That seems to be becoming a popular method for Western developers beginning a project -- starting with a small group and heavy prototyping, even if the prototype isn't being built on the final engine, as a way to figure out early on what works and how to move forward. Is it still common in Japan to incorporate the large planning phase with a lot of on-paper work?
TI: I myself came from an arcade background, so all of my training and work was in the arcades, along with Nakajima-san as well. Since we were making games in the '80s and '90s for arcades, we did have to do a lot of the paperwork in getting games designed and done.
But we were also very close to people who were actually sitting down and making the games on hardware and going through the whole trial and error process themselves. So we feel like we're probably more like western developers now, in that we do have to have some design documents.
But we also do have to have people sitting down and looking at the design documents and creating something and testing it out, and then going back and going through lots of reiteration and polishing it.
I do think that some of the problem I see in Japan is people making things on paper, and then far, far away, there's programmers who are actually programming what people are writing down on paper. When you have that kind of gap, the back-and-forth between the people writing the program and writing the paper gets so big that you don't get a really polished game.
For this game, I myself was the guy writing the paper and the guy doing the game. I was the one person playing catch with myself, in my head. I didn't have to wait for anyone to get anything done. I had all of the tools, I had the vision to make the game, and I would just sit down with the tools and make what I had imagined in my head. So it was very easy for me to do it on this project. I think because of that, I was able to polish the gameplay to what I envisioned it to be and what people wanted out of Pac-Man.
I had a game programmer as well, who was making the tools for me to use, who was also historically from the arcade gaming section. It was this back and forth I could have with my tools programmer, so I could get the tools I needed. The tools programmer knew exactly what kind of tools to make to please whoever was going to be using the tools.
It was that real close connection that I had with my team, and because it was a real small team, that we were able to get this done and really focus on polishing the gameplay and the core mechanics.
NN: Part of the whole concept that Microsoft approached us with is that that, "The game is going to be on Live Arcade. We want an arcade game that's going to be online and live for everyone to play." That was also the fundamentals behind the gameplay. I wanted to do a classic title, and I also wanted to create something new, and that was really the culmination of everything that got Pac-Man Championship Edition going.
In the West, it's also used for very large projects; once that small core team decides on an approach, the team size increases to, say, 100 people. Now that you've worked in this way, and I assume adopted a similar style for Galaga, would you like to see that approach broaden within Namco Bandai, even for larger-scale projects?
NN: Like Tekken and Soulcalibur, some of our really successful games do follow the same mentality of having the core gameplay really polished, adding on more to make it a richer core experience, and then having people make content for this core experience.
It is a challenge, and it's a challenge I believe we will be taking on in future production titles and even new titles, just trying to get a prototype done and solid, and then building up on that.
I feel that games are an interactive experience. They're not a movie where you're sitting down and watching. You're actually touching the controller and feeling the movement on-screen. It's this real interactive experience that needs to be polished in order for it to be compelling.
Especially for a lot of the new hardware with all the analog controls -- the Wii is probably the best example. In order for it to really be a compelling game, it has to feel compelling, and the analog controls need to be created at the core level to be fun and feel fun.
These kind of prototypes that need to be reviewed, are definitely polished and will be brought before people, before they start development on these games. We Cheer is one of the titles that my group did, and we spent six months just working on the core gameplay elements before we went into creating the rest of it.
We wanted to make sure that the actual game was fun to play and felt good, and after that, we would put in the characters and the background and all the art and assets to build it up to a game. But we did focus directly on the core gameplay.
TI: Probably one of the reasons Japan was so strong in the past with our game creations and the content that we would create was because we were primarily arcade game creators.
We would make a prototype, and before the prototype was actually finalized as a product, they would take the prototype to an arcade, put it out there, and playtest it. We'd have people walk in and play it and see if they liked it, and if they wanted to keep playing it or if not. If not, then that product would never see market.
Because we went through such prototyping and playtesting on our arcade games, this meant the gameplay was more polished than some of the games that came out of the west, possibly, or even some of the other console-specific games that came out during that time.
NN: I feel that one of the weaknesses of Japanese developers now is the fact that they get all this artwork and spec set out and laid in stone, and then they make the game, and they want to bring it worldwide, and they can't do it.
Part of what they need to do to succeed worldwide is to focus more at the earlier stages of creating a game, in getting the characters solid for worldwide appeal, and getting the features arranged. This is like we did on Pac-Man Championship Edition, really playtested and polished at an early stage, and then going on in to development, as opposed to the other way around.