Daiva Tried To End Format Wars Once And For All But Almost Killed Its Creator In The Process 1
Image: D4 Enterprise

Imagine if the 1993 space opera classic Master of Orion had been released not only for DOS, but six other major formats, and its selectable races were locked to specific hardware. The NES version would be the only one with Bulrathi, and be more of a platformer; the SNES release would have the best visuals, the Mega Drive the most races, the TG-16 the highest number of unique events, while the Apple Mac would ditch any action and have a weird interface.

You're now basically imagining Active Simulation War: Daiva, an epic sci-fi space opera combining intergalactic strategic movement, planetary and ship resource management, tactical turn-based ship battles, and side-scrolling shooting action stages.

The Daiva series is unique and ambitious on an unprecedented scale. Seven games for seven platforms, developed in parallel and released at roughly the same time. All share similarities, but each is distinct based on its host hardware; they are not conversions, and they are not sequels, but rather each forms a part of a unified whole, each with a specially tailored story and characters, and all of the games featuring a cross-compatible password system. You could play on one version, receive a password, and give it to a friend playing on another.

Daiva Tried To End Format Wars Once And For All But Almost Killed Its Creator In The Process 1
Yasuo Yoshikawa, the brains behind Daiva — Image: Nicolas Datiche / John Szczepaniak

Nothing like this has been attempted since, and, to be honest, nothing like this could even be achieved today, given how fragmented and unrelated the various hardware markets are.

All share the same intergalactic map screen, apart from the Famicom and PC-98 versions. This allows you to build ships, micro-manage solar systems, and send fleets to attack enemies or conquer other planets. The Famicom ditches it for a more arcade style of control, just cruising around; the PC-98 makes it more complex, with players even able to select individual ship orbits around planets.

The most noticeable version differences are in the side-scrolling action stages when you invade a planet. The PC-88 feels like the default; the FM77AV looks and scrolls like a SFC game; the X1 has better visuals than the PC-88, though it provides a less tactical HUD; the MSX1 version has possibly the most detailed backgrounds and very smooth scrolling; the MSX2 has more colours, but it's choppy and lacks detail; the Famicom auto-scrolls like a regular shmup; the PC-98 version does not seem to have any action stages at all, but does offer mouse support for the rest of the gameplay. Each version presents different tactical options and map styles when invading a planet.

The seven entries in the series are as follows:

  • STORY1 ヴリトラの炎 / Flames of Vlitra, PC-8801 (Feb 1987)
  • STORY2ドゥルガーの記憶 / Memory in Durga, FM77AV (Mar 1987)
  • STORY3 ニルヴァーナの試練 / Trial of Nirvana, X1 (Feb 1987)
  • STORY4 アスラの血流 / Asura's Bloodfeud, MSX cart (Apr 1987)
  • STORY5 ソーマの杯 / The Cup of Soma, MSX2 (Mar 1987)
  • STORY6 ナーサティアの玉座 / Imperial of Nirsartia, FC (Dec 1986)
  • STORY7 カリ・ユガの光輝 / Light of Kari Yuga, PC-9801 (Dec 1987)

It is, in our view, a work of insane genius – the kind of ambitious experiment you seldom see. Sadly, it's not something you can experience in quite the same way today. Nintendo Life covered the FC re-release, and there's a fan translation for those emulating the FC. The MSX1 and MSX2 versions had fan translations, though finding them requires a little work. Plus, Project EGG has made older versions available again -– check out Daiva Chronicle. But apart from the fan-translated FC and MSX1/2 versions, the rest are locked behind an impenetrable language barrier and are tricky to get working – making the Daiva series, perhaps, something which is more interesting to think about than actually play.

Now, your author was fortunate enough to interview the legend behind this epic saga, Yasuo Yoshikawa, as part of The Untold History of Japanese Developers series of books. Below, you'll find an excerpt from this interview, edited for length, in order to get a better understanding of it.

Some context: the project was so stressful that Yoshikawa ended up hospitalised. While the epic nature of the game and the self-sacrifice of his health are both headline grabbers, in this author's opinion, the best part of the interview is where he describes his intentions as trying to stop rivalry and encourage friendship. Which is the sort of feel-good tonic we all need today. Be excellent to each other.

John Szczepaniak: What was the first big title you worked on at T&E Soft? Was it Daiva?

Yasuo Yoshikawa: Yes, in terms of the games I proposed and designed, Daiva was the first. I was the planner, director, scenario writer, and the main programmer.

Excellent! The way I understand Daiva, it was seven different chapters or stories, developed side-by-side, and released at the same time for seven different hardware platforms. But the games were not chronological, they covered the same story from different angles. In effect, seven different games covering one giant space saga.

That's right. Originally, the project was proposed for five hardware platforms, or five different machines. But along the way, the upper management told us to add the Famicom and the 16-bit NEC PC-9801 computer.

Originally, the project was composed of five stories, so I had to add two new characters with their own stories, and the project became a simultaneous release on seven different systems. In terms of the individual games, the five hardware platforms from the original proposal have the same general style, but since the Famicom had different hardware limitations, the Famicom chapter is more of an action game.

For the 16-bit PC-9801 chapter, since development started partway through the overall project, it wasn't possible to release it at exactly the same time as the other chapters, so we decided to take advantage of the 16-bit capabilities and create a more high-grade experience. Because of that, the game mechanics are slightly different in the PC-9801 chapter.

So that's the overall breakdown. Originally, the project was for five different systems, but a 6th and a 7th system were added later.

It was your idea to have five different games on five machines?


Incredible. I've never seen anything else like it in the history of video games. Usually a developer makes one version, then just converts it. This was seven games, each unique, all made simultaneously. Talk me through it...

Back then, things were similar to the video game industry around the world today. Some people own a PlayStation, and so they think it's the best system, while other people own an Xbox, and so they think the Xbox is the best system. Back then, people were the same way, and everyone thought the system they owned was the best. And as you mentioned, if we made a game for one system originally and then ported it to other systems, some players were guaranteed to complain that the port doesn't take full advantage of their system's capabilities.

Conversely, if the ported system is inferior to the original system, the colours might look strange or something. So the players wouldn't be very satisfied. They feel that their own system is the best, but they have to play something that is less than the best. The idea behind Daiva was to create the best experience on the system that each player thinks is the best, and, at the same time, encourage players on different systems to communicate with each other.

Daiva is a war simulation game, and your fleet steadily grows stronger over the course of the game. Using a password, you can give one ship among your fleet to other players. A player at the beginning of the game with a fleet that's still weak can receive a password unlocking a powerful ship from the fleet of a player further along in the game. So, whereas normally gamers argue about whose computer or console system is the best, with Daiva, they can help each other out and become friends.

That is what I wanted to accomplish, so initially, I designed five games for five different hardware platforms, each with its own main character and story.

So someone with the FM77AV version could give a password to someone with the PC-8801 version, and the passwords worked between the different hardware?

Yes, exactly.

Astounding. When I first discovered Daiva, I was captivated by this ingenious idea. Was there resistance from senior management? Did they argue it would be more cost-effective just to make one game and convert it? It seems very cost-intensive and also labour-intensive to make five at the same time. Like putting all your eggs in one basket...

On the contrary, T&E Soft was an adventurous company that was always striving to do something new. Instead of worrying about the risks first, we were attracted to fresh challenges and the idea of creating something new and original. That was our primary focus. No one ever told me that creating five games on five different systems was out of the question. It was an interesting idea, so the management were excited to try it.

And later your bosses suggested you also make a PC-9801 and Famicom version.

Yes, although, to be honest, many people on the development team had been wanting to make a Famicom game ever since the Famicom system was released, but the management refused.

T&E Soft was still a small company at the time, and to make a Famicom game, you had to pay the cartridge manufacturing costs upfront. The company wasn't able to secure enough money for the upfront payment, so we weren't able to create Famicom games.

The Famicom version of Daiva was released by a different company, and what happened was that this other company paid the upfront costs while we created the game itself and received a license fee. That was how we finally broke into the Famicom market. It was a difficult business-related problem.

What year did you start the Daiva project?

I probably started it in 1986. It was basically one person per hardware platform, rather than different teams. Daiva is largely composed of two game systems. The first one is the tactical part used to engage in warfare. And then there's the action part that starts when you descend to a planet's surface in order to conquer it.

The persons in charge of each hardware platform created the action part for each game, whereas I programmed the tactical part. The persons in charge of each hardware platform created the action part differently to bring out the best in each system. So the game mechanics in the action part are different, according to the differences between each of the hardware platforms.

You handled the strategy aspect for all versions?

Yes, but as I said before, the PC-9801 version and the Famicom version have different game mechanics, and I was not directly responsible for those. For the other platforms, I programmed the strategy part. Daiva is a particularly memorable project for me because directing it was an intense responsibility. The team members working hard on the separate platforms were very individualistic, and it was a challenge to keep everything in sync while also programming parts of the game myself. I basically never went home for about six months.

On one Sunday, I went home, took a bath, and went to sleep. When I next woke up, I was temporarily blind. I became very frightened, so I called someone at the company and asked them to take me to the hospital because I couldn't see anything. When I went to the hospital, the doctor told me that it wasn't a condition young people are supposed to experience, that it only happens when the body is very weak. The doctor ordered me to take a week's rest from work.

Luckily, my eyesight returned after two or three days, but like the doctor had said, I experienced some other symptoms that only occur when the body is very weak, such as spots on my face and joint pain. After that point, I decided to entrust the programming duties to someone else. I explained the algorithms and my thinking and let them take over the programming. So, it was a bitter experience for me.

There was a version of Daiva for the FM77AV, but not a lot of people had this particular model. Tell me about the decision to work on it - the graphics were excellent.

To explain it from a business point of view, at that time, whenever a Japanese computer manufacturer released a new machine, they would give away some of them for free to leading software companies, and encourage the companies to make software for it. This was also true of the FM77AV. They wanted new, exclusive titles for their new computer. And as I explained earlier, we wanted to take full advantage of the unique capabilities of each platform.

In the case of the FM77AV, there was a feature that enabled 4096 different colours to be displayed at the same time. On the other hand, other computers, such as the PC-8801, could only display eight colours at one time. So, if we created an original game for the PC-8801 first and then ported it, the FM77AV conversion would only use eight colours. That would be disappointing to the computer manufacturer, especially since we were telling them that we would show off what the hardware could do.

For example, when it comes to sound capability, the PC-8801 [original model] couldn't produce great sound, whereas the FM77AV had FM synthesis, which could produce nice sound. The machines back then were all different.

Right! I played Daiva on the FM77AV, and the graphics for the action part resembled a Super Famicom game.

So the first reason for the decision was from a business perspective as I explained, and another reason was because T&E Soft as a company, as well as the individual staff, wanted to try new things. Many of the team members wanted to amaze other people with their skill. The person in charge of the FM77AV version didn't want to just add more colours compared to someone else's work for another system. He wanted to impress everyone by making it scroll better, or show more enemies on-screen.

Meanwhile, the person in charge of the PC-8801 version didn't want to lose against the FM77AV version, so he worked hard to show different types of visuals and movement. Everyone was trying to squeeze the best performance out of their particular system.

Daiva was released on both the MSX and the MSX2. The MSX person really worked hard, and the action scenes in the MSX version are remembered as being highly polished. The MSX didn't have as many colours as the MSX2, but it had excellent gameplay and animation. Everyone on the team competed with each other so that Daiva on their machine would be the best version.

Today, the entire collection is sold via EGG, as a complete set, but back then, I don't think anybody would have been able to play all of them. You'd need to have access to all the machines. What kind of feedback did you have from players?

As I mentioned earlier, the Famicom version wasn't published directly by T&E Soft, so I don't know what the Famicom players' reactions were. For the other systems, the game package contained a user registration card, so players could write comments and send them to us. The rule at the company was that everyone on the development team for a game would read this feedback from players. We would read the comments every day to understand the players' reaction. Since we weren't able to do online updates like today, we would read the feedback and apply it to the next game.

For Daiva, some people said they really enjoyed it. For example, there were two brothers who owned different machines, and they really enjoyed sharing passwords with each other. Since there were slight differences among the different games, players would be curious about the other chapters, and friends at school would tell each other what happened in their games, and also exchange passwords.

Today, of course, it's easy to discuss games over the internet, but back then, players had to meet in person to talk and exchange passwords. So Daiva encouraged players to communicate with each other, which was fairly innovative.

Daiva Tried To End Format Wars Once And For All But Almost Killed Its Creator In The Process 1
Your author, John Szczepaniak (left), with Yasuo Yoshikawa — Image: John Szczepaniak

How long did development last? Was it six months?

No, I think it was about a year. The Famicom version was released first. On the other hand, the PC-9801 version was released about a year later. So the Famicom version was released first, then the versions for the five systems that were originally planned, and finally, the PC-9801 version over the course of a year.

Would you say Daiva is your proudest achievement? Or is there another game which means more to you?

I always tend to consider my latest work as my best work, so I thought Daiva was my best work when I finished it, and then I thought Rune Worth was my best work when I finished that. My opinion of what is best changes as I grow as a developer.

For better or worse, Daiva is very dear to me because I experienced both success and failure during the project.

John Szczepaniak is a journalist and internationally published author. If you enjoyed all this interview material, please check out his Untold History series of books. There are over a million words of developer interviews across the series.

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