Q&A: Tenchu developer talks stealth, now that it's back in fashion
Stealth games are making a resurgence in the West lately, with titles like Mark of the Ninja and Dishonored reaping critical accolades left and right. How do these titles differentiate themselves from that venerable granddad of the genre, Tenchu?
Acquire has been working on stealth titles for quite a while now, from 1998's original Tenchu: Stealth Assassins to Shinobido, which recently saw an installment on the PlayStation Vita. Acquire creative director Richie Casper shared with Gamasutra his impressions of the differences between Western and Japanese stealth games, and how developers in Japan can stand out in a world market.
Acquire has been very entrenched in the stealth genre for quite a long time and as with many genres, the Western and Japanese styles have diverged. How then would you classify a good Japanese-style stealth game?
Richie Casper: So obviously we have our pedigree of Tenchu back in the day, one of the stealth-genre defining titles. Instead of having an action-heavy game that was really based on player skill from an action standpoint, we kind of approached it as you needing to sneak around more. And that's actually been what we've continued to do when we made Tenchu 2, when we shifted over into Shinobido, Shinobido 2 on Vita as well. We kind of followed that. And really it seems that the heavier emphasis on the actual stealth aspect seems to be kind of the main distinction between Japanese stealth games and the Western-style stealth games.
I feel like Tenchu was one of the earlier examples of a pseudo-sandbox where you had different options for getting into a location, but also for taking down your target, or just going somewhere else and doing something else. Acquire didn't really push it that much further in that direction. Why do you think that was?
RC: Well, that's true. We ended up pushing into the more sandbox-type of gameplay ended up being in our Way Of The Samurai series of games. I think we were looking to do that a bit more with Shinobido the first time around because it was kind of an extension of what you're talking about with Tenchu where you have kind of this decent-sized map and if you want to go over buildings to get your guy, do you want to sneak around corners to get to him? We kind of made it as sandbox-y as we could for the time.
Now, having said that, yeah, obviously going more in that direction would probably make for a much deeper game, a lot more interesting aspects. To be honest, probably the reason we didn't really delve too deeply into it just because of cost. That always seems to be the hurdle with sandbox development.
Acquire has started dabbling in some much smaller titles too -- web games, and the like. What's the intent there?
RC: What we're trying to do with the smaller titles is kind of carve out our niche in that area. Social games for instance -- obviously we can't compete directly with companies like Zynga and places like that, but at the same time we don't want to not do it at all. So that's why we have the smaller teams that are doing experimental stuff.
I mean, the good thing about those is you can make a game in three months and just see what happens with it. We're not going to do that with titles that cost millions of dollars to make. It kind of gives us the chance to test things out while still doing our bread and butter.
What do you see as Acquire's vision going forward? Will there be a lot of smaller titles? Are you going to come together and make some huge thing?
RC: For us, going forward on the publishing side of things, with our own original IPs, something that we've discovered just over the past few years is that for our original stuff, the more unique we get artistically and stylistically, it really helps us stand out.
Take [Acquire's PlayStation Vita title] Sumioni, that's one of those cases where that's not really an art style that a Western developer can pull off. And so going forward we're looking at doing unique art styles combined with unique types of gameplay, but still with types of games that players are familiar with.
So, you know, Sumioni obviously is side-scrolling action game, but we add the ink part, you know, the drawing, and artistically it's unique. Back on PSP we did Patchwork Heroes. We're looking at those artistically stylish types of games, going forward, because that's actually the place where we think we can shine.
Obviously we're not going to make a $40 million game to go up against Call Of Duty. We're not going to do that. So, for bigger titles, those will probably be titles that we work with publishers on. But for our own IPs? Yeah, we're looking for that -- that's something that has that unique hook. And that just happens to be visuals, a lot of times.
I definitely noticed that Acquire had been moving in that direction, and I think that's nice because there are a lot of Japanese companies that are still trying to play catch-up out there. They say, "We gotta make a good, realistic-looking game to compete in the Western markets." But really that's the opposite of what you should be doing, because Western companies are already doing a great job at that. Don't try to compete with something that's established. Try to compete in your own way.
RC: Right. That's totally our thinking. Obviously, like I said, Assassin's Creed, Call Of Duty, those types of games… there's no need for us to do that. They're already doing it well. So yeah, what can we bring to the table? What can we make that only Acquire can make? That's where we're heading.