I went to E3 and it seemed like every game was a shooter. Does that concern you, or interest you?
TI: I'm not worried, no. [Itagaki removes his sunglasses and leans forward.] Do I look worried?
Oh, no, I can tell that. But not just in terms of competition; do you think it's good that so many games are all the same? Does it disappoint you?
TI: Well, games are all kind of the same anyway. It's just a matter of enjoying them. I don't know, it was the same deal when I was making fighters, and when I was making hack 'n-slash games. So it doesn't really matter to me.
My philosophy, or my passion, is to get to the top three in whatever I'm trying to tackle, and really, having a successful, high-selling game is a great thing to me. That's my personal preference. From an industry standpoint, of course, more variety would always be a good thing. Not everyone likes violence, after all.
Meanwhile, social games from companies like GREE are taking off. What do you think of that?
TI: Well, THQ works in a lot of markets as well -- home consoles, portable systems, phone games, social stuff. Right now social gaming, of course, is a big market, especially in Japan, and one of the reasons is that home consoles aren't selling as they used to.
Some console developers have a grudge against social games, but in the end, it's all play. Besides, social games can have a crossover effect -- people get into them, then move on to other types of gaming. That's a vital thing. There are lots of other games, after all, like mahjong, or hanafuda, or dice, or backgammon... those are the ones I like, anyway.
That's what I would have expected from you.
TI: So it's not a matter of this is better than that. It all comes down to user preference.
Have you played social games much?
TI: Of course.
For fun or for research?
TI: Both. The "research" part of that didn't last for long. (laughs)
What do you think of the games you played, as games?
TI: Maybe it's a reflection of my personality, but when I play social games, I have a tendency to become leader of the group. That social aspect, even in the chatting, is fun -- like, when I log in, lots of other people seem to as well, and the same deal when I log off.
I spoke to Kobayashi, from DeNA. When he described how they view gameplay, it sounded almost like gambling, to an extent, since the player gets a chance to win something instead of getting the actual thing. There's that luck element. They try to control that.
TI: I don't think anybody knows more about gambling than I do. With gambling, the simpler it is, the better. No matter what, there's an element of luck involved; the fun comes in what you're allowed to do, in terms of techniques or your own intelligence, to mitigate that luck factor. So I haven't met Kobayashi before, but when you talk about "controlling" that luck factor, is that like the company maybe upping it up a bit when the game gets boring, that kind of thing?
I believe so.
TI: In essence, then, it's really the opposite of gambling. In fact, it's how you make money.
Those games are obviously very simple, but games like you enjoy making have both skill and luck elements. Can you talk about the balance there?
TI: That's a bit of a difficult question. If you devote yourself entirely to realism, then, for example, a battlefield in real life really comes down to luck, a lot of the time. This is entertainment, though, so like I talked about before, you have to make it so the player can use his skills to reduce the luck factor. It's different from real war, and it allows the player to exercise his skills to win something.
I know you don't like looking to other games for inspiration, but do you look at players?
TI: Well, sure, since they're the target of the games -- the gender, the age group, and so on. If I come up with what I think is a really good control scheme and it turns out that nobody can figure out how it works, then naturally I'm obliged to change it.
U.S. companies do a lot of focus and usability testing with players during the development period. Is that something you find interesting?
TI: Certainly. When we were making Ninja Gaiden, we had a psychologist who worked for Microsoft play the game and give us his impressions about how the game unfolded. The feedback he gave us was really surprisingly helpful. We were able to get data from hundreds, or even thousands, of people, documenting where they got stuck in the game and so forth.
With Ninja Gaiden II, we were in the midst of that lawsuit, and there were a lot of distractions on my end during that period, so I'll freely admit that the gameplay isn't as well-balanced as it could have been. So if you're wondering why the balance is off despite all that testing, there is that. (laughs)
We still have a while to go before release, and so there's a lot of work left to do. We were able to put out some media here, though, and the whole studio is really enjoying the work they're doing, both on our end as well as THQ, so I hope people are looking forward to it.