Rean­i­mat­ing R-Type

How a UK an­i­ma­tor is bring­ing Irem’s clas­sic shooter back to life

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How UK artist Paul John­son is bring­ing Irem’s clas­sic shooter back to life with an anime-styled pro­ject that hits ev­ery mark

The leg­endary shoot ’em up R-Type has reached be­yond its ar­cade ori­gins to land on ev­ery­thing from Sin­clair’s ZX Spec­trum to Nin­tendo’s Game Boy, but Irem’s game has never been re­alised in an­i­ma­tion form be­fore. Paul John­son tells us why, and how, he’s do­ing it. Your R-Type an­i­ma­tion has at­tracted a lot of at­ten­tion as a ‘fan pro­ject’, but you’re an an­i­ma­tor by trade, right? I guess I am now. I stud­ied Ja­panese at Sh­effield Univer­sity, and when I grad­u­ated I thought that speak­ing Ja­panese meant I could be­come a trans­la­tor of Ja­panese. I did a few games and nov­els, but un­less you want to largely take on 50,000-page con­tracts for pa­tents for new bat­tery charg­ers, there’s re­ally not much work in that space. It was look­ing like I was go­ing to have to find work in data en­try or at McDon­ald’s. Then this an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­tion com­pany in Aus­tralia, Planet 55, stepped in and got me work­ing on char­ac­ter de­sign and ship de­sign for an an­i­mated se­ries, Pris­oner Zero. I could do that from home and on­line, and that par­tic­u­lar pro­ject has just fin­ished, but it kept me work­ing as an an­i­ma­tor, and that’s what I do now. How did the R-Type pro­ject be­gin? Tom [Jenk­ins, chan­nel pro­ducer at Chan­nel 4’s games YouTube chan­nel #Mashed] re­ally liked the Star Wars thing I did, and be­cause #Mashed works with con­tent cre­ators, an­i­ma­tors and what­not on YouTube, he seemed to just like the idea of work­ing with me, and he didn’t re­ally mind what it was. He said I should come up with some ideas and he’d do the same, and then he’d run them by the right peo­ple at Chan­nel 4.

With the Star Wars pro­ject I got a bit of a rep­u­ta­tion for fo­cus­ing on the bad guys and show­ing what hap­pens if there’s no plot armour for the good guys. So I sug­gested a three-minute short of Gen­er­a­tion 1 Trans­form­ers with the De­cep­ti­cons ab­so­lutely crush­ing ev­ery­one. They liked the idea, but they weren’t sure Has­bro would be as open as Lu­cas­film to re­leas­ing fan art. But they ob­vi­ously liked R-Type as sub­ject mat­ter. Why was Irem’s game your next choice? I re­mem­ber when I was a kid, hav­ing been born in Lin­coln, we moved to Skeg­ness, and sud­denly ar­cades weren’t some­thing I had to go on hol­i­day to the sea­side for any more. There was no more wait­ing for that one time a year. Sud­denly I was sur­rounded by ar­cade games, and one of the first ones I played there was R-Type. Then, when the Mas­ter Sys­tem came out, I played it to death again, even though I could never com­plete it, be­cause it was way too hard for me. I had the Com­modore 64 ver­sion, too. I think back, and there’s just al­ways been a lot of R-Type in my life. What are you tr ying to cap­ture in the an­i­ma­tion? Is it the feel­ing of play­ing that kind of ar­cade shoot ’em up, or the R-Type aes­thetic? The ob­jec­tive, I guess, was think­ing about how I could take a 2D hor­i­zon­tal shooter and imag­ine it as a fully an­i­mated bat­tle scene, as if it was from some­thing like Macross. That led to a lot of in­ter­est­ing things, be­cause we only re­ally see R-Type from the side, so I was hav­ing to think about how wide a piece of scenery might look, or what a par­tic­u­lar boss might look like face-on, viewed in a 3D plane. That was re­ally in­ter­est­ing to me, and there was a lot to work out. That was great fun, and quite a chal­lenge. How con­cerned are you with ac­cu­rately recre­at­ing the fa­mous R-Type uni­verse? That was the charm of the chal­lenge. Some of what I had to go on was stuff like 16bit sprites, I guess. So there are those brown in­sect-look­ing things that at­tack you, but it re­ally could be any­thing from what you see in the game, so I just in­ter­preted it as some hor­ri­ble pul­sat­ing thing with claws. How­ever, if you look at it from the top, you’ll find it still looks ex­actly like it does in the game, re­ally. So it’s a work of in­ter­pre­ta­tion of be­ing in­side an R-Type level. You’ve only shared a work-in-progress sam­ple so far, but it cre­ated quite a re­ac­tion. Were you ex­pect­ing that? No, not at all. I thought it would just be a few old men like me who played it at the ar­cade. I mean, I got some of that, but I also got an ab­so­lute shit­load of peo­ple in Ja­pan get­ting re­ally ex­cited. Sud­denly my Twit­ter went crazy, and I think about three-quar­ters of the re­ac­tion came from Ja­pan. That was re­ally nice. When will you be fin­ished? It’s a bit of a test for me. It’s the first thing I’ve done where I haven’t had a year or two to get it fin­ished. So we’re look­ing at late April on #Mashed at the mo­ment. It should be about three min­utes long. So it’s not a huge an­i­ma­tion, but there’s po­ten­tial for other games af­ter this.

“With the Star Wars pro­ject I got a bit of a rep­u­ta­tion for fo­cus­ing on the bad guys”

An­i­ma­tor Paul John­son at­tracted at­ten­tion in 2015 with his sev­en­minute, ani­mestyled TIE Fighter short, which has been viewed over 5m times to date. You can see snip­pets of his near-fin­ished R-Type pro­ject via his Twit­ter ac­count, @OtaKing77077

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