Kid Icarus Developer Talks About Western Developers; So Do I

Actually, that’s kind of a misnomer. He talks about most developers, just signals out the west for sake of easy comparison. And sure, there’s a big interview here about Kid Icarus (which I’m increasingly excited for, since it sounds like a Treasure like re-imagining of the franchise) here, with lots of fun, exciting details like how the control scheme will work, and some neat tidbits about the process of game design. You can find it here, on Techland. Which I’d never heard of before today.

The bit of the interview I found most interesting was this one:
About the difference between Western and Japanese design, there’s really a lot of opinions on this and this is just one of those opinions. But, I feel that Japanese game design and game development really isn’t a good match for the big-budget Hollywood style game experience. There are lot of different factors such as things like the team size and the way development proceeds and is communicated within teams. I mean, there are instances where this trend is more dramatic than others, where teams are either more well-suited to a certain style or not.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m really impressed with Western game design and enjoy a lot of those games. But, personally–and this is something that Nintendo also follows the same philosophy–I trend towards focusing on a gameplay mechanic and working on that mechanic. I start with something that’s very, very simple but is perfected for its gameplay qualities and not try to force it into becoming a larger, more expensive big-budgeted experience. Unfortunately, a lot of developers get caught in trying to out do each other and what ends up becoming is a simple competition in graphics or in scale and whatnot. I think the most important thing–and maybe my overall message for this answer–is that developers just need to focus on what they’re good at. And, while some may be good at these big budget experiences, others are not, and that could be telling of different trends between Western and Japanese game companies.

Some thoughts after the jump.

One would call me an old school gamer, I think. In that I’ve been playing games since 1992 or thereabouts. So I’ve watched the whole progression from the primacy of Japan in the market to the rise of Western developers, to the point where Japan has Nintendo and Square Enix and fuckall else of popularity. And what it comes down to is this: eastern developers seemed to pace their games like an anime series. Things happened, you solved a problem, you moved on to the next world, or the next town, with a new, self contained problem.

Western game developers, until more recently, modeled their games after Star Wars. Because everyone saw Star Wars, and loved Star Wars. You can tell, too. Western developers before 2000 more rarely had major divisions in the plot, in terms of worlds, and there was usually a big bad who revealed himself early on as the big bad. Who you had to fight, over a long period of time. Japanese games had a freak of the week every couple hours, while Western games had a big, oppressive, omnipresent empire who caused everything.

The former, of course, is how games work best. And I think we’ve had an ironic role reversal over the past few years. Western developers, now raised on Star Trek: TNG and Firefly and, ironically, anime, have realized the way they want to pace a game is as a television show with an overarching plot, but with a lot of subdivisions. Levels, worlds, breaks. Broken up action. Alan Wake and Mass Effect 2 are recent, obvious examples, but a lot of developers are doing it.

The Japanese, ironically, have switched. They’ve seen westerners do cool, movie like games, and their games have become more like movies, with central, overarching plots and little in the way of episodic pacing. I disagree with Masahiro Sakurai in that sense: the Japanese, not the West, are involved in an arms race to build the most epic, most motion picture like game. That’s why JRPGs have drifted a bit: instead of going from town to town solving problems like a wandering samurai, now you fight one enemy in tense, mortal conflict the entire game. Which doesn’t make for good pacing in such a lengthy medium.

That’s just my thoughts, though. Whaddya think?


  1. “But, I feel that Japanese game design and game development really isn’t a good match for the big-budget Hollywood style game experience.”

    “But, personally–and this is something that Nintendo also follows the same philosophy–I trend towards focusing on a gameplay mechanic and working on that mechanic.”

    I think they’re both dumb approaches, funnily enough. Games are NOT movies, and while they can borrow heavily, they need to realize the potential of things only games can do. For you reading pleasure on what I mean:

    On the other hand, companies like Nintendo focus more on the gameplay and such, most of their games are built from the ground up with sound game design….and more and more, it looks like that approach is going to take the industry by storm as it tries to get as many non-gamers into the mix as possible. But Nintendo games hardly ever -mean- anything. Remember that Gamasutra article i linked to, about why games can’t ever go beyond the threshold because they’re stuck on ‘play’ and ‘fun’ mode? If Nintendo is the future, gaming will forever be stuck there. Games will never be art because they will only be play.

    I want a bit of both, to be sure. But it seems like the industry is separating itself by these different schools of thought which are all misguided in the larger scheme of things.

    I’m not sure any of that made sense xD

    • Tom

      I haven’t read that article because I want to play Nier one day! It spoiled Red Dead Redemption for me, but you know, I wasn’t going to finish that game anyway.

      I mean, I think he raises some good points. His focus is on Nintendo itself, who actually have a good game design principle. The principle isn’t the problem: the “problem” is that they make games that aren’t particularly serious. Which isn’t a problem. I feel their methodology is also used by a lot of indies; Braid is a good example. The gameplay is focused on and perfected, then it is used to tell a serious story, rather than make children smile.

      I think the thing he objects to is all the Japanese games that are trying to be big budget, amazing games and the closest they can get to western games is akin to a B-Movie. I mean, Devil May Cry and Resident Evil, even Final Fantasy, the most successful Japanese “Hollywood” series, are seen as B-movies or anime movies, rather than as summer blockbusters, which they were intending to be. So I think he’s asking, “Why do you do that? Why not focus on design, instead of production, since the West is only going to be laughing at you?”

  2. Fernando Cordeiro

    I call that prejudgment. It very easy to dismiss Western games saying they are all big budget titles.

    By the way, I’m surprised you guys posted this inane comment of his instead of the OTHER ABSOLUTELY RETARDED comment Sakurai said. Check out his iffy definition of innovation:

    “I’ve found that, in the established genres, the controls are always the same. For example, in shooting games, you find first-person-shooters utilize all of the buttons on the controller and always do the same thing the stick is for moving, triggers for shooting and they’re always trapped in this very restricted framework for gameplay. And, that’s just not creative.”

    (on a side note, I’ve just realized that I’ve always eaten wit a fork and that is not creative)

    “It feels like people are taking this empty shell and just swapping out the story and art and whatnot.”

    (whatnot is TOTALLY NOT what creativity is all about, right?)

    God, I’m more and more pessimistic about this game. Sakurai seems to think Kid Icarus is a shooter, which only proves one more than he they guy doesn’t have a clue. They may want to give the game the “Treasure treatment” but the only thing that comes to my mind when I hear that are the words Star Fox Adventures and Donkey Kong 64.

    Hey, Nintendo, do you know what *is* creative? Some fuckin new IPs!

    • I had not commented on that because I already spoke about that elsewhere, and so debating it wasn’t as interesting to me (the part about control creativity). 😛

    • Tom

      Why would Treasure make you think of Star Fox Adventures and Donkey Kong 64? That was Rare. Treasure made Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Heddy (yeah!) Sin and Punishment, Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga, some of the best blow shit up games ever made.

      I didn’t use his other quote because that’s getting trolled all over the internet. And I don’t think it’s a prejudice, considering he’s comparing big budget Japanese games with big budget American games. Of course, other, smaller developers will do different things. Treasure, for instance, in Japan, do things differently, or Atlus. In the West, there are countless small developers who don’t work like, say, EA’s studios or Bioware.

      I think most of the problems he’s having are with translation. I feel like his statement would be more nuanced in Japanese.

      • Fernando Cordeiro

        The point was that those were two examples of game characters featuring in genres that had nothing to do with what the original games were about. Treasure makes some good shmups, but Kid Icarus is NOT a shmup.

        The quote never mentions big budget Japanese games really. Maybe in Japanese it did, but I’m in no position to say that. However, it fairly common to try to portray oneself as the underdog facing the “soulless Hollywood”. Europe is particular was willing to dismiss big budget movies just because they had big budgets. Besides, the usually most expensive games ever made before GTAIV were the ones developed by SquareEnix. I don’t see a way this quote to be valid regardless of the angle. Budget is nothing: Duke Nukem Forever and FFXII are proof. What matters is a good design concept.

        In any case, I’m already negatively biased towards Sakurai. I’ll approach whatever he says with a ton of salt and criticism. 😉

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