4. Going full-bore 2D.
Modern settings are rare for Square Enix titles, so we had to make sure our art style would stand out from other titles -- and to keep the entire game in 2D.
Most games go for the 3D approach, but we felt we couldn't fully express ourselves on the DS if we went the polygonal route. 2D graphics can really "pop" on the DS's small screen, and we wanted to have lots of wildly shifting and morphing monsters. The game's "Noise" creatures have colorful tattoos that dynamically change shape and attack the player.
We also made an effort to make the backgrounds as faithful to the real city as possible. The entire staff went on location to Shibuya and walked its streets constantly, taking note of interesting areas where battles could go down, and what specific landmarks to highlight.
Background artists spent extensive time on location, making sure not just to trace what was there, but more actively capture the overall look and style of the city. (See accompanying photolog, below.)
5. Working closely with our middleware provider to cram a full vocal soundtrack into the game.
From the very beginning, we wanted to include a variety of musical genres that fit the mood of walking around Shibuya. Given the limitations of DS game cards, we initially hadn't even thought of using vocal tracks, but we wound up implementing CRI's Kyuseishu Sound Streamer.
This middleware had only been used for voice compression in the past, and this was the first time anyone had used it for music. We were blown away when we heard the first vocal track coming out of the DS, and realized we'd be able to include a full digital soundtrack.
We removed the pre-rendered movies and replaced them with Flash-style sequences, which freed up cartridge space to include over 30 songs. In the end, about 1/4th of the game ROM consists of compressed music data. This was an example of how trying something new really paid off.
1. Time management and development culture clash.
The game was developed by Square Enix in Tokyo and Jupiter in Kyoto. While we originally commissioned Jupiter as the developer, we wound up with more creative crossover than we thought.
The Square-side directors got involved in the gameplay design elements, while Jupiter went beyond the call of duty and assisted with the game planning. The cooperative endeavor resulted in a fantastic product, but it came at a price.
Square and Jupiter have very different development cultures, but it took us a while to realize it. We assumed all companies' development processes were the same -- that our way was the standard. Once we met up and reached a consensus on how to do things, work proceeded much more smoothly.
Geographically, we were very distant as well -- it takes about two hours to get between Tokyo and Kyoto via bullet train. It was critical that we met in person, but this ended up costing us time, and it hurt the schedule at every step.
We had weekly telephone conferences, but it was hard for us to "read" each other over the line. Sadly, we were unable to do video conferencing, which I believe would have resulted in a more open, jam-session sort of feel.
2. Story creation scheduling.
Even though we were happy with how the story turned out, the process started going smoothly only halfway through the project. When we started, we were plagued by confused direction and constant rewrites by the scenario staff.
Changing plot elements mid-project is risky business, and we were making tweaks to the scenario all the way up until just before master submission!
We were able to pull it off because the game didn't contain a lot of voice -- if it had been voice-heavy, we would have had to lock down the scenario far earlier.
Although it's obvious that the scenario should be put together early on in the development process, it also takes time to create something that's truly interesting. Maintaining this balance is extremely important.