R-Type was one of the most iconic shooters of the 1980s, thanks in no small part to its creature designs. Artist Akio Oyabu has revealed that his original boss designs were “controversial” at developer Irem.
Released in 1987, R-Type was one of the most pivotal shoot-’em-ups of its era, not least because of its then-original weapons system. As well as a range of lasers and homing missiles to collect, R-Type introduced the Force – an indestructible satellite which could be attached to the front or back of the player’s ship. It was a design idea that would be modified and replicated throughout the shoot-’em-up’s arcade reign through the rest of the 1980s and the early part of the next decade, not least by R-Type developer Irem itself – see also Dragon Breed and X-Multiply.
It’s unlikely that R-Type would have gotten so much attention, however, without its graphics. With the player’s tiny R-9 Arrowhead craft navigating through nightmare corridors of fleshy, H.R. Giger-esque biomechanical creatures, R-Type immediately stood out from its arcade rivals, such as Konami’s Gradius series. And this is where artist Akio Oyabu comes in; having recently signed up to Twitter, his feed has provided a wealth of anecdotes from his time at Irem and glimpses of behind-the-scenes artwork. Take this wonderfully precise drawing of an R-Type enemy, for example, painstakingly drawn on graph paper.
Earlier today, Akio wrote briefly about R-Type's early development, explaining that the project was his first job “as a member of society” (this is according to Google Translate). “At the age of 22, I was influenced by Giger and designed Gomander,” he writes, referring to the boss players would go on to fight on R-Type's second stage. Shaped vaguely like a monstrous human heart, it was marked out by its giant blue eye and a gigantic, segmented snake that flowed in and out of its pulsating valves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the boss’s more – shall we say – suggestive design details “caused a stir” at Irem.
— akio (@akio_1963) May 2, 2023
Fortunately, Akio reveals, an understanding boss told him, “I’ll take responsibility! Go with this!”
And thus, one of the most iconic bosses in 1980s gaming was born. If you’re interested in retro game development, Akio is well worth a follow; he recently revealed that he’s planning to return to creating pixel art, so his feed could be the perfect place to keep up with what he gets up to next.