Untold Tales of The Arcade: Rays from the Past

By Francesco-Alessio Ursini / April 13, 2008

It's one of those days.

The sun shines but dark clouds are on the horizon, it's hot outside and a cold breeze moves my hair, which keeps getting longer and longer.

I am listening to the Raycrisis OST and thinking on life and trivial matters. Maybe they're trivial because they're matters of life. Maybe they're trivial because I perceive them as such, because I make them trivial.


Taito released one of the best shooters ever. You may not agree with this statement, fine, but there's a reason behind this conjecture of mine. Rayforce is one of the first titles to start the modern era of shooters. I have written in my journal about a possible (and pretty questionable) arrangement of shooters, based on their phases of evolution. One of the basic ideas that I have proposed in that entry is this: by 1994, the waning of the classic arcade platformer and its domination in the matter of score-based gaming will be overtaken when the shooter picks up the mantle of the most score-driven genre.

That's life; once the alpha male isn't that alpha anymore, someone else will take over his role. Or maybe the hierarchy of constraints changes and suddenly one competitor becomes the optimal one. Regardless of the different shades of theoretical background I choose to use, one thing is certain: in 1994, there were three shooters published that marked the transition of the genre into a more score-driven attitude.

These games were Batsugun, Raiden DX and Rayforce. I won't talk about the first two, even though they might deserve lengthy and flamboyant treatises of their own. I just want to talk, more or less, about Rayforce, Raystorm and Raycrisis. My personal life, in some parts, will leak in. But as you may already have guessed, there's a reason for that.

Rayforce is one of the few titles on Taito's F3 hardware that's not a remake/sequel/etc. At the very first glance, it's not even a particularly impressive title. The attract demo is very simple; a pilot -- a girl with green hair -- chases a few ships across an asteroid belt. After the hunt is over, the title zooms in.


Or Layer Section, or Gunlock, or Galactic Attack. These were the various names by which the home versions were branded, but I always played the arcade version, Rayforce. Besides that, the sequels are called Raystorm and Raycrisis, so I'll use this name. Now let's go on -- or better, let's go back. It is October of 1994, and things are changing. I don't really remember what was going on in my life at that time, but it was probably some trivial matter of love. Those trivial matters still haunt my life, but that's because we live in a world of teenagers, or at least that's my sensation. I'm almost 27 now (at least I'll be 27 by the day of publication), and silly issues such as who loves whom bore me.

But there's one happy emergency exit to such trivial matters, which can be used at will. It features several good sides and almost no bad sides, but that too, is debatable. It has been the necessary discipline and meditation technique required to get rid of the stupid and childish issues of bored people. Love, is not enough, sometimes. I need to think in a more regimented way most of the time -- though this doesn't mean I go around like Spock, talking about the ways of logic and denying that I get moved a bit by lovely sunsets.

I'm a logician. Well, a semanticist who's studying linguistics and cognitive sciences. Eventually I'll finish my Ph.D., but that's not the point. Because of my studies, I could resolve the trivial matters of love in the most rational (and least painful) way. What I have now is a more powerful method, so to speak. But, again, that's not the point.


If you read my previous articles, you know by now that I'm a Taito fanboy. This is an official declaration. But well, we're speaking of Taito -- do I need to make a list of their masterpieces? I'm not entirely sure it is late October -- it's more a fuzzy sensation of the incoming autumn of 1994. I'm a teenager with a lot of frustration, and a single excellent method for discharging it: videogames. It's fall and I'm just waiting for a stupid and trivial matter of love to end.

Not mine, I have to admit. Actually, I am a bit cold and logic-driven. I tend to not care about petty people, even if they have nice boobs, or a nice smile, or whatever sexual element most would find attractive. Hormones or not, I had to grow up quickly, and I never developed the ability to stand childish attitudes. Sometimes you can't punch people in the face to make them understand that you're not interested in their petty personality. You have to be a bit more rational, and try to solve the problem in a better way than by futile flirting.

Especially when you don't want to flirt.

This generates stress and frustration, which can be easily discharged by intense activities, physical or intellectual. Arcade games, before the bemani revolution, involved mainly the latter type. I enter my uncle's arcade and my uncle tells me that there's a new shooting game, and that I will surely like it. The first approach, as I've said, isn't all that exhilarating. I'm mostly underwhelmed by the minimalist design of the intro.

But that's before I put my first coin in the cab. When I do that, the screen fades to black and a simple text message appears. The usual "Press start button."

But something else happens.

On Standby.

One simple musical loop that opens an entire world of memories and thoughts every single time I listen to it. The simple loop of the start screen on standby. A hypnotic sequence that compresses in a few notes the essence of life. Waiting for tomorrow, for the end of school year, for the reply from your lover, for a better occasion, for a happy event.

Waiting for time to crunch away the days of our lives, focusing on what tomorrow may give us, while today is spent contemplating trivial matters.

On Standby.

Then, after entering a whole alien world and its majestic symphony, the pilgrimage begins.

Rayforce, as I have written so many times across the chaotic ocean of the internet, is a simple but elegant game. It's basically Xevious on steroids; you have to lock-on to enemies on the plane below yours and shoot them with lasers, while using the main gun for the enemies on the same plane as you. The more enemies you can destroy with one row of lasers (up to eight), the more points you get. Basically, the value is:

Value of enemy*2^n-1 (for 1 ≤ n ≤ 6), value of enemy*2^n (for n = 7, 8)

With n being the number of enemies locked-on and destroyed with a single volley of lasers. It's easy to figure out that yes, the game is pretty simple and all you have to do most of the time is learn how to get eight lock-ons at once. Power-ups and peculiar techniques to destroy bosses complete the score-based aspects.

But I'm omitting some important specifics: first and foremost, the entire game is based on the ability of the F3 hardware to easily handle scaling effects. This means that all objects that are located below you can actually move up to your plane. As if this wasn't cool enough, the plot is perfectly integrated with this simple design trick. What you must do is penetrate the Earth's defenses and enter the planet's core in order to make your enemy implode.

But wait, who is fighting whom?

Let's go to 2003. Actually, Raycrisis was published in 1998, but I only bought it in 2003. I had -- for years -- the OST and, like the other two OSTs, I can spend entire days listening to it. Raycrisis is somewhat disappointing mechanics-wise, but this is another issue. This jump into the future is to explain Rayforce's past.

The plot is simple. In a distant future, the Con-human, a vast artificial network, is created to easily handle all of the data floating around cyberspace. The problem about the birth of Con-human is its awareness, as it begins encroaching all of the man-made objects in space and remapping them as part of its cognitive system -- its body.

In Rayforce, the last survivors of humankind live in a base on the dark side of the moon, because the Con-human was successful in absorbing the whole planet as its body, and started exterminating human beings or enslaving them and cloning individuals for feeding purposes -- human psychic energy being the best for the Con-human's purposes. The project Meteorite is then launched: an attack to the core of the planet, to the glandula pinealis of Con-human -- the centre of the now hollow Earth.

Since you have to penetrate the Earth's core, all of the stages are designed in such a way to tell this story: First you penetrate the external defenses, then enter Earth's atmosphere, then the first underground city, then the centre of the planet, and finally you reach the Con-human itself for the final battle. This means that there are marvelous effects, such as your ship gliding into the higher strata of the atmosphere, or battling the fourth boss on a rift that will take you to the first underground city.

Let's skip to 1996. It's summer and I am almost 18. Tempus fugit, eh? When it's summer and you're in love when you're 18, well, it seems like nothing's more important than love, right? And then I got a sequel to Rayforce.

How could it be? The world ended with a bang in the first chapter, and now they were doing a second one? Ah well, it seemed like they'd just exploit their previous ending as a story mechanism, but for some reason this plot is unrelated to Rayforce.

Two empires are at war. One, Secilia, was an ex-colony of Earth which broke free of its rule and decided to go against their former masters. Since they're going up against Earth, they may as well have become new tyrants. Earth decides that it's time to strike back. It's time to send the elite forces to Secilia and destroy the whole planet by blowing up the Judas system.

Seven billion people will die because there is no room for more than one empire in the Galaxy. Seven billion people will die because, well, humankind, no matter how far it stretches its presence in space, still has the fundamental urge to exterminate itself. Factions, religions, ethnic groups; it's all about intolerance.

Again, it's just one intro screen.


A simple, hypnotic loop of pure musical delight, a few piano notes repeated forever and ever. Yet, this time, there is a different flavor, or perhaps something else, that defines the game. Raystorm, regardless of the even more dramatic plot, has a lighter atmosphere. I don't know exactly what it is, but maybe it feels less brooding. After all, who wouldn't be happy to exterminate seven billion people? But maybe there is something about this ultimate clash that goes beyond the simple, dark sense of destiny, and reaches the level of the old epics. Maybe it's the basic idea of intolerance and the supreme sense of peril. That only one empire can survive after this war. What defines human nature, in this instance, is one thing.


And even if the game has such an epic and tragic setting, it's set to music by a lovely soundtrack that exists as a promise of summer and magnificent evenings spent dissecting it. Let's see:

Raystorm is 3D, or better, it's played from a slightly inclined perspective (20°) and uses polygonal graphics. In case you are wondering, it is still one of the most beautiful 3D shooters around, albeit some of the latest Naomi titles are even better looking. It has a better visual design than Rayforce, an enterprise that was nothing short of a miracle. Not only that, but it also has some of the most brilliant mechanics ever, provided that you can deal with the peculiar perspective. If so, you cannot avoid enjoying the pure genius behind its game engine.

The premise is similar to Rayforce's, however this time you can lock-on to enemies that are on your plane as well. This seemingly minor change is extremely important for scoring purposes. There is also a new R-Gray ship, which works in quite a different way. Its main shot never powers up, but it locks-on with sixteen lasers instead of eight. Well, actually, you just get one laser, which travels from one locked-on enemy to the other -- if the laser can't hit any enemies the combo is over. This means that you don't need to lock-on to sixteen enemies at once, but instead to one enemy on one side of the screen, fire your laser blast, then move and continue to lock onto subsequent enemies while the laser follows its path. Once you start locking-on to more than eight enemies your scores skyrocket, as shown in the scoring formula:

2^n-1*enemy value (for 1 ≤ n ≤ 8), 2^n (for 9 ≤ n ≤ 16)

This means that a full 16-hit combo can easily be worth about one million, even if accomplishing this feat is extremely difficult. However, as the game is fully 3D, it allows you to exploit the depth between your enemies by having the laser travel back and forth between planes, thus prolonging your chain. If this wasn't enough (and you should learn how to do all the chains in stage four to properly appreciate the genius of the engine), you can increase your score by bombing in the right places. This works because, once you have a chain going, your bomb's scoring will be equal to the highest lock-on value given before its triggering. This means that if you're at a 384k (16 hit) value when you shoot the bomb and destroy three more enemies, they will each be worth 384k points. In addition, in order to refill your bomb meter you need to do chains, as the more enemies you chain, the higher the increase of your bomb bar will be.

Smart, eh?

Yeah, it's a pretty complex game: gorgeous early 3D graphics, killer design and a lovely soundtrack. I have to be honest and clarify one thing -- I never got that good with the X-Gray 2. With the X-Gray 1 though, summer months passed by in an instant, and my best score rose to 16.8 million. Not too distant from the official record, but that's something I didn't discover until recently.


I was slowly re-discovering the lost Arcadia of my youth. Once I discovered the wonders of peer-to-peer, I spent my time downloading porn and Zuntata soundtracks. Well, naked women mainly -- I don't like true porn [You gay or what. --Ed]. One of the most frequent OSTs being sent around was Raycrisis.

Rayforce, Raystorm... Raycrisis? Could it be? Was it a third chapter? I browsed around and found a site,, that had a review defining it as an excellent game, and from the images I realized that it was like Raystorm. Cool, but the soundtrack was different from Raystorm's. It didn't even sound like the same composer. Its dark, slow, hypnotic rhythm screamed hopelessness, like Rayforce's. Time passed, tempus fugit, and I finally got a PlayStation. Hell, it was a big jump for me to buy a Dreamcast, but I wanted to play a few games that would require ages to appear on MAME.

Then I remembered Raycrisis. I bought it almost out of boredom, in the sense that I didn't know what to play and ended up bidding on one random auction. After a few days I was at last able to see the final chapter of the saga. The game itself was not bad. It must be played (at least when playing for score) like Raystorm; however, there are a few changes. First, you can select the order of the stages. Second, the lock-on grid can be retracted to its default distance when it reaches the bottom of the screen. Third, the X-Gray 3, which only fires lock-on shots, and can fire chains that last for the length of an entire stage. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Not after Dodonpachi.

However, something's wrong. A dynamic enemy sequence has been implemented so that the more stuff you destroy, the more it appears on screen. It's called "Encroachment", and it measures the rate of the planet absorbed by the Con-human in its mainframe. Yes, this is a prequel to Rayforce. The Con-human is absorbing the planet in its system, transforming it in its body, and exterminating human beings in the meanwhile. What you hope to do is act as a virus, attempting to hack the system, to infect the body, before it's too late. Of course, it will be too late. But at least you will be given enough time to flee.

To the dark side of the Moon.

This is, in some sense, the world ending in a whimper. However, as proven by Rayforce, humankind will be able to deliver its final blow when necessary and end things with a bang. Que descansen en paz. Before things end with one final meteor strike, I must go back and reflect on things. Let's put aside love -- love is not enough. Let's put aside sentimentalism -- I'm all for non-sentimentalism.

Taito and Rayforce, well, Rayforce at least, is not completely original, right? It's not, and since I grew up with Taito shooters I'm supposed to tell you why. Let's start from Tokyo, okay? Fighting enemies in the skies above Tokyo, Rayforce was one of the first examples of the steampunk setting in a shooter -- well, not literally steampunk. Does a biplane against futuristic vehicles classify something as steampunk? The more enemies you hit with one salvo of bombs in bomb mode, the more points you receive. Actually, it's 2^n*1k, basically the same as in Rayforce.

Or Bubble Bobble, or Chack'n Pop. I mean, c'mon, good ideas can be recycled forever, can't they? Well, I adored that game. Let's add Master of Weapon -- no, it didn't have multiple lock-ons for greater score, but it did have lock-ons, and a bar to tell you how many bullets you've shot. As you can see, they just used (or maybe abused) the opportunities given by their new hardware. It seems to be a general rule in the videogame industry:

"If you have new hardware to fool around with, recycle old ideas for new games."

That's why we've come back to Rayforce.

Rayforce and its prequel, Raycrisis. Maruyama-san, G.rev's boss, recently said that Taito wanted to quit the arcade market except for big productions with dedicated cabs. You may have noticed a trend of late -- most shooters published by Taito are developed by someone else. This wasn't Maruyama's goal. Among other things, they wanted to do another shooter.

But you know already this story, don't you? So let's get back, again, to 1998. Well, there was one final shooter to produce. There was also one successful series to complete. So, we have to go back, back to its beginning. Back to the rise of the Con-human, the almighty soul of a dead Earth. These are the times of the Raycrisis.

Raycrisis is not a bad game. It lacks the extremely tight chains of its predecessor, but other, more important elements make up for its deficiencies. Let's start from the futile details: graphics and background music. Graphics-wise, it's as nice as a G-Net game can be. It's still a Hideyoshi Katoh game, with elongated, abstract ships and flower-like shapes. The settings are bizarre, as you're supposed to go around the planet to destroy the Con-human's minions, but there are some bizarre analogies implied by the stage names.

You're trying to hack the Con-human's mainframe. The Con-human has given you options, in the sense that, after the initial stage, you are able to choose your path among five possible areas, each named after cognitive senses. The first and last stages are always "Identity", the core of the mainframe, but between these stages you have to hack at least three other zones in order to get back to Identity and fight the big bad Con-human. The zones are named after such things as Emotion, Perception, and Memory. Choose three of them in any order and try to arrest its onslaught.

The Con-human's story is intertwined with mine. I was just a teenager who wanted to save Earth. Damn, this is why I was so sad. I still remember the first time I completed the game. Okay, we're speaking of Taito: synonymous with sad games. I don't know why. In this specific case, I would say that the lack of good endings whatsoever was a bit of a letdown. Perhaps a stab wound to the soul. Maybe I should just not care about these things, but I had a tiny bit of hope left unfulfilled.

Now it's hot and dry. The sun is shining on my head. The sky has that peculiar cyan color so typical of August -- when it's hot, but the days have already gotten shorter. I have played all three titles in a row, trying to remember my gaming story and its bizarre sub-plot called Rayforce. I think back to the buried fragments of gaming experience that I was lucky enough to live through thanks to Taito. Sometimes, honestly, I feel like the Con-human itself, shattered by one meteor strike, the blow from a green-haired woman that makes me implode in my newfound body, the Earth.

Maybe I'm too catastrophic in my ramblings about the future. Well, at least, this fictional world ends with a bang. All reactionaries in the world, including Eliot, would be happy. Maybe Taito wanted to end things with a bang too. Oh well, Ave atque vale, Rayforce. May you rest in peace.