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King of 2D: Vanillaware's George Kamitani

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King of 2D: Vanillaware's George Kamitani

August 3, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

Can you explain your art production process from the beginning? It can be detailed if possible, because I think people would be very interested to know. For instance, concept art exists -- is it then done in Photoshop, or do you have your own type of programs you use? Or, for animation, do you use a 3D model that you map 2D sprites onto?

GK: The very basic process begins with me messing around with whatever I like, then coming up with a screen visual and building the game around that.

How does the process of creating one full animated sprite work? What is the progression?

GK: There is a proprietary character editor that we use in the studio, a package that took about a year to develop into its current state. The editor's largely based off Flash and other well-known packages, so it doesn't have a major learning curve for most people.

With KOF, the artists make a 3D model for the animation and draw art on top of it. Do you do things like that, or do you just draw it dot-by-dot from a storyboard or something like that?

GK: I take the more traditional approach like that, yes, starting with a basic rough character sheet and working from there. It's a process of gradual refinement. I create a set of basic poses for the character, standing poses and so forth, and I hand that off to the animator/designers and tell them to make it look as "cool" as possible.


Muramasa: The Demon Blade

The animation style on the larger enemies is very consistent across Vanillaware games. It does feel a bit Flash-like at times. I'm wondering if that's a conscious style you've chosen, or if it's just because of the tools you use.

GK: Certainly, part of it is because the toolset that produces the graphics is heavily inspired by Flash. Some of the enemies we create look 3D, but are actually all handmade. We call it tebineri, or hand-shaping.

Why does Vanillawave have such a commitment to stick to 2D?

GK: Well, because we like it.

It's nice that you can actually make that happen. 3D keeps advancing and getting more beautiful, but 3D still can't match high-quality 2D in terms of detail. But people are still afraid to do it, so it's nice that you can.

GK: Thank you very much. However, when you're talking about realism, that's one area that 2D couldn't hope to match 3D in.

What I've been waiting for is for someone to push 2D even further. Even now, Muramasa and KOF -- they're on the top-end of 2D games, but it seems like it's possible to get even more layers of detail and get true hi-res 2D at this point. I was wondering if you think that's possible.

GK: I would like to try and make that happen, certainly.

Do you have any current plans to move into hi-res as a company?

GK: We do. We're in the experimental stage on that right now.

What, for you, are the major difficult points of these experiments?

GK: The most difficult issue to deal with is the fact that current platforms aren't developed with 2D image generation in mind. They're geared toward automatic 3D generation, so we're coming up with ideas to figure out how to facilitate that process. They may not come to fruition immediately, though.

When you're creating hi-res 2D, it seems very high-risk, because if you decide you need to throw something away, then you've lost many months of work. If something doesn't work, you've lost a lot of time, while with 3D you can probably reuse it somewhere.

GK: Certainly. It depends on your development path, too, of course. We're definitely aware of those and other risks involved with the process, and we're always thinking about how to streamline our development to be as efficient as possible.

It seems like you have to be very clear about what you're going to do; you have to determine a plan and stick with it. It doesn't give you as much opportunity to experiment with different ideas.

GK: Indeed, you're always going to go through something of a trial-and-error process whenever you're trying to create something new. That's unavoidable. You have to balance this trial-and-error stage with actual development progress, or else you're simply throwing money down the drain. Of course, if we didn't experiment at all and just went with what we knew, our fanbase would get bored pretty quickly. We wouldn't evolve at all.


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Comments


Tom Newman
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Great interview! Keep up the 2D for sure, and hopefully we will someday soon see Vanillaware's outstanding artwork in full 1080p!

Pedro Silva
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The interview is too HD focused; that and asking for extras for it to boot. Why not asking for what we have at hand? it's a Wii game and if they have extra bosses then I'd like to see them on the Wii version rather than having a "directors cut" on a HD platform who nukes what I already bought.

Pedro Silva
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you guys fail to mention Wiiware as a viable online service for 2D games and ask non-stop for HD versions of the games they're developing. It's like you load the Wii as a platform.



Me? I want more games like Muramasa on my Wii, thank you. And hence why journalism on Gamasutra is getting ridiculous from what I expect from you guys. Journalism is not feeding your opinion through their throats, any of us can do that... it's asking questions everyone wants asked... Not just PS3/X360 owners/fans, but also Wii owners, which you totally ignored.



Second rate gaming journalism, I say.

brandon sheffield
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Pedro - usually I wouldn't respond, but I feel like taking the flame bait today. Journalism to me is more about rooting out the information, which doesn't necessarily mean asking obvious questions. Would you have known about the extra bosses or cut story if not for this interview? Would you have known that the art is already done at a higher resolution and downscaled? Neither would most people, and the point is to get that information out there. 480p will not always be the standard, so it makes sense to ask about the future.



I don't care about platforms. I care about getting the most information out of a subject possible, especially the information they haven't thought to reveal yet. To me, that's journalism. Focusing on one game, or one platform, or catering to people who want more games on one platform or another would be pandering to an audience. If you want that sort of interview, this is probably not the place for it.

Pedro Silva
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Thing is, it isn't flamebait, it's my opinion. Thanks for answering to it though, I really appreciate it.



The whole interview comes across to me as someone trying to forking/forcing some kind of Muramasa conversion or confirmation for it after the Wii build releases. But you have to understand that, "if" you achieved that, multiplatform owners would now have a excuse not to buy the Wii version for the game. That's what's at stake now.





One user on another board said this:



"Seems the interviewer was trying his hardest to get a 360/PS3 port confirmation, most likely so people can avoid the English Wii game. So much bias in this industry."



And I actually agree with it and can't convey it much better. I can believe it wasn't intentional, but it is still how it comes across. As a Wii owner I must say I actually can say that we must be becoming weary of the whole gaming journalism entity as a whole (which is something Gaming Journalists have to be weary of). When there's a good coming we hear the "why on wii? do you know it's a casual platform for grannies, don't you?" which is a question with the opinion of the interviewer already implied... and that opinion is that they clearly don't want good games, or that good game in specific to be on it.



You didn't do that, but just the fact I'm used to stuff like that now, means my patience for the whole way the interviews are done is decreased; not just me though, otherwise I wouldn't be quoting what other users said in the matter. And I apologize for that "weariness" but it's still there and I still have the opinion that the interview was conducted too much towards the HD. I mean not once it goes over the Wii as a platform, if they're gonna develop further games for it or not, and yet... their most recent game is for it; it just feels too cold towards it.



You say you don't "pander" audiences, but I can't help but feel PS3/Xbox were the ones pandered in this interview, because I don't think it was "impartial" in the way it was driven. Sorry, that's my opinion; which from the beggining wasn't that questions towards HD consoles shouldn't have been done... but that the interview was overly geared towards it.



Again, I appreciate the answer, and hope I have clarified my opinion towards the matter.

Amir Sharar
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2D HD visuals are the brand new frontier that has yet to be fully explored so I can completely understand why the interviewer was excited in asking about Vanillaware's thoughts on the subject.



I'd argue that the interviewer is a fan of 2D gaming, rather than HD consoles, and would like to see it progress rather than stagnate. The fact is the Wii as a hardware platform does little to progress 2D gaming. The Wii's main strength is it's revolutionary control scheme, something that can positively impact 2D games but I'd argue most 2D fans are quite fine with traditional controller based control schemes. So if there was any pandering to, it was done to hardcore 2D gaming fans rather than fans of any particular console.



Already I'm seeing an XNA game made by only one person that is looking nearly as good as Vanillaware's efforts on the Wii. Much of this has to do with the hardware abilities. So it would be very exciting to see a large developer (in comparison to a one-person dev team) competent in 2D titles take a crack at next gen hardware.

Kevin Campbell
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This saddens me a little. Why are Japanese developers so afraid of doing things different? (That's a rhetorical question.)



Castle Crashers, Braid and Aquaria are all indie games made by less people sold independently and probably made just as much money overall if not more. Until Japanese developers adapt to the way games are made and sold now and in the future they will always be behind the US.

Ed Alexander
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Well, that may be why they've fallen behind Western developers. Square seems to think that buying Western developers will help them tap further into the Western market (which is faring better than the Japanese market) but in reality, they could probably import Western developers to Japan and let them make Western games from there. I know I'd go! ;) Just too much traditional business same-as-it-ever-was.



The gamer inside me is calling you out as a Nintendo fanboi, Pedro.



I'm not sure where the "Wii attacks" came from. I certainly didn't take it that way. I'm not sure anyone else who has commented has seen it, either.



Personally, I'm kinda glad it was asked about HD assets, I've been curious as to what is on the horizon for sprite work. I mean, I absolutely adored sprites from back in the 16bit era, but as someone who wants to see the old school style games make a return true to form, I'm curious how much further they can go with how far technology has advanced since 1995. I really, truly support Vanillaware's quest to fight the good fight. Making 2D games has been a crusade I really want to fight for.



And whether or not Muramasa is coming out on the PSN is a question I valued as well. I now know I can stop holding my breath. A shame, though, because I will never own a Wii but I actually have interest in owning this (Wii) game. Oh well, c`est la vie. Can't always have your cake and eat it too. Platform exclusives have always been a pillar of the console wars, so that's just the way it is sometimes.



This interview definitely did not coming off as attacking the Wii, though. Not sure why you thought it did...

Pedro Silva
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I didn't say it attacked it, I said it ignored it, which it did, specially considering their very last game and the game they are supposed to be hyping... it's a Wii title.



Regarding the game, they only ask repeatedly what's the chances of it getting ported and whether their next games will be in the so called HD platforms (I say so called becayse I still remember 640x480 being high resolution), and after the developer says "well, perhaps" you get the feeling the interviewer is saying "THANK GOD" which, I repeat, is not impartial.



Like said above, that's my opinion, but I really don't think they've gone the right way about it, seemed like the interviewer was trying to force a port into existing HD platforms instead of focusing on the game, asking it as a off-question in one thing, another completly different is that this was a interview focused on that. I mean, Odin Sphere was already done with HD resolution down to the assets, he could have asked "Is there any chance down the road you'll get Odin Sphere and Muramasa re-compiled in HD resolution" or something, no, the interviewer went straight for XBLA as a platform and regarding a Wii game that is not even out in english already. And when such confirmation, if it ever happens... would effectively kill the product sales for those who have multiplatform.



In short, he was doing a diservice for the game itself, as well for the platform it is on.



Sometimes "silence" is worse than dissing something, I think.

Steven Birkes
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I really wish they would port their titles to other platforms. I don't have and really don't want a Wii at this time, but I would love to play Muramasa. I am a huge fan of 2D game-play and am happy to see it making a small resurgence on the console in games like this and Shadow Complex.

John Bliton
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I agree with Pedro's sentiment, though my biggest qualms are different than his. I can't figure out why anyone would ask the man who wrote Odin Sphere a half-dozen questions about hi res and 0 about writing. Certainly, it was appropriate to ask about HD, but 6 times? I think Mr Sheffield made an effort to get a view of Kamitani's creative process, but I wish he had put as much effort into that as he did into asking about resolution.



It might just be that I can't relate very well to the attraction to HD graphics- I've always thought that visual beauty in games is 70% animation, 20% atmosphere and 10% everything else. Obviously such numbers are inherently silly, but I think they express my point of view. Think of knytt to see the importance of atmosphere despite everything else. Think of Shadow of the Colossus to see the primacy of animation- did anyone really care about how many Colossus hairs they could see as they watched the hero lose balance and roll around so naturally? For related reasons, Madden games can only be pretty in screenshots, I think.



Amir- the idea that any hardware does not "progress" 2D gaming is confusing to me, because I think that the quantitative improvement of graphics that stronger hardware enables is kind of a puny part of progress in game design at large. The qualitative improvement of graphics, like what Vanillaware did in Odin Sphere, strike me as more important but still a small fraction of game design as a whole. If your argument is about ease of distribution and the opening of the indie market as opposed to processing power, then I think it makes a little more sense.

I'm also confused about why anyone would not want a Wii- to not want to pay for it is one thing, but to not want it period is a pretty clear sign of bias, I think.



I really appreciate being able to read the interview, though- as Brandon mentioned, there is definitely some great information that he got from Kamitani. "Second-rate journalism" is way too strong, especially in light of what is considered acceptable by the game journalism industry at large.

Tom Newman
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I would have asked more HD questions... Anyone who has a Wii hooked up to a HDTV would know why.

Billy Bissette
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Should the question about the leap from 480 to 720p really be praising KOF? Going by 1280x720 unfiltered screenshots of KOF XII, while the backgrounds are at the displayed resolution, the character sprites (the bulk of the work) look to be scaled upwards 2 to 3 times.



As for anti-Wii bias on the part of the interviewer, to me it reads more like the interviewer wants 2D artwork in the HD era, and finds the Wii's max 480p resolution to be too little for that cause. You can read the result as either legitimate questions of "What about 'real' hi-res?" or as anti-Wii "What about 'real' hi-res?"

Emmanuel Henne
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This is a very interesting article.I like Vanillaware and their attitude towards the business.


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