Elite Beat Agents was for Europe and North America, and the Ouendan series is for Japan. They're the same game, essentially, but with very different graphics and song choices. There are very few games that perform globally. You look at what Capcom's doing right now -- Devil May Cry is a global title, but Lost Planet is very obviously a Western-targeted title, even though it's developed in Japan. This also goes with Western developers wanting to sell their games in Japan: do you think that people are going to have to radically change a game's face to appeal globally?
KY: Well, I think it really depends on the game. I think the more that you take time to build a very detailed universe, you think -- there might be some things that you need to do. On the same token, you have to think that... for example, movies. Western movies come to Japan all the time. They're major hits, and all they do is subtitle them. I think going out, as we get away from the deficiencies of the boxes that we're confined to, and we go to more mainstream ways of telling our stories, I think that'll be less and less of a problem. Just going back to the community thing -- that'll be something that I think will start being very universal. Like with our titles -- a lot of people wanted to play the Japanese songs. On the same token, Elite Beat Agents actually did pretty well in Japan, because they sell Elite Beat Agents in some mainstream stores.
Yeah, I've seen it in [hardcore-beloved Tokyo district] Akihabara.
KY: Like in Sofmap.
They have it at Sofmap? [Note: Sofmap
is a large electronics chain, akin to Best Buy in the U.S.]
KY: They have it in Sofmap all over Japan. If you go to Sofmap, you can buy EBA no problem. There's definitely a market for that. But once you have a community aspect in your game, it starts to become international, by the fact that you're already networked, and for us, once we're networked, a lot of the restrictions that we would have had are really kind of blown away. For example, we wouldn't be restricted on song selection, or even the country of the songs that they originated from. It's just a lot of things that we can take out.
I think with
Ouendan, many of the songs weren't
suited to the American mass market, but
on the other hand, you had the opening theme song from
Fullmetal Alchemist, which is on TV here. They
broadcast it with the same Japanese L'Arc-en-Ciel song in the U.S.,
and it developed an actual fanbase that probably crosses over well with
the game's fans. So it's like these decisions get murkier.
KY: They do, they do. Well, what is the network all about? It's all about choice, right? It's all about trying to cater to very specific needs in a more powerful way. So that's why I keep referring to the fact that our games have to become more service-oriented in the end, because we're telling our stories, but at the same time, we are confined to a box, and we expect the user to play our performance from these boxes. We have to give them some type of an outlet.
If you go to a movie theater, the theater
is your outlet. You have a lot of people there, and you already know
that you're a part of a community -- the community that's watching that
movie. With games, it's a lot harder to do that, unless you're doing
some outside committees or groups or whatever to talk about their experiences
with the games. I think more and more the integration above that will
really help the internationalization of titles that we do, and it just
happens to help a lot of things, and a lot of problems and stuff. Actually,
for me, personally, as a developer, I think going out in the future,
we'll have less problems, because we can take advantage.
At GDC, there is an increasing number of Japanese developers speaking, and Japanese attendees. Do you feel like things are globalizing more for the Japanese community? Is it just a reaction to the downturn in the Japanese domestic market?
KY: That's a very difficult question. I don't really know the answer to that. My feelings, first of all, are that we realize in Japan that a lot of the technology that we build our games off of originated either from the United States or Europe. There are very few things that are really created from scratch in terms of technology in Japan. So, in order to create a viable next-gen title, there are some things you can't ignore. I think definitely there is a reaction to that.
There needs to be more insight from a technical vantage, and just more of a game design sampling, I think. I know that Western developers are interested in Japanese thinking in terms of game design, so that's why I think a lot of game designers are called to GDC this year, including myself. I think it's really several things, but those two are probably the major reasons, I think. Hopefully, that'll continue to grow and Japanese developers come to the States or Europe more to gain information that we wouldn't be able to gain just being in Japan.
We did an interview with Ray Nakazato. He works for FeelPlus. They're doing Lost Odyssey. He said that the one problem they're struggling with is that much good info from the Unreal Engine is discussed by the users on the Unreal Engine forums and mailing list.
KY: In English.
By developers, in English. What does that mean, for you as a developer? Not that you're using Unreal Engine necessarily, but you've got to stay abreast of technology. What does that mean for you guys?
KY: Well, I think that you can't expect
all of the information to come out from the source. The great thing
about coming to the U.S. is that developers talk to each other. There's
a lot of good parallel information exchange that can happen over here
that usually doesn't happen at all in Japan. The developers, again,
as you know, are very closed there. So yeah, this willingness to share
information amongst developers, and I think just a lack of fear -- because
a lot of times, people don't want to ask the wrong question in Japan,
you know? But over here, it doesn't matter. You might ask the wrong
question, but you might not, so people keep asking, and it'll get answered.
I think if anything, that requires
support. [Speaking to other developers is] really the main venue for
getting a lot of information, because a lot of times, the source doesn't
understand what [it is that] you don't know. So unless you ask those
questions, they go, "Oh, is that what you don't understand?"
I think that's one of the key reasons why tools in general tend to be
able to grow in the United States, where in Japan, tools don't really
have the way to make it, because there's a lack of support and a lack
of developers going in and saying, "Hey, I don't understand this,"
or whatever. It's getting the developers of that software to think about
what they need to do to better support their users.
an example, Okami -- the Capcom and Clover Studio game -- definitely
got more attention in the U.S., and I think part of that is because
of its Japanese aesthetic. It almost feels like an advantage,
here. There's a certain interest now in
this kind of an exoticism; people are really into that sort of stuff.
Western developers can't credibly do that stuff. Do you think that's
an advantage for Japanese developers moving forward?
KY: Obviously it is an advantage, but to what extent in terms of market value, is a different thing. If Okami sold like millions of copies, I could say that we have a great advantage, but again, if we're only catering to Japanophiles or whatever, that's one thing. We have the same thing with Ouendan -- people that are interested in Japan kind of like that "Oooh," exotic Oriental kind of, "Hey, that's cool."
I think the reason why it's interesting is the reason why it's not mainstream. I would've wanted to take advantage of that, but then that would lessen the exoticism of it, which is why it's kind of cool to begin with. Especially with titles like Okami or Ouendan or whatever, I think it's important to just really drive it hard, and let the people make a judgment call on that. As to whether it's an advantage for us, it's an advantage in the fact that it's something that we can present that's culturally very close to us, so we can present a lot of the details and have those details come out in a presentation that would not come out otherwise.