GS: I know you really fought to get Steel Battalion through, and sort of protected the Gyakuten Saiban (Phoenix Wright) team when they were starting. How do the business people react to these sorts of original and risky ideas?
AI: The business side would usually tell me to stop, and they wanted me to shut down the team, or they’d say ‘why are you using this staff, use that staff!’ There were very few people who said ‘oh, go ahead, you can do it!’ in the case of games like Steel Battalion. Of course it was a big risk for the company, and nobody really understood what it was. But I myself believed it was interesting, and no matter what they said I just wouldn’t give it up. When it became apparent that I wouldn’t change my ways, they eased up a little. After that it started to get more fun, and I was able to finish what I wanted to do. But there were very few people to help me.
GS: With these sorts of things, how do you convince them it’s good for the company? Either from a creativity or business standpoint, especially in the case of a game like Steel Battalion where the game was expensive and few units were made.
AI: Well it’s most important for the game to be interesting. In the case of Gyakuten Saiban, which you mentioned before, I thought it was a really good concept, and I wanted lots of people to be able to play it, because I knew it would be popular and well-received. With Steel Battalion though, yeah, it was a huge risk. But I made a presentation and basically said, if we don’t do this now, we’ll never be able to put something like this out. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we wanted to be able to create something that had never been seen before. So it was kind of like rallying the troops around the idea, and getting people into the idea of doing this project that couldn’t be done by anyone else. But naturally the bookkeeping people were still saying ‘Stop!’
GS: It seemed like for a while Capcom was kind of stagnant, and there were a lot of rehashes, remakes, and just sort of normal, ok games. Suddenly though, in the last two or three years or so, Capcom became extremely strong again, like with Gyakuten Saiban, Resident Evil 4, Dead Rising and Lost Planet. Do you think there’s a particular reason why the company has been so reinvigorated?
AI: I don’t really know myself! That’s hard to say…after all, the games that came out in the last two years were made in the last five years – so I’m not sure if you’ll feel that way about games coming out in the next two years that are being made now by the Capcom of today. It’s a hard question to answer. The way we move staff around, how we structure our teams, how we manage all of that, has been really revised over the last few years at Capcom, so you may be seeing the results of that effort now in the games. It’s definitely made development easier for us.
I’m glad you feel that way about the games that are coming out now, though. I really had no idea people thought that! Capcom does seem to be looking toward the future with these sorts of restructures, but who knows how it’ll pan out.
GS: Yeah, it really does seem to me like a light bulb just switched on, and Capcom said ‘oh yeah, let’s make really good games again!’
AI: (laughs) Yeah, I think that switch may go up and down a bit!
GS: Just put some tape over it.
AI: I hope that works.
GS: Regarding Okami, I heard that the development basically started over from scratch at one point – are you happy with that? And are you happy with the public’s reactions and sales?
AI: Rather than starting over with development, it was more like it just took a long time to come together. The visual style and everything came together pretty quickly, but it took a while for everything to gel. There were a number of different paths open to us – we could wait, we could stop production, or just make a regular action RPG. I think deciding to wait, and give it the time it needed was the correct decision.
As far as the final product, I think it was successful, not only as a game, but as a product. It was interesting, and it was something new. All the work we put into it is pretty evident, and I think the director, Hideki Kamiya, feels the same way.