Inaba, CEO of Capcom's Clover Studio and creator of Steel Battalion
and Viewtiful Joe knows a bit about taking risks. Steel Battalion
was bundled with a huge, very expensive controller, and Viewtiful
Joe was essentially a 2D beat-em-up, neither of these being an obvious
choice for development in this day and age. Why did he take such risks?
Because, Inaba says, players get tired of the same old thing. It's always
going to be easiest to stick to what works - rehashes, established genres
or themes (such as sports), but this is self-destructive, he says.
is all well and good, but of course no company should rush headlong into
a design without first thinking it through. Inaba feels as though many
seemingly creative and original games are a bit too haphazardly created.
You must find the seed of inspiration in a project, and nurture it, growing
it into a large tree, or finished product.
wants to take responsibility for this step of nurturing the seed, as if
the project fails, then someone has to take the blame. That's why Inaba
says that a good producer that has nurtured a seed into a tree, must not
be afraid of lopping off branches that have gone in the wrong direction,
while simultaneously continuing to water this seed. Indeed, a good producer
will stop development entirely if he or she cannot truly envision how
the product could turn into an excellent game. Being 80 percent sure is
warns against taking on too many challenges at the same time. With Steel
Battalion, he took on new hardware (Xbox had just been released,
at the time), a new controller, new genre, and online play. Ultimately
online play had to be scrapped, as it was entirely too ambitious from
the start. Steel Battalion, a game made five years ago, wound
up breaking even. In this regard he lucked out, but he mentioned that
he would probably not attempt such a project again, with the knowledge
he has now.
several reasons why original designs can fail, and Inaba outlined a few
during his talk: underperformance of the original concept, insufficient
planning in the early development stages, hardware limitations, unmanageable
workload, and exhaustion of creators' motivation (i.e. don't make a game
with brute force). Of course, there are also some compelling reasons to
make creative or unusual projects. Inaba discussed three of these: Staff-focused,
Product-focused, and Brand-focused projects.
projects are all about educating and raising the skill level of the staff.
This is an investment in creative workers, with limited producer involvement,
since experience is the best trainer. The game outcome is not as important
as the metaphorical leveling up of the staff members, in this scenario.
Inaba says that a group of staff that made three games in three years
will be much better off than a group that made one game in three years.
Joe was just such a project, designed to increase the skill of the
game's director, Hideki Kamiya (though Kamiya was already very accomplished,
with such titles as Resident Evil 2 and Devil May Cry
already under his belt). Kamiya promised to deliver a game within 12 months,
but the game ultimately wound up taking 21 months instead. Inaba was discouraged
by this, but regained hope when he saw the VFX system in that game, which
allows time to be sped up or slowed down. This was the seed that needed
to be nurtured into a full product.
Joe, they won. The staff got trained, the budget was small, and the
game was relatively commercially successful.
Battalion was a product-focused project. It was all about creating
a quality peripheral and appropriate software to go with it. Staff growth
was secondary to this. The team was challenged to learn the new hardware
and produce an unconventional controller. The success of this would make
the next gamble possible. The game and controller were both highly acclaimed,
but very little profit was made. But that's not why it was done, Inaba
says, they did it to show what can be done in the game industry that can
be done in no other.
next project is Okami, a brand-focused project. The game is going
to be Clover Studios' first, and so it must reflect the company's new
image. It has an original visual style, and should, Inaba hopes, establish
Clover as a company for the future.
up by reminding the audience that the market will shrink when users get
tired of the norm. The videogame industry cannot thrive on sex and violence
alone, there must be something new every once in a while, or else there
will be another big game bust. As for how to recognize a good title from
a bad one, Inaba says that many people will say that developers should
look at other media. He disagrees; submitting that literature perhaps
has more to teach us.