INDIVIDUALITY IN GAME DEVELOPMENT (PART 1)

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

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Individuality in Game Development

Hidetoshi Kai (Graphic Design/Animation) and Hiroshi Shibata (Game Design)

PlatinumGames is entering its 10th year, but some of our staff members have careers in the game industry that go back over two decades. Two such members are animator Hidetoshi Kai and game designer Shibata, who can trace their roots all the way back to the 4th Development Division at Capcom. These two veterans, who made the jump to Platinum together with director Hideki Kamiya and producer Atsushi Inaba, talk about their experience and thoughts on game development.

Skills gained through Trial and Error

Kai: The formative experience that led me to video games took place back in kindergarten. A little candy shop I went to had a couple of Pachinko and pinball machines that I loved to play with. My dad is a carpenter, and he would use nails and scraps of wood he found around the house to make little Pachinko boards. Even back then I loved thinking up games. My parents didn’t buy me many toys, so I got used to making them myself.

Shibata: My family moved to Tokyo around the time the Famicom (the Japanese equivalent of the Nintendo Enterainment System) came out, but we were very poor so I didn’t get a chance to play games much as a kid. In fact, I didn’t buy a Famicom until I started working at a game company. I was making do with nothing more than a TV, refrigerator, and rice cooker back then; I didn’t have the money to buy a lot of electrical appliances, let alone to buy any for recreational purposes.

Kai: I was a little late to the video game party, too. I didn’t even consider working at a game company until after I had entered a vocational school. There, I studied film and other visual media. I worked with cameras a lot, and I specifically studied animation as a form of expression.

Shibata: I studied animation at a vocational school, just like Kai. I wanted to make a living in animation, but it was just not a viable way to pay the bills. The first job I started out of school was in the printing industry, but the pay was bad, so my life of poverty continued… A friend of mine worked at a game company though, and he told me the money was good, so I decided to get into the game industry. In other words, I wasn’t trying to fulfill a romantic dream of making games, as much as I saw the game industry as a solution to my financial woes.

Kai: Yeah, I hear the animation industry can be pretty rough. We have a couple of people who decided to quit their jobs at an animation company in order to join us.

Shibata: Although, in a way, your current job actually still involves animation.

Kai: That’s right. I’m in charge of creating the animations that dictate how the characters move. I sometimes animate environments as well.

Shibata: My job is to think of ideas that make the game more interesting – I get to say whatever pops up in my head, haha. Officially, I’m responsible for writing up game proposals and design documents to coordinate the direction of the team with each section, but working under Kamiya means I often don’t prepare any documents. Why is that you ask? Because with Kamiya at the helm, the game changes so frequently that by the time you get everything on paper, the document will already be obsolete, haha.

Kai: Maybe so, but I still think you make more documents than most other people.

Shibata: I guess so, haha. Anyway, I originally entered this industry as a graphic designer just like you, Kai, and I remember that I used to have a lot of fun creating sprites using pixel graphics. This meant having to line up every little square of color that would be displayed on the player’s screen, but we could only use 16 colors back then, so I would spend hours obsessively trying to figure out how to line up all of the dots to create the image I wanted.

Kai: Yeah, it was a neat way to make graphics. I still feel like doing work like that sometimes, haha.

Shibata: It has a certain addictiveness different from regular drawing. Capcom’s pixel art from that era was incredible, but it had a strange quirk: although pixels are usually square, Capcom was unique in that they used vertically rectangular pixels. This meant that even rotating the sprite on its side required you to replace all the pixels. It was highly inefficient, but they still managed to put out many uniquely beautiful sprite-based games. I decided that, “If I’m going to be a sprite artist, it’s Capcom or nothing”, so I moved to the Kansai area where Capcom’s headquarters are located.

Kai: You came all the way to the Kansai area for sprites?!

Shibata: Oh yeah, it was great! Soon after I entered the company I was assigned to a team developing arcade games and I got to ram out rectangular sprites to my heart’s content.

Kai: I started out in Capcom’s console game department. In many cases, the pixels for console games were horizontally rectangular, so this made porting arcade games to consoles an absolute nightmare.

Shibata: But you know, thinking back to it now, I realize that when we first got into development, in the days when the images on screen contained nothing but the most rudimentary information, games ended up being extremely refined. There is a lot of fluff in modern games, so making games now ends up being a lot harder than the days of yore. There are so many more rules you have to learn nowadays.

Kai: Yeah, things are still tough, just in a different way now. How about you, though? How did you end up making the jump from a pixel-laying graphic designer to a game designer?

Shibata: Well, one thing I realized while working at Capcom was that beautiful graphics alone aren’t enough to sell a game. The art in Capcom’s games was among the best in the entire industry, but this never guaranteed that their titles would be successful. It became painfully clear to me that art isn’t the most important aspect of a game, so I decided to focus on thinking up original ideas.

Kai: Although I entered the company as a graphic designer, I actually wanted to make games more than I wanted to work on their graphic design. I always had my eyes open for opportunities to try different aspects of development. I’ve even done stuff like making up questions for quiz games and burning ROMs. Leaving behind the pixel painting lifestyle, I manipulate polygons now. Although the job title has remained the same, the knowledge and skills required have changed quite a bit.

Shibata: You can say that again. The stuff I learned about at vocational school was very different from what the game industry required, so I had to learn about things as I was making them. When 3D polygon models came onto the scene, it was an entirely new experience altogether. Capcom as a whole was slow to get onto the polygon bandwagon, and everyone working there was a beginner when it came to making 3D games. We couldn’t fight progress, however, so we just had to do our best to keep up.

Kai: The youngsters entering the company right out of college nowadays are better prepared than we were. Hardware back then was changing so hectically all the time that we had to just try out all kinds of different things and see what worked. As a result, though, I think we learned a lot about perseverance and determination.

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Club Activities at PlatinumGames! (Part 2)

Platinum Games

Filed: Community, PlatinumGames

Hi there! This is Hiroto Tanaka, leader of PlatinumGames’ fighting game club.

The fighting games circle is a place where fans devoted to the genre can congregate and compete in tournaments with each other.

In one of our recent meetings, we had a special unpackaging ceremony for an arcade controller: an indispensable item to any fighting game fan.
After that we played a few rounds of Ultra Street Fighter 4 together.

It was a good opportunity for a lot of staff to loosen up and revisit some of their childhood gaming memories.
Or maybe for a little more fanatic gamers like me, it was just like having my friends over for a few hours of gaming.

So far we’ve played all different sorts of titles, from new to old. I want everyone to feel like they can drop in whenever they want, so we usually play in meeting rooms in the office. Next time I’m thinking maybe to do some Guilty Gear or Smash Bros.

Anyway, that’s all from me. We have a ton of other clubs going on, so expect to hear more from another one sooner or later!

Thanks!

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CREATING THE NEXT GENERATION OF PLATINUMGAMES (PART 3)

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

Shindo: It’s your fourth year here Funahashi, and your sixth Ohkura. How do you stay motivated? For me, I try to think of the player. Games aren’t free, and they’re a significant investment of time. If we want people to play our games, we need to supply something worthwhile. Remembering that pushes me to give my all when creating something. It might sound obvious, but it’s important to me.

Funahashi: Me too. I always hope the player will enjoy what we make. None of the games I’ve worked on have been released yet, so I haven’t had a chance to see any user reactions first hand yet, but until then I’ll just have to make do with the reactions of my colleagues and the director.

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Ohkura: I’d say I’m driven less by an external source of motivation, but from a knowledge that my current self does not quite live up to my ideal. The director and producer tell me, “Don’t worry, you can stay here as long as you like!” which is comforting. But realistically speaking, as a woman I have other things to worry about, like how I would make this job work if I wanted to start a family. I’m sure there are many other employees who have the same kind of worries. That’s why I want to work through those concerns and become someone capable of fitting all my goals.

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Shindo: It always helps to have someone to look up to, someone who has been through the same things you have and can share their experience. For me that person is Kamiya, although everyone on the team has something I can learn from. I’m lucky to be able to work with everyone here at PlatinumGames. Games in this industry are often said to be pretty rough, but you also gain so much in return.

Ohkura: Yes, there are many people at PG with a lot of perseverance and straight-up guts. You make games together as colleagues and as friends. Although there are times when it can be tough, at the end of the day you’re doing something you love surrounded by awesome people.

Funahashi: I don’t consider myself someone with exceptional persevering power, but I must have something that got me through these first 3 years. What it is that allows you to keep persevering is different for each person. Unfortunately you usually won’t find ituntil you’re in a situation where you need it. That’s why I want to make games with people who choose to do things out of their own volition, not just because they were told to.

Shindo: I feel like there are a lot of people like that here. There’s something about PlatinumGames that just draws in that type of person. Maybe that’s why there are so many slightly weird people here.

Ohkura: There are a lot of people here who like to do things based on their own convictions.

Funahashi: Exactly. Even if your style doesn’t quite mesh with the company’s or team’s, I think it’s best to understand your own point of view and see what you have to bring to the table. If you do that, PlatinumGames is the kind of place where people will tell you, “As long as we achieve that common goal, just do it the way that works for you.”

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Creating the Next Generation of PlatinumGames (Part 2)

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

Sharing your Vision

Funahashi: It’s my 4th year here at Platinum, and I can finally say I’ve gotten the hang of my job. Thinking back to when I just started, every day was a struggle. I had no idea what the director was trying to convey… I would make exactly what they told me to, only to have it thrown back in my face with a “This isn’t even close!” I just had no idea what was what back then.

Ohkura: Yeah, we’ve all been there. Problems like that can be solved by properly sharing your ideas regarding the overall feel of the world, but most people will have no idea how to give form to that when they’re only just starting out.

Shindo: In order to give a game’s world the proper feel, you must infer the intent behind the director’s words, and find your own answer to that somehow. That’s all much easier said than done, obviously. At first I was so preoccupied with trying to understand the game world and doing exactly what the director told me, that I couldn’t make any progress at all. I remember being surprised listening to the sounds my seniors came up with all by themselves, and thinking “Yeah, I guess that works too!” That’s how I started coming up with my own ideas as well, because I figured that it was okay to make mistakes sometimes.

Funahashi: For example, let’s say the director asks you to make a chair. You have to consider, do they want something with the shape of a chair, or something with the function of a chair, i.e. something people can sit on? If we’re talking about the function, even a simple wooden log or a guard rail could be considered a “chair.” If the vision of the game world is clearly shared between all of the staff, you will begin to understand it by nature, and you will no longer be constrained by the words you are given.

Shindo: On the other hand, there were times when, even if I asked the director what kind of sound he was looking for, I would just get a vague answer like “Hmmm, I dunno… something that sounds cool!” That’s not much to work with, haha. What sounds “cool” is obviously highly subjective, so in order to find a cool sound that fits within the world of the game, the only thing you can do is to just create a massive number of different sounds and see what sticks.

Funahashi: Yeah, I’ve also been given instructions like “Gimme something that looks nice!”, which tends to fill me with joy and terror simultaneously, haha. If you don’t have a proper grasp on the game world, nothing you propose is going to work. However, knowing that you’ve been given this chance, despite the risk of failure, can be invigorating. It makes you want to create something that will live up to expectations.

Ohkura: I often start working on projects before they even have a solid world or character details, so I begin by just getting my pen moving and seeing what takes shape. Explaining things verbally is not my strong suit, so when the director and I share our views of the game world, I make sure to bring plenty of visual aids. It makes me so happy when I finally hear, “Yes! Let’s go with this!”

Shindo: In that sense, it feels like you’re shaping the world with your own hands. There are a lot of things that you come to understand when the team shares the flow and overall direction of the game with each other, while going through a process of trial and error. It really feels like all the individual parts come together to form the whole.

Ohkura: I know what you mean. I love when I’m trusted with a task that I have full creative control over – most of the time. Based on a character’s back story, I imagine how they would react in certain situations, and over time the little details of the game’s world are formed. Of course there are times when one of my ideas doesn’t work in the established world setting, but there’s nothing stopping you from thinking up additional back story as you go. To do this, we’re always being challenged to be more creative, and I’m sure the director has this is mind when he gives us these vague directions.

Shindo: Yeah, and they always choose simple key words for you. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t still spend a lot of time having no clue what direction to take things in. And it’s times like that that the people around you often help you out by making suggestions. Instead of just banging your head against the wall alone, it’s more like a team searching for the best way to smash through the wall together. Uh… not literally of course.

Funahashi: There are certainly times when your idea ends up getting struck down, no matter how well it seems to go down during the team meeting. Those moments where everyone is excited about a certain idea are important, though – it’s a great way of reaffirming a shared vision of the game, which keeps the team going strong.

Shindo: In that sense, the development for Bayonetta was really exciting. It started out as a very serious world, but there were some funny parts as well. I would make some weird sound thinking, “Man, it’d be hilarious if we could use this,” and then the director, Kamiya, actually ended up putting it in the game. When he heard the sound he went, “Heh, this sounds so dumb… let’s use it!” I’ll never forget how happy I was that day.

Ohkura: While developing Bayonetta, there were a couple of times when the sounds Shindo created directly inspired my designs, actually.

Shindo: For example, I thought it would be cool if two of the characters could communicate with each other during a shooting stage. However, this wasn’t originally part of the game, so after I made the sounds, Ohkura actually came up with designs for communication devices they could use. As a sound designer I never thought I would be able to have that kind of influence on a game’s design.

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Office Closed for a Company Event! (Off we go flower-viewing!)

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

Our yearly flower-viewing party got postponed due to rain, so we didn’t get to enjoy the cherry blossoms in full bloom, but we had a great time under the beautiful new green leaves at Osaka Castle Park!

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As always, our venue was Nishinomaru Garden, located west of Osaka Castle. The mansion of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s wife, Kita no Mandokoro, was said to be located here. Approximately 300 cherry trees are planted on these spacious grounds. Needless to say, this is one of the biggest cherry blossom spots in Osaka! (Next year it would be nice if we actually got to see some flowers. Haha.)

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Including our outsourcing partners and the new grads who joined the company on April 1st, this was a massive party of about 200 people in all!

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It had been rainy since the beginning of April, but on the day of the party, we were blessed by good weather. It was so sunny it was almost hot!

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Sitting around a delicious meal with friends while relishing the change of the seasons is one of the true pleasures of Japanese party culture. You get the chance to talk to people you don’t usually converse with, which could be helpful at work too!

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Here, a new programmer (left) and the lead programmer Kazunori Morita (center) are greeting CEO Tatsuya Minami (right). At PlatinumGames, no one ever needs to worry whether their senpai is noticing them.

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As a groundbreaking new initiative, we have decided to hire a pigeon this year. We thought it would be coo’. (Sorry.)

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A generous employee donated sake for our own little sake tasting corner. This was lovely.

Ever since the founding of PlatinumGames, we’ve held three big yearly events: the flower-viewing party, the new employee welcome party, and the end-of-the-year party. But the flower viewing party is the only one that we close the office and make a huge occasion for! (Sorry for closing the office on a weekday afternoon…)

Today was our biggest festivity of the year, and we enjoyed it to the max!

Extras:

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Creating the Next Generation of PlatinumGames (Part 1)

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

Creating the Next Generation of PlatinumGames

Mai Ohkura (concept artist) x Eiji Funahashi (character modeler) x Masato Shindo (sound designer)

We’d like to introduce three employees who are shouldering the next generation of game creation. Meet Ohkura, who designs characters as a concept artist, Funahashi, who models characters in 3D, and Shindo, who creates sound effects. All of them are young employees who entered the company four to six years ago, but they’ve been entrusted with key positions in their projects and have lived up to their roles. Each of them is in charge of a different aspect of game production and has a different mindset. Here, they discuss creating as part of a team and their thoughts on the future of game creation.

What making games means to us

Funahashi: I’d always liked drawing, and I remember that in around fifth grade, I was already writing in my diary that I wanted to be a character designer. Now I work as a modeler, creating characters using 3D tools and setting their shapes and textures. When I was in elementary school, I would often draw my favorite movie heroes, make up the guns or weapons they would use, and use them in my own original card game. Pokemon cards were popular at the time, but my parents wouldn’t let me buy any. So at first I started this kind of game because I was forced to, but then I learned the joy of creating a game for others. So even when I was young, I decided that this was the path I wanted to follow. That’s all I did throughout middle school, high school, and college.

OhkuraOhkura: I work in the concept art team, where we work with the director to determine the look and feel of the game’s world. I’m mainly in charge of character design, and I draw in 2D. In my case, I was constantly doing sports when I was young, and my parents didn’t let me look at any games, manga, or anime. I was even thinking of going to a physical education university for college. But I ended up going to art school on the recommendation of my dad, who is a designer. That’s when I awakened to the joy of creating things. I entered PlatinumGames as a web designer, but I got the chance to be involved in game creation by helping out with the user interface of a game that was in production at the time. Originally my contract was supposed to be for three months, but I’ve already been here for six years (laughs). Now I’m in charge of character design, but recently I’ve been thinking that I want to do more than just draw images – I want to do anything I can to be involved in game creation. I think at the root of it, I just want to create things that the people around me can enjoy.

ShindoShindo: I used to be in a band, and I wanted to satisfy the audience that used their precious time and money to see our shows, so I could never let myself do a lukewarm performance. Now I work as a sound designer, creating sound effects for games. Just like during my band days, I want the users who buy our games to enjoy them and not to be disappointed. Reactions from customers are my biggest motivation.

Funahashi: What originally made you interested in creating sound?

Shindo: My body had always been small ever since I was born. To toughen me up, I had to do judo, kendo, karate, swimming, and other sports before I even entered elementary school. I continued soccer until I entered high school, but then I contracted a serious illness and had to live in a wheelchair. With surgery, I was able to return to my regular life, but I still couldn’t do the kind of exercise I had before. I anguished about what I should do next. For a change of pace, I decided to buy a synthesizer with earnings from my part-time job, and from then on, I was immersed in my band and composing music.

Ohkura: It’s hard when you have to give up something that you want to do. I had always liked drawing ever since I was little, but in middle school I almost gave up because I couldn’t draw the way I wanted. Because of that, I focused on doing physical activities, and I plunged into martial arts like karate and naginata until I entered art school.

Shindo: They may sound completely unrelated, but the passion I experienced when I was young has created my current self. The other day, when I was working really hard, I thought to myself, “how am I able to keep on going?” Then I realized that it was because of sports. The mental and physical training I experienced in soccer and judo were foundational for me. When you think of it that way, maybe perseverance is needed in creative industries like ours.

FunahashiFunahashi: Yes, being able to power through when it really counts is important. Your ability to do that affects the final quality of the game. It all depends on whether you can be persistent and create something that satisfies you under a very tight schedule. But fundamentally, it’s important that you want to create something that people enjoy.

Shindo: In my case, I used to work at a musical instrument store, and it made me happy to hear words of gratitude from customers or see their pleased reactions right in front of me. While I was working there, I began interacting with creators and artists, and they had an impact on me. I set my mind to doing something creative, and I decided to aim for the game industry, which I had always been interested in. First of all, to polish my skills, I lived on my savings and spent an entire year concentrating on composing music. A year later, I brought the work I was satisfied with and applied to PlatinumGames as a music composer. However, the bar was higher than I thought, and I didn’t get hired. After that, PG was recruiting for sound designers, so I tried again and was luckily able to enter the company.

Ohkura: Within the company, people were gossiping about you – like, “a famous composer online is joining the company!” I remember that you brought some music with you to introduce yourself.

Shindo: Come to think of it, I did (laughs). But in the beginning, I couldn’t create what was required of me as a sound designer, and I agonized for the first six months. At the time, I hoped that with any luck, I would be able to move to the music team. But when I discovered the interest of creating sound effects, I stopped having any regrets about not working as a music composer.

Ohkura: I’ve gone through a series of frustrations with myself, but I am driven by my never-give-up attitude and my wish to create things that myself and everyone around me is satisfied with, and let them out into the world for users to enjoy.

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Looking at Things from a Programmer’s Perspective (Part 3)

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

Debugging the Company

Since the olden days, different hardware has always had different programming rules, meaning that programmers have had to familiarize themselves with completely new sets of rules every time they started working on new hardware, so they needed to have a flexible mind. So I started thinking: maybe we can focus on the creative aspect in order to reduce this kind of burden. I’ve actually always wanted to create my own game engine at home, and back when PlatinumGames was still in the preliminary stage of starting its business, I would work hard on creating an engine by myself whenever I had some time to spare.
There’s a system called “DirectX,” and I used it to create a system capable of forgetting what kind of hardware it’s running on. I did that just as a hobby.
Then, when we started working on Bayonetta and we had to reduce the startup time, I brought out this engine I’d made, and used it to create pretty much everything we needed. This actually made me realize how large an influence the production environment itself has on the production process.

There are a lot of programmers at PlatinumGames that are very strongly inclined towards the creative side of things. These types of people are the ones who take the company forward, so the last thing you want to do is to obstruct other people with technological problems. Creating video games is a craft, so personnel expenses are obviously the highest. If you’re going to spend a set amount of time and a set amount of money, you’ll want to make the best product you possibly can. So the question becomes: what can we do to increase the efficiency of the production process? When I was part of a project, I always thought to myself: “If I do my best, the quality of the parts that I’m involved in will increase.” However, this is actually not enough when you look at the whole picture. So if there are any employees doing something that they think is really bothersome, it’s our department that offers to come up with an appropriate solution. In a certain sense, I think we’re the department that “debugs” the company, so to speak.

Right now, I’m super busy, and I can hardly get around to all of the tasks I need to handle, but I’m getting by because other staff members are helping me out. Personally, however, I want to extend my area of expertise even further. Compared to the days of yore, there are so many more elements to the production process nowadays, be it music, video, or whatever, it isn’t even funny. Video games have become unbelievably complicated over the past 20 years. This means that you have to reconsider the game creation process pretty much every 2 or 3 years, in order not to fall behind. We’re entering our 10th year since the establishment of the company, and the 6th year since the establishment of the Technology Strategic Planning Team, so it’s about time we started reconsidering the process again. We have to look at both the management of the company and the way we make games, and tie our game creation process in with the technological side of things, in order to decide what kind of technology we can use next, what kind of structures our games will run on, and what we should be doing from here on out.

PlatinumGames is like a child caught between playing field and a laboratory. By playing field, I mean a location where we can use the skills we’ve cultivated and test their potential. The playing field is where you get your first chance at showing the results of what you’ve learned. By laboratory, on the other hand, I mean something like our own small castle. A place where we can do whatever we want, mess around a bit, and be pleased with the things we pull off. It’s an important place for finding out where your capabilities lie, for trying out many different things, and for generally going “I wonder what happens when I do this…?”

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PlatinumGames enters its tenth year!

Platinum Games

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Today was April 1st, the first day of a new term at PlatinumGames. Every year on this day, we have a company-wide meeting where the leaders of each section reflect on our successes of the past year, and on areas that can still use improvement.

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The meeting starts off introducing the new graduates that have joined our staff.

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A look at the new staff up close. One of them proudly mentioned that he comes from a small fishing community in the North of Japan, but this may just have been a load of codswallop.

1-151Next, our president Tatsuya Minami talked about layout changes within the company, staff with newly appointed positions, and approaches to improving product quality even further this year.

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Following the president, the head of development, Kiyohiko Sakata, talked about his plans for strengthening our development staff. He ended his speech with this year’s slogan: “Surpass this generation.” Make way into a new generation the world has yet to see.

1-111At the end of the meeting, the president awarded a plaque to each staff member entering their fifth year at the company.

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On February 2, 2016, PlatinumGames will celebrate its ten-year existence in the industry. Today, we discussed how we will improve our infrastructure and educate our younger staff to secure a place in the industry for the decades to come as well.

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Thank you for your support as always!

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Looking at Things from a Programmer’s Perspective (Part 2)

Platinum Games

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Pursuing a Creative Ideal

I programmed by myself for the first time when I was in around the fourth grade of elementary school. It all began when I started playing around with the educational programming software called “Family BASIC”. But of course, being an elementary schooler, I couldn’t comprehend programming. At the time, I bought a monthly programming magazine and just typed in whatever was written in it. Of course, sometimes it didn’t work even when I typed it in, so I checked every character one-by-one to fix my mistakes. Re-typing that over and over again, I naturally learned how to program. Later on, for example, when I learned about one-point perspective in a high school class, I went home and made a 3D dungeon. I applied the rules I had learned and drew lines on the screen, and made it so that I could move around using the keyboard. I really enjoyed this type of amusement, because I just created things to satisfy myself. I didn’t have any grand goals in mind.

There are two pieces of shared understanding among programmers, and the first one is that the computer is never wrong. Unless it’s actually broken, the reason the computer isn’t doing what you want is within yourself. Programmers don’t just think this way about computers – it forms the basis of the way we think about life. When a problem happens, we make sure to question ourselves before looking for the cause in the outside world. The second one is that programmers are basically patient. By that I mean that programmers can’t create anything just by ourselves. For example, we can’t work without game designers to come up with the game design, or graphic designers to create graphics. The position of a programmer is to receive requests from all the different groups and respond to them in the best way possible. If that doesn’t go well, it’s our fault. While handling a large workload, we need to continually respond to requests, add our own flavor to the content, and finally remove bugs.

omori_1This isn’t just about programmers, but I think it’s extremely important to be aware of your own deficiencies. If you know your ideals, and the things you’re aiming for, you can make the effort to approach them. If you want to become a decent programmer, you need to go through the disciplined training of polishing the programming into a final form, as well as reflecting that in the actual product. This is something you acquire through tens of thousands of repetitions of putting together a program and then testing it. Because of this, if you want to live on your programming skills, if you want to make games fun, you need to cultivate your sensibilities and be interested in everything. It’s meaningless if you can’t maintain your interest. Especially at PlatinumGames, everyone is expected to be like this. That sounds like a high bar, but I believe that’s why we are able to create high-quality, deep games.

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Looking at Things from a Programmer’s Perspective (Part 1)

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

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Wataru Ohmori, CTO & Head of the Technology Strategic Planning Team

Looking at Things from a Programmer’s Perspective

Including announced but not yet released games, PlatinumGames has worked on 10 titles to date. The skills our employees have cultivated during these projects are our greatest asset. To preserve this knowledge, and to stay relevant in an ever changing market, we created what we call the Technology Strategic Planning Team. Programmer Ohmori, the founder and current leader of the TSPT, talks about what it’s like behind the scenes.

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Supporting Game Development from Behind the Scenes

I’m the head of the Technology Strategic Planning Team, a department that single-handedly bears responsibility for the core technologies that make our games tick. We don’t work on the design of individual games, but rather over-arching technologies, such as developing a system to archive data from each development line, or improving the general resources shared between all projects. It’s kind of similar to what other companies call an engine or a library. Sometimes this means developing a whole system based on the needs of each project, and sometimes we approach the heads of each project with suggestions on how we think things can be improved. We’re in charge of a very important part of development that the player will never get to see directly and would probably be bored by if they did.

For example, a sound designer may come to me and say “When I’m checking the game, I want to be able to see what kind of sound is being played where; can you have that displayed in real time?” These are the type of requests we take. We add these functions based on the needs of a particular project, but if they work well, we adopt them in some or all of the other projects too.

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It wasn’t just me who pushed for this department; the support of Executive Producer Atsushi Inaba was invaluable. If you’re going to make several games at one company, you’ll need corresponding development teams in place for each title. While the demands of each project are different, there are always certain technologies that can be shared between multiple projects. Before the TSPT, every time we’d start a project, a new person would be in charge of system development and would rebuild everything. It goes without saying that this is terribly inefficient. If you are going to be using a lot of the same functions between projects, it makes sense to coordinate everything under one unit. We’d been discussing creating such a unit for a long time, but to actually make it a reality meant taking a number of our most experienced staff off other projects. This would be easy to do if we were a huge company, but PlatinumGames is still relatively small, so we were bit nervous about realizing this plan. At first I was a bit unsure myself, but after seeing the burden the old method was putting on the teams, and with Inaba-san’s support, I decided to go all out to make the TSPT a reality.

To be honest, there are times when we can be a bit of a burden to the other departments. We do process a lot of requests from the various projects, but there are some that are still on our to-do list… Overall, when I see how the tools we provide are being used throughout the company, it’s clear that our quality is getting better and better. As our tools are used, people will start having extra demands, which in turn also leads to extra bugs that need to be sorted, but as long as there’s a use for those tools, we’ll keep squashing those bugs and making the tools more resilient. To create a better development space demands a continuous process of improvement upon improvement.

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