GS: Do the American games on PC sell for as much as Japanese games?
RN: Way more than that. Diablo sold 200,000.
GS: Oh, I mean price-wise. I know that when (Ys series creator) Falcom comes out with a new game it's always around 9,800 yen or so.
RN: No (they don’t sell for as much). The reason is that it's a gray market, so Japanese PC gamers import games from the States. Japanese versions would have to be comparable in price to other Japan-developed PC games. So it’s much cheaper to just import.
GS: It seems like there's more technological and creative innovation coming from the West right now than Japan, which is mainly focused on doing a lot of sequels now. It’s sort of the reverse of the old days. This could be because Western developers talk to each other more, and share ideas and techniques. What do you think about that?
RN: I think you're right. As I said I’m worried about technology, Japan is already quite behind, and will be more behind. A lot of good technology is coming from the States. You have this kind of event (GDC). I was the founding member of CEDEC (Japanese development conference put on by CESA, which is akin to the ESA in the U.S.), and I wanted to make it the GDC of Japan, but CESA saw it differently. So it became CEDEC. It’s modeled after GDC, but it's very different.
Japanese people are not good at speaking. They are afraid of disclosing things, so all the sessions are very vague and generic, and all are sponsored sessions, or academic. I think Japanese industry people want to hear a lot of stuff from people who are actually making games, but they don't speak much, so all they hear is the academia or sponsored messages. It's not working that well. You have a very good culture here (at GDC).
GS: This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, because when I was growing up, all of the best console games, for me, were done in Japan. There was this real creative energy. Now it feels like that’s changed. It seems like Japanese developers are so insulated, and isolated from each other, and aren't able to talk. I was speculating this is why they are leaving for other developers, so that they can have more open dialogue.
RN: Yeah. We do talk a lot though. The phone call I just got was from the president of Q Entertainment, Shuji Utsumi. I talk to a lot of developers doing the same genre (as Lost Odyssey). Microsoft is doing Infinite Undiscovery with Tri-Ace, and I talk to Tri-Ace a lot. We even talk about sharing technologies, tools, and even resources because it's a big project. I have a lot of resources right now, but now the needs of the resources are going down as we finish Lost Odyssey. Now that Tri-Ace ramping up people, we can lend some people to Tri-Ace or vice-versa.
GS: It seems like a serious problem that needs to be addressed. And I do think a magazine like Game Developer should be published in Japan.
RN: Yes, definitely. But you have a digital version now, so that would be pretty easy. I mean all you have to do is translate it, right? You just need a good translator.
GS: And good distribution. But that aside, how has work been going on Lost Odyssey?
RN: It's going really well. There were some troubles, but it's all fixed now, and it's going very well. We're finishing up the content-side. The biggest task is content creation for that kind of game. And it’s almost done - we're satisfied with the result, and it's going to come out this year. We have a few more months, so we still have time to polish things.
GS: What is your direct involvement?
RN: I run the company, and we have director Daisuke Fukugawa from Square Enix. He worked on Legend of Mana. We also have production managers to do content production. In terms of what they’re making, I am kind of hands-off. I try not to say much about what they are making, so all I am doing now is project management. They tend to add more and more stuff. It's fine if they feel it’s important, but at the same time, if it really is important, they have to think of ways to cut out things that are less important and lower priority. Those kinds of things. I feel like I'm still educating the staff. It's 120 people, so a lot of things happen.
GS: Do you have any examples of things you needed to cut?
RN: We had 400 levels we had to make, so some had to be cut to make others better. Characters are fine. We've got about 300 characters. There's a little more than seven hours of real-time cutscenes. We determine priority: there are A Cutscenes, B Cutscenes, and C Cutscenes. There were too many A Cutscenes - the ones where we make them really good. We had to reduce the number of A Cutscenes and make more B Cutscenes.
GS: Are they all real-time?
RN: Out of those seven hours, one hour is prerendered, and six hours are real-time. They don't really look different, though, it’s almost the same. The prerendered scenes are for better lighting and for more visual effects like explosions or when a tower falls down. We needed prerendering for those scenes, but characters look almost the same.
GS: I didn't know that it was level-based, or did you mean scenarios?
RN: We had about 400 locations, I mean.
GS: How long has it been in actual production development?
RN: Sakaguchi started discussions in late 2003, but actual production started in early 2004. Over three years ago.
GS: That was well before the technology was ready.