The latest issue of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine
includes a creator-written postmortem on the making of Square Enix and Jupiter's The World Ends With You
, the unusual 2D Nintendo DS RPG set in modern-day Japan.
These extracts reveal how the two studios behind the project faced the obstacles of early, perhaps overambitious, design goals, but succeeded in creating a new intellectual property -- a fairly uncommon occurrence at Square Enix.
Artist Takeshi Arakawa, graphic designer Tomohiro Hasegawa, and animator Tatsuya Kando -- leads on the project -- crafted the postmortem, which was introduced in Game Developer
"The World Ends With You
was a departure for Square Enix -- a new IP, done in 2D, and set in real-world locations. The game took three creative leads who had never directed a game before, and threw them to the wolves. They learned, as do we all, that it's not as easy as it seems."
Dual-Screen Battles, Or "What's Going On Here?"
From early in development, the game was to have simultaneous battles on two screens, one of the game's most unusual features -- but the practical design implementation of that request was more difficult than expected. Here the team explains:
"The original concept of dual-screen battles came from creative producer Tetsuya Nomura, but it was easier said than done. Fighting battles on the lower screen using the touch panel was our original concept, and turned out as well as we expected. But our biggest headache stemmed from the battles in the upper screen.
"We threw a number of ideas at the wall to see what stuck, like command-based battles or even music games. At first, we were determined that the player would have to fight on both screens at once, but after trying out a few systems we realized the error of our ways.
"Why did we have to make the user do anything in the upper screen at all? Once we left our creative egos at the door and looked at things through the player's eyes, we realized what was wrong. We had to make the user want to fight on both screens, but still provide the automatic combat if they elected to avoid it.
"This sped things up and we arrived at the battle system we have today, where the player can simply let the battle progress in the upper screen by itself, or actively fight using the control pad. I regret that we hadn't come up with this solution earlier."
The Management And Development Culture Clash
With two development houses in two different cities, the team suffered a lot of headaches resulting from coordination issues. As the trio of leads writes:
"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."
Getting To Go Wild With Original IP And Gameplay Concepts
A liberating aspect of development that is unusual in the franchise-heavy Square Enix was the mandate to create a new game in a new setting. The team explains:
"The project began with constant brainstorming and idea-sharing between the three of us. As this was our first game as directors, a healthy dose of paranoia prompted daily brainstorming meetings. These sessions established a strong sense of camaraderie and led for better overall communication, allowing us to constantly meet our deadlines without any serious delays.
"From the beginning we were determined to create an original IP-something that wasn't another Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts. This led us to choose the Shibuya district in Tokyo as the game's setting. At first we thought the Shibuya locale would be a turnoff to overseas players, but the district's uniqueness adds a certain reality and depth that we couldn't have recreated in a fantasy setting, and it lets players identify more with their in-game counterparts, who are fighting for their lives in the 'real world.'
"It turns out we were successful -- even a year after the game's Japanese release, hardcore fans are still organizing tours of the real Shibuya to compare it to the game world.
The full postmortem, including a great deal more insight into The World Ends With You
's development, with "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" reasoning, is now available in the October 2008 issue of Game Developer magazine
The issue also includes Game Developer
's annual list of Top 20 Publishers
and a fascinating biometrics-sourced analysis of player emotions -- plus tool reviews, special career sections, Matthew Wasteland's humor column, and development columns from Power of Two's Noel Llopis, Bungie's Steve Theodore, Lucasarts' Jesse Harlin, and BioWare's Damion Schubert.
Yearly print and digital subscriptions to Game Developer are now available
, and all digital subscriptions now include web-browsable and downloadable PDF versions of the magazine back to May 2004, as well as the digital version of the Game Career Guide special issue.
In addition, the October issue of Game Developer is available in paid single-issue digital form
(viewable in a web browser, and with an associated downloadable PDF).