GS: What is (Panzer Dragoon director) Yukio Futatsugi's involvement?
RN: Nothing. When I joined Microsoft, he was already there, making Phantom Dust. We started new 360 projects, and he was the last (original) Xbox project – so he was doing that. After finishing Phantom Dust, out of the six new projects we were working, on, five used outside developers. The only one that was internal was Lost Odyssey, and that was done someone else (other than Futatsugi). We didn't have any plans to do more than six, so Futatsugi became more of a game design consultant for those projects. He checks deliverables, and sees if they’re ok, and things like that.
He’s still doing that. I think he should start a new project, but that doesn't seem to be possible within Microsoft Japan right now.
GS: That’s a shame, because he’s always really impressed me with his work. There’s Panzer Dragoon obviously, Panzer Dragoon Saga was great. But I beat Phantom Dust too – and I don’t feel the need to beat games that often. He’s got a great style and vision.
RN: He should join AQI!
GS: Sounds good to me! Anyway, in a talk earlier, Sakaguchi mentioned that Lost Odyssey would be a mix of real-time and turn-based combat. Can you say more about that?
RN: Basically, it's turn-based, but we put some real-time flavor to it. It's more strategic than real-time action. The basic structure is turn-based - you walk around in the adventure portion, then you encounter monsters, and it comes to a battle scene. It’s not seamless – it’s adventure, then battle, then adventure, then battle. As you progress, there will be a lot of things you have to concentrate on in the battle scenes, and also you'll need to focus on timing. It's turn-based, strategic combat with some real-time features.
GS: Sounds like it’s a little bit old school still. So you're using the Unreal Engine with Lost Odyssey?
GS: Is Microsoft Japan fine with using external tools?
RN: It was hard, because it was a new platform, and Unreal Engine 3 itself was in development, so we had to deal with incomplete middleware. We actually released a Lost Odyssey demo in Japan in November, though we finished it in June of last year. Back then, the Unreal Engine was still incomplete, so we had to release something on incomplete middleware. That was hard. I think that demo was actually the first thing that was released using Unreal Engine 3; it was before Gears of War! We had to do a lot of workaround for that. Now that they've done Gears of War, the engine itself is much more stable.
GS: You probably had to remake a lot of stuff after the demo, then.
RN: Yeah. The most difficult thing was communication. Everything is in English. They have Japanese support, but it's limited. All the good stuff is happening in the newsgroup, but that's in English, and my developers were pretty much all Japanese.
GS: How important is it for your employees to know English?
RN: I think it's very important going forward. Because as I said, we chose to position ourselves as a high-end production company, so we have to be competitive in terms of technology. All the good technology comes first in the States, so we have to be in real-time for learning those technologies. To do that, you need to be able to read English. So for technology guys (it’s really important), suddenly.
If any developers working in America would like to work on games like this in Japan, we welcome them. It's good if they can speak Japanese, too, I mean they have to be bilingual in order to work with Japanese teams, but also get updated information from the States.
GS: How closely involved is Sakaguchi with the Lost Odyssey development?
RN: Pretty close. It was very close when we were starting up the project. There was a Mistwalker office - which is a really small company, so it's basically just Sakaguchi. It’s like the Sakaguchi office. It’s like three or four people in that office. So we rented a big space next to Mistwalker for about ten people. At the beginning of the project, we sent those ten people in next to Sakaguchi's office and did initial work. He was writing the story while that was happening.
Now that things are going well, he's more hands-off. We probably see him twice a month. He lives in Hawaii, so he spends half of his time in Japan and half in Hawaii. When he's in Hawaii, he writes a lot. When he's in Japan, he does more producer-oriented stuff. He's quite involved, and I think he’s coming in again now that the game's playable. He'll probably come up with a lot more comments. We try and satisfy him as much as possible. That will take place over the next few months.
GS: I’ve been hoping that, on the Square-Enix side, we’ll hear from (Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy XII original director) Yasumi Matsuno again. Maybe you should hire him!
RN: Yeah…but Sakaguchi is talking to him now, so I don’t know. He also started his own stuff.
GS: Right, but hasn’t announced anything, so it’s hard to know what he’s up to.