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

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

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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What it Takes to Make Games (Part 3)

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

(Continues from Part Two)

Inoue: To be completely honest, I`m not exactly sure what leads to a particular game`s success of failure. No matter how fun we think a game is, we can never know how the player will react when they get their hands on it. You can`t expect a game to be interesting just by throwing sophisticated tech at it, nor can you say a project was a success just because you sold a lot of copies.

Yamaguchi: Sales certainly are one metric you can use, but they should not be the sole factor you use to determine success or failure.

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Inoue: The way I think about making games has changed over time, so I also try to achieve my goals at that time; though I can`t say I have some kind of grand vision. Every time we set out to make a game, I just endeavor to make it something different, and better, than what we’ve made in the past.

Yamaguchi: I hope that in the future, PlatinumGames can continue to develop the action game genre where it excels. That said, if we keep on making the same style of game over and over I’m sure I’ll get bored. Overall, I believe that each section of the company does its part coming up with new ways to keep things fresh. For me personally, however, while I appreciate the importance of the pace of action games, I’d like to try something that’s a bit more of a departure from that style. Even if it’s just through animations, I’d like to try a new way of expressing myself.

Inoue: Of all the games I’ve worked on so far, there isn’t a single one I feel completely satisfied with. Even projects I am quite happy with, if I sit down and really think about it, there are always a handful of things I wish I could have done differently. There are an endless supply of things you want to do, but the schedule doesn’t always allow for them. Sometimes you have to know when to let go and call a game finished. At the end of a project I always feel like I can take all the things that left me unsatisfied and fix them next time. But when that next project rolls around, there are still some problems I’m unable to solve…It’s a never-ending cycle. That process is also a source of motivation; a carrot just out of reach.

Yamaguchi: I also have times when I feel creatively frustrated. But thinking about how to approach the problem next time, and trying out various solutions, is the driving force that keeps me going each day. One’s job ends up making up a large part of each day; I’m happy to be devoting this time to the challenge that is game production. I enjoy my job so much that I wouldn’t want to quit even if I stopped getting paid. Despite my creative challenges, as I job I have no complaints whatsoever.

Inoue: I agree that it’s an ideal job. There are days that are so fun it doesn’t feel like work at all. That said, I do have bills to pay… Nothing would make me happier than to keep doing what I’m doing. Of course, the actual process of making games can be tough, and there is a certain weight of responsibility to ensure the players enjoy themselves. After all, in today`s society spare time is precious; the last thing we want to do is put that to waste.

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Yamaguchi: I never felt this way during school, but recently I find myself really enjoying studying. For example, if we were working on a game starring animals, I’d start looking at research about biology and dissection. After that, I’d get everyone’s feedback on what I’ve made using that information. In a way, PlatinumGames is a bit like a research lab where you can experiment with the things you’ve learned.

Inoue: Studying specific things for your job is fun, right? Back in grade school I just couldn’t get excited about what I was studying, but once I got to my specialty college I realized how fun studying can be when you have a goal to apply it to a specific career.

Yamaguchi: Yes, because you are able to see the direct application of what you are studying. Part of the appeal of game development is the fact that the field is always evolving; there’s always more to learn. Being proactive in keeping your skills up to date is another necessity of being a game creator.

 

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What It Takes To Make Games (Part 2)

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

(Continues from Part One.)

Creation through trial and error

Inoue: One of the games we worked on during our days at Capcom, Devil May Cry, began as a sequel to Resident Evil. The original design document I got included all kinds of acrobatic action. It was totally different from what people associate with the RE series. We figured that if that’s the style of game we were going for, it would make sense for the player character to be more active. We continued to adjust the animations to fit this style, and eventually the game had morphed into something else entirely.

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Yamaguchi: We stayed true to the director’s vision, and that’s how it turned out. In the end, the game was fun the way it was, and the company decided to release it as a new series. Quite a rare case in the game industry.

Inoue: That’s true. That may have been an exceptional case, but I find that when all the team members consider the direction they’ve been given and arrange all the parts of a game to the best of their ability, they end up creating something better than just going by the numbers. Of course, if you are told your idea just won’t work, you have to accept that too. In recent years motion capture technology has become predominant, increasing productivity and allowing us to experiment with all different types of animations.

Yamaguchi: I see what you mean. Technology like that gives a huge boost to efficiency, and it also lets us devote our resources to other areas. For example, even for a single animation, we start by creating a temporary animation and implementing it into the game at an early stage. That way, the team can take a look at it and discuss what works best in the game. Of course animation quality is important for its own sake, but at a company like ours, where we focus on how things move and feel within the actual game, this kind of testing is essential.

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Inoue: If the animation you spend a week working on ends up getting thrown out, the programmer has nothing to work with and can’t do his job. Even if it means just making a quick asset swap, a temp animation is better for the sake of efficiency. At the same time, when it comes to animations, the more the better. The player will be happier seeing a hundred animations than just ten, no matter how beautiful those ten are. Even if your action system is great, if that’s all you have the player will soon get bored.

Yamaguchi: When it comes to action games the questions you have to ask are “How does it feel to play?”, “How much variation is there?” Since this is something players will spent hours playing, it may seem obvious, but I think this attention to detail is something essential for anyone who hopes to make games.

Inoue: I start by asking “Do I enjoy this?” From there I ask the people around me, and eventually I’m convinced that “players are going to like this too.” Though frequently I end up making things that I enjoy personally, but I doubt would be much fun to anyone else! Before games are released there are user tests and all that, but at the end of the day these are just a subset of the players who will end up trying the game, so you can never say for certain if the results of testing are representative.

Yamaguchi: When creating a new game, some people aim to make it the new standard for that genre. For us, however, it’s more about just making a quality action game, one we can enjoy ourselves. Of course if it’s recognized as a quality title, that makes me happy as well.

Inoue: That way of thinking is thanks to the development environment we have here at PlatinumGames. As opposed to a vertical line of command with orders coming down from on high, it’s a flat organization centered around the director. You get instant feedback on everything you make, which helps get you closer to making something fun. The physical distance between people is important for this kind of process. If your group is too spread out, it becomes hard to achieve meaningful communication.

Yamaguchi: It would be nice if you could just have everyone sitting beside you at all times, though sadly that’s physically impossible.

Inoue: When you have to discuss something with someone from a different section, that distance becomes apparent. In order to overcome this, instead of using my phone or email, I get up and go over to the seat of the person I need to talk to, you know, make use of some of that non-verbal communication. Also, if I ever hear someone say my name I always respond, no matter how far away they’re standing. When someone says your name it means they’re talking about something you’re involved with, so I make sure I get involved in that conversation.

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Yamaguchi: There are no partitions between sections in PlatinumGames, so mini-meetings often pop up all over the place. A lot of progress is made while standing and chatting, or while watching someone play a demo at their desk. These talks start all of a sudden, so sometimes we realize too late that there is someone missing who really needs to be there.

Inoue: I’m aware that at other companies they have schedules that are absolute, and design documents laying out every stage of production; what we use are more like flexible indicators. This makes sense considering how much the original design seems to be missing by the time our games approach completion. If you are able to follow your original plan and reach the bar you set for yourself that’s fine from a work perspective, but unless you go through those heated discussions with other people on the team, I don’t think you’ll ever realize a game’s true potential.

Yamaguchi: After all, players couldn’t care less about your design documents. Without them it’s hard to make a strategy guide though, so the person in charge of that might get upset if I say that! Personally, though, I’d rather make something fun than something faithful to a document any day.

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Metal Gear Rising 2nd Anniversary!

METAL GEAR RISING

Filed: Games, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, PlatinumGames

Last week, Metal Gear Rising Revengeance celebrated its 2nd birthday!

Hey, everyone!
It’s Kenji Saito, director of MGR.
In order to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of my brainchild, I decided to play through it again recently for the sake of nostalgia, but man, I suck at parrying nowadays, haha.

I can’t believe it’s already been 2 years since this game’s release.
We’ve actually got several people working at PlatinumGames who entered the company because they loved Rising so much, which really made me aware of the impact a game like this can have on people’s lives.

As I write this, I’m looking at the Gecco Raiden figure (sorry, the site is in Japanese only, and the figure is sold out!) that I received from Hideo Kojima.
When the package arrived, I was as happy as a kid on Christmas!

Yong-Hee Cho, designer of Mistral, and Tomoko Nishii, who drafted the original design for Monsoon, have both provided some special 2nd anniversary artwork to commemorate the occasion.

Cho: Second Cut

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Happy 2nd birthday! I wonder what Raiden’s been doing the past 2 years…

Nishii: The Only Thing I Know For Real

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To this day, I still wonder if anyone helped him to pull of his little show in File R-03.

It’s been 2 years, but cutting and slicing your way through bad guys and, well, pretty much anything else still feels as good as ever!
Don’t forget to occasionally use Zandatsu as well though!

And if you haven’t played Metal Gear Rising Revengeance yet… What are you waiting for!?

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What it Takes to Make Games

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

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Kazunori Inoue (Programmer) x Takaaki Yamaguchi(Graphic and Animation Designer)

The two components necessary to make games are often said to be technical ability and an engaging idea. But even with both these components in place, there is no guarantee the game you create will be interesting. Two of the men who have helped make PlatinumGames what it is today, veteran programmer Inoue and animation designer Yamaguchi speak about what it takes to make games and what they enjoy about creating.
Inoue: My first project working with Yamaguchi was “Devil May Cry.” I was a programmer and he was in charge of animation, same as today. I started studying programming when I entered a computer science college. Of course I played games as a kid, but it’s not like I dreamed of being a game creator since kindergarten or anything. I was lucky enough to get a job at Capcom after graduation and… here we are.

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Yamaguchi: Unlike Inoue, I was more the type that dreamed about working in the game industry from a young age. I played all kinds of games back in elementary school, but the ones that left the most lasting impression were the action games I played on the Mega Drive (TL note: SEGA Genesis in North America.) When in middle school my older brother, who was a bit of a rebel, went against the flow and bought a SEGA Mega Drive. Thanks to him I would retreat to a Mega Drive cave every day after school. It was a bit of a niche piece of hardware back then, but it had its share of great action titles. Right around the time I was graduating university 3D computer graphics started becoming popular, so I decided to go to a specialty college to learn about the field.

Inoue: I was always under the impression that I was going to take over our family’s gardening store, until one day my brother told me that he was going to inherit it… I had to find something else to do with my life and I ended up in programming college. I entered Capcom after that, but it took me 6 or 7 years to become a programmer worthy of working on major titles.

Yamaguchi: Luckily I was able to enter Capcom after getting my graduation project approved. At the time, it seemed to me that the game companies in Tokyo were all making the same kind of games over and over. I didn’t want to work on any half-hearted projects; unless a game has some unique aspect to it, I really can’t see its value. With that in mind, a company that was making the type of games I was interested in was Capcom.

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Inoue: I had aspirations to enter Capcom as well, but fate had it that even after joining the company, there was a period I just wasn’t given any work. It was tough. Unable to be of any use to anyone, in the beginning I spent my days kind of lost. Back then there was no such thing as a college specialized in game design, and no one really taught you the practical skills you need on the job either.

Yamaguchi: I was also shocked by how little of what I learned at school was any use on the development floor. It was a real challenge learning everything I needed to know. That’s one thing about this job that will never change. There will always be hardware upgrades and new techniques developed to force you to stay on your toes.

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Inoue: Very true. If you get shifted to a different project, the approach to design and tools being used may be entirely different. It takes tons of research and studying to make sure you are able to capture the right feel of the game. That’s one aspect of game development that calls for more than just honing your programming skills.

Yamaguchi: As game development has aged and grown, the jobs designated by the term programmer have broadened, and now demand more specialization. A system designer is doing a totally different job than someone in charge of character behavior, who in turn is doing something different from someone doing environment scripting. Each job comes with its own set of required knowledge and experience.

Inoue: My job focuses on character and stage scripting, but outside that specialization, I wouldn`t be surprised if even a new recruit knew more than me. The graduates from modern specialty colleges possess a lot of technical knowledge. There are some people who are even able to get right into real development work as soon as they enter the company.

Yamaguchi: Of course, whether they are able to put together an interesting game is another story. They might be able to put together a program to make some pretty pictures move around the screen, but designing a single enemy may be a challenge. As a character and stage design specialist, I’m sure Inoue is acutely aware of this. At a company like PlatinumGames, that puts huge emphasis on the creativity of its games, programmers like him are indispensible.

Inoue: You could say that working at PlatinumGames requires a little something extra; perhaps the ability to have your work be consistent with everyone else piecing together the game’s look and aesthetic.

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PG Inside: Atsushi Inaba & Hideki Kamiya (Pt. 3)

Platinum Games

Filed: Community, Games, PlatinumGames

The Instrument Called PlatinumGames

Kamiya: I feel a certain bond of trust with all of us who entered Platinum the first year it was founded. It makes you wonder why they chose to come to our company in the first place. My team: Shirai, Sada, Ohkura.

Inaba: We couldn’t do the usual recruiting cycle right after founding the company, so instead we went around asking at game design colleges. I was surprised how many hopped on board this brand new company whose name they had never heard. Of course, it’s those very staff who today form the core of our development teams.

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Kamiya: I believe there is something about our company that attracts people who like to try new things, explore uncharted territory. The reason we are able to split up into teams and make games is that we respect each individual’s originality. Of course, this style can cause some conflicts with new hires who are used to the culture of other companies. But there are also many cases where they are able to move past those conflicts and embrace the PlatinumGames way.

Inaba: That’s true, since you cannot expect a company’s culture to change to fit what you are used to. When you are committed to creating brand new games, the individuality of each staff member becomes very important.

When you think about it, in time this leads to the company taking on a personality of its own. For you, Kamiya, if you cater to the users’ every whim and compromise your vision, it will probably be the last game you ever make. That is why you have to let that personal touch permeate your games. If you have an idea you cannot just keep your mouth shut. If you betray the players’ trust, it will come back and bite you in the ass. It is true that from a management perspective it makes sense to forget inspiration and uncharted territory and go for stability with sequels to proven series. But stability is not the be all and end all. There is nothing wrong with a sequel to a great game, but sometimes there are other things you want to do, things that you need to do.

Kamiya: This may not be directly related, but the games I played before entering the industry hold a special place in my heart. They represent something I aspire to, something I devoted myself to more than studying or relationships. To a certain extent there has been a retro revival in recent years, with many games from the 80s being made available on download services like PS, etc. However, many of the minor titles never have a chance to see the light of day. I think this is the one of biggest shortcomings of modern gaming culture. There is a treasure trove of great games out there, but they are being thrown out and forgotten like yesterday’s trash. A lot of those games are no longer playable. This is a challenge that we, as an industry, have to face.

Inaba: I agree. We grew up alongside games – they are more than just a job for us. I am sure there are others out there who feel the same way about video games. Who knows, in the future there may be fans who feel just as passionately about PlatinumGames titles.

Kamiya: If those people, in turn, end up pursuing a career in the game industry, we can really say we had an impact on their lives. Those impressionable years back in middle school ended up determining the direction of the rest of my life. If we can inspire others to devote themselves to games, nothing would make me happier.

Inaba: To make that dream a reality, it is up to me to foster an environment that allows people like Kamiya to continue to express their creativity. At the same time, I have to keep an eye on the next generation, and make sure they are able to produce Kamiya’s games after me. Well, until Kamiya’s career is finished, I’m prepared to keep supporting him as his producer.

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Kamiya: Yeah, I have been getting all self-important about my style as a director, but at the end of the day I’m just happy to be able to make games in a place like this. I mean, there are plenty of companies who keep you on a tight schedule, making sequels to games where they could change the entire development staff without anybody noticing. The only reason I am even able to go on like this about creativity is that I work in this environment. I’m not out there making games by myself – it is thanks to the development staff and everyone at PlatinumGames. I can’t picture myself anywhere else.

Inaba: I agree that our development environment is essential. But for me as a producer, I have to take a more active role in creating and maintaining my ideal office space. I don’t mean that in the sense of a floor plan or anything like that – I see the PlatinumGames environment as an “instrument”, a tool to bring out the best in our employees. In a way, it is a bit similar to a theme park, guiding the experience of those inside. I can’t say I have realized my ideals yet, but slowly but surely I am getting there.

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PG inside: Atsushi Inaba & Hideki Kamiya (PT. 2)

Platinum Games

Filed: Community, Games, PlatinumGames

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For the Sake of a Better Game

Inaba: One of the projects I worked on together with Kamiya that I remember particularly well is Viewtiful Joe. He had been a director before for Devil May Cry, but for Joe, I had him do the original game design documents and control the direction of the entire project. I told him, “I want you to work this out alone, without anyone’s help!” In order to give him free reign over the feel of the game world, I oversaw the project as a producer, and kept the team size small.

Kamiya: When I first entered the industry I went right into work on Biohazard. There was already a large team involved, with many experienced staff ready to lend me a hand. But with Viewtiful Joe I was in charge of all the planning and directing from the beginning.

Inaba: I still remember, during the days of Viewtiful Joe and Okami there were times when I thought you had totally lost your way. At one point during the latter half of development, you stopped giving people directions and handed the staff a design document that was basically a blank sheet. I should point out, the way Kamiya makes games is not logical; it starts from a feeling, “This scene looks good.” A director`s job is to fix an overall direction that a game will take, look at what his teams brings him each day, and decide whether it is good or bad. The problem was that there was a while when you weren’t able to make those critical choices. When a director is able to logically oversee a game without any issues, a producer like me can just focus on the people, resources, and capital management needed to deliver a solid product. But back then, I was mostly preoccupied with supporting you and making sure you were able bring things together.

Kamiya: I honestly had no idea what kind of game it would turn into.

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Inaba: I still occasionally reflect on the project. It wasn’t a logical game from the very outset. Whereas with Okami it started with you saying “I want to draw nature,” and I was just like, “Wow, that`s cool.”

Kamiya: I put a large emphasis on the quality of graphics in my games; I want the player to feel like they can almost taste the air around them when they are moving through the game world. Unlike the horror games I had worked on in the past, I wanted players to feel good when they saw the vast and beautiful landscape. That was the thought process that gave birth to the idea for Okami.

Inaba: However, the original concept you pitched back then was impossible to realize on consoles at the time. It would probably still be impossible today. About 2 months into the project we realized this and changed the art style accordingly. Originally “Okami” was supposed to be a game in which players could create realistic drawings through gameplay. It became clear this was just not feasible. However, through this process the concept of drawing a 3-dimensional ink painting was born, so I can`t say we were just wasting our time. That said, even though we had the art style in place from quite early on, the all-important game system itself took much longer to come together. I remember getting pretty angry, not just at Kamiya, but at the rest of the team as well.

Kamiya: Unfortunately, no matter how much I get yelled at I can`t come up with ideas I don`t have; I mean, it`s not like I was just fooling around all day. That said, the work we did at Clover Studio felt like the beginning of a large swell of creativity that continues to this day.

Inaba: The title was already announced and was being held up as the first big original game from Clover Studio. The only thing we had at that point was the promotional footage, but man, did it ever look pretty, haha. I`ve mellowed out quite a bit so I can no longer bring myself to get mad at people who are at least in their seat each day trying their best, but back then I didn’t show much compassion, and I was basically just yelling at people all the time.inside_4

Kamiya: At the time the team got together and we were all wondering if Okami would end up a failure. There was even some talk of it being cancelled. I responded saying that it would be a tragedy to release the game out into the wild in the state it was in; that`s how rough a state it was in for a while. I would start to shudder just imagining the users trying the game and feeling disappointed…if it was going to come to that I`d rather the game be cancelled.

Inaba: Yeah, and just forget the whole project ever happened. The time and love you put into it won’t be returned; those scars remain. But at least the users are spared. In that sense it can sometimes be better to cancel a game.

Kamiya: It`s true that both Inaba and I have a ton of treasured memories about games, but on the other hand we`ve suffered our share of disappointment at the hands of ill-fated projects. Back when we were kids, games were even more expensive than they are now. If you could get even one game per year you were lucky. Make a mistake and you wanted to scream, “I spent my hard-earned cash on this!?”

Inaba: We still face challenges as a small-staffed studio working on high-spec hardware. There are certainly times when we have to cut various features due to limitations on our end. However, I refuse to let challenges on our side dictate the entire course of production; it is not fair to the player. Instead of using these difficulties as excuses for compromising on quality, we just need to be that much more creative.

Kamiya: I`m not the type to organize all the individual moving parts of a game beforehand, so there are often times when I haven`t worked everything into the schedule. I often come up with good ideas in the middle of production, and the finished product ends up even better than I expected. I know it is a bit risky; I often think, “Man, I really came up with that in the nick of time.” But if that idea will make the game better, you have to do what it takes to get it in there.”

inside_5Inaba: Kamiya`s experience combined with a certain logical backbone are what allow him to see how the parts of a game fit together, but he comes out with the wildest ideas at the 11th hour. “Oh hey, I just came up with something!”
We have all come to dread those words. But when it turns out to be a great idea – and as gamers ourselves we all know a good idea when we see one – we just have to pull up our bootstraps and get it done.

Kamiya: It just so happens I was talking about this with a second-year programmer named Hirate today. If we as creators start deciding right off the bat that something is impossible, we will never be able to make anything. Imagine a game designer who is told by his artists and programmers that what he`s asking is impossible. It`s not like he can do those things himself; he`s finished. Good designers and programmers don`t let it end with “impossible.” The type of staff I trust the most are the people who will offer suggestions: “I can`t do that…but what about this?”
I believe that there are many people like that at Platinum. The thing that gets me most annoyed is when people come to me asking for me to okay some decision. I think I`ve broken everyone`s bad habits, but in the past it was rampant. I`d ask them to do something for me, and they`d come back saying “Is this okay?” I`d reply: “Don’t ask me what’s okay, show me what you think is okay!”

Inaba: On the other hand, you’re putting a lot of responsibility on their shoulders like that. But I have to admit that I too, as a producer, most enjoy the moments when someone reports back to me with an idea that exceeds my expectations.

Kamiya: Exactly. As a game fan myself, that joy even rivals that of trying a brand new game. That feeling of excitement takes me back to my experiences as a kid. The games I`ve worked on are filled with ideas that I didn`t come up with, ideas I couldn`t have come up with… in a way that`s what allows me to keep making games I truly enjoy.

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PG Inside: Atsushi Inaba & Hideki Kamiya (Pt. 1)

Platinum Games

Filed: Community, Games, PlatinumGames

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Carrying Forward Gaming Culture

Atsushi Inaba (Executive Producer): Atsushi Inaba has helped produce almost every game Platinum has released to date. His role is to support and manage each project’s team.

Hideki Kamiya (Director): Hideki Kamiya has been a director of such games as Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Okami, Bayonetta, the Wonderful 101, and now Scalebound. His job is to create a vision for the project and act upon it.

Remember the times when almost every day you’d go to some friend’s house in the neighborhood and spend the whole afternoon playing video games? I’m sure there are a lot of us who can answer yes to that question. Out of the ones who can are two of the founders of PlatinumGames, Atsushi Inaba and Hideki Kamiya. Now working as an Executive Producer and a Director, this interview delves into why they chose to work in the game industry.

Why I Make Games

Inaba: The first time I thought I wanted to make games was when I was 12 years old. The PC-8801 was at its peak, and I played games all the time. Back then, hardware and software were fairly simple, to the point that the art, sound, and even programming were often handled by a single person. If you wanted to make games, the easiest way in was to learn how to program, and that’s exactly what I did.

Kamiya: I got into making games in almost the same way Inaba did. I said I wanted to study programming and my parents bought me a computer. Ultimately I played a lot more than I programmed though (laughs).

Inaba: It used to be that you had to go to an arcade to play anything, so it was amazing to actually be able to play games in your own home.

Kamiya: Back then, hardware had limited capabilities, but their limitations made them very logical in design. They were almost like paper, rock, scissors in a way. You would pick from a small number of options, and what you chose determined whether you would win or lose. They were simple with easy to comprehend rules. I entered the industry during the Playstation era, so these kind of games were already long out of production. The first game I worked on would be Resident Evil (which used polygons to make 3-D characters and environments), so I never got to work on a 2-D game.

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Inaba: The PlayStation really ushered in a time of change for video games. I think that’s what first brought us together.

Kamiya: My approach to making games is mostly spontaneous so there’s some doubt as to how well my style would have fit with the logical design methods of the 8-bit era. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to them so much.

Inaba: They definitely have a unique appeal. What I find so amazing about 8-bit games is how I can remember the smallest of details about them, even now. I can still remember buying certain games, how excited I was.

Kamiya: It’s too bad but I don’t feel like the games of today can inspire memories as vivid as the ones back then did. Maybe it’s just because I’m older now. It was different when I was a kid. Back when I was most impressionable, back when I would absorb anything like a sponge, I chose games over school, and that’s what really defined who I am. Ummm, I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to school, kids.

Inaba: When you’re a kid, you have no income, so you put an unbelievable amount of concentration into that one quarter you have to spend at the arcade. You would grip the quarter tight in your hand and think, “I’ve got one shot. I can’t let it go to waste.” So much weight was placed on each attempt, it’s no wonder I remember them all so well.

Kamiya: When my parents brought me to a big department store I would think extremely carefully about the most effective way to spend the little cash my parents gave me. I’d take a good look at everything there and make sure I chose whatever gave me the most for my money. That’s probably how those dot graphics and bleeping sounds became so deeply etched into my identity. They still really mean a lot to me.

Inaba: When I was in middle school I’d frequently drop by the arcade near my house. Getting a new machine in was a big deal. My friends and I would all try to guess what it might be. Also, games didn’t get soundtracks released back then, so you’d have to hold a tape recorder next to the cabinet and record the BGM live. Usually you’d do it while you or somebody else was playing so you’d get a lot of sound effects thrown in—enemies blowing your ship up and the like.

Kamiya: Everyone was engrossed in countdown music shows and pop radio and whatever. I couldn’t care about any of that in the least. Back in 1985, I was all about Gradius. I was still in my first or second year of middle school, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything that can top how I felt then. I would go home and strategize endlessly about how to clear that one part I couldn’t get past yet (laughs). Before I knew it, I couldn’t take it anymore and I would jump on my bike, going as fast as I could to the arcade, wearing pretty much pajamas.

Inaba: I feel where you’re coming from. The smallest amount of money and time used to have so much value to me back then. All of those “unfair” games really honed our gaming skills. The NES especially—so many games spared absolutely no mercy for the player. For the survivors of that era like you and me, a lot of the games today feel like a complete pushover. They’re too easy.

Kamiya: Exactly—way too much hand-holding. I don’t know if people these days remember that sometimes you’d have to sit 10-20 minutes in front of a screen waiting for a game to load before you could even determine if it sucked or not.

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Inaba: I remember this one time I was playing this game and waited 20 minutes for it to load up. After it finally did, the first thing it did was ask you to choose armor for your character before you started playing. I chose what I wanted, pressed confirm, and finally thought things were going to get underway, when I got the following message: “Your armor is too heavy for your character. GAME OVER.” I just looked at the screen and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” (laughs). But that’s just how games were back then.

Kamiya: Back in middle school, I went over to my friend’s house after I heard he got a computer. Playing games at your own house was like a dream to me, so I was elated to just sit in front of the screen while the game loaded. After everything finally finished processing, I remember the picture appearing on the screen piece by piece.

Inaba: Right. It would take time for the processor to draw something, but what you have to understand is, that didn’t make us bored or frustrated. Every minute we waited just made the excitement build that much greater. It’s probably those memories that inspired us to choose a career in making games.

Lunch with the President

Platinum Games

Filed: Community, PlatinumGames

The latest employee event here at PlatinumGames is birthday lunch month with the president! As the name implies, all employees who have their birthday that month are treated to lunch by president Minami.

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The company started 9 years ago with 40 or so members, but now, with over 170 employees, it has turned into quite a sizeable establishment (from our perspective, anyway). The president suggested this event because he wanted a chance to sit down and talk with all of the employees.

The lunch might also be a way of expressing his gratitude for our work? In any case, it’s a voluminous bento box that looks pretty fancy! (I’m getting jealous…)

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For lunch this time we had quite the range of participants: from new employees who only entered the company in April to veterans who’ve been with the company since its founding, for a total of 8 people.

First of all, the president wanted to know how everyone was doing! So he asked about what they do for lunch. One employee who usually brings her own lunch said, “I’ve been having trouble getting up in the morning to make my lunch these days…” The president shot back with: “But you’re not that busy right now!”

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Then there was some chat about the early days of the employees who’d been with the company since the beginning.

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Next, the president badgered a nervous new employee in his typical fast-talking Kansai dialect. “Don’t you feel homesick, living away from home? Are you doing okay?” It turns out the new employee’s first name is the same as his beloved daughter. His familial feeling must have kicked in, and he just kept spouting out the cantankerous old dad phrases. “Don’t have too much fun!” he chided, chuckling.

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By the time everyone had finished eating, the talk turned to serious work matters. Concerns about how to train new staff, the difficulty of sharing information throughout the development floor, how to pass on expert know-how, how to use lessons learned on subsequent projects… the topics just kept on coming. The lunch had turned into an exchange of opinions that crossed all boundaries of job type and position.

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At one point it got so serious that the president and the CTO, Ohmori, were both holding their heads in their hands in desperation!

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Well, the lunch was only an hour and a half long, so there’s no way all the issues were going to get solved. However, by continuing these opportunities, we hope that horizontal and vertical communication will become smoother, and employees will feel even more comfortable and motivated working here. And of course, we want to create amazing games to pass it back to all of you!

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This was a little longer than our usual lunch hour of 12:30-1:30, but it sounds like it was really worthwhile. Everyone’s looking forward to next month’s lunch!

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