers are very important to me as well, so I want to make something I can be proud of so I don’t have to feel guilty every time I meet them.’
‘A lot of the interviewees I am meeting for the first time and since they are my heroes it is hard to get over being star struck. But recently I am getting better and better at dealing with this. Mostly by small talk before we begin the interview. It’s incredible to have people like Namiki Manabu come in to interview for my project, it fills me with overwhelming joy and excitement every time I get to interview someone for the project. I am counting down the days in my mind for when I get to interview the next person.’
The idea of meeting his heroes is also not lost on Ilya. ‘I wait with baited breath for this pandemic to end and visit Japan again to meet some of these legends! I tend to not put people on a pedestal and simply respect them as potentially flawed human beings. But to say I’m ecstatic and honoured for the opportunity to meet some of them wouldn’t be an understatement. I never thought for a moment I would get to be part of something like this, or meet the developers of my favourite games. To the point where I’m desperately trying to learn as much Japanese as possible beforehand!’
It is not just interviews with Toaplan staff that we can expect. Joe starts with ‘you can expect to see all of the games captured directly from the arcade boards, but even more exciting is that we are planning to visit Toaplan’s old office buildings with the staff and also go to their old hangouts and film them reminiscing as well.’ he continues with ‘our first stretch goal is a commentary of one of the Toaplan games by the original staff that the backers get to choose. And we also have a third disc that increases the overall amount of content of the documentary to go on the physical release.’
Ilya is also excited for the extras. ‘What I think many fans are excited about are the special features and extras. Getting to hear the developers discuss aspects of the company and games they would never otherwise have heard. More so than most films, where very few spend time with extra content. This documentary will likely see as much interest in all the extra interview footage we couldn’t fit in, as there will be in the main film itself. Because accurate information on Toaplan is scarce, every titbit from the developers themselves is worth its weight in gold.’
And when can we expect to see the finished film? ‘It is hard to say at the moment given how unpredictable the situation with the pandemic is. I have actually been working on this since 2020 and only now have enough footage to put together a trailer for the Kickstarter. We are aiming for a summer 2023 release. But more than just getting it out there we want to make a quality product as this is very likely the first, and only, documentary on Toaplan to ever be produced. We have one shot at getting it right.’
Thank you to Joe and Ilya for taking the time to speak with me.