Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
July 28, 2014
arrowPress Releases
July 28, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Team Ninja's Hayashi: Japanese developers 'desperate to stay alive'
Team Ninja's Hayashi: Japanese developers 'desperate to stay alive'
June 6, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

June 6, 2012 | By Christian Nutt
Comments
    30 comments
More:



As compared to the earlier games in the series, Ninja Gaiden III was a critical flop. It currently rests at an uncomfortable 58 out of 100 on Metacritic -- a topic Gamasutra previously explored.

What went wrong? "It seems like we made a Japanese hamburger for the West," Yosuke Hayashi, head of Team Ninja, told Gamasutra during an interview this morning.

"I feel like maybe, as a Japanese developer, we need to make good Japanese food... That's what people are wanting from a Japanese developer. What we made, it's an okay burger, but it may not be what people are wanting."

He knows that in the future, he has to change things -- and he's well aware, also, that the industry has changed dramatically since he got his start at the Dead or Alive developer. He's showing the latest iteration of that franchise, as well as the Wii U version of Ninja Gaiden III, at E3 this week.

Is there a future for Team Ninja? "Looking at the conferences, there weren't very many Japanese games that were talked about, or dealt with at the conferences. But maybe if the industry is going for that Hollywood blockbuster direction, we can offer something that's different," he said.

"And maybe it doesn't get picked up by that, because that's Hollywood, but we can still offer solid entertainment, and make sure that it reaches the people that are looking for that solid entertainment."

In his view, the state of the Japanese development community has become "desperate," with companies struggling to compete.

"All Japanese developers are right now treading water, and doing everything they can just to basically stay above water," he said.

But there might be a silver lining to this cloud, he mused. "We feel that actually, you're going to get an answer coming from that, because everybody is so desperate to stay there and stay alive that you're going to get answers for how to move forward and how to make things work in the future. That's the state the Japanese industry is in right now."

The full interview with Hayashi, in which he discusses Ninja Gaiden III, Dead or Alive 5, and the state of the studio, will be forthcoming on Gamasutra.

For more reports from E3 2012, be sure to check out Gamasutra's live coverage.


Related Jobs

University of Oklahoma - Norman
University of Oklahoma - Norman — Norman, Oklahoma, United States
[07.28.14]

Game Art Director
Integrated Military
Integrated Military — Remote Work Possible, Florida, United States
[07.27.14]

Software Engineer
Cloud Imperium Games
Cloud Imperium Games — Austin, Texas, United States
[07.25.14]

DevOps Engineer
Cloud Imperium Games
Cloud Imperium Games — Austin, Texas, United States
[07.25.14]

Animation Programmer










Comments


Simon Ludgate
profile image
"It currently rests at an uncomfortable 58 out of 100 on Metacritic despite being , a topic Gamasutra previously explored."

I think there's a word missing here... :)

Lets play: guess the word!

Despite being..... NuttTastic!

Eric McVinney
profile image
Ah ha! I see what you did there ಠ_ಠ

Christian Nutt
profile image
Yikes. The missing word is "Oh God I'm At E3 Help Me". I'll fix it.

Simon Ludgate
profile image
I'm so glad to be enjoying E3 from the comfort of my living room in this big, huge, comfy chair... aaahhh...

Have a good time out there Christian :)

Camilo R
profile image
The NG series was always about solid combat mechanics and challenging relentless action. With the new one, I don't see how they tried to 'westernize' it, given they focused more on story (which western games are not generally known for) rather than gameplay.

Cordero W
profile image
Don't worry. American devs are having the same issue.

Joe Zachery
profile image
Japanese developers 'desperate to stay alive' I love when they try to paint this huge picture. No your desperate to stay alive. Last time I checked Nintendo is and will always be a Japanese Developer, and they are don't quite well. Capcom to a degree is well, and Konami is in business with the power of 2 franchises. Make better games, and stop following the current trends.

Eric McVinney
profile image
IMO, one of the few Japanese devs that are "thinking outside the box" would be Platinum Games. Max Anarchy looks like it will be going under the radar, but hopefully a cult classic.

Cary Chichester
profile image
For me, Ninja Gaiden III was unbearable. I lasted about 4 hours through the campaign before I gave up on it. It wasn't like they made a completely Western game, rather they tried to have it be Ninja Gaiden while shoving Western game elements in there. Using the food analogy, I didn't feel like they made a bad hamburger, rather Ninja Gaiden is like ramen that they tried to Westernize by adding buns, pickles, mustard, ketchup, and cheese to it. What they ended up with didn't make me think that they're bad at making hamburgers, but that they're just bad chefs period.

Ryan Marshall
profile image
I never played the game, so maybe it's one of those cases where you just had to be there, but could you please explain why you feel the way you do? I keep hearing this kind of thing over and over, but nobody goes into detail. I don't know what it means for a game to "feel Japanese" or to be "made for the West." Just a few examples would aid immeasurably in helping me to understand this phenomenon.

Cary Chichester
profile image
Now, a lot of these missteps can be seen as trends that the entire industry is following, and not just inventions from Western studios.

Story: This one is definitely for Westerners. Rather than fighting ninjas or demons, you're fighting an army of European terrorists, at least up to the point I quit. Thankfully nobody really cares about the narrative for Ninja Gaiden so it didn't have a huge impact.

Difficulty: It felt far too easy. First consider that rather than have an arsenal of awesome weapons, you now really only use your sword, kunai, and bow, which I believe was meant to simplify combat so that you don't have to ever equip anything. You also only have one magic spell that will completely heal you when used. I could cut through enemies by just spamming the same combo repeatedly -- I found that most deaths came from playing the game like the older Ninja Gaidens, so I ended up dodging and blocking in a game that really only needed hack-n-slash spamming. I couldn't believe that it was this easy, especially since I was playing on Hard.

Hollywood Blockbuster: As Hayashi mentioned in his comments, this is what they were going for. One aspect of this are the cinematic finishing moves that reminded me a bit of God of War. Use a strong attack near a weakened enemy -- which is the fastest way to kill them -- and you perform a cinematic finishing move that looks great in a trailer, but gets so repetitive when you do it on every single enemy for several hours straight. The boss fights are also heavily scripted, you weaken it and then perform the series of QTEs. There are quite a bit of QTEs in the game to give the Hollywood feel, but because there are so many they just end up cheapening the experience.

There's also the obligatory multiplayer that is ultimately forgettable, stealth sequences which are short and linear, and kunai climbing which is a boring method of extending play time in levels. So like I said, not all of the aforementioned elements are just Western traits, but they often appear enough in Western games to be considered as such.

Blackjack Goren
profile image
@Chris Chichester

Your analogy of the awkward blend of East and West found in Ninja Gaiden 3 is spot on. The game is predictably at its best when, for one day, Ryu returns to Hayabusa Village to fight ninja and demons, away from any attempts at market reaching.

However, I need to make a point on difficulty, especially since you said you only lasted four hours in the game:

In hard, the game becomes progressively more difficult as the player advances. It will definitely test your patience as time goes on. The soldiers you encounter in Day 1 are the easiest in the game, as they are easy to chain Steel-On-Bone kills (one-hit kills), but the majority of the other enemies can't be beaten by simply mashing the attack buttons carelessly, and the player is often put in seemingly cheap situations that he needs to overcome after multiple deaths and improved skill. Ultimate Ninja is a nightmare of difficulty.

As for QTEs, those aren't quick-time events, but merely optional button prompts in time-forgiving events. They serve to teach the player that under similar conditions, he needs to press or hold certain buttons. After a while, you can disable the button prompts, as the situation alone is enough to let the player know what button to press. The buttons are also not random, as they reflect actions similar to those during regular player movement. I found it surprisingly effective and fun, since it achieves the cinematic actions that can't be done with the default systems while avoiding the randomness of QTEs (like those of God of War). This is, of course, excluding the horrid rope and frustrating wall climbing.

Daniel Campbell
profile image
People always talk as if there is some great divide between the culture's development. You either like western design, or you like eastern design. They both do great things and need to learn from each other. The Japanese are GREAT at making combat systems and other basic mechanics feel great. Western developers tend to do a better job with their presentation, characters, ETC. Neither is perfect, and they both need to learn from each other.

Christian Nutt
profile image
Completely agree -- the important thing, though, is that the flavors of the creators don't get lost. Learning is good; copying is bad.

William Collins
profile image
Agreed, Daniel. I'm still waiting for an RPG that melds the best of FF and ME.

A W
profile image
Maybe the two types of design methods are somewhat different and mixing the styles is not an easy task. When I think of eastern level design I think of main paths with secret areas scattered throughout. See the beauty but do not destroy it. When I think of western level design I think of see that building over there, not only are you going to be able to walk to it, you will also be able to enter it go in every room (even if nothing is there) and destroy parts of it if you want.

Also when I think of good eastern games, I think of beautiful musical soundtracks that set the mood for the area your in. When I think of west games I think of nice movie like set pieces.

Dave Endresak
profile image
@Cordero:
Exactly my thought. I wish the Japanese companies would gain a better perspective of the global reality facing everyone.

@Daniel:

Actually, I would argue the opposite strengths and weaknesses. Specifically, Japanese (and East Asian artists in general) do a far far better job at character presentation, story writing, and character development than Western artists because they tend to focus on process and establishing an empathy with the characters and events. Western developers tend to focus on action, mechanics, and similar elements that really do not matter if the player(s) do not have an emotional, empathic connection to the characters (and story writing in Western games might lead to the question, "what's that?" for the majority of titles).

I agree that everyone can learn from each other or, better yet, collaborate on a mutually beneficial project. Alternatively, simply empower players to create the game they want to play via customization (e.g., offer downloads to customize PCs for RPGs and similar options so players can play what they want to play within the overall game context). At the same time, I think that perhaps Hayashi-san's thoughts might be more or less correct as far as the need to stop attempting to offer some perception of what Westerners want (or other categorized markets, for that matter, as such attempts will always lead to failure due to the impossibility of forcing people to fit categories).

I think that Hayashi-san is overstating the state of Japanese developers a bit, though. After all, Sega is certainly not hurting with their Hatsune Miku: Project Diva game franchise, and Square Enix doesn't seem to be hurting, either, just to name two examples. @Joe: Nintendo has posted a loss for the first time in 30 years, so I don't think you can claim that they are doing well at all. At the very least, investors would not agree with such a statement. Sony has the same problem but mainly from the TV division and their continued focus on it, not so much from software (games and movies).

Yasuhiro Noguchi
profile image
What was the last Japanese game you played that actually had a memorable, high quality narrative that resonated and appealed to your average American game player who might otherwise play games like League of Legends, Diablo 3, or CoD?

A W
profile image
When you compare Nintendo first time loss in so many decades to Sony ongoing losses year on year, I think Nintendo is doing just fine by its investors atm. Everything else I agree with you on.

Yasuhiro Noguchi
profile image
You have to wonder what the results would have been if Itagaki-san was still around to make the game instead. It might have at least been like one of those Mos Burgers, except with super spicy jalapenos inside:
http://www.mos.co.jp/menu/hamburger/spicy_wmos_cheese/

Speaking of which, you have to wonder how development is progressing(?) on his Devil's Third game, thanks to recent troubles at THQ...

Freek Hoekstra
profile image
you jsut beat me to it, Itagaki left and a lot of people predicted that team Ninja would suffer because of it... guess there is some truth and value to his "rockstar" status.

I still think it is impressive, if they had just taken ninja gaiden 2 and built from that how bad can one get, I think it was an impressive failure and although I'm normally not a fan, i'm looking forward to this post mortem.

Muir Freeland
profile image
Everything falls apart the minute artists try to create a product they think some hypothetical individual will enjoy instead of what they want to make. You can make perfectly competent products for others, but the really amazing things are always for yourself.

Jeferson Soler
profile image
@ Muir Freeland - What you just said is very true! One thing that I learned from others is that you have to entertain yourself first when it comes to creating/designing ideas for anything, especially games. It is more fun and rewarding creating a game that you want to create, in my opinion.

Joe McGinn
profile image
His opinion is spot on though. Stop trying to make American-style games or "a bad hamburger". Make a great Japanese game and all will be well.

Jeremie Sinic
profile image
My only hope is that they learn from their mistakes and don't try to westernize DOA 5.

Joe McGinn
profile image
No sign of that, at least not at Capcom - next Resident Evil is going for all-out "more action" Westernization style that served Ninja Gaiden III so well.

Blackjack Goren
profile image
@Joe McGinn

The setting of Resident Evil originated in a fictional town in North America with mostly American characters, so it would be odd to take away the strong Western influence from a series known for it.

As far as the "more action" comment, we've recently learned (at least I did) that there will be three campaigns. Leon's will be reminiscent of the slower pace of older Resident Evil games (at least RE4, which would be great), Chris' will resemble the action-oriented approach of RE5, and the third campaign will take a page from RE3 Nemesis, with a hulking creature chasing after Wesker's son.

Glenn Sturgeon
profile image
From software seems to be doing fine. Of course thier game had what NG3 didn't, great game design and high dificulty. How could they water down NG after seeing the dark series sell so well?

Marcus Miller
profile image
Things are just not same since Tecmo fired Itagaki...

Ted Brown
profile image
I think the sad truth is that there is a finite market for games which revel in the Japanese form. The best Japanese games are often known for being punishing, either in difficulty or in time to grind. (From my naive Western perspective, it's an expression of their fiercely dogmatic and rigid culture) While there will always be a good percentage of the global population that enjoys such things, that audience is essentially fixed, as is the money that market represents. And tens, if not hundreds, of studios around the world are fighting for those dollars.

Meanwhile, Angry Birds go into space and "ships" 100 million units, and Activision pulls off a transmedia gaming/toy play for massive loot. Ninja Gaiden? That was hot in the 80's. -_-


none
 
Comment: