Japanese developers weigh in on E3 2014 (Part 2)

Harada Feature

It’s been nearly a month now since the biggest gaming news event of the year, E3 2014, closed its doors. Now, a month on, Famitsu Weekly has asked 19 Japanese creatives for their views on the boisterous press event. We translated the pertinent details for those that happen to be unable to read Japanese.

Last time we looked at illuminating interviews with industry greats such as Guilty Gear’s Daisuke Ishiwatari, Suda 51 and Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima. If you haven’t read what theinteviewees 1-9 had to say we recommend you check it out. This time we’ll be hearing from Yakuza head Toshihiro Nagoshi, Hideo Baba A.K.A.the man behind the Tales of series and Square Enix’s Tai Yasue – who happens to be hard at work on Kingdom Hearts III – amongst others.

As with last time, there are a few emerging trends: developers express interest in VR technology, both Batman: Arkham Knight and the Left 4 Dead team’s newest game Evolve were considered show highlights. But this time, the developers also express their pleasant surprise at how healthy console gaming seemed to be outside of Japan. GungHo Entertainment’s Kazuki Morishita’s comments in particular show up just how smartphone-focused many Japanese developers are.

Toshihiro Nagoshi (Yakuza, Sega)

Overall Impression

I was busy so wasn’t able to go this year. But from what I hear it was quite a lively event. Every year I wonder will western markets see revitalization? Or perhaps the opposite? Or will gamers’ interests shift over to smartphones as has been the case with the Japanese market? But this year, and I mean this in a positive way, it looked like things were stabilizing. On the one hand I’m happy about that, but on the other I’m worried that it means the gap between the western and Japanese markets is only going to get wider… I’ll have to make it my job to find a solution, that is, figure what Japanese developers can do to adapt to the situation.

Of all the titles at the show, which one left the strongest impression?

Oculus_Rift_01I’m aware that there were many wonderful games at E3. But personally I’m very interested in devices which popularize new game experiences, Project Morpheus being the representative example. I think the time has come for games to start earnestly taking up VR, [it could have an effect similar to how] just as the introduction of 3D led movies one-step ahead of simply being about “watching” and “listening”. Of course just as with film where it’s not the case that 3D is always better, I don’t think all videogames should be converted to VR. But I think it’s important to experiment.

After E3 2014, what is your outlook for the videogame industry?

We now have incredibly powerful hardware as well as online services that are experiencing on-going expansion. And high-spec devices are priced within reach [of the consumer]. Device-agnostic multi-player services that range from PC’s to smartphones have become a norm unto themselves. When you stop to think about it, it really is the stuff of dreams. These are exciting times, but I worry whether we [game developers] are able to come up with exciting ideas to match expectations. When I think about that, things get a little deep. We’re really going to have to put our all into development.

Yoshifumi Hashimoto (Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, Marvelous Entertainment)

Overall Impression

This year I was exhibiting (Harvest Moon) Story of Seasons. When you announce a game overseas there’s a sense that the players are as excited as you are [Translator’s note: As opposed to Japanese conferences, which are often conducted in dead silence]. Things are characterized by people enjoying the entire vibe of the proceedings and not simply the gameplay. There were many game announcements at E3, but what I took away from it all was just how many people who loved games had gathered in one place. Nothing could’ve made me happier.

Of all the titles at the show, which one left the strongest impression?

Batman: Arkham Knight. The series has always been about moving through the air, but this time you can freely enjoy it [moving through the air] by employing gadgets. I think Batman fans are going to be ecstatic about that [moving through air using gadgets]. Splatoon also caught my eye, it’s adorable. I couldn’t peel myself away from it.

After E3 2014, what is your outlook for the videogame industry?

I was happy to see that this year indie games weren’t being promoted independently, but actually being included as part of the industry [hardware maker] booths. There seemed to be excitement around them. However, I think it wouldn’t have hurt for the show to play out a little differently. Personally, we have all these people who love games gathered in one place, so I want to make something they can enjoy. I think, as an industry, we should challenge ourselves much, much more.

Hideo Baba (Tales of, Bandai Namco Studios)

Overall Impression

Following on from the release of the Xbox One and PS4 there was no shortage of game announcements, the new-generation line-up has gradually beefed up. I feel that gamers are looking forward to hearing more news on these games. Personally, I‘m excited for information on these games as well as for the games themselves. I’d say I’m looking forward to them even more now [than I was before]. Overall I’d say there were a lot of titles with photorealistic worlds. It got me thinking, how are we going to hold onto our [Japanese] distinctive gameplay [styles] and aesthetic sense? I was, once again left feeling that this is the big question we [Japanese developers] need to answer.

Wii U ZeldaOf all the titles at the show, which one left the strongest impression?

I’m not speaking strictly in terms of this years’ E3 here, but personally I always look forward to seeing what new adventures the Uncharted series has in store. What kind of cinematic elements [set pieces] will they have mixed in with the gameplay this time? The Uncharted games naturally blend these cinematic bits that look like video, and then hand the controls back over to the player mid-flow. I always look forward to what they’re going to do with that. The other game that left an impression was the new Legend of Zelda game. I’ve been with the series dating back to the Famicom Disk System release of the first game, which I played to death as a student. This series always provides a new experiences [and this new Zelda looks to be no exception]. I’m also looking forward to exploring in the new world.

After E3 2014, what is your outlook for the videogame industry?

I used to feel that despondent about the future of the industry, there was a trend for a while where E3 would get smaller and smaller, and the excitement in the industry just seemed to be deflating. However in recent years the announcements and number of countries participating in E3 have gotten significantly bigger. I feel having buzz around an overseas trade fair like E3 will lead to buzz over the games’ industry as a whole. I want to see growth out of the hardware out there, and that goes not only for the PS4/Xbox One but the PS3, which still has market share, as well.

Katsuhiro Harada (Tekken, Bandai Namco Games)

Overall Impression

I felt that, relatively speaking, the first-party conferences had a lot of announcements aimed at core gamers. It was a battle of the exclusives. And they were scripted to be interesting throughout. What stood out for me at this years’ E3 was that the number of exhibit booths had been reduced slightly, but the ones that were around were bigger than before. The fact that many exhibitions were conducted closed-door also stood out to me. I think the arrangement of exhibits might be why the attendees were standing around more than moving around. They were selectively checking out games that were already of interest to them. I got the impression that from the second day onwards the number of attendees had dropped. The numbers say that this year saw a 5 percent increase in attendees in comparison to previous years, but looking at the small number of passersby and how little interference there was with Wi-Fi signals, I could help but think there was some fudging of numbers going on.

Of all the titles at the show, which one left the strongest impression?

The show was crammed with AAA announcements, which was wonderful to see, but I had my attention entirely on gaming head-mounted display demos – Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus being the two big ones. At the moment these devices are only in their first generation iterations, but I believe that, in the near future, new generations of hardware will be lighter and have greater functionality. In fact, I’m sure of it. The tech is still in its infancy though. But, personally I love these kinds of devices.

After E3 2014, what is your outlook for the videogame industry?

Although the writing’s been on the wall for some time now, I felt that now, finally, the relative relationship between North American and Japanese games has come to resemble that between Hollywood vs Japanese films. These AAA titles start out with budgets of at least 30 million dollars, actually these days it’s actually closer to starting at 50 million dollars and going as high as 100 million. Even marketing expenditure is in a whole different ball park from Japanese figures. Some titles have as much as 10 million dollars thrown at them just for a year-long online marketing campaign. We can’t compete in terms of scale. It’s not simply a case of having or not having the money; Japan doesn’t have funding mechanisms in place, and the manufacturing methodology to compete with that. Well, I guess we could respond by doing things in a distinctly Japanese way, our plan of attack, our development style and our game content. Alternatively, [if we do take that tact] we might be forced to change businesses (laughs). Oh, but I’ve been thinking of plenty of novel ideas on how to tackle the issue myself, so look forward to hearing about them.

Yosuke Hayashi (Ninja Gaiden, Dead of Alive, Koei Tecmo Games)

Overall Impression

I got a sense of how vigorous the North American market, now the world’s central videogame market, was. I felt just how powerful videogames are [in the west], that [in the west] videogames have cemented themselves as simply one more immovable form of entertainment. And amongst all of that the presence of Japanese games and developers was almost non-existent. As a developer I was disheartened and felt strongly that, starting with Hyrule Warriors, I want to create games all North American gamers will go crazy for.

Of all the titles at the show, which one left the strongest impression?

It’s hard to narrow it down to just one game, but my lasting impression was that there were a lot of games announced that focused on co-op play. And I’m not talking about games that have simply had co-op play added to them; they were being pushed as being games with “play styles that could only be done in co-op”. I found that very interesting.

After E3 2014, what is your outlook for the videogame industry?

As a game developer this years’ show gave me a lot to think about. But as a gamer I can’t help but be excited for what the future holds for videogames. I found plenty of games that made me think “I can’t wait to play that”; games that had impressive graphics, immersive stories and online elements that can be enjoyed as a group.

Kazuki Morishita (Puzzle & Dragons, Dead of Alive, GungHo Online Entertainment)

WiiU_SuperSmashBros_screen_09

Overall Impression

I wasn’t planning on going this year but then plans changed, suddenly we were going to be showing Let it Die off [at E3]. After going to E3 in person what stuck with me was the deep-rooted popularity of home consoles. That, and how they were broadcasting videos all over the place. Though not particularly new, I was struck by how people’s enthusiasm/expectations for home consoles has remained strong. However I was held down with interviews for Let it Die so I didn’t get the time to look around the booths, which was a shame.

Of all the titles at the show, which one left the strongest impression?

Trying to narrow it down to one is difficult. I have a soft spot for Smash Bros so I took the time to try it out. I was really interested in how the essence of Smash Bros. has been properly captured, as well as the new style of play offered by Amiibo. The [Smash Bros] tournament was exciting even though the game isn’t out yet [and as such, players haven’t had time to get good at it], I guess that’s Smash Bros for you. I was also impressed with Splatoon which had radically new game mechanics, I was really surprised by it, thinking “Woah, what is this?!”. The trailers for Destiny, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Sunset Overdrive also piqued my interest. I want to play all of those when they’re out.

After E3 2014, what is your outlook for the videogame industry?

Thanks to developments such as better development tools it’s become easier to develop games as well as easier to move to multi-platform as-is [minus massive amounts of optimization]. I feel confident that the quality of indie-developed games will rise dramatically as a result. I can really feel the passion of these developers who are setting out to create revolutionary games, the kind which we haven’t seen before. And this goes for big developers too, not just the indies. I felt once more like we’re getting back to the roots of game development. In Japan there’s a lot of focus on smart phones, but at GungHo we want to make an earnest effort with home console games, which you can see starting with last years’ release of Puzzles & Dragons Z* and Let it Die which is being worked on by Grasshopper Manufacture. I’m expectantly hoping to see growth from home consoles.

[Translator’s Note: Puzzles & Dragons Z is a 3DS game. It appears Morishita is using the term “home console” loosely as a catch-all for anything not classed as mobile]

Tai Yasue (Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Square Enix)

Overall Impression

This isn’t just limited to this years’ E3 but my impressions were that E3 has a unique energy about it. It felt liberated as a creator, like I’d be able to aggressively try my hand at all sorts of new things. But conversely I also felt this sense of danger, that if I don’t do that I’ll be weeded out. The AAA games, which were high-quality and oozing “next-generation”-ness, served as points of reference for my own game development. However what really wowed me was the diversity of all the ideas and technology at play, from indie games which are trying new things with game mechanics and expression, to VR tech which holds the potential to greatly redefine the meaning of a “game experience”, to Cloud technology such as our Project Flare. This is amazing stuff.

Of all the titles at the show, which one left the strongest impression?

It’s hard to narrow it down to one game, but if I had to pick one that made me think “I want to know more about this!” it would be the indie game No Man’s Sky. The gist of it is you fly around in a spaceship and find all these planets and explore. What’s impressive is that the game system goes ahead and builds the world procedurally. The world builds of its’ own accord based on the players actions [as opposed to being crafted directly by the player], the concept makes me hopeful that some of the worlds generated will be really out there. It’s somewhat at odds with the Kingdom Hearts games I work on, as in those games you explore worlds that are meticulously crafted by hand, but I think both of these types of worlds can lead to surprising game experiences [for the gamer].

After E3 2014, what is your outlook for the videogame industry?

The games’ industry evolves at a head-spinning pace and is getting more and more complex, so it’s hard for me to say definitely “this is what I think will happen”. What I can say is that after going to E3 I realized that the industry is borderless and that the scale of it is several tens the size I thought it was. The number of ideas floating around and the amount of tech in play is huge. Being stimulated by coming up against opinions from people different from yourself is an important part of being a creator. With that in mind, I want to be pro-active by going abroad more and digesting these really out there ideas and schools of thought, and then turning that experience into fuel for my work.

Junichi Yoshizawa (Freedom Wars, Patapon, Sony Computer Entertainment)

 

Overall Impression

Personally, speaking as a producer, I think of E3 as an invaluable place to find inspiration. Being in Japan [for prolonged amounts of time] you stop thinking aboutDestiny_01 overseas [markets/players] that much. But a place like E3, where your game is lined up alongside all the overseas developed games gathered there, gets you thinking. Thinking about what’s good and what’s lacking in your games. Actually ever since we started work on Freedom Wars, Yasui-san, Tsukamoto-san and myself were talking about going to E3 together. I think this years’ E3 will go down as more memorable to us because we all got to attend it together.

[Translator’s note: Freedom Wars is being developed collaboratively between Sony Computer Entertainment, Shift (where Toshiyuki Yasui is a game designer) and Dimps (where Takashi Tsukamoto is Director)]

Of all the titles at the show, which one left the strongest impression?

There are three titles that left an impression on me*. The first one would be Batman: Arkham Knight. I saw it in video and thought “Okay, I want to play that!”. It made me think “isn’t this the way games should be?”. Second up is Evolve! It’s a new game from the developers of Left 4 Dead with which it shares many mechanical similarities […] I’m interested to see how the multi-player action will play out. And third would be Destiny! The sense of scale is really incredible. It made me feel “Wow, I want to enter this world and see how that plays out” which is similar to the way I felt when I first saw Star Wars.

[Translator’s note: Yoshizawa, you’re supposed be all like “I can’t narrow it down to one game. This is hard!”. What are you? Some kind of genius?]

After E3 2014, what is your outlook for the videogame industry?

If last year was the year of hardware, of the PS4/Xbox One, then this year was the year of software. There were a lot of fascinating games announced […]. But at the same time there were was only a few, limited moments when Japanese games stood out. I want to do everything I can to create games that get noticed at E3, games that then go on to spark a popular global trend!

Naoki Yoshida (Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn,Square Enix)

Overall Impression

Last year there were announcements for the PS4 and Xbox One but not much in the way of software announcements. Making up for that, at this years’ E3 there were many extremely ambitious games being developed by various companies for the new hardware. I also felt that new IPs were being pushed hard. And as much as studios old and new, including indies, were showing off ambitious titles, there was a sense that Japanese games were behind the global curve with modern HD games. This years’ E3 was very intimidating.

Fable Legends_02Of all the titles at the show, which one left the strongest impression?

Personally, the new game from the Left 4 Dead team, Evolve, and the new Fable stood out to me. These weren’t simply 4-player games, but games designed around a fifth player who can take the role of a giant monster or play from a Gods-eye-view. I’ve been sitting on an idea for a 4+1 style multi-player game for many years now, so these games came as a big shock. I want these games to succeed on the one hand, but on the other I’m very jealous of them. I wish I could clone myself [to get things done faster]

After E3 2014, what is your outlook for the videogame industry?

It’s a matter of fact that the majority of the profit in the Japanese market comes from smart device games built around an F2P model. As a result most of the funding inevitably ends up poured into the smart device market. Watching E3 I felt acutely that, with the introduction of new hardware, HD games look to be resurging. However, the dichotomy between AAA and indie developers seems to be getting stronger so I’d imagine making middle-class [A/AA] HD games is going to be one hell of a struggle. And that’s not even factoring in that the situation with the Japanese market which is even more complicated than that.

The term “sense of danger” was used multiple times when the topic turned to the small presence of Japanese developers at E3. Japanese developers, who are quite pre-occupied with the mobile sector, may feel they can’t compete with western studios who have a relatively higher degree of focus on (and larger market for) home console games.

But as Harada pointed out, this is a problem that goes deeper than simply being about money. It will be interesting to see if and how Japanese developers will respond to a global market that seems to increasingly look different from the Japanese market.

Shehzaan Abdulla

Shehzaan Abdulla

Writer
Shehzaan grew up playing SEGA consoles and has a soft spot for retro games seeing as he was playing the Master System his parents bought him when all his friends had Playstations (this was also around the same time he realized he was probably adopted).
Shehzaan Abdulla

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