Creating an Automated Bug Checker

BAYONETTA 2

Filed: Bayonetta 2, Games, PlatinumGames

Hi, I’m Morita, a programmer.

For this blog I’d like to talk about how we automated bug checking in Bayonetta 2.

Before a game is released and actually reaches your hands, there’re a lot of little things called bugs that we have to take care of. Here’s a refresher course on some of the types of bugs there are:

Freeze Bugs
The game stops responding to controller input, the game freezes, and the player’s only available option is to manually shut down the console.
These are serious bugs, even mid-development. If you don’t take care of them quickly, production of that section of the game comes to a halt.

Collision Bugs
These bugs occur when the player falls through an invisible hole in the ground, gets pushed by an enemy into some area they’re not actually allowed to go (and shouldn’t exist), or stuck inside the walls of a building somehow, etc. If you continue to mess around once these bugs happen, the game might freeze.

When you get close to the end of development, there’s a period called bug check where you try to find and fix all the remaining bugs in the game that you can. This check usually involves the whole internal team, plus dedicated professionals outside the company as well.

There are a few different methods people use to check bugs. For example:
– Full playthrough (seeing if the whole game can be played from start to finish without freezing)
– Playing the game extended periods of time
– Trying to go back after doing something and seeing what happens
– Trying to do something different from intended design
– (Etc…)

Now, do we need every aspect of bug checks to be handled by actual people? My policy is: if a machine can do it, let’s make a machine do it. In this instance, we determine a set of actions for Bayonetta to perform, and make the console play the game over and over and over again.

For example, our first method for bug checking, the full playthrough—if we’re just going to play through the game’s main story, we know what that route is, and what we need to do along the way, so shouldn’t this be possible?

Then there’s bug checking by playing the game for extended periods of time. People need to sleep, eat, and take breaks, but we can make a machine play the game as long as we want and it’ll never even have to use the restroom! This is where automated bug checking really shines.

There also happen to be these kinds of bugs that have a very low chance of reoccurring, sometimes even as low as only a 1/50 chance. If there’s a bug that we randomly came across at one point and want to find the exact conditions for reproducing it, we can program the game to try something in the most precise way possible, and experiment around until we figure out what’s causing the problem.

Looking at all that, you realize there’s a lot that a machine can take care of. If you let a machine handle part of the bug check, you slim down what the rest of the team has to do, meaning they can do a much more specific and faster check, and everything ends up being more efficient.

I started thinking about this autoplay tool around the time development for the first Bayonetta ended. Finally, with Bayonetta 2, I was able to try it out.

In total, the tool has accomplished beating Bayonetta 2 40 times in a row. In actuality, it could probably go a lot further, but by the time it’s played that long, we’re ready to add fixes and update old data, so we have to turn it off once, refresh our data, and then start it up again.

Okay, you’ve dealt with a long enough wall of text. Let’s try looking at a video.


*This video was taken during development, so it looks different from the actual game.

auto01

In the image above, you can see some red cones connected by lines. This is the autoplay course for the game. I had to sit down and write in all this data piece by piece.

The overall setup is simple. Whenever Bayonetta gets to a cone, she performs a pre-determined list of actions for that cone in order. When she’s done with everything, she moves on to the next cone.

This doesn’t involve adding any special actions for Bayonetta. For movement, I started from the intended destination and camera angles and worked backwards determining what direction would need to be pressed on the controller.
It was important for me to make the tool so Bayonetta moved as if the controller had moved her.

The tool could control the following:
– Move to destination
Walk, jump, double jump, warp (this was a special debug-only feature)
– Controller input
Capable of full-circle spins and more.

auto02

- Standby for certain conditions

Besides the basic features, it also has a variety of complex functions, such as “auto-battle,” or operations that are only used for debugging, like outputting a data log, taking screenshots, and so on.

Auto-battle is pretty cool. Bayonetta acts as if she has an Immortal Marionette equipped and pretty much fights as if someone was just mashing the buttons, randomly performing Torture Attacks and Umbran Climaxes when she fills her gauge.


*This video was taken during development, so it looks different from the actual game.

The commands can actually get pretty complex. We can have Bayonetta perform actions while moving between cones, and lots of crazy stuff. Some of the command patterns I programmed were like, “punch three times and then move,” or “do X,Y, and Z while warping in an infinite loop.”

Sorry… looks like I got carried away. I think I’ve written too much already. I’ll talk about the tool’s actual implementation another time.

The tool was used in various ways. I used it for repeating specific actions under individual staff members’ development environments, and I would refresh the data and put the game on autoplay before going home, so basically I was going around asking everyone: “Hey, if you’ve got a PC/dev kit to spare, can I use it?”

Then, when we came back to work the next day, we’d find the game frozen after trying to do this or that, thus helping us discover a lot of bugs that might’ve taken a long time to find otherwise. Next project I hope to make an even more improved version.

Thanks if you’ve read this far. I know it didn’t really have that much to do with Bayonetta 2 itself, but I hope you found it interesting.

I hope it gets across that I’ve tried my best to make sure your Bayonetta 2 experience is as bug free as possible :)
I look forward to getting to speak to you all again in the future.

If you ever want to message me on twitter, follow me @PG_morita!

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Celebrating the Launch of The Legend of Korra

Legend of Korra

Filed: Games, PlatinumGames, The Legend of Korra

Hi, everyone! How are you?
This is Eiro Shirahama, director of The Legend of Korra.

I can’t believe it’s been this long since I first saw Korra and fell in love with her.

After a tough development period, the game was finally released one month ago on 10/21 in the US and 10/22 in Europe.
Please try it on Steam, XBLA or the PS Store, if you haven’t already!

It’s a budget title, but it still manages to maintain that sharp and fast-paced action you’ve come to expect from us!

What’s that? You need more Platinum in your life!?
Well, Bayonetta 2 was released on 10/24 as well, so there’s a double serving of PlatinumGames goodness just waiting to be scooped up!

I’d like to thank all of the wonderful people who worked on The Legend of Korra. I couldn’t have done it without you!

I also want to give a great big hug to Robert Conkey, producer extraordinaire at Activision for giving us so much freedom in making this game. Thanks, buddy!

Also, lots of love and respect for Mike & Brian, creators of the original Avatar series. Your work is amazing, guys!

Thanks to everyone at Nickelodeon as well! The chocolate cake we had in San Diego was delicious!

And the biggest thanks of all to all of you fine people who downloaded the game!
I love each and every one of you!!

IMG_3568(Text on cake: Avatar State!!)

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Cut Scene Production in Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta

Filed: Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2, Games, PlatinumGames

Hello!

My name is Kunihiko Tsuda, and I was in charge of cut scene production for Bayonetta 2.

Today, I’d like to talk about how we produced the cut scenes for this game.

Two of the many distinguishing characteristics of the original Bayonetta were its unparalleled over-the-top action, and its cast of unique characters.

Today, I would like to talk about how we incorporate these unique characteristics and action sequences into our cut scenes.

First of all, like Bayonetta 1, the scenario for this game was written by Hideki Kamiya. For fear of spoilers, I won’t go too deep into the story here, but I can promise you that the script is every bit as crazy as the first game (if not considerably more so), so you’ll just have to play the game and see for yourself!

Based on this script, we first created video storyboards to decide on the direction and the characteristics of each scene.

At this stage of development, it’s also common to use regular non-video storyboards, but since Bayonetta 2 has a lot of new characters, and since Bayonetta herself hasn’t remained unchanged since the first game either (not that she has a different personality or anything), we decided that it would be best to create video storyboards in order to make it easier for Yusuke Hashimoto (The game director), and Yuji Shimomura (The cut scene director. Thanks for all the hard work on Bayonetta 1 as well!) to reach a mutual understanding on how to convey that Bayonetta has changed and grown as a person since the first game.

Here’s an example:

For comparison, this is what Bayonetta was like in the first game:

As you can see, her clothes have changed quite a bit as well.
Actually recording the scenes allowed us to get a clearer impression of how each scene played out, so that we could settle on the details for the characters and stage direction at an earlier stage in the production process.

Of course, we make stage directions on which the production is based for the video storyboards for action scenes as well.

Next, we record the motion capturing based on these video storyboards.
At this point we make detailed adjustments and revisions to the stage direction as well, based on the backgrounds and cut scene trigger points, which we will have mostly worked out at this stage of development.

The motion capture data is then used to create the scenes with the help of 3DCG tools.
The data is applied to the backgrounds and character models and further tweaked.
This part of the process is very important, especially when it comes to action scenes.
This is where we give the cut scenes their typical Bayonetta-like qualities, by accelerating motions to a speed that is not possible for actual human beings, and by creating lots of physically difficult poses for Bayonetta herself.

Since Bayonetta 2 has many different kinds of gigantic monsters and enemies, this part of the process is even more important.


*This video was recorded while the game was still in development, so it looks different from the final product.

After this step, the camera direction and character motions are almost completely fixed. The only thing that remains is output to the console and postproduction work (lighting, VFX, screen filters etc.).

That’s the general flow of the process, in a very tiny nutshell.

It might be hard to believe, but I truly think that the cut scenes in Bayonetta 2 are even more crazy and over-the-top than the first game, so I hope you play the game to check them out for yourself!

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The Legend of Korra coming this fall!

Legend of Korra

Filed: Games, PlatinumGames, The Legend of Korra

“Water!

Earth!

Fire!

Air!

Only PlatinumGames can master all 4 elements to turn them into an AWESOME ACTION GAME!”

We are very proud to announce “The Legend of Korra™,” a joint project between PlatinumGames, Inc., Activision Publishing, Inc., and Nickelodeon. We are all huge fans of the show, so it was a great honor for us to get to work on an action game taking place in the Avatar universe. We’ve tried our best to do justice to the original animation, and we think that Korra aficionados, as well as long-time fans of our games, will not be disappointed!

– Atsushi Kurooka, Producer

Read the official press release below!

LoK_Screenshot_Batch One_4_06.25.14

NICKELODEON CONTINUES RELATIONSHIP WITH ACTIVISION PUBLISHING, INC. TO PRODUCE THE LEGEND OF KORRA VIDEO GAME

Fans Can Select Video Game Cover Art Via The Legend of Korra Facebook Page

 NEW YORK – June 26, 2014 – Nickelodeon and Activision Publishing, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ: ATVI) today announced plans to develop and publish the first-ever video game inspired by the fan-favorite animated series, The Legend of Korra. The Legend of Korra digital video game is developed by PlatinumGames, Inc. and capitalizes on the studio’s pedigree of creating visually flourishing experiences with fast-paced, dynamic combat. The game is planned to be available for download this fall on Sony’s PlayStation®4 and PlayStation®3 computer entertainment systems; Xbox One, the all-in-one games and entertainment system and Xbox 360 games and entertainment system from Microsoft; and Windows PC.

The Legend of Korra fans will have the unique opportunity to select the cover art for this digital video game by voting on three different concepts drawn by one of the show’s character designers, Christie Tseng. Fans can visit https://www.facebook.com/legendofkorra to cast their vote. Voting will run through June 30 at midnight PST.

“We are thrilled to expand our relationship with Activision Publishing, Inc. to bring the hit animated series from TV screens to gamers everywhere,” said Yaacov Barselah, Vice President of Games & Digital Publishing New Business, Nickelodeon. “Capturing the true essence and exquisite creative of the series, The Legend of Korra games are sure to captivate fans as they delve into the rich and exciting world of Korra.” The Legend of Korra video game follows Korra, a strong-willed young woman who, as the reincarnation of the Avatar, can bend the four primal forces of nature to her will. Scripted by staff writer Tim Hedrick and consulted by series cocreators and executive producers Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino, the game’s original adventure takes place between Books Two and Three of the TV program allowing for an authentic Avatar experience. The game’s cell-shaded visuals recreate the beautiful look and immersive feel of the show, with colorful, vivid detail going into every action, elemental effect and animated story sequence.

LoK_Screenshot_Batch One_3_06.25.14

The Legend of Korra is a single player, action-packed brawler, in which Korra’s mastery of martial arts and the four elements – fire, earth, air, and water – can be used on the fly to bolster her combos and counters against foes. Throughout the game, Korra’s polar bear-dog, Naga, will aid her in high-speed traversal segments. The game also brings to life the series’ competitive sport, Pro-Bending, in which teams of three use the elements to fight for territory in an arena.

A handheld version of The Legend of Korra for the Nintendo 3DS™ hand-held system is also being developed by Webfoot Technologies, as a retail-only release. The handheld version of the game will feature a similar story, and is a single-player, turn-based strategy RPG, in which players focus on tactically maneuvering Korra and her allies on the battlefield.

 About The Legend of Korra Series

Set 70 years after the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra follows the next Avatar after Aang–a teenage girl named Korra (Janet Varney) who is from the Southern Water Tribe. Korra lives in Republic City, the modern “Avatar” world that is a virtual melting pot where benders and non-benders from all nations live and thrive. Under the tutelage of Aang’s son, Tenzin (J.K. Simmons), Korra continues her Avatar training while dealing with the dangers at large. The series is co-created and executive produced by Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, co-creators of the Emmy Award-winning Avatar: The Last Airbender. Joaquim Dos Santos is co-executive producer.

The Legend of Korra voice cast includes Janet Varney (Dinner and a Movie) as Korra, David Faustino (Married…with Children) as Mako, P.J. Byrne (Wolf of Wall Street) as Bolin, J.K. Simmons (The Closer) as Tenzin, Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery) as Chief Lin Beifong, Seychelle Gabriel (Falling Skies) as Asami Sato, Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) as Jinora, and Eva Marie Saint (Superman Returns) as Katara.

LoK_Screenshot_Batch One_2_06.25.14

About PlatinumGames, Inc.

PlatinumGames Inc. is an independent entertainment developer based in Osaka, Japan, dedicated to making high quality, next generation games for a variety of hardware platforms. Under the slogan “Taking on the World as the Representative of Japan,” PlatinumGames works hard to deliver fresh surprises and new experiences to gamers all over the world.

About Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon, now in its 35th year, is the number-one entertainment brand for kids. It has built a diverse, global business by putting kids first in everything it does. The company includes television programming and production in the United States and around the world, plus consumer products, online, recreation, books and feature films. Nickelodeon’s U.S. television network is seen in almost 100 million households and has been the number-one-rated basic cable network for 19 consecutive years.
For more information or artwork, visit http://www.nickpress.com. Nickelodeon and all related titles, characters and logos are trademarks of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIA, VIA.B).

About Activision Publishing, Inc.

Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, Activision Publishing, Inc. is a leading worldwide developer, publisher and distributor of interactive entertainment and leisure products.
Activision maintains operations in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, China and the region of Taiwan. More information about Activision and its products can be found on the company’s website, www.activision.com.

LoK_Screenshot_Batch One_1_06.25.14

 

Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-looking Statements: Information in this press release that involves Activision Publishing’s expectations, plans, intentions or strategies regarding the future, including statements about the expected release date of The Legend of Korra are forward-looking statements that are not facts and involve a number of risks and uncertainties. Factors that could cause Activision Publishing’s actual future results to differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements set forth in this release include unanticipated product delays and other factors identified in the risk factors sections of Activision Blizzard’s most recent annual report on Form 10-K and any subsequent quarterly reports on Form 10-Q. The forward-looking statements in this release are based upon information available to Activision Publishing and Activision Blizzard as of the date of this release, and neither Activision Publishing nor Activision Blizzard assumes any obligation to update any such forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements believed to be true when made may ultimately prove to be incorrect. These statements are not guarantees of the future performance of Activision Publishing or Activision Blizzard and are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors, some of which are beyond its control and may cause actual results to differ materially from current expectations.

Media Contacts:

Nickelodeon
Tori Fernandes
Tori.fernandes@nick.com

Activision:
Amanda Young
Sandbox Strategies
212.213.2451 ext. 227
amanda@sandboxstrat.com

 

And here’s a sweet little trailer!

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The Platinum Collection: Composers, Pt. 3

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

Hi, this is Hiroshi Yamaguchi. The piece I’ve selected from my works to talk about is “ST10 Roll Out, Wonderful 101!”

ss3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For each game I’ve worked on here (Bayonetta, Anarchy Reigns, The Wonderful 101), each song has its own special meaning to me, so this was a hard question to answer. In the end, I decided to go with the staff roll of our most recent title, The Wonderful 101.

The staff roll has a special place in a game’s soundtrack. To the player, it’ s the music that gives you that sense of release after overcoming the game’s many obstacles and defeating its final boss. To the development team as well, this is the music we see while our names flash across the screen, telling us “well done” after a long, hard production cycle. It goes without saying then, that this music needs to be a triumphant, celebratory piece. The three keywords I always keep in mind as I write it are “catchy”, “lively”, and “moving.” As the production cycle comes to an end, I gather up my remaining strength and filter all of my energy into writing this song, so I always end up having strong memories of it.

As an aside, I’d say my favorite staff rolls would have to be Secret of Mana’s “The Second Truth from the Left” and Chrono Trigger’s “To Far Away Times.” Either piece still gives me the chills when I listen to it now.

Below are some of Yamaguchi’s other compositions. Which is your favorite?

From Bayonetta:
One Of A Kind
Riders Of The Light
Fly Me To The Moon (∞ Climax Mix)
Let’s Dance Boys!

From Anarchy Reigns:
Sound The Alarm
Play My Ass Off
Here We Go
Asylum

From The Wonderful 101:
The Won-Stoppable Wonderful 100
ST01 Roll Out, Wonderful 100! Battle in the Blossom City Burbs
Tables Turn
ST04-1 Defend Neo Mu

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Interview with Saurian Dash (Part 2)

BAYONETTA 2

Filed: Bayonetta 2, Community, Games, PlatinumGames, The Wonderful 101

Hello all, and welcome to Part 2 of our interview with Saur, renowned for his in-depth action game analysis and tutorials.

Read Part 1 of the interview here .

6. From your perspective, how have games changed over the years?
As someone who loves deep game systems and challenging tests for the skills developed within these systems, I am very disappointed with the treatment of skill-focused games recently. I grew up playing arcade games: smaller, skill-focused games which you played over a long period of time to hone your skills. These were games which I always used to play with other people. It was the melting pot effect of many different people all bringing different personalities, techniques, and skills to the table which enriched the games we enjoyed and the community and friendship we developed around those games.

These days, however, especially in the case of single-player games, many titles are treated almost like passive entertainment. The “personal experience” of the game’s narrative is placed above the quality of the core gameplay. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good narrative. I play role playing games quite often and love losing myself in the lore of such games. However, I am seeing that time and time again really brilliant skill-focused games are completely misrepresented and misunderstood because they are being judged on the quality of their narrative experience instead of the quality of their skill-focused mechanics and how much scope these mechanics allow for creative challenges and player self-improvement. These days you will often hear the phrase “This game is xx hours long”. The “value” of a game is quantified based on the total length of its narrative, not on the depth of the game’s mechanics or how long it holds the player’s attention as they strive to perfect their skills. This, I believe, is an attitude which is very damaging to the gaming medium as a whole. Games can be so much more than vehicles to tell stories.

I understand that professional game reviewers today have a very large number of games to review and cannot take the time to completely learn a particular game system, and at the same time it is also not reasonable for a studio to entrust the communication of a brand new set of game mechanics to the gaming press. But I would love to ask both parties to consider the implications of this situation: games which truly raise the bar in terms of play mechanics are suffering in reviews and in sales. What is the point of employing talented game designers to build new, original, and exciting game mechanics if the gaming press, and by extension the gaming public who trust in the press to provide them with information on new games, are not giving mechanically deep games an analysis which respects the purpose of these games?

I believe there are a significant number of players who want to be mentally stimulated by games which treat them with respect, and are brave enough to challenge themselves to the edge of their ability so that their eventual success is more meaningful. The whole point of these games is to learn how to play them well – it is this journey which makes them so satisfying to play and makes sharing ideas with other players so much fun. I would humbly ask that professional reviewers please consider trying to engage in this journey of discovery – if you need any help along the way I would love to provide it!

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7. What do you feel is the most important aspect of an action game?
I believe the most important aspect of an action game is the way it respects and reflects the potential of the player. As such, I value a game system which allows the player to express their individual creativity and ingenuity. I love the idea of a game system which allows the player a great deal of freedom to develop their own unique style of play, then presents that player with a course designed outward from that core system to test the skills they have developed. I also believe the communication of hazards should be treated with the utmost care: the player should be able to develop a precise sense of the exact moment enemy attacks are triggered. To this end, clear audio/visual signposts are an absolute must. I especially love the idea of linking audio cues to the triggering of enemy attack signposts. With an audio cue in place, the player can know the exact moment an enemy attack is triggered, whether the attack is activated on or off-screen. I find I have the most fun when I achieve an acute sense of the precise amount I can push my attack before I need to take evasive action, and audio cues especially enable me to achieve that sense.

Of equal importance is to build an incentive into the game system to encourage the player to play well. Far too many games today have very simple game systems with no incentive whatsoever for the player to improve their competence within that system. The last thing I want to see after blundering through an enemy encounter is the equivalent of a perfect rank and praise for my valiant efforts! No, I want to be rewarded a genuine victory for learning how to overcome a challenge.

8. What do you look for in a sequel?
I find sequels most interesting when the game designers are allowed to iterate and evolve the systems they had previously designed, allowing the player to explore new ways to think about established concepts. With a new set of weapons, abilities, and enemies which have been designed outward from the newly evolved player system, a sequel can feel completely fresh and mentally stimulating.

9. Where will people be able to find your work in the future?
I am very surprised that so many people have found my work helpful! I have very little confidence in my ability, but I try my best because I love these games so much. Lately I have received a lot of support and encouragement from other players I have become acquainted with through mutual enjoyment of action games, and I would like to try and do my part to give something back to the gaming community. I want to really step up my video production, I want to cover more games more often, and finally learn how to work with a microphone for voiceovers. I have bought a camera, a decent microphone, audio interface and video capture equipment and everything I need to get started on this project. Please subscribe to https://www.youtube.com/user/Saur and stay tuned as I will have brand new content to present soon!

10. Your tutorial videos for The Wonderful 101 are a helpful resource for many new people getting into the game. Do you have anything similar planned for Bayonetta 2?
Thank you very much, I’m glad that people found them helpful. Ultimately I would love to fully cover the system mechanics and enemy strategies of Bayonetta 2. Perhaps a Bayonetta retrospective would be interesting in the lead-up to the release of the game’s sequel? It would be very interesting to start playing the game again from scratch to rediscover the brilliance of the game system and help other players to get the most out of it!

Saur, thanks very much for taking the time for this interview. We’re looking forward to your next video!

Check out Saur’s YouTube channel here.

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Interview with Saurian Dash (Part 1)

Platinum Games

Filed: Community, Games, PlatinumGames

Saurian Dash (or “Saur” as he is often known) has been a visible presence in the action game community for years. His work on Bayonetta: The Official Guide (Future Press) set the platinum standard for both quality and skilled play.

Saur’s tutorial videos for The Wonderful 101 helped introduce many fans to the depth of the game’s system, and take their skills to the next level.

Today, we chat with the man himself, to learn what began his love of action games, and the systems that form their core.

1. How did you get into action games?

I got into action games late; but when I did it completely changed how I viewed gaming forever. The game which brought me round was Viewtiful Joe. Here was a game with a deep and open-ended combat system which seemed to be built as a means for the player to express creativity. This system is then pitted against opponents and obstacles which were designed from the ground up to interact meaningfully with the core system. The course was fixed, but the method for dealing with that course was completely down to the ingenuity, skill and inspiration of the player. You play like you have a huge audience watching and the game constantly entices you to improve; the focus is not simply on getting the player from A to B, the focus is on getting the player to play “Viewtifully”.

2. How did you first learn about PlatinumGames?

I was very saddened by the closure of Clover Studio, so you can imagine my delight when I saw the Bayonetta reveal trailer. The spirit of Clover Studio did indeed live on! I couldn’t wait to play this new game and it was like a dream come true when I was asked to write the Combat System, Enemy and Boss strategy chapters for Bayonetta: The Official Guide (Future Press). The work I did on the Bayonetta guide massively expanded my knowledge of this type of game and led to all kinds of other work both inside and outside game development studios. It was the first time I ever had a complete game system inside my head; I finally understood the sheer amount of work that goes into a game system like this and how brilliant the designers at the helm must be.

3. What is your approach to a new action game? Do you aim for high scores from the beginning, or start to build strategies after a leisurely first playthrough?

I tend to take my time and make sure that I have an understanding of the game system before I move through the game’s stages. The first thing I get used to is the player system; which actions can I perform? Which actions can I interrupt? Which actions leave me locked in a recovery animation? Once I get used to moving the character I will often play the opening stage over and over, gradually learning more about the game system as I go. During this initial phase I believe it is very important to look closely at each enemy type the game introduces; I take note of their attack signposts and explore my options for dealing with those attacks. These are the enemies the designers are introducing to the player first, so they must represent the foundation of the relationship between the player and enemy systems. Once I have an idea of how the core game system works and how this applies to the structure of battle, I then begin to progress through the game’s stages in a casual fashion, always with the intent to return to tricky sections to learn them properly later.

I treat my first playthrough on Normal as an introduction. This session is simply a means to get acquainted with the game system and to note how the designers want to test the player. Once I have a good idea of how the game system works and have seen all the enemy types the game contains, I then move on to a “Score Attack” style of play. This is where I try to achieve at least Platinum rankings on Normal mode before moving on to Hard. I tend to throw all narrative progression out the window at this point. I play stages in no particular order; if I discover an interesting enemy encounter I end up playing that encounter over and over for hours.

Recently I spent over a week fighting Khamsin (the final boss of the Blade Wolf DLC) in the “Revengeance” difficult level of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Initially I was drawn to this fight simply because of the hype atmosphere of the encounter, but repeatedly fighting this boss completely changed the way I played the game. I noticed that my Heavy attacks were unsafe; I could not freely cancel Blade Wolf’s (LQ-84i’s) animation into an Evade at the precise moment I needed to. I was over-committing to the animation of certain attacks which quickly led to my demise. I then switched over to using Light attacks primarily; it turned out I could instantly cancel a Light attack animation into an Evade. This made learning to Evade Khamsin’s attacks much easier. I could concentrate purely on correctly reading the boss’s attack signposts and Evading at the correct moment while using Blade Mode to cancel and repeat my combo string.

I then realised that Blade Wolf differs from Raiden in that you can Blade Mode cancel all of his Evade animations as well as his attack animation! This fact led to a technique where I would cancel my current action with Blade Mode, execute an Evade to dodge an attack, but cancel that Evade with Blade Mode once the hit frames of the attack pass by. This enabled me to press my attack sequences far further than I ever could before; I was landing far more hits against the boss because I was trimming out the delay frames of my Evades. This exercise completely changed the way the game felt and how I played it. I have also just recently been having a huge amount of fun repeating a particular Secret Mission in The Wonderful 101; last night I had another mechanical breakthrough after spending a few hours exploring this fight.

This is what I love the most about these games: the more you put in to them, the more you get out. Most of the questions you need to ask the game system will not come to you until after you have reached a certain understanding of the system. You come to a particular situation where you hit a wall; you then ask a question and the game answers you. Platinum’s games are tuned to accommodate a very high skill ceiling and continue to surprise and delight the player after many months, or even many years of play.

4. How would you describe the various skills action games demand?

I believe the type of game design I enjoy the most started with Viewtiful Joe. Here is a game which looks like a traditional side-scrolling fighting game, but instead it turns the entire concept into something wildly different. The “lesson” of Viewtiful Joe I feel was “planning”: you don’t simply react to hazards and you don’t simply run up to enemies and start hitting them. Instead, you visually confirm the enemy set, formulate a plan based on your knowledge of those enemies and then execute that plan in the most stylish (yet efficient) way possible. The “plan” I speak of is the blueprint which dictates the correct way to do battle in the game, derived from the scoring system. The scoring system is the backbone of the game; it leads you into playing in a specific fashion to not only score more points but also deal damage more quickly.

The game system in Viewtiful Joe was like an invisible hand which guided the player towards creating a structure out of what initially seemed like chaos; it wasn’t simply about playing, it was about playing well. The Wonderful 101 takes the concept of planning and structure introduced in Viewtiful Joe and spins it into something far more free and dynamic. It blurs the boundaries between the different aspects of the scoring system which results in a game about “management” and “multi-tasking” as opposed to just “planning”.

In The Wonderful 101 you still have the same three aspects of the scoring system to consider: the combo timer, combo score and the combo multiplier. However, this time around all three aspects blur into each other, causing various aspects of the combat mechanics to merge together as a result. Look at the first aspect of Viewtiful Joe’s system as an example: to dodge an enemy attack to inflict a Stun you had to make a “binary” decision regarding which direction to dodge (up or down). In The Wonderful 101, however, the basic act of inflicting a Stun is done via the Team Attack button and full combo potential is only enabled once an enemy enters this state. Repeatedly hitting an enemy with Team Attack will cause more and more of your Wonderful Ones to cling onto the enemy and begin attacking it. Once a certain threshold is met the enemy will become stunned. This is not a binary decision with an instant result; it is a gradual “analogue” process which is independent of the main character’s animation. You are free to perform other actions during this process to manage other aspects of the scoring system as you prepare your target. In fact you are free to manage any part of the scoring system or any part of the enemy set as the situation dictates!

An excellent example to illustrate the way the three aspects of scoring merge together is the Unite Gun. You will notice that the Unite Gun fires not bullets but Wonderful Ones; as soon as a Wonderful One clings onto a target it signifies that you are now locked-on to that target. Pressing the [A] button at this point will trigger the Leader character to instantly zip over to that target’s location. But what happens when you fire loads of Unite Gun shots, causing many heroes to cling onto a target? You stun the enemy! Each Unite Gunshot increases the combo multiplier by x0.10 (higher than the base weapon multiplier value of x0.04), and if you manage to increase the combo multiplier beyond x2.50 your primary weapons (Unite Hand and Sword) gain a huge power boost. So the “simple” act of shooting an enemy is both your Lock-On and your means of inflicting Stun to enable a high scoring combo. It allows you to quickly increase the combo multiplier beyond x2.50, and encourages you with a boost to attack power so that you can kill the enemy even faster! All of these actions can be (and usually are) performed while you manage threats from other enemies. A great Wonderful 101 player is a person who is skilled at managing many things at once, and the game gives the player all the required tools with which to do so!

Unite Gun is used to lock-on to enemies, inflict stun, and build your combo multiplier.

Unite Gun is used to lock-on to enemies, inflict stun, and build your combo multiplier.

Increase your combo multiplier beyond x2.50 and your weapons get a power boost!

Increase your combo multiplier beyond x2.50 and your weapons get a power boost!

All of this is coupled with a brilliant new way of presenting the “entity” of the player character. Up to this point the player character has usually meant a fixed point of reference, but The Wonderful 101 plays around with this concept. The “character” the player controls is more like a “potential” instead of a fixed point, and as such you need to think about the way you interact with the game world and enemies in a new and different way. I love the way the player entity transitions seamlessly from being a spread out potential and then a single point, all depending on the current action.

Bayonetta is another game which I feel demonstrates the same level of brilliance with regard to finding new ways to present established concepts. If you look at other action games there are distinct boundaries between different types of action. We never once questioned the notion that melee attacks, gun attacks and evasive actions were separate and unique items which could be triggered at will but never mixed. Bayonetta presented a character which blurred the lines between these separate actions and established the genius mechanic of Dodge-Offset, which allowed the player to mix any and all evasive actions into just about any attack animation.

Bayonetta's Wicked Weave changes the way players think about their position relative to the enemy.

Bayonetta’s Wicked Weave changes the way players think about their position relative to the enemy.

These new ideas regarding movement and attacking were more than enough to establish Bayonetta as something unique, but I do not believe this is all there was to it. Bayonetta also asks you to consider a completely new way of thinking about 3D space: the brilliant Wicked Weave system. With Wicked Weaves (the action of projecting physical attacks through dimensional portals) you can inflict melee attack hit reactions at just about any distance. This causes the player to come up with completely different ways to deal with enemy sets compared to other action games; the fact that Bayonetta does not need to be near an enemy in order to physically attack it adds an utterly new dimension to a long established concept.

5. How does the Unite Morph System from The Wonderful 101 differ from traditional weapon switching systems?

Up until this point we have accepted that switching weapons in an action game is a mechanically simple process; you either select the weapon from within a menu or cycle through various weapons via a button press. However, The Wonderful 101 presents a completely new way of thinking about the “entity” of the player character; through the Wonder Liner mechanic, the mass of Wonderful Ones you control actually become the special attack command, they become the weapon! It cleverly establishes a new style of special attack command, specifically designed for an analogue joystick as opposed to a traditional digital input device, and requires that the player use both analogue sticks at once. The Unite Morph command glyphs are like analogue omni-directional representations of traditional digital special attack commands; the Unite Hand is a 360 motion/circle, the Unite Claw is an exaggerated “Dragon Punch” motion and the Unite Bomb is a half-circle then forward.

Using shape and color, weapon selection is communicated through visuals alone.

Using shape and color, weapon selection is communicated through visuals alone.

As players of fighting games know, special attack commands require practice. They are tricky to perform at first, but with time and patience you develop your own unique style of command execution. The Wonderful 101’s Unite Morph system operates in the same principle. The Wonder Liner mechanic is a brilliant way of visually representing special attack commands, and enables the player to not only select many different weapons quickly, but also freely manipulate the power level and scale of the weapon via the exact same command input.

The Wonder Liner mechanic is an analogue system, so by drawing a larger shape and sacrificing the speed in which the Unite Morph command is entered, you increase the attack power of the Unite Morph you want to select, visually communicated by the game as an enlarged version of the Unite Morph. Not only that; the Wonder Liner mechanic allows for the “storing” of a Unite Morph command! Once you visually confirm that you have entered a valid Unite Morph command glyph (signified by a color specific to each weapon), you are free to move the character as you like before you press [A] to activate the weapon.

Make it bigger: a tried-and-true method of showing increased power.

Make it bigger: a tried-and-true method of showing increased power.

On top of all this you then have to consider that you have two attack buttons, Normal attack and Team attack. Unite Morph commands can be activated via either attack button, triggering either the Leader character to equip the weapon or the team-mates to automatically attack with that weapon. As certain Unite Morphs have additional defensive abilities, it enables the player to eliminate a threat with one aspect of the team while dealing damage with the other. An example would be when faced with armoured enemies equipped with lasers: you can equip the leader with the Unite Sword to automatically deflect the laser beam, then command your team-mates to attack the target’s armour with the Unite Hammer. As incoming damage is only counted if it is inflicted upon the Leader of the team, I really enjoy working out ways in which I can keep the Leader out of trouble while using the team-mates to do the dirty work!

What I find most mind-blowing about the best action games is that they present a logical progression through their mechanics. In other words, once you gain a degree of mastery over one mechanic, it enables you to ask a question which leads you to the mastery of another deeper mechanic. In the case of The Wonderful 101, the first time I came across this logical path was after I got used to performing Unite Morph commands consistently. I began exploring simple combos; a few basic standing hits into a Wonderful Rising (launcher) leading to a basic aerial combo. I began wondering how I could string the attacks of different Unite Morphs together.

It was at this point that I realised the implications of the Wonder Liner being independent of the player character’s attack animation. It turns out that you are free to enter Unite Morph commands during any attack animation; if you enter a command during an attack animation and press [A] you will instantly cancel that animation and ready the newly selected weapon.

Naturally, the next logical step was to try this technique with special attacks, which are input via the left analogue stick. I discovered that if you do a special attack – such as the Wonderful Cyclone – you can enter the directional command for another Unite Morph with the right analogue stick and then perform an additional special attack command with the left analogue stick before pressing [A] to activate the new Unite Morph. The result was a means to instantly switch from the special attack of one Unite Morph into the special attack of another Unite Morph (dubbed “Unite Mix” in my tutorial video.) This technique massively expanded my options for building damaging combos; I could now string many special attacks together in order to keep an enemy locked in a high-scoring aerial juggle.

Once I gained a level of mastery over the “Unite Mix” technique, I was then led to ask another question. Certain special attacks (specifically the Wonderful Stinger) can only be performed once in mid air. How then can I use more than one Stinger during jump? Turns out you can do that too! To begin, you enter the command for the Unite Morph you want to use (right stick), input the command for the Stinger (left stick), and launch the attack with [A]. During the animation for the first aerial Stinger, you can input the commands for another, and perform a series of Stingers going back and forth between different morphs! This is what I love most about these games, the more thought you put in, the more cool stuff you get out!

Come back this Friday for Part 2 of our interview with Saur, where we discuss the past and future of action games! While you’re waiting, take a look at Saur’s Youtube channel.

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The Platinum Collection: Composers, Pt. 2

Platinum Games

Filed: PlatinumGames

Hello, how have you been? I’m Masami Ueda, composer at PlatinumGames. For this post, I’m going to write about my favorite compositions.

Since I usually listen to music at work all day long, I sometimes like to take a break at home; however, I still listen to a lot of music. I’d like to say the things I listen to help influence me as a composer, but I usually just go back and listen to my own stuff, then rework what I don’t like. If I consciously listen to something for work, I listen to movie soundtracks. When I listen to something for fun, I’ll listen to anime songs. As for which anime… I’ll leave that to your imagination.

So, what are my favorite compositions? I like listening to Cursed Shinshu Plains or Harami Lake from Okami whenever I need to lay down for awhile. There are a few Bayonetta 2 songs that I like… but I can’t mention them yet, so I’ll say what I like from Bayonetta instead. My favorite tracks are probably The Old City Of Vigrid and Eyes Of The World. I think Bayonetta is remembered as having a lot of upbeat, fun songs, but we also put a good amount of work into the quieter pieces too.

What are your favorite compositions of mine?

Hope you guys enjoy Bayonetta 2!

Masami Ueda has worked on Bayonetta at PlatinumGames so far, contributing the following tracks, among others. Tell us your favorite in the comments and we’ll add up which is everyone’s favorite in next week’s blog.

Station

Here are a few examples of tracks Ueda has worked on:

Vigrid Station Platform
Theme Of Bayonetta – Mysterious Destiny
The Old City Of Vigrid
The Heavies
Let’s Hit The Climax!
Temperantia – In Foregoing Pleasures
After Burner (∞ Climax Mix)
Paradiso – Graveyard Of Remembrance
The Eyes Of The World
Mysterious Destiny (Retro Version)

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Training the New Recruits!

Platinum Games

Filed: Community, PlatinumGames

It’s April, so that means a fresh batch of new recruits has arrived at the office. And here at PG, it is customary for the newcomers to be trained in a variety of subjects over the course of roughly a week.

On the first day, they were instructed on the rules of work attendance, and how to manage confidential information, as well as business manners, organization, and general ways of working.

On the second day, they learned how to write business documents and mails, how to behave during visits or when attending conferences, and where to sit during meetings (an important part of Japanese culture, where the order of seating is related to the attendee’s status at the company!). There was also a lecture on the history and recent trends of the video game industry, and on the process (production/sales) involved in making video games. This is a valuable opportunity for fledgling workers to learn from management and their seniors* about what’s important when working in this industry (*Relationships between “juniors” and “seniors,” or kōhai and senpai are an integral part of Japanese society. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senpai_and_kōhai).

The third day offered a lecture on”Basic Rules for New Recruits” by two third-year employees (Ryu Hashimoto and Tadanari Takahashi, both graphic designers). This is an important first step when becoming part of an organization!

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It’s a very basic (but important) question, but the new recruits wondered how they were supposed to know whether the people they passed in the Umeda Sky Building (where PlatinumGames is located) and its surroundings are their colleagues or completely unrelated people.

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Of course, staff members carry a card key with the PlatinumGames logo on it around their necks, so that makes it easy to recognize them most of the time, but what if they’re not wearing it yet, because they just arrived at work for the day? There’s not much else you can do but to remember everyone’s faces, but there’s 170 of them!!

The answer their seniors provided was: “No one is going to be offended if you say hello, so when we were new, we just greeted everyone in plain clothing (contrary to many Japanese companies, the staff at PG does not wear suits at the office) that we came across!” (Never mind that there are lots of students and tourists in the neighborhood as well ;) )

It’s not likely that any PG staff member will go “Hey newbie, don’t you know how to greet your senior!?” but there’s no one who doesn’t appreciate a clear and energetic greeting either, so it’s better to be safe than sorry!

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They shared another nugget of wisdom: “Of course, if you run into someone from outside the company, you will be a representative of PG in their eyes, even if you’re new, so you have to be especially careful in those cases, and always strive to come across as friendly and motivated.”

The next topic was ”staff attitude”

0031

“Immediately respond when people address you > always take notes > swiftly take care of your duties!”
“Regardless of whether the task is big or small, always be responsible until the very end!”

“Report, communicate, and consult” etc.
Of course, understanding all of this is an important part of joining a company, but the most strongly conveyed message of the day was “Whatever you do, be passionate (about your job)!”

It is also customary for new recruits to take charge of collecting garbage, watering the plants, and keeping the various tea/coffee pots filled for a year. “You may think that these chores have nothing to do with game development, but they’re actually directly related to the improvement of the development environment, and, as such, the image of the company!”

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This year, the lectures were held by two third-year employees, but future support for the newcomers will be handled by second-year employees (probably because they’re a bit easier to talk to), who will provide them with advice and counseling. Apparently there will also be a big drinking party between all first-to-third-year employees (oops, perhaps that was supposed to be a secret), so, yeah, we’re all actually pretty jealous… :S

There was another lecture after this, about copyrights and the rules regarding logo usage, but we’ll stop here for today!

<A lecture on copyrights by executive director Kenichi Sato>

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PlatinumGames Employee Art Showcase

Platinum Games

Filed: Community, PlatinumGames

Hello PlatinumGames fans! Welcome to the employee art showcase.

It almost goes without saying – we’ve got a lot of talented artists here at PG. They’re usually busy with their jobs, but in spare moments they take the opportunity to work on their own art as well.

So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase some of our artists’ awesome creations. As a non-artist myself, I’m always amazed when the artists call these “quick sketches”.

Without further ado…

4-Koda

By: Koda

I love Koda’s sharp, clean-edged art style. He’s great at portraying high-tech environments.

bg_concept2_fix-Koda

By: Koda
Title: “Cargo Ship”
Comment: Speed painting – 2 hours 30 minutes.

Check out this ship with the Platinum logo on it! This art makes me imagine that our company’s office is actually a giant starship exploring alien worlds with Mr. Minami at the helm.

bg-2-Koda

By: Koda
Comment: Speed painting – 30 minutes.

I also like the ethereal feel of this.

mudai-Koda

By: Koda
Comment: I drew this in about 3 hours.

He’s also great at these Earth-like settings. I enjoy the light and shadow in this one.

uma-Kan

By: Kan
Title: “Uma (Horse)”
Comment: A carriage horse is riding in a rickshaw drawn by a man.

This horse is getting the royal treatment in this image commemorating 2014, the year of the horse! I just love the character in this piece.

1101-Kan

By: Kan
Comment: 11/1 is apparently “Dog Day” because the date can be pronounced “wan-wan-wan”.

Here’s another seasonal animal from Ms. Kan. This was posted on November 11th, or 11/1. The date can be read as “wan-wan-wan”, which is the same sound a dog makes in Japanese. I love that the cerberus has one head saying each “wan” in the date.

140207-Nishii

By: Nishii
Title: “Stay!”
Comment: “Three… two… wan.”

Here’s another dog with a “one”-related pun! This kind of joke was prevalent in the office with the release of The Wonderful 101.

140221-Irie

By: Irie
Title: “Sculpt Test”
Comment: I created this while playing around with sculpt.

For a change, here’s some neat 3D work.

140404-Irie

By: Irie
Title: “Speed Sculpt”
Comment: This is the second piece I did while playing around in sculpt.

man_4_nnn-Kim

By: Kim
Title: “Black Mask”
Comment: This is a sci-fi-esque masked man.

Two cool but slightly unsettling masked characters by Kim.

140307-Kim

By: Kim
Comment: I just sketched this without deciding on a particular theme.

Again, I don’t understand how this is just a “sketch”. It looks close to a finished work to me.

140320-Yap

By: Yap
Title: “Speed painting”
Comment: This is a speed painting of a mech.

Yap calls this a speed painting, but it’s fun to imagine an in-game art style that actually looks like this.

hm_blog3_1025-Matsudaira

By: Matsudaira
Title: “Halloween Girl 2”.
Comment: Trick or treat… hmm… it’s hard to decide!

Yikes. This was posted for Halloween last year.

samui-Matsudaira

By: Matsudaira
Title: “Samui (Cold)”.
Comment: It’s cold outside, but here I am creating game environments.

And finally, here’s something cute and completely different from the rest. It’s interesting to see the variety of styles the graphic designers can work in. Can you believe that this one and the Halloween girl were painted by the same artist?

Well, that’s the crop for now! I hope you enjoyed this peek into the creative minds of our artists. You never know what they’ll imagine next. Get on Facebook or Twitter and tell us which art was your favorite!

If you’re hungry for more, check out the Paintboard section of our Japanese website. New artwork is posted there regularly.

You can also check out our Facebook gallery for the latest.

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