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18 Features

History Lesson: Treasure

By Matthew Castle on Sunday 23rd Jun 2013 at 11:00 AM UTC

To look at him, Masato Maegawa (CEO and founder of Treasure) doesn't have the appearance of a man who would enjoy firing a single shot from a gun, let alone 1000 all at once.

Dull suits, modest ties, controlled hair - he's the very antithesis of laser-spewing death ships and robots that explode into fruit when murdered. Sit down for a gab, however, and it's a very different story.

One thing repeatedly crops up in Maegawa interview write-ups: his alarmingly rapid speech. He conducts one-on-ones like verbal Ikaruga, firing off word bullets, gunning away at your defences with pure gaming passion. And it's a passion that transfers beautifully to Treasure's titles, undirtied by the meddling of commercial pressure - pressure that, in many ways, created Treasure in the first place.

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The youngest company we've tackled to date, Treasure was founded in 1992 on 19 June, not in an act of spontaneous creation, but after a mass exodus from Konami. Look at the CVs of the original 18 staff members and you'll find them littered with Konami output - Axelay, Contra III, the Simpsons arcade machine, Super Castlevania IV...

For all the Treasure team's involvement in highly regarded projects, the titles that played the biggest part in the cementing of Treasure bonds were the NES and arcade versions of Bucky O'Hare. While you may have shrugged off the green space rabbit prancing around arcade screens, you were in fact eyeing in-game characters designed by Hiroshi Iuchi, who six years later would be directing, producing, writing and designing the backgrounds for cult Saturn title Radiant Silvergun.

Likewise, the NES version, directed by Maegawa, featured the deft programming touch of Hideyuki Suganami, the man later responsible for mad, multi-jointed boss creations such as Gunstar Heroes' morphing animal-bot Seven Force, which could take seven different forms (at one point during development it was pitched as Seventy Force, but the design was dropped due to time constraints).

However, while the Treasure fans have returned to these Konami games and deemed them fine forerunners to the true Treasure titles, the developers themselves were not so content. The precise reasoning behind their departure from Konami is lost in a mist of Treasure's polite refusal to dish the dirt on their former taskmasters.

Some put it down to Konami's rumoured rejection of Maegawa's original pitch for Gunstar Heroes. A more likely factor is the general air of disillusionment felt towards Konami's focus on sequels and rehashes of older games.

This is certainly hinted at in recurring comments made by Maegawa with regard to sequels. "Each game that Treasure develops... when all the developing is done, it is considered a complete piece of work," he has said, hinting at his company's dislike of franchises.

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Maegawa's thinking was later called into question with the release of Gunstar Future Heroes on GBA and Bangai-O Spirits on DS, but he argued that these were not simple cash-ins as they pushed new technology at the time.

Treasure may have slipped from its 'no sequels' high ground, but in terms of creative autonomy it's still on top. If the commercial pressure to create sequels was one factor behind its leaving Konami, then the desire to see each individual team member recognised for their work is another.

While in most development teams only the biggest names ring out - your Miyamotos, Kojimas and Inafunes - most members of Treasure are known to their fans. Some go by funky nicknames, such as Choko-Monkey (aka NAMI, aka Hideyuki Suganami), NON (aka Norio Hanzawa), Dr Oginon (aka Makoto Ogino), and Naokiman (aka Naoki Kitagawa).

The name Treasure itself is, according to Maegawa, partly there to remind staff members that the games made are their treasures, and should be treated as intensely precious things. Personal hobbies and quirks infiltrate their work - explaining how Gunstar Heroes can feature bosses named Melon Bread and Curry and Rice - and placing in-jokes for their Treasure colleagues to spot is commonplace.

Is that self-indulgent? Well, just look at the results of this games-for-ourselves mentality and try telling us it isn't a good thing. If all the self-obsessed people across the globe could produce Ikaruga, Sin And Punishment, Bangai-O and Dynamite Headdy, the world would be a better place.

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