Digimon Pendulum Developers’ Interview
Taken from: Digital Monster Art Book Ver. PENDULUM
デジタルモンスター ART BOOK Ver.PENDULUM
Makoto Kitagawara (北川原真): An employee at WiZ who was involved in the development of the ‘Tamagotchi’ and ‘Digital Monster’ V-pets. Back then, he also made appearances at tournaments or in guidebooks as ‘Kitagawara-meijin’ (北川原名人).
Kenji Watanabe (渡辺けんじ): Character designer. He was an employee at WiZ during the development of the ‘Digimon’ series. He currently works selling VisuaDolls, as a representative of WOW FACTORY.
Yuusuke Maekawa (前川祐輔): An employee under WiZ. Starting with the ‘Digital Monster Ver. 20th’, he has gone on to work on the planning and development of products such as the ‘Digimon Pendulum Ver. 20th’ and ‘Digivice ver. 15th’.
Daimu Taoka (田岡大夢): An employee of Bandai from the Boys’ Toy Department. He was involved in the ‘Pendulum Ver. 20th’ and ‘Life-size Plush Toys’ projects, and is also active under the pseudonym ‘Big Dreamer Taoka’.
Back in the ‘Pendulum’ Days
– What were all of you up to back when the ‘Pendulum’ was first released?
Kitagawara: I was in charge of its development, as an employee of WiZ.
Watanabe: Kitagawara-san was the one who came up with the plan for the project, and Volcano Oota-san¹ was involved in the project as a representative of Bandai. My role was art direction, which included designing the characters.
Maekawa: Twenty years ago, I was still a student. My first encounter with Digimon was seeing plush toys of Digimon such as V-mon, Guilmon, and Terriermon in the crane machines while I was working part-time at a game arcade.
Taoka: I was five years old at the time; my first experience with Digimon was playing with the ‘Digimon Pendulum’, which I got my father to buy for me. I still remember how impactful the commercials were.
Kitagawara: It’s the one where guys in swimwear are dancing around while chanting “Mon, mon, Digimon Pendulum”², right?
Taoka: Who was the one who came up with that?
Kitagawara: If I’m not wrong, that idea was proposed by the advertising firm. They came up with various proposals, and among them, Oota-san decided on this idea saying “This is it!”.
Watanabe: After Oota-san chose that idea, he came to me and said, “Doesn’t the commercial look great?”. At first, I thought, “Is this some kind of joke?”, but thanks to that commercial, a lot of viewers were left with a strong impression of Digimon.
The Development of ‘Digital Monster’
Kitagawara: When I first entered WiZ, I was put into the games department. I had worked part-time in the games department since I was a student, so I decided to enter the company when I graduated.
Watanabe: Although WiZ works on the planning and development of toy products, at the time, we also developed games for the PlayStation. After that, however, when the Tamagotchi grew in popularity, the toys department’s workload increased and they ended up being understaffed, so we were pulled from the games department into the toys department.
Kitagawara: I think I managed to stay in the games department for about a year before that happened. I had zero interest in toys; I worked in the games department because I wanted to help create entertainment media, so I didn’t want to make the move (laughs). After the transfer, I helped in debugging and doing up the specification documents for the second generation Tamagotchi, named ‘New Species Discovered! Tamagotchi’, and that’s when we started discussing the making of a boy-oriented version of Tamagotchi. I joined the project, which was named ‘Capsule Zaurus’ at the time, also referred to as ‘Otokotchi’.
(Monster designs for ‘Capsule Zaurus’.)
Kitagawara: We developed the LCD toy, ‘Digital Monster’, together with Bandai’s Horimura-san³. It was only after the original ‘Ver. 1’ garnered such positive reviews that we decided to expand it into a series. Since it was planned as a one-off product, we didn’t create it with any subsequent ‘versions’ in mind, so we had to rework the design of the ‘Ver. 2’ in order to allow connectivity between devices.
Watanabe: We didn’t think that we would have to create several iterations of the same toy. The Tamagotchi didn’t have any connectivity functions either, so what we did for the ‘Digital Monster’ was reuse the tables created for the Tamagotchi while replacing its contents.
Kitagawara: We simply had to have the Digimon be able to battle each other, so we had to work with various constraints. Back then, doing up the individual pixel art was tough work as well.
Watanabe: We would first draw the pixel art of the Digimon by filling in the squares on graph paper, then hand them over to the programmers to be entered into the software.
Kitagawara: If I’m not wrong, they were entered into the program as coordinates.
Watanabe: Pretty much, the software didn’t contain anything that could really be called ‘graphic data’. Instead, the program data specifically dictated where each individual pixel would be placed; as a result, we’ve run into snags where we wanted to extract just the graphics but couldn’t do so. All of us pulled several all-nighters to put this program together.
Kitagawara: Actually, we did put a few hidden ‘cheats’ into the ‘Digital Monster’ without informing Bandai.
Watanabe: Yeah, we at WiZ kept a fair number of secrets like this.
Kitagawara: I can’t remember which version it was exactly, but we put in cheats like ‘feeding your Digimon a certain number of protein ensures that you will win, but feed even one more and your Digimon will die’, or ‘if you do a certain combination of actions during training, your Digimon’s lifespan will increase’. The programmers and I put them in while playing around, since we were more lax about this back then.
Watanabe: Hey, it’s not supposed to be lax at all even back then (laughs).
Kitagawara: After that, we had to apologise to Oota-san and list out all the cheats and methods to recreate them.
Watanabe: And Oota-san went, “You’re sure that’s all of them?” (laughs).
Taoka: Did you include any such cheats in the ‘Pendulum’?
Kitagawara: Unfortunately not, since we already used up every last bit of capacity we had for its actual functions. How about in the ‘Ver. 20th’?
Maekawa: Nope, no cheats there (laughs).
Road to ‘Digimon Pendulum‘
– How did you transition from working on the ‘Digital Monster’ to the ‘Digimon Pendulum’?
Watanabe: Horimura-san was the Bandai representative in charge of the ‘Digital Monster’ originally, but the switch in representative to Volcano Oota-san might’ve been a big factor. We also had the idea of adding a sort of system or feature where the player could involve themselves with their Digimon directly.
Kitagawara: While we were still developing ‘Digital Monster Ver. 4’, the topic of ‘why don’t we create a new Digimon toy?’ came up. To be honest, we had no plans to create a ‘Ver. 5’ originally. Thanks to the advance in technology, it was possible for our next toy to have more capacity and hold more data. We tried to brainstorm ideas we could implement in a small, portable LCD game like Digimon, as it would grow stale quickly if all we did was change the characters in each iteration, and so we tested ideas through trial and error.
Pedometers were popular at the time, so I thought it might be interesting to include some sort of feature utilising the pedometer in the toy. However, it’d be too easy to have the Digimon be powered-up via the player just walking around, so we thought of having this pedometer function play a role in determining the Digimon’s attacks, something we couldn’t do with the previous toy.
Watanabe: Basically, players now not only had a hand in raising their Digimon, but also in determining the outcome of battle too. It was fun to think that the player’s skill and technique could decide their Digimon’s fate.
– In the ‘Pendulum’ series, the Digimon roster in each iteration was based around a certain theme. How did the idea for that come about?
Kitagawara: From the first version all the way to the ‘Metal Empire’ version, I would discuss and decide on the theme and Digimon roster together with Oota-san and Watanabe-san. In the ‘Digital Monster’, most of the Digimon didn’t have much relation to each other in terms of theme; we just thought of new Digimon and decided who would evolve into them on the fly. However, since we had planned for the ‘Pendulum’ to be a series from the start, we made a greater effort to categorise the Digimon into various themes this time.
Watanabe: I remember it being easier to create designs that were distinct from each other, now that evolution was more systematic and the Digimon were sorted by themes.
Kitagawara: We wanted to incorporate a variety of Digimon species, so we thought of ‘Nature Spirits’, which would include nature-type Digimon, and ‘Deep Savers’, in order to include more aquatic-type Digimon that we didn’t have many of before. The third version was slated to be released around Halloween, so we named it ‘Halloween’-something and created Digimon based on the Halloween theme, such as Pumpmon. However, we missed that timeframe due to delays in development, and so we rushed to change its name to ‘Nightmare Soldiers’.
Watanabe: It ended up being a pretty cool-sounding name.
Kitagawara: Looking back, I’m glad we decided to change it.
– The number of Digimon included in each version increased as well, especially with the addition of Ultimate level Digimon.
Kitagawara: The increase in capacity really played a huge role. It was what allowed us to discuss things like using the pedometer function for attack inputs or adding more characters in the first place. We thought it wouldn’t be interesting enough to just increase the number of characters, so we decided to create the ‘Ultimate level’, beings that surpassed the Perfect level.
Taoka: Who came up with the name ‘Ultimate level’?
Kitagawara: That would be me. We created the concept of the Ultimate level with the intention of it being the absolute strongest level, but it seems we have a lot of Ultimate level Digimon around now (laughs). Aside from the ‘Pendulum’, I was also in charge of the ‘Tamagotchi: Osutchi and Mesutchi’⁴ at the time. It featured the ‘breeding’ mechanic, where a male and female could get married and have children; since we went to the trouble of adding connectivity to the Digimon toys, we thought of adding a similar mechanic that would allow Digimon to sort of ‘cross-breed’ and become stronger, and thus the ‘Jogress Evolution’ mechanic was born. To be honest, it was also at least partly to serve as an incentive for people to buy more than one Pendulum (laughs), though that doesn’t change the fact the we come up with and implement new mechanics in hopes that our players will enjoy them.
Birth of the ‘Pendulum’ Feature
– Was there any part of the Pendulum’s development process that you found especially problematic?
Kitagawara: Often, the shaking ‘Pendulum’ feature wouldn’t work the way we hoped for it to.
Watanabe: If you didn’t shake the pedometer for a certain set period of time, it wouldn’t work the way a pedometer is intended to.
Kitagawara: We bought a variety of pedometers to test and inspect, which included pendulum mechanism and spring mechanism pedometers, and even pedometers which work using tiny balls that slide around in the interior. In the end, we settled for a model that made clear clicking noises when shaken, so that one could easily tell when a flick would be registered by the toy. After that, the next hurdle was deciding how many shakes each character would require to unleash their Special Move. On the other hand, however, because we now had access to a visual pixel editor, we no longer had to go through the trouble of drawing on graph paper.
Watanabe: We also had another problem then: we couldn’t advertise our toy as having a ‘pedometer function’ as there were strict requirements that a device had to meet before it could be advertised as a ‘pedometer’, which our toy did not. That’s how the toy came to be called ‘Pendulum’…I think Oota-san was the one who came up with the name?
Kitagawara: No, it was me! But come to think of it, an actual ‘pendulum’ refers to a suspended weight that swings back and forth, so calling the toy ‘Pendulum’ wasn’t quite accurate either. I remember the name not being well-received by the team and being called ‘uncool’, since ‘Pendulum’ began with the letter ‘P’.
Watanabe: Bandai had some sort of rule in place that the names of products marketed towards boys had to begin with dakuon consonants⁵.
Kitagawara: We came up with lots of alternatives, and I went to present them to and discuss them with Bandai’s then general manager in person. When they asked, “Which one sounds good to you?”, I put my foot down and insisted “Digimon Pendulum sounds good”.
– The appearance of the actual device was changed considerably as well.
Watanabe: We designed the ‘Digital Monster’ toy with the image of ‘keeping an animal in a cage’ in mind, but we decided to go with a more high-tech appearance for the ‘Pendulum’.
Kitagawara: That’s right, sort of like an incubator. The kind that you find in university labs, that give off some kind of smoke when you open them.
Watanabe: It gives the toy a ‘lab equipment’ feel.
Kitagawara: Yes, as if to say that research on Digimon has further progressed, and here we are. We came up with a lot of design ideas for the ‘Digital Monster’, but we didn’t have as much trouble with the Pendulum‘s design.
Watanabe: Once the three of us, including Oota-san, were decided on this idea, we ran with what we had. It was around this time that we stopped being so mindful of what Bandai dictated toys marketed towards boys should be like, and carved our own path.
Reception of the ‘Pendulum’
– How was the response towards the changes made between ‘Digital Monster’ and ‘Digimon Pendulum’?
Kitagawara: The added features allowing players to directly intervene in Digimon battles were generally seen as fun and favourably received. We also received feedback that it was difficult to input commands in the ‘Pendulum’; even so, we saw everyone trying their best to achieve the number of shakes required to unleash a Special Move. It was amazing to see it in action when we visited the tournaments in various regions.
Watanabe: Ah right, we did hold tournaments.
Kitagawara: I remember taking part in the ‘D-1 Grand Prix’ tournaments as a guest participant, where the first-place winners of the tournament could challenge me to a battle. I would fight them using the Digimon the debuggers raised for me (laughs).
Taoka: Wouldn’t that mean they’re insanely strong? (laughs)
Kitagawara: Despite that, we publicly treated them as though I raised them myself…and ended up winning. Even though I should be the one letting the players win instead.
Watanabe: I expected no less from Kitagawara-meijin (laughs).
Kitagawara: At the time, since Oota-san was actively touring the various regions and holding tournaments fairly frequently, we planned to make a series of ‘.5’ versions of the Pendulum, which would contain a slightly changed roster, to be sold exclusively at tournaments; however, it ended up being sold regularly. By the way, there also exists a series of ‘.8’ versions, meant only to be used by shopkeepers, which allowed you to select a character directly instead of having to raise them.
Watanabe: It was made for promotional purposes.
(A version owned by shopkeepers, with a label stating ‘1.8’ pasted on the side.)
Kitagawara: Some of these small shops would host mini-tournaments, where the winner would end up fighting the mighty shopkeeper; we made these ‘.8’ versions to make the lives of the shopkeepers easier, as we thought they might be too busy to spend time raising the Digimon. Their outer appearance is basically the same as the retail versions, but with a mark somewhere to denote that they are ‘.8 versions’.
Watanabe: The great thing about Digimon was that the card game was just as popular at the time, so we could hold card game tournaments together with the ‘D-1 Grand Prix’. So we would have Volcano Oota on the toy side, and Kaneki Tanukikouji⁶ on the card game side (laughs).
Tie-in with the Anime Series
– The anime series began its run while the ‘Pendulum’ series was still being released.
Kitagawara: Though we had made plans to release iterations of the ‘Pendulum’ up to version 5.0, talks about the production of the anime series began to spring up. Production of the anime had already been confirmed in autumn the previous year, but we weren’t able to create any anime tie-in merchandise in just half a year.
Watanabe: We weren’t even planning on creating any anime tie-in merchandise in the first place, for which Toei Animation got angry at us; they said “Toei Animation isn’t creating an anime series solely for the benefit of Bandai and WiZ”. That was when I understood the meaning of multimedia franchises and merchandising for the first time. The aim was to market and sell the characters.
Kitagawara: Watanabe-san and I were involved with the anime series’ initial production stages, making decisions such as which Digimon characters should appear in the show. At the same time, I came up with the Digivice’s design as well as how to transform it into a toy product; I was the one who thought of the Digivice’s appearance and design and the Digimon that would be included in it.
Watanabe: When Omegamon debuted in ‘Our War Game’, we created a ‘ZERO’ version of the Pendulum and included Omegamon in it.
Kitagawara: From then on, we started to devote more attention to creating anime tie-in products.
‘Digimon Pendulum Ver. 20th’
– Could you tell us more about how plans for the ‘Ver. 20th’ came to be?
Taoka: After the ‘Digital Monster Ver. 20th’ was released in June 2017, we all thought ‘we can’t not have the ‘Pendulum’ next year’, and so we started on the project right then.
Watanabe: I thought, ‘wow, it must be hard recreating the toy to look and work the same way as the old version’.
Kitagawara: I’m grateful that the ‘Pendulum’ could receive an updated re-release, 20 years on. Not only that, there are also fans out there who have been waiting for such a release, which makes this project all the more worth the effort.
– It seems that the raiseable Digimon differ between the two different coloured models; what led you to do that?
Taoka: There were Digimon such as Greymon or Digimon that appear via Digi-Eggs in the rosters that would overlap, so we split them to make sure they didn’t overlap within a colour, as well as splitting up the closely related series. After dividing them based on whether each series’ roster had an odd or even number of characters, we managed to divide the rosters nicely into the two colours.
Maekawa: We had to keep their evolutionary lines and families in mind as well.
Taoka: We had already decided from the start that we had to include all of the ‘.5’ series Digimon in the roster.
(Proposal for the ‘Digimon Pendulum Ver. 20th’.)
Watanabe: How much larger is the software size now?
Maekawa: The original contained about 20 Digimon in each device, while the Ver. 20th contains about 120, so it’s about 6 times the size of the original.
– Since the size of the software is so much larger, did you change anything about the inner workings of the device to accommodate?
Maekawa: Oh, the inside has been overhauled completely; the program’s completely different. We used the original as reference, but we remade the entire program, including how it behaved, from scratch.
Taoka: That’s true not only for the interior, but for the exterior as well.
Maekawa: We no longer have the mould used for the original, so we had to remake the mould from scratch too.
Taoka: If you ask me, the best part is that even the weld lines that were present on the original are recreated faithfully on the Ver. 20th.
Maekawa: Ah, the truth is that we couldn’t get rid of them (laughs).
Kitagawara: With a mould of this shape, it’d be hard to avoid weld lines completely.
Maekawa: I asked the factory side if they could do anything about the weld lines, but they told me there was nothing they could do.
Taoka: I’m honestly glad that they couldn’t be removed.
– The Ver. 20th includes many new features, such as special Digi-Eggs, and being able to raise two Digimon at the same time. How did you choose which direction to take this project in?
Taoka: We definitely took the fact that the children who played with the Pendulum all those years back, and have grown into adults now, might pick up this toy again into consideration. Since the ‘Digital Monster Ver. 20th’ allowed for raising two Digimon at once, we felt that we couldn’t not include that mechanic. However, we thought there might be people who were too busy to take care of their Digimon constantly, and so we added the ‘Cold Mode’ mechanic.
Maekawa: The Copymon mechanic was actually taken from plans for a similar mechanic we had for the ‘Digimon Twin: Tag Attack’, a second iteration of the ‘Digimon Twin’ that never saw release. That mechanic was named ‘Download’ then, and involved the transferring of Digimon between devices via infrared; we wanted to revive that idea.
Taoka: We were anxious about whether the Copymon mechanic would be well-received by the players right up till release. But looking back, it is useful in carrying out Jogress Evolution and also has some pretty cute movements, so I’m glad we decided to implement it.
Maekawa: If we made the Ver. 20th work exactly the same as the original, those who have played the original wouldn’t find it interesting at all. We thought that the ability to raise two Digimon at the same time would be appealing not just in battle, but also out of battle; a player could raise a Terriermon and Lopmon at the same time and see them on-screen together, for example. The device may look the same on the outside, but I’m glad we could add in new mechanics and ways of enjoyment thanks to modern technology.
– It introduced ‘Ludomon’, a new Legend-Arms Digimon, as well.
Taoka: Let me guess, was it inspired by ‘Captain America’?
Watanabe: I didn’t think about it that way, actually (laughs). I tried to give it a more down-to-earth appearance; since there have been so many flashy-looking Digimon designs recently, I wanted Ludomon to have a more unrefined look…though it ended up turning flashy upon evolving anyway (laughs). I find it interesting to imagine more ordinary-looking Digimon like that in action. They may not stand out much individually, but I’d love if they can evoke the feeling of ‘this is what Digimon is’ when viewed collectively.
‘Digimon’ from Here on Out
– Could you tell us about any future plans you have for Digimon’s toylines?
Taoka: We previously revealed the ‘Digital Monster X’ toy, which is intended as sort of a sequel to the ‘Pendulum X’…or more accurately, we wanted to revisit the world of Digimon in the state it would be after the events in the ‘Pendulum X’. Despite the two ‘Ver. 20th’ toys we released essentially being remakes of the originals, I believe the consumers who picked it up had fun with it regardless. So, we hope to take it a step further and add ‘something new’ to Digimon to liven it up.
Maekawa: Following that, we have thought of possibly creating a new world for ‘Digital Monster’.
Taoka: I’ve discussed this with Maekawa-san previously, but I hope to create more opportunities for the ‘Legend-Arms’ and ‘Royal Knights’ to play a role and generate excitement in the consumers.
Watanabe: I think there’s a lot we can expand on regarding existing material, while giving them more chances to shine as well. It’ll be interesting to see how the toy series will accomplish this.
Taoka: I’d also like to draw attention to the new pixel art done for the ‘Digital Monster X’. The standard sprites are 16×16 pixels, and they switch to cut-ins zoomed in on each Digimon’s face in battle, which I feel really show off the coolness of the X-Antibody Digimon. Not only that, we decided to include the ‘XAI System’ as well.
Maekawa: Instead of saying we “decided to include” it, it’d be more accurate to say that we couldn’t not include it.
– Are there any aims or goals you have in mind for future LCD toy products?
Taoka: I guess for me, I’d want to make a product that won’t lose out in the fun department to any of the LCD toys released thus far.
Watanabe: You seem confident about it (laughs).
Taoka: I also hope we can incorporate more new technology, such as Bluetooth or infrared, into our future toys.
Watanabe: The greatest challenge of working on LCD toys is seeing how much you can pack in while keeping within its restrictions. Since the toys have to be portable, you can’t make them too fancy nor can you make the program size too large.
(Proposal documents for the ‘Digital Monster X’.)
Maekawa: Yes, and we have to keep in mind that this is an era when game apps on smartphones are being released as well.
Watanabe: Not only that, these devices are specialised for just one function. What I find amazing is that in the beginning, when mobile phones were still uncommon, we marketed these devices as “digital”; now, in a more digital age, these same devices are able to compete with others because of their overwhelmingly ‘analog’ feel. I just found it cool that it’s as if we came full circle.
Taoka: The pixel art aesthetic is still cool even now; it doesn’t feel overly dated at all.
Kitagawara: I didn’t expect pixel art to be so well-loved even to this day. I didn’t even dare to imagine that the ‘Digimon Pendulum’ line would receive a continuation 20 years after its release, since after the series turned to focus more on anime-related merchandise, we’ve gone for years at a time without releasing any new LCD toys. No words can express how emotional I’m feeling right now.
Maekawa: I’m truly grateful that I have the opportunity to be involved with the Digimon series, which has been continuing for over 20 years. I hope the ‘Ver. 20th’ can form part of the foundation that will sustain the franchise for the next 20 years, and that we can continue adding to this foundation. Oh, I also hope we can create coloured LCD toys in the future.
Kitagawara: It’s no surprise that everyone’s thinking about the possibility of coloured LCD toys.
Kitagawara: Sometime in the past, I had created some coloured pixel art to be used as icons, using Watanabe-san’s illustrations as a base. I don’t think they ended up being used, however.
(Coloured pixel art made by Kitagawara-san.)
Maekawa: Weren’t these released on the Digimon homepage?
Kitagawara: Were they? In any case, coloured LCD screens were really expensive back then, so using them wasn’t an option unless you were fully committed to it.
Taoka: I’d like to implement coloured pixel art as well. Even as the franchise continues to put out media such as games or anime series, I still hope we can continue to release the LCD toys.
Maekawa: From the bottom of my heart, I await the day when our toys can be enjoyed together by both parent and child, bridging the two generations.
The notes below are added by me to clarify certain points brought up in the interview.
¹Note: Volcano Oota (ボルケーノ太田) was involved with the planning of the Digimon series as a representative of Bandai, starting with the Ver. 2 of the Digital Monster V-pet.
²Note: Taoka and Kitagawara are referring to this Digimon Pendulum commercial.
³Note: Ayumu Horimura (堀村有由文) is an employee of Bandai who helped in the planning and development of various projects, such as Digimon.
⁴Note: ‘Tamagotchi: Osutchi and Mesutchi’ are a collective Tamagotchi series released in 1997; osu (雄/牡) and mesu (雌/牝) mean ‘male’ and ‘female’ respectively.
⁵Note: Dakuon (濁音, lit. ‘voiced sound’) refers to voiced consonants in Japanese, written by adding dakuten to their unvoiced counterparts (e.g. か [ka] + dakuten = が [ga]). Dakuon, especially in Japanese onomatopoeia, given the impression of being bigger/louder/stronger than their unvoiced counterparts. ‘Pendulum’ begins with ペ [pe], which is considered a handakuon (半濁音, lit. ‘semi-voiced sound’) and not as ‘powerful-sounding’ as dakuon.
⁶Note: Kaneki Tanukikouji (狸小路カネキ) was an employee of Bandai who was in charge of the Digimon Card Game at the time.