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[President and CEO Hiroshi Matsuyama explains how the Fukuoka-based studio expands its reach by working with more publishers, developing more games, and reaches out for tighter collaborations, including on Soulcalibur V.]
For a long time, CyberConnect 2 has been a quietly interesting development studio, though many did not notice, thanks to its small stature. That may soon change.
Based in the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka, also home to Dragon Quest IX and Professor Layton developer Level-5, the developer has long partnered with Bandai and Namco Bandai for titles like the Naruto fighting games and the anime-inflected late DS cult hit Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, recently released in the U.S. by XSEED.
However, the studio is expanding greatly -- in this interview, president and CEO Hiroshi Matsuyama explains how the company has expanded to seven development teams, and has two animated films in production.
This comes alongside work with Capcom on the Unreal Engine-based Asura's Wrath as well as the company's recently announced collaboration with Namco Bandai on Soulcalibur V -- CyberConnect 2 will be handling the game's story mode. The studio was chosen for this role thanks to its performance on the Naruto games.
In this interview, Mastuyama talks about his thoughts on working with developers, how there aren't any social games worth playing from either of the Japanese industry leaders (GREE and DeNA), and why "the video game industry has to make sure they don't make the same mistake" as the anime industry, and continue to appeal to mainstream audiences.
You announced that CyberConnect 2 would be handling the story mode in Soulcalibur V.
Hiroshi Matsuyama: Yes. That's true. Did you hear that from the producer?
Yes. CyberConnect 2 has a new office in Tokyo?
HM: Yeah, from last year.
Is the Tokyo office a development studio?
HM: Yeah, yeah. Development. We have 170 people at our headquarters in Fukuoka, and about 35 people at the Tokyo office. So, we have about 200 people total developing games. In regards to Soulcalibur V, most of the members are in Fukuoka.
Are there any games that the Tokyo office is working on that have been announced?
HM: Actually, the members in Tokyo are working on the same titles as in Fukuoka. The Tokyo office is working on Capcom's Asura's Wrath and another unannounced title, while communicating with the team in Fukuoka. The Naruto title and Soulcalibur V are both being developed in Fukuoka.
Was CyberConnect 2 chosen to work on Soulcalibur V? Was it because of the excellent graphic and animation work you guys did for the Naruto games?
HM: Yeah, I suppose. I was approached by Namco almost two years ago. I knew they were working on Soulcalibur V, and they asked for help in the visual side of the game. The fighting gameplay was handled by their own team, and they just needed help in the visuals of the game, because they wanted to add more to the dramatization of the game.
We used motion capture techniques to render the acting, but they wanted us be involved from creating the storyboards, as well. That was the request, and we have the know-how to do motion capture, because we're also making movies -- but Namco has been doing this for a longer time, so we thought this was a great opportunity to collaborate with them, and learn from the Soulcalibur team at the same time. That's how the project started.
But as I understand it, CyberConnect 2 uses hand-drawn animation.
HM: Yes, we use hand animation a lot. This time, our team went to Namco's studio to capture the motion. Our staff gave acting instructions while taking footage. As you saw in the demonstration earlier, the effects have not yet been added. But, the actions look a little like in Naruto, in the sense that the motion doesn't look like we used motion-capture. In that sense, I think the game looks like it's been done by us.
[Ed. note: during the Namco Bandai TGS event, the press was shown an early demo of the CyberConnect 2 animation for Soulcalibur V which has not been released to the public.]
Does CyberConnect 2 have any plans for expansion?
HM: No. We don't have plans for making the company bigger. There are a variety of projects that we want to work on. When we finish projects, and plan for the next ones, and they require new staff, we hire new staff and try to bring young blood into the company. In that sense, we hire and try to educate new staff, but we are not looking to be any bigger than we are now.
You are currently working on a anime movie, is that correct?
HM: Yes, .hack, the movie. It'll be released next January.
There's a new project, too?
HM: Haha. Yes, we've only announced it on our website. It's a project we're working on called Strelka Stories -- to celebrate our 15th Anniversary. We haven't decided whom we're going to be working with on this project yet.
And you recently released Solatorobo in the States.
HM: Yep, this month, in September. It was released in Europe in July. Solatorobo is being previewed in the States right now, and the reviews are really good. I'd like for this game to sell really well in Europe and the States, even more than Japan.
Well, I always asked you questions about when we'd get Tail Concerto 2.
For a DS game, the quality is very high. The mood feels like an anime movie, even on the original DS. It feels a little bit like a Miyazaki movie.
HM: Yeah, well that's the basis. It even has a floating island.
Japan's RPGs always look a little like Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa. Always.
HM: Haha. Yeah, maybe. Also like Tales. I think there are fewer titles that look like Laputa.
HM: Yeah, I think so. There aren't that many any more.