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Episode 34: HaraForce



A Homebrew Draws Near!

A blog series by @Scrobins

Episode 34: HaraForce



It should come as no surprise that the homebrew community spans the globe. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing brewers across four continents. But for all the interconnectedness that makes homebrew a small world, there are islands. Japan, the birthplace of Nintendo and Sega, is also the center of a thriving homebrew, or “doujin” Famicom scene. However, many players in the West are unaware of or unable to order these games, which stand shoulder to shoulder with its peers anywhere in the world. Fortunately, there are a handful of savvy individuals who have fostered relationships with these overseas devs, and built a pipeline of sorts that allows for the wider promotion and distribution of these games. I for one salute these ambassadors of homebrew international relations.

For this entry, I’m covering HaraForce, a shmup developed by Impact Soft for the Famicom and brought to the NES and the world by Neodolphino Productions. As of the time of this writing, Neodolphino’s NES copies of the game are sold out, but a few NES and Famicom copies are still available from Impact Soft’s own storefront here.


The Famicom CIB


Development Team:

Impact Soft: programming

Justin Orenich (@neodolphino😞NES port


Game Evolution:

HaraForce follows its two predecessors: Haradius Zero and HaraTyler. Haradius Zero was first available for purchase through Impact Soft’s Booth store as early as November 6, 2018. Neodolphino’s NES iteration of the game went up for sale on September 6, 2020. Meanwhile HaraTyler was first available through Booth and sold at expos on November 27, 2020. Though HaraTyler was already a worthy sequel, Impact Soft played with the possible, releasing HaraTyler MP, a version of the game with a custom audio board that enveloped the game with an enhanced soundtrack.

HaraForce was in stock through Booth on December 7, 2022. Neodolphino had NES copies of HaraForce (as well as HaraTyler and HaraTyler MP) ready to purchase in his store on January 13, 2023.


Impact Soft’s other booth shop



HaraForce is a shmup in the classic arcade mold. Use the D-pad to navigate your ship in 4 directions, use the A- button to fire bullets manually, and use the B-button to use the auto fire mechanism. You also have guided bullets which have a lock-on capability, enabling them to home in on enemy fleets that cannot be destroyed normally. Your ship and support pods lock on automatically, as indicated by the upside-down pink targets on enemy ships.


Screenshot of HaraForce



HaraForce is a testament to how much a few good ideas and great execution can achieve. It’s easy to be cynical about shmups being a straightforward formula (especially when you’re as bad at them as I am), but in the hands of a passionate developer, one who knows how to play with what works, and poke at ways to make it fresh, the result can be something special. Gameplay is fun, between the vertically-oriented take on the additional bullets from your support pods to the lock-on mechanism. Beyond what’s different, HaraForce is simply a crisp, well-made shmup that is addictive and fluid.

Graphically, the coloring is bright and playful, offering detailed, iconic sprites that warrant a comic book spinoff or cartoon show. Meanwhile the music pushes epic themes that easily hummable long after you turn off the game, with a pulsing thrum that pulls in your concentration as you blast away each enemy.



To assess to full impact of this game’s story, I interviewed its developer, as well as the man who helped bring it to the NES. These are their stories…





-Before we dive into HaraForce, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a game developer? What is your origin story and the story behind the Impact Soft name?

I was originally interested in electronic music and playing with synthesizers to make them play automatically. I bought a computer and became interested in programming as well and started making games. My first motivation was that I wanted to add background music of my own compositions to the games I created. I made HARADIUS for MSX as a "doujinshi game" when I was a college student.


When I released this game, I asked myself if there was a name for a circle that would have an impact. So we ended up changing our name to "impact soft". After that, I worked for a game company, changed jobs at several development companies, and now I am an independent freelance developer. The NES games I'm working on now are more of a side job.


Screenshot of HaraForce for the MSX


-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

I just make what I want to make, so I don't have any influences. I check out other people's work, but I just try my best not to mimic them.


-How would you describe your design aesthetic, what to you are the hallmarks of a game made by you?

I make what I want to make, the way I want to make it. Since Haratyler, I have been releasing games with my own mapper on boards I have made. The characteristic of "impact soft" is that we are exploring new possibilities not only for software but also for hardware.


-What tools do you use to code, compose, and create?

Assembler: NESASM; Sound driver: NSDLIB; and Graphics tools: YY-CHR.


-You refer to your games as “doujin”, which carries a meaning of self-produced, much like the word “homebrew” is used elsewhere. What does “doujin” mean to you? What can you tell me about the doujin community that you engage with in Japan?

I use it to mean the same thing as "indie games". I think the general interpretation is a bit broader than that. I'm not really involved in the Japanese community, so I'm not sure.


-HaraForce is the latest in a long line of games you’ve created. Has your approach to game development or your preferences changed since you first began programming?

There is no change in the fundamentals. My skills are improving, and I am able to do more, but compared to when I was a student, I have limited time to spend on production.


-In preparing to interview you, I learned that “hara” in Japanese can mean several things, such as someone’s belly, or courage in the way some equate “guts” with bravery, but it also means a unification of a person’s physical, psychological, and spiritual dimensions. Which meaning were you drawing on when you created the Hara series?

My current family name is "ICHIKAWA". Before I got married, it was "HARADA". In Japan, it is common for a woman to change her family name to that of a man after marriage, but I was adopted into my wife's family, so my family name has changed. The reason I put HARA in the title of the game is that it is a game made by "HARADA" and has no deep meaning.


-Is there a story behind the meaning of the second half of your games’ names? What is the significance of Haradius Zero, HaraTyler, and HaraForce?

HARADIUS" comes from "Gradius," which was created by HARADA, and "HARADIUS ZERO" comes from "Gradius," which was created by HARADA. HARADIUS ZERO was added to the name to start over from zero when we restarted our doujinshi activities on the NES. Haratyler is a half-joke name I came up with because there is a Japanese manga artist named "Haratyler". HaraForce is a name I just came up with.


-The Hara series are all shooters. What elements are crucial for a good shooter game? Do you have a favorite shooter that you look to for inspiration?

I think it's important to have a sense of speed to keep the user interested. Gradius 2 for MSX was a big influence.


Screenshot of Gradius 2 for MSX


-HaraForce is a vertical shooter, whereas Haradius Zero and HaraTyler were horizontal shooters. What led you to make this change in gameplay?

I wanted to challenge myself not only with horizontal shooters, but also with vertical ones.


-What aspects of HaraForce are you most proud of?

The smooth movement of many huge enemies, which is impossible on the NES. The exhilaration of defeating them with lock-on missiles.


-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing HaraForce? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

In the case of vertical shooters, there are often no restrictions on movement due to terrain. It was difficult to create stages that would not bore the players. The reason we added mines and energy field gimmicks is that without movement restrictions, the gameplay can easily become monotonous. I added mines and energy field gimmicks because I considered the problem that gameplay can easily become monotonous if there are no movement restrictions.


-How did you connect with Justin Orenich/Neodolphino? Were you looking to sell copies of your games around the world or on NES cartridges before you were in contact with him?

Justin suggested to me that we should release HARADIUS ZERO on the NES. I had a proposal to do so. I was interested in selling it overseas, so I asked him to do so. Before this proposal, I was interested in selling overseas, but had no concrete plan.


-How does it feel to see so many people eager to buy your games from around the world?

I want people all over the world to play my games because I developed them with a lot of effort. I am trying to make a game that is language-independent and can be played by people from all over the world.


-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, Famicom or otherwise? Any dream projects? Collaborations? What is next for the Hara series?

Right now I am developing an adapter to add Wi-Fi communication and MP3 playback capabilities to the NES.

Haratyler MP has already released a cassette with MP3 playback functionality, but this is a form of MP3 playback unit for each cassette, so the manufacturing cost will be high. To cover the disadvantage of high manufacturing cost, we are developing an adapter that can be used as an independent adapter by attaching a micro SD and I2CDAC component to an ESP32 microcontroller. To cover this disadvantage, an ESP32 microcontroller is attached to a micro SD and I2CDAC component so that it can be used as an independent adapter.


With this adapter, it will be possible to supply extended functions such as MP3 playback and WIFI communication for multiple game titles on an inexpensive cassette. I would like to create communication games in the future.

Right now I am spending most of my time researching new systems, so game development is something I am making along with my research. So if I can create something in the process of my research, I will release it.


I would like to make an action RPG next in the Hara series, but I am still working on the details.


-Are there any doujin games in development that you are excited to play?

Recently, I've been working on games that I want to play, including those on the market, but I've been holding back and making time to research and develop them.


-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

I am almost a one-man operation from programming, graphics, sound, board manufacturing to sales, so I know I am inexperienced in some areas, but I am confident that I can do it because I am a one-man operation.




Justin Orenich


-Before we dive into HaraForce, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a homebrew developer and producer? What is your origin story and the story behind Neodolphino?

I first really became aware of the NES homebrew scene back in 2013 – thanks mostly to Nintendo Age (and Study Hall by Kevin Hanley/KHAN Games).  Once I realized there was an active community devoted to creating brand new games for the first system I ever owned/played on as a kid, I was hooked.  I was in medical school at the time, but I did what I could to support the scene.  Eventually I wanted to contribute more while learning about how releases were put together.  I had next to no previous programming experience and limited time to learn, so I worked out an arrangement with a newer programmer on the scene to buy one of his very basic games – 1007 Bolts (and 1007 Hammers, as a result).  We made a few changes/improvements to the visuals/gameplay - I made a couple of really basic music tracks with FamiTracker and had them added in with the help of Memblers.   I obtained multiple donor cartridges and taught myself (with many helpful tutorials, plus trial and error) how to process the shells and boards into a whole new game.  The game is extremely simple and has next to no replay value, but I wanted to be sure that even for such a humble release, it had a thought out (even if basic) story and a quality presentation as that was what I could actually control.  I asked Eric of Troy to help design the packaging with just basic guidance on the themes, and the usage of classic Capcom packaging, and he completely blew it out of the water.  This was the basic origin of Neodolphino Productions.


May lightning continue striking in Neodolphino’s case


-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

Regarding my earlier releases and trying to make my Limited Edition releases intricate and unique, I'd say Kevin Hanley/KHAN games in that regard.  The Limited Editions of his early works were really cool and took what was being done at the time to the next level.  It also helps that he makes great games!  It would be hard to also ignore heavy influences on myself and the overall scene from all of the old guard that have been there since the early days.  As for who I'm watching, nowadays I try to keep a close eye on the Japanese brewers.  I work closely with Impact Soft as they release games and have watched Little Sound Soft and good_tune as they have produced more and more impressive games.  From a more western perspective, I often follow what Retrotainment (Full Quiet) and Mega Cat are up to and am always interested when KHAN Games puts anything out there (Courier, most recently).  I'm also very ready for Mystic Searches to finally be done!


-How would you describe your design aesthetic, what to you are the hallmarks of a game made by you?

As I am not a programmer, much of what is in a game is mostly out of my control – if the game is not yet completed, or I am commissioning it, I always try to push even simple games to have little extras that I think the player will enjoy (hidden mini games, quality music, etc.).  Regarding the physical release, I want to be sure I am using quality products, and that the designs match the aesthetics of the release itself.  I like using interesting colors/themes for the cartridges and try to make the normal somehow a bit different, especially in the releases I have more control over.  When I was making Limited Editions, I wanted the extras to be meaningful and unique, no matter how simple the game was.  Something you'd want to display, and be able to see and feel the effort that was put in.  It was never enough for me to just release a game to bare minimum standards.  Almost anyone can do that.


-What tools do you use to code and create?

I don't code, so none in regard to that!  As for creating, I use FamiTracker for the occasional sounds or music here or there but haven't put any of the products in a game since 1007 Bolts/Hammers.  For designs and layout, I may rough sketch some stuff in a variety of programs, but it's usually just a basic guide – typically Eric does the rest.  Most of my work comes from connecting with programmers, offering to bring their games to physical release, then conceptualizing how to bring a quality product to the NES from that, then sourcing quality materials and putting it all together.  If it's a project I'm starting, it's forming a team and providing direction and resources to make their work as easy as possible (which maybe I'm not as good at).  Things producers do – I think?


-How did you first become aware of the Japanese doujin scene?

I believe I first noted there was a Famicom doujin scene back in early 2019 when I saw Game Impact/Habit Soft offering a Famicom portrait cartridge service on Twitter.  The concept was that you would send in a picture of yourself, and Mitsuhiro Yoshida (one of the major creative forces behind the Kunio-kun series of games) would make an 8 bit rendition of your face in that classic River City Ransom/Kunio style.  This was then integrated into a basic Famicom program that was put on cartridge for you to enjoy.  From this project, I then found other Japanese programmers and their amazing projects.  I loved that there was a whole area of the homebrew scene that was largely unnoticed by Western audiences to discover, but I found it frustrating to actually get a hold of the games for many reasons.  I wanted to change that.


-How did you connect with Impact Soft?

It basically started with me struggling to import copies of their games (as an avid collector of homebrew), and with me reaching out to see how I might do that.  Then I offered to show off a physical demo of Haradius Zero for them at MAGFest.  I think shortly after I floated the idea of me doing a small hobby level release for them (as I knew other collectors were struggling to get these games as well – if they even knew about them), with me footing the cost and dealing with all of the logistics.  It was my hope that they would trust me with their game and with the big risk/unknown if they didn't have to worry about any part of the process, other than the game itself.  Luckily, they were willing to take a chance with me, and here we are, multiple releases and programmers later!


-You’ve brought all 3 games of the Hara series to the NES, which are all shooters. Does this genre have special resonance for you? What elements are crucial for a good shooter game?

Not that I don't love them, but honestly, it's because Impact Soft keeps making great space shooters, and trusting me with them to be released.  It's been a great and fulfilling partnership, at least from my perspective.  Crucial elements for me are things like smooth/responsive movement (especially with more projectiles), a certain feeling of power and flow while playing, and a great soundtrack.  Something I think it captured very well in the Hara series.


-What does bringing a Japanese Famicom game to the NES and Western audiences entail for you, in terms of the game itself as well as additional parts such as the box and manual? Do you work with anyone else to help you in these efforts? Is there a typical timeframe from agreeing to import to putting the games up in your store?

I consider what I do mostly just a Western localization of the game.  I may ask the creator to add a little note on the title screen denoting that, but otherwise, the games are pretty much the same.  Text in the games is usually minimal or already in English, so that's not a problem.  I work with Eric of Troy, as already mentioned, on creating the layouts for the printed materials – often using the programmers already made assets in some way, and usually Mega Cat Studios does the printing.  I've leaned heavily on Paul from INL to help with the technical board aspects to be sure we can support some of the more unique projects on his boards.  I make sure to stress to the creators that I do this as a hobby, and I am often at the mercy of others on when I can get components (especially at the height of the COVID pandemic).  Timeframes have honestly been all over the place, but are definitely better now.


-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in bringing HaraForce to the NES? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Honestly HaraForce was pretty straightforward, as the creator did all of the boards and packaging and sent it to me.  All I had to do was help with translation, choose a shell color, order styrofoam, dust sleeves, and vinyl box protectors, assemble everything, and distribute.  They made it very simple.  One lesson to be learned from this project specifically was to check the boards/details closely, as these were not what I normally used (typically I get boards from Infinite NES Lives).  There was some shipment damage on a few of the boards which luckily I caught most of.  Otherwise, I think we mostly had the process figured out by that point.


-Which other overseas developers are you in touch with? Who do hope to connect with in the future?

Other than those I have done releases for (Impact Soft, good_tune, and Little Sound Soft), I also occasionally talk with Game Impact and mook-tv.  I have also reached out to some non-Japanese brewers such as Jeremias Babini (PioPow).  I think most of the people I know of that I'd like to connect with in some way, I have – though I guess it would be interesting to get to know RIKI.


Definitely one to keep an eye on…


-How does it feel to see so many people eager to buy the games you bring to them from around the world?

It feels great, but mostly because they are getting to play these great foreign releases much more easily, and affordably.  I've always been a collector and advocate first, so helping these brewers access an enthusiastic fanbase/part of the scene they previously weren't a part of also makes this all very worthwhile to me.


-Do you have any reflections on serving as a sort of international diplomat connecting disparate homebrew communities?

First, it wouldn't have been possible without their trust in me, and their patience working across culture and language barriers (not to mention severe supply line issues, and delays due to my schedule, as I do this as a hobby).  The Japanese brewers have been nothing but understanding and a joy to work with and I am very grateful.  It's also been rewarding to bring new games to the Western community (though I do get orders from all over the world) through networking that are of great quality, and great fun – especially since I'm not a programmer.  Sometimes all you have to do is ask, be willing to (respectfully) ask again, and be comfortable being told no.  It's also important to still be willing to help them get their game released any way you can, even if not with you – I've done this one a few occasions, and it's still extremely rewarding for me.  It's about the people and the games – to me anyway.


-Which game has been your favorite game to import?

Haradius Zero comes to mind overall as it was the first, and quite exciting in that regard.  Plus I feel like what we did with the packaging and presentation was great, and very in line with a more Western flair (plus it's where I worked out my overall format for subsequent releases – the Famicom KOEI-esque look).  But I have to say that Gold Guardian Gun Girl was also a very fun release, and I think we really nailed that one as well.  The two-tone shell looks amazing, whichever variant you had, and the art really popped.




-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, importing Famicom, developing for the NES or otherwise? Any dream projects? Collaborations?

From a Famicom standpoint, I'm hoping to do a release of OverObj (a very impressive bullet hell space shooter) by Little Sound Soft sometime in the nearish future.  I'd also love to release one or two of mook-tv's games, though that effort has not been fruitful so far.  From internal projects, we have a few projects on the backburner: a City Pop music cart/album, a physical release of the Grunio trilogy on one cartridge (same for the Cowlitz games), and a picross game.  We also have some projects/ideas on the backburner’s back-burner: the NEoS (media loader/OS), a choose your own adventure creator, and a virtual pet project.


-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

Former Dawn, Orange Island, Project Borscht, Mystic Searches, Super Tilt Bro (with built in Wi-Fi), Courier (or Unicorn, or Beyond the Pins 2, or Sneak 'n Peek 2 – Electric Boogaloo)


-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

You the real MVPs!




Thanks for tuning in to this latest episode of the series that shares the adventures behind the latest, newest homebrews making their way to you. What are your thoughts on HaraForce? Do you have the Famicom or NES iteration? What homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?



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