Team Ninja: "In Dead or Alive 5, we took a lot of inspiration from the Uncharted series..."
11th Nov 2012 | 16:00
Last issue we awarded Team Ninja's new game,
Thinking back to your childhood, what got you into games? What was the spark that ignited your games industry career?
The biggest reason I got into games is... I remember a childhood experience I had. One summer holiday myself and my younger brother went down to our cousin's place, and they had a NES there and we started playing it. I remember that I was so intrigued and into the games that I couldn't get away from the TV. I was so glued to it that when my parents said: 'It's time to go back home now,' we didn't move. So they said: 'Alright we'll get you a NES, and any game you want - we just have to go home now.' That promise led my parents to buying me a NES and Super Mario Bros. I remember just falling in love with that game. And I think that was the moment that shaped my future.
Can you think of any other games that have had a big impact on you and the way you think about development?
During a lot of the turning points in my life, games have always been there for me. I remember I was doing my entrance exam for university and I wrote a whole essay on Policenauts. It was Hideo Kojima's game. I wrote a whole essay and I got a really good score actually, and that got
me into university. Games have always played a big role in my life, not just when I was a child. I think Policenauts was one of the games that changed my way of thinking as well.
So, for you, who is making the best games in the world right now?
For Dead Or Alive 5 we took a lot of inspiration from Naughty Dog. Specifically it was the whole stage crumbling, and things falling off, and the characters rolling down, grabbing on to the ledges in Uncharted. We also wanted to hint at that flow you get into in Uncharted, where you know that something massive is about to happen. In Uncharted you fall off a cliff, or off a boat and things like that, and we thought moments like that would be great in DOA5's fighting system. We got really inspired by that, and we've tried to do something very similar.
Yes, the thing Naughty Dog do well is establishing the character's presence in the world, and I think it's something that works well in DOA5 as a result.
I think that we definitely were inspired by Naughty Dog's work. It's not like we're doing a cheap, superficial imitation of that game. As creators we were inspired, and it's a good opportunity right now to tell our players about this. It's something they might not notice, but we really respect Naughty Dog, their work is fantastic.
So you've finished DOA5. Do you ever feel like a game is truly finished, or are there always things you could improve or say: 'I wish I'd done that differently?'
There's always something more that you want to do. It often happens mid-development. You think: 'Ah, we should have done it this way or that way'. There's always something you can learn and apply for next time, so yeah.
Is there a plan beyond DOA5? Have you begun to think about how you might move the series forward?
This is not the end. In many ways DOA5 feels like a fresh start for us. We want to refine the game to the level where we can fight for the number one spot in the genre, so we will keep going until we achieve that. Obviously the next generation is something that we have in mind; we've started thinking about it.
Where do you see videogames going in the future? There's a lot of talk about this next generation being the last for traditional consoles. Do you think that will be the case, or do you think there will always be separation between consoles and other media?
I don't think consoles are going to disappear from gaming. You still have millions of people playing videogames with a controller on a box in front of the TV. Just look at Call Of Duty, for example: it's everywhere. There are millions of people playing it. I think people will continue to play games, and as long as the cost of development stays sustainable, and people continue to buy traditional games, then we'll be here.
If only one game sells everything, it will ruin the gaming and console industries completely. I think you can compare it to movies. People still go to the cinema after all this time. I don't know how long cinemas have been around but it's not like cinemas are completely gone and everyone is watching movies on their TV or smartphone. Yes, you have those new mediums, but the old guy is still there - and I think it's going to be like that with consoles. I think they will be around for quite a while.
Obviously you get questions about how DOA5 compares to X game, is it sexist, things like that... but do you ever get asked why you make fighting games?
People tend to ask a lot of questions that deal with the logical elements of the game, but nothing about the underlying nature of why we make fighting games in the first place. People start thinking logically about things, so we have to describe our game logically to journalists in order for them to put that down on paper or online so that their readers can understand it as well.
But when you look at fighting as a genre, for example, it's a very primitive genre. You've got to use buttons to actually make people punch and kick and throw each other. You push a button to initiate actions for people to fight each other - so it is very primitive. I think that's what people want though - they want that primitive nature of fighting games - it stimulates them to play. The people who make these games are the same. I think we need to make these games in order to fulfil ourselves. In that sense, I think fighting games have come this far because of that reason. I think all of us humans still have that primitive nature in us. We need fulfilment, and fighting - or fighting games - gives us that.
At Team Ninja we focus on making our games feel good in the player's hands. So when you push a button, whether it be a response from a character or an animation or whatever, we go through a lot of painstaking effort to make sure it feels good for the player. It sounds, to a certain extent, it sounds quite... erotic. We often think it's a little bit perverse when we talk about the detail that we're getting into to make sure the game actually feels good in the players' hands.
So for us it's almost like an instinct. It's something that we're actually aiming for when we make our games. Making games to appeal to human instinct rather than human logic is something we always remind ourselves to do. When you play a game there's always something there that's instinctive rather than logical. You can't explain why it's so good: it's almost impossible to put it into words. It's that instinctive element that we make sure is included in our games.
Of course, you did that with Ninja Gaiden 3, your previous game.
You're right when you compare it to Ninja Gaiden 3, but for that game we focused a little bit too logically on expressing the karma and the guilt, and the suffering that results from cutting and killing someone. We focused too much on the logic, and not enough on the primitive element in Ninja Gaiden 3. It's something that made the Ninja Gaiden series fun - just cutting through something and killing someone. It just felt good.
Recently Alex Hutchinson from Ubisoft Montreal said Japanese developers have an easy ride with their stories, and they're given an easy ride by games journalists. Do you think that's true or fair?
I think it depends on the person. Some people might find it's true what he said, and others would think not. In the games industry you have games that are fun intuitively and some that are fun when you look at them more logically. There are two ways of looking at games. Some games, when you look at them, and you think logically you can say 'wow that's a fun game, that's a good story,' or whatever. But there are some games that you play that just feel good intuitively and you can't easily explain why the game is so good. I think from Alex Hutchinson's viewpoint he was thinking more logically. I can kind of agree with him when you compare Gears and Bayonetta. The story in Bayonetta was a bit hard to follow so I can't say it was 100% fun; it was a little bit hard to get in to. I kind of agree with him. Some people may find that he's right and some that he's not right - I think it's something that's open for debate.
We've seen a lot of controversy and sensationalist stories this year - especially from the journalism side of things - about minor issues in games. Do you think that games journalism has matured as games have matured? Or do you think we are lagging behind?
Put it this way: I'm in my early 30s now. There are a lot of senior directors and producers that are in their mid-30s and even 40s. In the media, you used to have a lot of journalists that were around the same age - they grew with the industry. But many of those guys have left and moved on. The impression that we get right now is that there are a lot of young guys in this industry, just starting out, and leading journalism; moving it forward. That's a good thing, having new, young guys giving a fresh view.
But I think that the industry, and the media, have turned everything into a gossiping session. Someone picks up on something negative, and everyone else says: 'Yeah I know, that's right, that's right.' It makes people unhappy. It's just too much to keep over-analysing minor things like that. It's good to have that element in the media, in journalism; you need to keep the stories going but it would be good to have more senior guys being bigger influences on the media, to get more of a realistic view on games and the bigger picture. Many of the older people in the industry, like yourself, understand games better, probably because of that experience they have. You can have the gossip too, but it would be good to have more of a realistic view on games from time to time.