Sega of America has a four-game publishing deal with PlatinumGames, the rebranded Seeds Studio comprised of acclaimed Japanese development veterans with credits like Okami and Viewtiful Joe to their names. And Sega of America president Simon Jeffery has said he'd like the upcoming titles, which include Madworld and Bayonetta, to be as popular in the West as the developers' previous work with Clover Studios should have been.
But where Okami, for example, has received acclaim from critics and fans alike, its sales performance ended up below expectations. Part of the challenge, says PlatinumGames head Atsushi Inaba, is balancing the needs of a Western audience against the strengths -- and perceived weaknesses, presently -- in Japanese development.
Inaba talks to Gamasutra about how things can be different for the new studio, and where he feels Japanese development in general could use a little Western influence.
How are you working to meet the expectations of a Western audience?
Atsushi Inaba: We've always tried to create games that are sold and will be popular all over the world -- globally, and not just in Japan -- so that stance will not change. At this time, we're working with Sega and Sega West members, and they are working hard with us to establish our titles and brands in the West, and we are working very well together. So, we have a very good relationship right now.
Last time we spoke, you mentioned that you feel Japanese creators are often lacking in creative vision; why do you feel that that is?
AI: Last time when we spoke, I think there was maybe a misunderstanding! I didn't mean to say that the current Japanese creators lack in vision; I just wanted to say that Japan was really the gaming market that was spirited and led the world.
Now it is the West that really leads the market and is spirited, so I want the Japanese market to re-energize themselves, and again lead the gaming market. That's what I meant. And what I want Japanese creators to realize now is that they are now following the lead of the U.S. creators, and that we need to get to and then surpass those creators, with innovative games that sell in the West as well.
Has it been difficult finding next-gen capable programmers in Japan? Specifically, in Osaka right now, for a game like Bayonetta?
AI: The current Bayonetta team has many, many great developers, but even then, Bayonetta is a very difficult game to develop, and if there are very capable developers and programmers in the West it would be great if they could come on board.
There's a lot of talk about focus testing to refine gameplay in the West. How much focus testing is actually done in Japan these days, and are you guys doing that as well?
AI: I think it depends on the title, or the producer. When you create an original IP, if you do too much testing at the concept stage, then you don't get the creator's originality out; so that's something that, in PlatinumGames especially, we do internally with our own creators.
But when we've established that concept, and actually go into the game development, of course we do focus tests, and we would like to do that in each territory, to keep fine-tuning the game so that it is appealing to the gamers.
In the past, in the era that you were talking about, when Japan was really leading the market, the strengths there were iconic characters and very precise gameplay; what do you think will be the elements that will bring Japan back to the top of the heap going forward?
AI: In Japan, just as a culture, we are very detail-oriented, and customer service-oriented, so it is natural that we develop games that are very detailed, and very precise. But I believe that Japan may not have ever been the most creative group.
In the West, prior to when Japan was leading, they made very aggressively innovative and great games, which they may not have been ready for, so, as a result, their games may not have been very good in quality, but they are very creative, and very fun.
Japan had always been good at taking advantage of what was available within the technology of the consoles that were available then, and worked best within the restrictions, while the West had always been great at going beyond what was available to them. So, going forward, I believe that Japan needs to be more creative, and go beyond what is given.