Famitsu indie developer interview

This interview was published on pages 24-26 of issue 1314 of Weekly Famitsu magazine, published February 2, 2014 and dated February 20. It was part of a series of special features leading to the Japanese PS4 release. This issue’s feature focused on indie games slated to come out on the system. --O.R.

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Youhei Kataoka

Founded game development company Crispy’s in 2007. Their most famous game is 2012’s Tokyo Jungle. Directed Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day, released January 26.

Takumi Naramura

Leads game development team Nigoro. Their 2006 PC game La Mulana and its remakes received high praise in and out of Japan. A Kickstarter project for a sequel is currently in progress.

Daisuke Amaya

Released freeware game Cave Story in 2004 under the Pixel moniker. A western company ported it to home consoles in 2011, and it became a hit. Currently developing PC and iOS title Gero Blaster.

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- To start with, can you introduce yourselves and tell us about the game you’re most famous for?

Amaya: A long time ago my goal was to get into the games industry, so I went to a specialty game creator school. As I studied how to make games, I realized that I could create the kind of games I want to make by myself, without being employed by a game company. With that in mind, I started working a regular job, and in 2004, after 4 or 5 years of work, I completed Cave Story, a freeware game for the PC.

Kataoka: I played Cave Story when I was in high school.

Amaya: You did?! I distributed the game via a web site called Vector. It had about 200 thousand downloads, and I’m happy that young people like you got something out of it. Later, western fans of the game released a patch that translated the text into English, and it gained popularity abroad. Then, in 2005, a western company called Nicalis ported the game to consoles. Finally, after many hardships, it was released as WiiWare in 2010.

Kataoka: It’s not that strange today, but in 2004 a game inspired by 8-bit consoles was a novel idea. I think Cave Story was a pioneer in being new while maintaining a nostalgic feeling.

Amaya: I have no idea if it had any influence on later indie games, though.

Kataoka: I think it had considerable influence.

- How about you, Naramura-san?

Naramura: I had a mostly similar experience. At first, I just wanted to create a game that would be enjoyed by the small crowd that frequented a small-scale web site, but then La Mulana got translated into English by fans and quickly gained popularity overseas...

Kataoka: So both games sent off some sparks in the west.

Amaya: I was shocked when I saw Cave Story and the popular House of the Dead on the same page in a foreign magazine.

Naramura: La Mulana got a 6 page special feature (laughs).

Kataoka: I heard La Mulana’s sequel Kickstarter project reached 100,000$ in 3 days.

Naramura: We reached half our goal in 3 days, but after that it calmed down quite a bit. It should still be going by the time this interview sees print, so if anyone finds it interesting, please support us. (Too late now, but it did get funded. --O.R.)

- What about you, Kataoka-san?

Kataoka: I made games as a hobby while going through art school in 2005, but at the time there was no such thing as crowd funding or places where you could sell indie games. Back then, I felt strongly that you couldn’t make a living doing games as a hobby, and that you can’t make the kind of games you like at a company until you’re far into your career. That’s when I came across the “Let’s Make Games! 2006” project held by Sony Computer Entertainment to discover new game creators. I saw they were offering money to people who can come up with novel ideas and thought it was my chance. The game SCE challenged me to make was Tokyo Jungle.

- The game’s contents had a strong impact, and it became a hit selling hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide.

Kataoka: Yes. I wasn’t even aware I was on the indies side until last year, when James Mielke, the founder of the BitSummit indie game event, asked me to come and give a talk. That was the first time I thought, “Wait, am I an indies person?”

All: (laugh)

Kataoka: At the time, I thought that indie creators were ones who funded their own games, so I tried to refuse. But then James told me that being indie is all in the spirit. He said being an indie creator means making unique, impactful games based on your own vision and beliefs. Crispy’s ideology has always been developing unconventional games that can surprise and please players, so I finally realized that I may, in fact, be an indie developer too, and decided to go give that talk.

- It’s difficult to define what an indie game is.

Naramura: We never called ourselves an indie company, but when BitSummit categorized us as such we started having the vague feeling that that’s what we are. Lately, the term “indie game” has gotten a lot of attention, and treated as its own genre. Originally, however, it wasn’t a genre but a category based on the development scale and how the game was sold. I’m happy that the variety of packaged games managed to increase so far since then.

Amaya: It’s difficult to develop a game that doesn’t fit with the current trends at a game company, so I think indies’ strength is that they will put out anything they feel strong enough about on the market.

- Indie games had an incredible growth in attention the last couple of years. Why do you think that is?

Naramura: I’d like to know that myself (laughs). Why now? We can probably blame the west.

Katamura: I think a big reason that indie games started receiving a lot of attention was Journey being heavily awarded overseas. A game developed by a small number of people won the same awards as major works with a budget of millions of dollars. That’s when the game industry started taking notice.

Naramura: I saw it myself at GDC 2013, where it seemed like every game nominated for an award was indie. When I got back to Japan I received many interview requests, so I think that’s when Japan’s media started to take notice. I started feeling the increased interest personally since March of last year.

- What are you most looking for in the PS4 as indie developers?

Amaya: It’s going to be easy to make Let’s Play videos with the share functionality. I think it affects game distribution, and I find myself worrying in spite of myself when I watch others playing my game. I get nervous when I see everyone getting stuck at the same spot (laughs).

Naramura: In my case, I use Let’s Play video as a soundtrack while I work. I can find spots in need of improvement by watching a variety of gamers play the game. When we ported La Mulana to consoles, we wrote down the content and the comments attached to Let’s Play videos and used it as a basis to improve the game. I’d like to keep watching those kind of videos, as much as I can. If our games ever get ported to PS4, we’d make sure to use the share functionality.

Kataoka: I think Let’s Play videos were one of the reasons Tokyo Jungle got popular. It’s easy to empathize with the characters and accidents frequently happen, so it was made for this type of video. Still, for much the same reasons as Amaya-san, most of the time I’m too scared to watch them. By the way, PS4 comes preinstalled with software called Playroom. Some western players have been using it to Let’s Play their own lives. They share themselves lying around eating candy, or playing along with their kids, and it all comes streaming into the home screen. I feel there’s a lot of possibility for users finding ways to use the share functionality that the developers never thought about. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see games that use it as a main gameplay linchpin as well.

- Do you mostly play indie games yourselves?

Kataoka: As long as the game is interesting, I don’t care if it’s indie or not.

Naramura: Lately I’ve been busy making our own game, so I haven’t been playing a lot... At most, I’ve been playing friends’ indie games.

Amaya: Games from major publishers are very well made, and one can learn a lot from them. I may make games that I, personally, think are great, but it would be terrible if people just give up on them because I am not able to convey the message I’m trying to send. Therefore, I try to keep being aware of the player’s viewpoint.

- We’re introducing 13 games in this issue’s special feature. Are you interested in any of them?

Naramura: From those 13, Resogun probably interests me the most. It’s a shooting game that takes place on a spherical stage, and you can tell that with a single glance. It’s very interesting to have a first party shooting game on sale along with the new hardware.

Kataoka: I played Flower and Sound Shapes on the PS Vita and they both had a challenging spirit, so I recommend them. From the ones I didn’t yet play, Don’t Starve: Console Edition is interesting. It has a system where the protagonist must hunt before he dies of starvation. I think I’ve heard of something like that before... (laughs).

- It’s just like Tokyo Jungle, isn’t it. (laughs)

Kataoka: The graphics look like moving illustrations. It’s very interesting.

- I see. How about you, Amaya-san?

Amaya: They all look very pretty, but I can’t say anything before I play them. It’s important to get a first-hand feel of a game. From the visual aspect alone, I’m curious what kind of a game Doki-Doki Universe is.

Naramura: Looking at the lineup, the only Japanese game on it is TorqueL. They mostly chose highly rated western games. As a Japanese creator, I’d like to develop games that could fit into such a list. Western developers are very good with graphics. In Limbo, for example, the protagonist and the environment are all drawn in silhouette, which delivers an impactful image while reducing the time spent by artists.

Kataoka: I think the visual aspect is something that’s still insufficient with Japanese indies.

Amaya: I feel we don’t have enough designers.

Naramura: Future indie games will probably be completely ignored if they do a half-assed job in either graphics or gameplay.

- Do you have any other thoughts about the prospects of indie games?

Amaya: Frankly, right now I’m spending all my time developing Gero Blaster, so I can’t see anything else. When it’s completed, I’d like to expand it to other markets. I heard that it’s easy to develop for the PS4 since it’s based on PC technology, so I may just make a port (laughs).

Kataoka: I have no idea what the future holds... What I’m looking forward for with the PS4 is for it to continue putting a spotlight on creators who want to create unusual games and have the ardor to do so.

- So that indie games won’t become just a passing fad.

Naramura: I said so before, but I’m not really sure what the difference is between indie creators and those who are not indie. There’s a difference in price and sale strategies, but personally, I develop games with the confidence that they won’t be inferior to packaged products. I want people who are interested in our game to try out a demo version and see for themselves whether it suits them or not.

Amaya: I want people who are looking for their own kind of game to look in the indie section. Games from large publishers are, to a certain extent, aimed at a wide audience. On the other hand, there are many indie games that are made for a very specific crowd.

Naramura: I’d be lying if I said our game can be played by anyone (laughs). It’s a game that chooses its audience, but I get the feeling that people who like it really get into it.

Kataoka: I think it’s easier to release games with new senses of values now that this framework called “indie games” is here. There’s also a gradual increase in players enjoying such games. I’d like to follow that tailwind and develop more surprising games on the PS4, so look forward to it!

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Shu Takumi (part 6)

Final part. For my next gig, I may translate Katsura's column from the latest Dengeki Games (hey, the Catherine stuff proved popular). It's a very short one this month, which will make a nice change from the mega interviews. 
 
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Was there a character who was surprisingly popular?

Takumi: One who who surprising was Viola Cadaverini. On one fan site, she placed higher than Maya in their character ranking secion, and that depressed me a little (laughs). Other than her, there's Luke Atmey.

- You didn't think Atmey would be popular?

Takumi: He's an excessively eccentric character, so I had no idea how people would react (laughs). Speaking for myself, I had a lot of fun writing him so I love the character, but public reaction is a separate matter.

- But he was a character that was easy to write.

Takumi: Yeah, he was one of those. Thinking about it, the more orthodox the character is, the more difficult they are to write (laughs).

- So for example, Gyakuten Saiban 3's prosecutor Godot was easy to write?

Takumi: So easy that I had a collection of killer lines for him before the story was even written (laughs). But before we had Godot it was terrible. For Gyakuten Saiban 2, we decided to have a parallel to Edgeworth with Franziska von Karma, but we didn't have that for Gyakuten Saiban 3. We came up with characters like a robot prosecutor, and when Godot finally materialized among all the fumbling, I was very happy.

- On the other hand, Franziska was a set character?

Takumi: That she was. To tell the truth, originally she didn't exist. When I first wrote Gyakuten Saiban 2, Phoenix battled with Edgeworth. But when we looked at the reaction to Gyakuten Saiban 1 and it turned out Edgeworth was very much loved, I thought it wouldn't be fair to have him lose all the time (laughs), and I decided to let him have a more important role in the story. So when we turned the script into a game, we changed him into Franziska. ...we strayed out of topic a little, didn't we? (laughs).


What would you say to Phoenix Wright now that ten years have passed?

Takumi: If it's just one thing, I'd say "thank god we met each other". Until we finalized Phoenix's current design, his look had many twists and turns, and I think the way he ended up was a twist of fate. The design of the second draft's Phoenix was a reflection of opinions at that time, such as "since it's for the GBA it's good to have a kid-oriented design" and "it's better to have him young". But both me and Mr. Suekane who helped with the design felt it wasn't quite right, and we struggled with it a bit. Then Mr. Mikami and Inaba came out and said it's okay for the design not to be kid-oriented. That's the origin of Phoenix's current design. I remember that when I first saw him, his personality immediately came to me.


How did you relieve stress during development?

Takumi: I walked around a lot. Even when I was stuck, I had no choice but going on looking for a solution, so I was always thinking after all. The stress didn't really disappear, so I don't know. But after being stuck for a long time, all the stress purged out when I suddenly came up with a good idea. 

- Recently playing with Missile (Takumi's dog) also relieves stress, doesn't it?

Takumi: Ah, certainly. Playing with Missile is fun.

- He recently appeared in media quite a bit.

Takumi: He got some attention because of "Ghost Trick". To tell the truth, I wasn't really a dog person, but he sure is cute (laughs). He's a well-made Pomeranian. He had considerable influence on Ghost Trick, too.

- He's that important (laughs).

Takumi: Yes. But his name's origin was in Gyakuten Saiban.


Do you have interest in the Nintendo 3DS?

Takumi: Of course. I'm very interested in 3D imagery, to the extent that I bought a Virtual Boy on release day. 3D has an impact - it's a dream. I think it's a challenge to see what form we creators can give that dream. I want to make a game that treats that impact well.


What about ten years from now?

Takumi: I'd be happy if people will still be playing my game ten years into the future, but such long-lived games are limited to the likes of Super Mario, don't they? That's why I have no idea what will become of the series from now on. But, I'd like it if people still play the game in whatever form, for example if it came installed by default on mobile machines.

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Shu Takumi (part 5)

10 Questions for Takumi

To end the interview, we present this question-and-answer corner. The conversation became long, but we wanted to ask about his reflections on 10 years of Ace Attorney, as well as about Takumi himself.

 

What was the most difficult case to write?

Takumi: It was the last case of Gyakuten Saiban 3. The final case of each game is the most difficult, of course. The final case of Gyakuten Saiban doesn't seem that long to me now, but at the time was the longest thing I've ever written. It was uneasy, because no matter how much I wrote, it didn't end. After that, I had a lot of confidence during the concept stage for the final case of Gyakuten Saiban 2, but as I was writing it I wasn't sure if I could express my interesting ideas in writing, and was distressed (laughs).

- That said, the final case of Gyakuten Saiban 3 was still more difficult?

Takumi: Yes. With both Gyakuten Saiban and Gyakuten Saiban 2 we had a motif in place. Compared to that, I started writing the final case of Gyakuten Saiban 3 without a conclusion in mind.

- You mean the story grew by filling in plot moments one by one?

Takumi: When writing Gyakuten Saiban I also had many places where I just let the plot take its own course, but starting with Gyakuten Saiban 2, I started writing only after assembling the plot. But I just couldn't figure out the structure for the final case of Gyakuten Saiban 3, and started writing after only planning the murder trick. I wrote under stress, not even knowing how the story will end. And then, on the night before the day I had to write the conclusion, I came up with a single idea and was able to solve all the things I was troubled about. I really thought "I'm saved!".

- So it wasn't "a gift from god" but "a rescue"?

Takumi: It wasn't that neat. I mean, no matter what I had to write the conclusion the following day. But when I think of it now, that was the single most important moment in the entire series. To tell the truth, at first it was a conclusion with a bad aftertaste. I was worried that I was going to be left with a bad ending, but that moment changed everything.


Is there a character you though would become popular but didn't?

Takumi: I don't think there is... Ah, I thought Furio Tigre would stir up some discussion, but he didn't, did he (laughs).

- I really liked him.

Takumi: I like how historically the worst imitations can naturally push their way forward. I guess I couldn't communicate that to the players.

- No, no, it was communicated.

Takumi: That's fine, then. But it's kind of a joke setup. I'm pretty sure originally there were a lot of people who were befuddled because they got the impression the game was serious from its title.

- Is that so? Maybe they made the mistake because the first game package was just the logo on a black background.

Takumi: But on the back it said, "A court mystery romp" (laughs). (Thinks a little) I wonder how it is now. The number of people aware of the series increased, and I'd be happy if there were less misunderstandings.


What if you made Sabaiban in its first form?

Takumi: We'd be up to Sabaiban 4, and I'd be known as "Takumi who created Sabaiban".

- How do you fit Sabaiban into "Yomigaeru Gyakuten" [1]...

Takumi: It would be "Sabaiban Yomigaeru Sabaiban" (laughs).

- Why did you originally think of the name Sabaiban?

Takumi: At that time, I didn't want to be tied up to a title with meaning. I wished my game would make a splash as "That game, Sabaiban", and went ahead and chosen such a meaningless name. ...but I think it's good we went with Gyakuten Saiban (laughs).


Did Takumi's mother complete all the games?

- I heard she played all the way though Gyakuten Saiban 2.

Takumi: She finally played them all. On top of that, she didn't even ask me any questions for the last one. She asked the most when she played Gyakuten Saiban, just once for Gyakuten Saiban 2, and for Gyakuten Saiban 3 and 4 I think the questions disappeared completely.

- Your mother is amazing, isn't she?

Takumi: I heard her exclaim "That's it!" once during Gyakuten Saiban 2.

- Where in the game?

Takumi: The very end, when it's packed with moments where you think "only this will do". When she played Gyakuten Saiban, she had to ask even where the power switch is (laughs).

- Right, I heard you changed some things to reflect her opinions.

Takumi: Yeah - there were several times when she complained about deleting her save data by mistake, so I changed the interface for save deletion for Gyakuten Saiban 2 (laughs).


If you were to make more spinoff games, who will be the protagonist and what kind of games will they be?

Takumi: A Steel Samurai action game would be great.

Together: (laugh)

Takumi: I want to see a Steel Samurai game.

- As an action game...

Takumi: Well, he doesn't fit a mystery game. Ah, but doing things with the Steel Samurai at the backstage of a TV studio can be fun (laughs).

- I can see that (laughs). If we're speaking of spinoffs, there's the Ace Attorney Investigations series. Did you talk to that development team about the games?

Takumi: Never. I feel they'll take anything I say to heart, and it's not good if that steers them away from their vision.

- I see. By the way, Investigation's director Mr. Yamazaki first entered the company because he was a big fan of Ace Attorney, didn't he?

Takumi: Yeah, I think that's how it was. He started working the year we finished Gyakuten Saiban 3, and helped with the prototype for Ghost Trick. The was probably his first job in the company. After a few months, we started working on Back from the Ashes.

- So if we didn't have Investigations, there's a chance he would have been part of the Ghost Trick team.

Takumi: I think so.


[1] Yomigaeru Gyakuten - "Back from the Ashes" in English. Like all other cases, the 5th case added to the first game for its DS release had "gyakuten" (turnabout) in the title, which can be translated directly as "turnabout back from the dead".

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Shu Takumi (part 4)

Back to translating, letting go of the 3DS for 30 minutes... Enjoy!
 
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Setbacks during development of Gyakuten Saiban

- How do you feel looking again at these confident-filled design papers?

Takumi: I think they're written very well (laughs). It's because at that time I wrote down everything about the "detective game where you proceed by pointing out contradiction" I wanted to do. It's just that it doesn't have the simple control system Gyakuten Saiban ended up with, so it's still not there as a game. In this design paper, you attack testimonies with other testimonies you collected, in a sort of battle of words. Your gradually file testimonies and use them to attack your opponents - it was a bothersome system.

- It wasn't the same as presenting evidence.

Takumi: Figuring out the game system was very difficult. At first, it was "the testimony has a contradiction in it, and if you don't point it out in real time it's game over", but no one was able to solve it. 

 - It was difficult.

Takumi: It also wasn't interesting (laughs). If you didn't understand the timing that the game expected you to think, it was very easy to read past the contradiction. At December, soon after development began, we had this kind of prototype no one could understand in our hand. It was a huge failure, and I thought that it was probably all over.

- That early.

Takumi: That early. It's because I'm weak (laughs). But I understood the problem was players not understanding when they should be thinking, and was they should be thinking about, so I made it very clear when the game wants you to put your thinking cap on with the "cross-examination" system, and put the "press" and "present" commands on screen to show players what they can do. In addition, to make it easier to understand, I changed what you can present from testimonies to evidence... This was the only real setback during the development, but it sure was a big one.

- Was it easy to come up with the "Objection" line?

Takumi: It was. After all, I didn't just make up that phrase.

- But you still didn't have it in the early stages, right?

Takumi: No, it was there since the beginning. We also had the "Hold it!" and "Take that!" lines, but at first we didn't have a good distinction for their usage. As the system gradually solidified, it became clear how to use them.

- By the way. as the voice of Phoenix Wright, how do you feel about the voice after ten years?

Takumi: I can't do that high-pitch voice anymore.

Together: (laugh)


Even now, Gyakuten Saiban is the ideal mystery game

- After ten years, what are your thoughts regarding mystery games?

Takumi: As opposed to movies and novels, games are interactive, so it's important to have the feeling where "me, as the hero, gets involved in a case and solves it". Up until now for a long time, mystery games achieved that by using a multiple-choice selection system. Gyakuten Saiban changed that, and by not letting you proceed until you present the correct contradiction, achieved the sense that you're solving the case with your own reasoning. In that way, I feel that even now Gyakuten Saiban is the ideal mystery game.

- I see.

Takumi: Because we made the system easy, and puzzle solving is something everyone can enjoy regardless of age or sex, I wanted to make a game for everyone that fits those universal elements. I aimed for a game people of different ages can enjoy no matter when they play it.

- Looking into the future, can we look forward for the same kind of thing?

Takumi: You never know about the future. But I am very thankful for the excitement of the last 10 years.

- There must be some surprises planned for the 10 year anniversary.

Takumi: I didn't ask so I don't know the details, but the anniversary is October, and it seems they just started working on the 10th anniversary project.

- So you may be busy because of the anniversary. Last year you flew around the world for "Ghost Trick".

Takumi: Maybe I will (laughs). But I had a good experience traveling for Ghost Trick. Last year I traveled to Spain and America, and though I was interviewed about Ghost Trick, they also asked about Ace Attorney. Everyone said how fun it was to play. Up until now I only knew some people played the games abroad, so I was happy to hear their voices first hand. I simply thought how great it is I worked hard 10 years ago. I am really filled with thanks for everybody.

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Unboxing

Last week I spent a day at Tokyo Disneyland, the first time I've been to a Disney park in a while. Like some of the other Disney parks, they're taking advantage of Michael Jackson's death to revive the Captain EO attraction, and so I stood in a 50 minute line to watch horrible, horrible '80s dialogue and music in 3D. I've never seen EO before - my first time at a Disney park was a long time ago, back in '96. I was on a family trip to the US, my first time in the country at the already ancient age of 18, but Michael Jackson already moved to make room for Rick Moranis in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids 3D attraction. That was also the first time I've seen a 3D movie, and I remember being very, very impressed. 
 
And now, 15 years later, mere days after experiencing the best in '80s 3D technology, I now hold a little glasses-free 3D screen in my hands. And it looks just as good. I got up early this morning, picked up my preorder documents and headed to the local Bic Camera. I got there before opening time but they already had a stand outside for picking up the console, so I had one in my hands 5 minutes later. No lines here - it seems like they didn't have any machines to sell to anyone who didn't ordered ahead a month ago at all. 
 
So -- since this is the first time in my life that I had the chance to buy cool new technology on launch day, I thought I'd do what all the cool kids do and shoot an unboxing video. It's extremely unprofessional, and I apologize profoundly for my bad English accent. But that's what I have, and I've come to terms with it. I'll probably write up detailed impressions after I played with it for a few hours. For now, enjoy this video... 
 
  

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Just a quick note

In case someone out there is actually waiting for the next installment in my Shu Takumi interview translation, the reason I didn't post anything for a couple of days is because I'm on a short vacation in Tokyo away from my regular Kansai residence. This ends tomorrow, so expect more soon. 
 
Tokyo never changes. Akihabara is not as fun as it was the first few times I visited, though I did end up with a respectable pile of second hand PSP games that cost next to nothing. I'll have to write sometime about why i prefer Osaka's Denden-town to Tokyo's Akihabara, but that article will have to wait until I'm not as exhausted from walking around all day as I am now. 
One thing I did do this week was play tons of 3DS demos. Demo units started popping up in stores just as I arrived in Tokyo, and pretty much everywhere that sells games has them around. Needless to say, I visited many many game shops on this trip, and just couldn't help picking up a demo for a few minutes almost every single time. The 3D effect is quite startling the fist time you see it, but it will take a little more hands-on time with it to see whether it's fun for a long session as it is for a 3 minute demo. I should have my own 3DS at launch in just three days, so I'll probably talk about it in some more detail at that time...

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Shu Takumi (part 3)

Becoming popular with the media

- With the series' popularity you started to appear more and more in the media.

Takumi: Yeah, I was surprised. Up until Gyakuten Saiban 3 they didn't include me in any of the pre-release articles, and at the time I remember I was troubled by what there was for me to say about a game that wasn't even complete.

- By the way, were you interviewed at all for Gyakuten Saiban?

Takumi: There was one article, I think.

- Do you remember that first inteview?

Takumi: I remember. Mikami-san told me I was not charismatic enough and made me wear a silly Dino Crisis novelty hat (laughs).

- A hat, you say.

Takumi: He said, "we can sell you with that hat" (laughs). I didn't really understand him...

- But in the end you were happy for a chance to be interviewed, weren't you?

Takumi: I was. But at that time I was so nervous I tried to erase my tension with alcohol (laughs).

- I guess by now, after you also took the stand at announcement press conferences, you're a pro.

Takumi: I don't think that's the case, but at least I don't need the booze any more.

- By the way, what is the question you're asked the most?

Takumi: Let's see... (thinks for a while) It's probably "who is your favorite character".

- I thought it was something like that (laughs). So, I guess I will be bold and also ask who you like best now.

Takumi: It has to be Phoenix Wright. If we're talking about individual games, I have favorites like Godot in Gyakuten Saiban 3, but it's a difficult decision. (suddenly) Oh, oh! I suddenly remembered, but thanks to a previous Nintendo Dream interview I became an Ishikawa Prefecture native for a while.

- Eh? Is it perhaps the Gyakuten Saiban 3 interview? If so, I have it here with me. (takes out an old issue of Nintendo Dream)

Takumi: That's it. You had a Gyakuten Saiban 3 CD included with that issue, so I had to buy a copy myself.

- Thank you. I remember at the time our chief editor said, "Takumi-san tells interesting stories, so I will increase the number of pages for the interview", and it became a super-long interview.

Takumi: So that's how it was. Thank you very much. I remember after that interview was taken we had some time off, so I didn't get to check the contents. After the issue was published, I checked the internet and it said "born in Ishikawa Prefecture" about me (laughs). Inaba-kun (Atsushi Inaba, previous producer of the Gyakuten Saiban series. Currently at Platina Games) is from Ishikawa, and my father is as well, so I think I said "we're originally from the same place" during the interview...  (reads the interview) but now that I read it I can't find any of that. So what was it, I wonder?

- Ah, in the profile box, it says "born in Ishikawa prefecture". Let me offer an apology and correction right now. We're very sorry.

Takumi: Oh, it's alright (laughs). I felt so thankful at the time that the media took interest in me and that everyone was watching.

- Speaking of that, recently information transmission became so much faster.

Takumi: Definitely. 10 years ago the internet wasn't very popular, and we got opinions about our games through postcard questionnaires. 

- Today you even have Twitter, and can get opinions directly. Since you have a twitter account, what are your thoughts about this kind of interaction with the users?

Takumi: There are certainly good aspects to it, but also many that aren't so. Having a constant stream of everyone's feelings and opinions isn't very healthy, but deliberately not looking at it is also strange. In accordance, sense of fear for the status of my self esteem grew strong recently, and finding the right balance is difficult.


They Gyakuten Saiban storyboards Takumi drew  

In addition to the design documents, Mr. Takumi also brought along storyboards to show us. Among them was the opening scene for "Turnabout Samurai" (Gyakuten Saiban's third case)

Takumi: (sifts through many papers) There are some storyboards I drew myself, like this one.  I told this story on Twitter before, but originally Phoenix was also in the scene.

- According to the storyboard, this was supposed to be the second case. In what order did you write Gyakuten Saiban's cases?

Takumi: The first one I wrote was this Steel Samurai story. There was even an outline in the first draft of the proposal. After that I wrote "Turnabout Sisters" as the first case, but the story developments in it were too sudden, and I decided to add "The First Turnabout" as a prologue. The last case I wrote was the final one, the fourth.


Character Design  

Takumi: (looking at character design sheets) The very first character designs were like that. That Miles Edgeworth is certainly different from how he ended up. Thank god we decided to change it (laughs).

- But it seems even at that stage you had the name Naruhodo (Phoenix Wright's Japanese name)

Takumi: We did. But there are some characters here that don't exist anymore, like this Usagi-chan. This guy over here was originally supposed to have Mia's position. Iwamoto-san (Tatsurou Iwamoto, character designer) sure likes old men (laughs).

- Who is this woman, "Kaoru Ayashi"?

Takumi: She was the original detective Gumshoe. We used her hair design for Gyakuten Saiban 3's Elise Deauxnim.

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It's here

Dependable Amazon, arriving at my door a good hour before most of the shops open. 
 
...unfortunately, I won't be able to actually play the thing for another month or so. No access to a PS3 (or a 360, for that matter) until then. Oh well, there's the soundtrack to listen to, the art book to read and the instruction booklet to drool over. 
 

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Shu Takumi (part 2)

The Gyakuten Saiban design documents from 10 years ago

- In previous interviews, you said you got the chance to make Gyakuten Saiban after making Dino Crisis 2, when the company decided to try let you make something of your own.

Takumi: That's right. I'm very thankful for that. That's why I spent my break after completing Dino Crisis 2 writing design papers.

- I thought the story was that Mikami remembered he had a proposal of yours buried somewhere. Is that wrong?

Takumi: That's not how it happened. Mikami's story is probably about some other proposal I wrote.

- I see...

Takumi: When I was hired at Capcom, there was talk about teaming up with a certain correspondence education company and making a detective game with educational elements. The plans never materialized, but I was involved with it for a while. When I was thinking about that game, I wrote a design based on the concept of pointing out contradictions. The protagonist wasn't a lawyer, though. Maybe Mikami was thinking about those plans.

- So, after Dino Crisis 2, you took your ideas from that time and wrote a new design?

Takumi: Yes. By the way, I brought along the design documents from that time with me today. (pulls out two design papers for Gyakuten Saiban)

- Wow, amazing!

Takumi: This one, with the title "Lawyer Game" was the first draft.

- The date on the front page is September 1.

Takumi: We had a lot of time off in August, so I spent my summer vacation writing this first draft. This second draft I have here was written one month later. Ah, this image of the courtroom was drawn for me by Suekane-san (Kumiko Suekane, the series' first designer).

- It seems the title on this draft is "Sabaiban" [1]

Takumi: "Sabaiban", a title full of self-confidence, isn't it? (laughs)

- I heard the story many times, but this is the first time I've seen it in writing! By the way, except for the illustration what changed between the first and second drafts?

Takumi: In a word, the first draft was just an outline.

- Ah, so when you got the green light on that you went ahead and filled in the details for the second draft?

Takumi: No, they said I can make anything I feel like, so they didn't really mind what was in the proposal. I wrote the second proposal in more detail to communicate my thoughts to the team. The contents ended up being much more of a game.

- They really said, "you can do whatever you want"?

Takumi: That's right. ...However, when I said, "how about a lawyer game?" I ended up receiving a phone call from Mikami (laughs).


The first Gyakuten Saiban proposal

Takumi: I wrote the first proposal during the summer vacation, so it doesn't have any illustrations.

- The contradiction concept was taken from the previous detective game, but I see this time you used a lawyer from the get go.

Takumi: To strengthen the game's main selling point, "pointing out contradictions", I wanted a profession more suitable for the job than a detective. Thinking that, I noticed that there was an opening for a lawyer (laughs).

- An opening for a lawyer.

Takumi: At that time I thought it would be a game where your target is becoming a lawyer.

- Not a prosecutor?

Takumi: A prosecutor is someone who delivers evidence in order to corner a suspect. For showing contradictions, I thought you needed the one who opposes them, the defense attorney.

- I see. You intended to make the game for a portable console from the very beginning, didn't you?

Takumi: I like the closeness of holding a game console with both hands. The concentration you feel when looking at a small screen.

- A similar feeling to reading a book.

Takumi: That's right. When you want a personal sense of absorption, nothing beats a portable console.


[1] "Sabaiban": A portmanteau of saiban ("court") and survivor (in its Japanese pronounciation)

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Interview series 2: Shu Takumi (part 1)

 Translations are good practice and fun work, so why not continue? Since I'm enjoying the new Miles Edgeworth game right now (I hope an English release will be announced soon so you can all enjoy it too), I chose this long interview with Shu Takumi celebrating ten years of the Ace Attorney series. Published in the latest issue of Nintendo Dream (vol. 203, March 2011).  

A few notes: 
- There are a bunch of archive materials pictured alongside the interview, including scans of original design papers and character designs. Some are discussed in the interview itself, but I'm not going to provide scans (I think it goes too far re: the grey-area copyright issue). 
- I was debating with myself how to go about character names and decided to use the localized names western players are familiar with. That said, when discussing the original GBA versions I'm calling them Gyakuten Saiban 1/2/3 instead of their American DS titles. 
- The footnotes are all mine this time. There are none in the original. 
 
This will probably be around 6 or 7 parts.

Enjoy! 

--- 

Shu Takumi - Ace Attorney's 10th Anniversary Interview

"Ace Attorney" is known today as a big hit that grew in popularity with each game. This month's special feature wouldn't be complete without talking to this man, the series' father. He brought along the design documents for "Gyakuten Saiban", the first game in the series that was released 10 years ago for the Gameboy Advance, and we discuss those 10 years with him.

Profile: A regular interviewee in this magazine, the father of the Ace Attorney series. He was responsible for the direction, script and design of the games. His newest game is a mystery that begins with a death, Ghost Trick (DS). Born 1971 in Saitama prefecture. His blood type is O. * What was the best thing you ate in the past 10 years?  "It was the osechi and nabe [1] I had with my family at my parents' home this new year. The sense of what tastes good probably changed for me this year."


Congratulations! The Ace Attorney series is 10 years old.

- Congratulations on 10 years of Ace Attorney.

Takumi: Thank you very much.

- That said, it's been a long time since we last interviewed you about the series, hasn't it?

Takumi: Since Ace Attorney 4, I think.

- So let's begin with your current state of mind regarding the series.

Takumi: I don't think my way of thinking or my feelings changed that much during the past 10 years, but since I had my 30th birthday when we completed the first game, I can't help but think, "am I 40 already?" (laughs).

- Ten years did pass.

Takumi: Yeah. I already told this many times, but at the time I didn't think we were going to make a second game, so I'm very happy it became such a long running series. I made a game I thought would still be fun to play even 10 or 20 years after its release, so I'm deeply moved.

- I believe you said in the past, "the graphics don't change that much, and I tried to make it so that people who started with one of the sequels could go back to the first".

Takumi: Yes. I tried to make it so you could start playing anywhere. Well, I think Phoenix's cell phone design is regrettably hard to come back to (laughs).

 

 Your life changed after Ace Attorney?!

- Your life probably changed a lot in the 10 years since you first made Gyakuten Saiban [2].

Takumi: That's probably true. Gyakuten Saiban was the first game I really wanted to make. I went to work for Capcom thinking I wanted to make mystery games, but it was right in the middle of an era when they only wanted you to make fighting and zombie games. I went on thinking it would be nice if I could have the chance to make my mystery game, and that chance accidentally arrived. After that I accidentally got great team members and managed to make a great game. Even now after 10 years I still think it was really just a case of being in the right place at the right time. If things didn't go as well as they did and I wasn't able to make Gyakuten Saiban, I probably wouldn't be here right now speaking to you.

- You weren't interviewed in magazines about the series you made before Ace Attorney, Dino Crisis (a survival horror series for the Playstation), were you.

Takumi: There was 1 page in a magazine that was since cancelled, but at that time I was really just assisting Shinji Mikami (the former head of Capcom Production Studio 4, creator of the Resident Evil series).

- I see. So your life began to change not after Gyakuten Saiban was made, but when you got the chance to make it.

Takumi: That's right. Dino Crisis was a training period for me, a time when I was learning the way Shinji Mikami thinks. I don't think I would be the same man if he wasn't there. He's someone I owe a lot to. 

 
[1] Osechi: a traditional Japanese meal eaten on New Year. Nabe: Vegetables, meat and tofu cooked in a boiling shared pot. Highly recommended if you have the chance! 
[2] Gyakuten Saiban: The first Ace Attorney game for the GBA only had the first four cases of the game western players get to play. The fifth case was new for the DS version (which was the only one localized), and written after the first three games were completed.   

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