PlatinumGames continues to try new things with old creations, whether that’s creating a spiritual successor to “Okami” with the new DeNA mobile game, “World of Demons,” or finding new ways for “Bayonetta” to slice and dice through enemies in her third adventure with “Bayonetta 3” slated to be a Nintendo Switch exclusive.
During his talk at Reboot Develop in Croatia earlier this month, studio co-founder and executive director Atsushi Inaba got a roaring ovation when he asked if anyone in the packed room would buy the 2013 Wii U exclusive “The Wonderful 101” if it came to the Nintendo Switch. But the studio behind “Vanquish,” “MadWorld,” “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance,” and “NieR:Automata” also has two entirely new IP in development.
Inaba, best known to gamers for his work at Capcom’s Clover Studio, where he created truly original action games like “Viewtiful Joe,” “Okami” and “God Hand,” took some time at Reboot Develop to chat with Variety about his studio’s philosophy, why he’s jealous of indie game makers, and how his visit to King’s Landing (known in the real world as Dubrovnik, Croatia) could impact him creatively.
What’s it like to be here in Dubrovnik, the home of Kings Landing from “Game of Thrones”?
This is my first time in Dubrovnik. I actually do watch “Game of Thrones,” so being able to see all the area around where that’s filmed is really cool. The place itself, the location is just beautiful, so it’s been great to be able to come here. And for myself as a creator, it would be great if I can somehow use the things I see or the things I feel here in future game experiences.
As someone who travels the globe, how does going to different cultures influence the video games you make?
There’s a big difference between seeing something and feeling something, and obviously to really feel something you need to be there, so that allows you to be influenced by different cultures. That allows you to be influenced by your feelings, which are much stronger than what your eyes can possibly convey. So we always try to take into account how meeting a new culture makes you feel or how it informs, if you’re an artist, how something looks, if you’re a programmer talking to somebody about new techniques. There are lots of different ways for you to grow as a game designer, so at PlatinumGames we try to give a lot of our staff many opportunities to travel, to go to different locations so that they can be influenced in that same way, and therefore affect the sort of games that they design.
What are your thoughts about the indie video game scene that’s on display here at Reboot Develop in Croatia?
Looking at the indie scene there are a couple base feelings that I feel, and one is I really want to support them. I really want to help them in any way I possibly can because obviously there are tons of different challenges that occur as an indie developer. But on the other hand, believe it or not, I feel envious of them because there’s something about having raw creativity without any strings attached. Obviously there are financial strings, but just without having a big publisher or without having to do something big with a huge team and project management and all of that. Just to be able to just do what you want to do as a creator, that sort of unfettered freedom is amazing that they have that. And it’s something that we can’t have for a studio our size. We couldn’t do something that’s too small like that or we’d never survive. So I’m very envious.
How much creative freedom do you have at PlatinumGames given the fact that you have made an assortment of different styles of games?
The second your studio is so large you have to feed enough people, which requires relying on publisher funding to be able to survive, means that you don’t have the freedom that an indie developer would have. You are really going to have to make certain things in other IPs, certain modes that maybe make sense for the market, but aren’t necessarily something that you would want to do naturally as a creator. Those limitations are going to be on any big studio that has a lot of people they have to feed. That being said, we’re very fortunate that even though we need to rely on publishers most of the time to be able to survive as a studio, our reputation is one that’s strong enough where most of the publishers that work with us allow us a certain amount of freedom within those confines of the IP or budget or whatever that’s been decided, to do what we want to do. So of all the studios that do outsource development for publishers, we’re one of the luckier ones that can have our say a lot of the time.
The video game industry still remains very much sequel driven when it comes to IP once you have a hit. What are the challenges of creating brand new IP and bringing new ideas into the game industry?
The reality is this: They’re both related in that if you’re going to create an original game, you have to create it so that it’s so awesome that people want a sequel. If you’re not creating an original game that ultimately is so good that people want a sequel, then you’re not doing it right. So you’re actually still tied to the sequels, which are important for the business. Trying to create something that is original and new enough, but still could potentially be big enough that it could spawn expansions, sequels, future content, walking that line is always a challenge, but you have to do it if you’re going to have successful franchises in the games industry.
What do you feel defines PlatinumGames as a brand as a game studio?
It’s action games, whether we meant to be a studio that did that or not, it is what the end user thinks about when they think of PlatinumGames. So obviously it behooves us to be able to make good action games, but we’re very fortunate because those are the sort of games we just organically make. So you’re in a very happy situation where you can make the things you naturally want to make, and it’s the sort of games that the end user naturally wants to see.
How do different trends in video games — for example today more people watch people play video games today than play video games themselves through Twitch — influence you as a game maker?
Obviously we look at trends, but we don’t want the trends to inform what we make. However, if we feel that what is occurring because of that trend is something that’s good for gaming, then we certainly take interest, and that sometimes informs our creativity. To speak about people watching games more than playing them, that’s a very good example because it’s good for the gaming industry to have people enjoy content in a wide variety of ways. You don’t have to be an awesome game player to enjoy some of PlatinumGames. Just by watching them you can have a lot of fun, and the more diversity and variety of ways we can allow people to consume games, the better the larger audience we’re going to have of people who like to experience games in some shape or form. So from our perspective that’s a very good example of a trend in which it’s exciting for us to envision how can we do something that’s going to allow a large group of people to enjoy our games in a wide variety of different ways.
What excites you today about the game industry? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Right now, it’s probably esports for what it represents. And what it represents is the potential to expand the concept of gaming to an even larger audience of consumers because anybody can watch something. All you need is the motivation to want to watch it and the amount of noise, excitement, new viewers and people that will come over and experience this because they know they’re not good at playing games, but they can watch it and it gets exciting. And then there’s a wide variety of people who are going to gamble on games or follow specific teams. There are so many ways to enjoy it, other than just the base original way of playing games. It’s very exciting for what it represents for the future of gaming.
And are there particular esports that you’re a fan of?
I’m just going to say a game that’s easier for me to enjoy. I don’t like really racing games. I don’t like first-person shooters because I’m a Japanese creator. But in general, a game where you can see the back and forth, and the flow can turn on a dime so that a team that looks like they’re going to win loses and vice versa, that’s something that’s really exciting to watch when it comes to esports. So, a game like Overwatch is a perfect fit.
What do you feel is the key to creating games that succeed not only in Japan, but globally — especially in North America and Europe – considering a lot of PlatinumGames titles have found a global audience?
I’d love you to tell me that because some of our games are more successful and some are less when it comes to global hits, but I would say this, if you’re a Japanese studio and you’re looking to succeed in the West it’s about balance. It’s about not trying to make it too Japanese because you’re a Japanese studio, but also about not trying to make it too Western because you’re trying to sell to Westerners. At the end of the day, it needs to be about whether you think it’s fun or not. That’s just the basics of making games that a lot of development studios lose sight of because they’re worried about marketing data trends, etc. At the end of the day, if you love it and you think it’s interesting, that’s the best formula for potential success on a global scale as a Japanese developer more than anything else.