Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Game Designer Dreams Vol 3: Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2’s Takumi Shū on “What He Wants From Entertainment” (2017)

Title: Game Designer Dreams Vol 3: Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2’s Takumi Shū on “What He Wants From Entertainment” / 「Game Designer Dreams VOL.3 『大逆転裁判2』巧舟が語る「エンタメに求めるもの」」
Source: Spice

Summary: Entertainment website Spice posted an interview with series creator Takumi Shū on August 22, 2017 as part of their Game Designer Dreams series. In the interview, taken on the day before the release of Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 - Naruhodō Ryūnosuke no Kakugo (“The Grand Turnabout Trial 2 - The Resolve of Naruhodō Ryūnosuke no Kakugo”) is not only asked about how he first created the Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) series, but also about how development on Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 went, as well as about Takumi came to work in the game industry in the first place. As part of the series, Takumi is also asked about his views on the future of the game industry, especially in relation to the uprise of social/casual games lately.

Images are taken from the source article. Copyright belongs to their respective owners.


Interviewer: First of all, your best known work is the Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) series, so could you tell us about how you first created those games?

Takumi: I first started working on Gyakuten Saiban in my sixth year at the company, in 2000. Back then, they were thinking about starting a project in order to train the younger people among us. There were several small production lines, mainly filled with new employees.

Interviewer: I see.

Takumi: And Gyakuten Saiban was the product of one of those lines. We had a very small team of only seven, including people who had only entered Capcom that same year. As for me, I liked games of course, but I had also always been a great fan of mystery fiction. I even originally wanted to do work related to that. I did like videogames, but for some reasons I lost touch with games somewhere between junior high and university. I guess that I’m probably different there from most other game creators. Anyway, because of that background, I always had the wish to create my own ideal mystery game. The project where that wish came true was Gyakuten Saiban.

Interviewer: Up until Gyakuten Saiban, mystery games usually starred detectives or police detectives who would solve a case. Why did you decide to have the courtroom feature in your game?

Takumi: To tell you the truth, the motif of the courtroom didn’t even exist at the start. The very first planning concept was that of a “detective game that rewarded the player’s own thinking”. Back then, most mystery games were of the type where you’d not really be solving a mystery yourself, but you’d simply be reading a story, then make a choice out of three, and then see the mystery being solved for you. That is why I wanted to make a game where you’d need to solve the mystery behind the case with your own deductive thinking. That was my starting point. So I started thinking about a game mechanic. “How can I change the passive reading experience of detective games into one where it truly feels like you solve the mystery yourself based on your own reasoning?” From there I arrived at the idea of pointing out the contradictions in utterances of other people, and that was how I first arrived at the idea of an “attorney”.


Interviewer: Most mystery adventure games back then were just about choosing an action out of multiple options, right?

Takumi: Yes. But with that, it doesn’t really feel like you solved the mystery yourself. Also, game consoles have a limited number of buttons. So how could I make an intuitive mechanic for a player to directly input their own deductions? Having them write out their own deductions one letter at a time was troublesome, so what else was there? What I finally arrived at was a mechanic that become the core mechanic of Gyakuten Saiban: confronting the culprit, and presenting evidence to  the contradictions in their statements. In Cross-Examination scenes, witnesses usually make about five utterances. Suppose the player has five different pieces of evidence. If you need to prove a contradiction in the witness testimony by presenting a piece of evidence at the precise part, then you’ll have five utterances times five pieces of evidence, so twenty-five options.

Interviewer: It’s not a choice out of three options anymore, but out of twenty-five, so that’s eight times as many.

Takumi: And with that there’s the feeling that you’re truly worked it out yourself, that you made your own reasoning. And I had the feeling at that moment that this may well become a completely new kind of game. At the time, the protagonist was a detective, but I figured that we might try to show that this was a new kind of mystery game, out of fear of not standing out among all those other games. So was there another “professional” in exposing lies besides a detective? And so that’s how we arrived at the defense attorney standing in court. Within the world of mystery fiction exists the courtroom mystery genre, where the defense attorney does their own investigations and stands in court to defend their clients. I was sure there wasn’t a game set in court about a defense attorney yet, so that’s how the project started.

Interviewer: So a new game genre was born from that idea, and now it has been adapted for the stage, as a film and even the Takarazuka Revue performed a version. The Gyakuten Saiban series has become a major work now. What is hooking in the fans, you think?

Takumi: Well… the structure of Gyakuten Saiban is firstly built around a clear core: “mystery fiction”. “A strange mystery getting solved” is the basis of this all. And then there’s the notion of “Saving a client in danger, making a turnabout in the case and winning a Not Guilty verdict”. This is the classic story of good vs evil loved by so many. So there’s that easy-to-understand element to it that makes it alluring, and I think the characters helped spread this further. I think that the exploits of Naruhodō Ryūichi (Phoenix Wright) and Mitsurugi Reiji (Miles Edgeworth) have been major.

Interviewer: And now there's the release of Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 (“The Grand Turnabout Trial 2”). Could you tell us how this project came to be?

Takumi: I myself left the series after making Gyakuten Saiban 4 (Ace Attorney 4 - Apollo Justice), and fortunately another team took over and created Gyakuten Saiban 5 (Ace Attorney 5 - Dual Destinies) and Gyakuten Saiban 6 (Ace Attorney 6 - Spirit of Justice). In 2013, I was asked if I wanted to make another Gyakuten Saiban, separate from the main, numbered series. That was the direct cause.

Interviewer: So it was an order from your company to make a new title?

Takumi: Yes. There’s the main, numbered Gyakuten Saiban series, so I first started to think about how I could differentiate this new title from that. I decided to do the most obvious thing, change the time period and setting. There was a big reason why I decided to have the game set at the end of the nineteenth century. With Gyakuten Saiban 1, 2 and 3, I felt I had used up most of the best parts of mystery fiction. So I started to think about what new things I could come up with for a new series, and that’s when I came up with two key terms: classic mystery and Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was born in the late nineteenth century, became a big hit and with that the detective genre was perfected, or it became enormous popular at the very least. When I was little, Japanese mystery fiction was not as lively as it was now, as authors like Mr. Arisugawa or Mr. Ayatsuji weren’t there yet, so reading mystery fiction back then meant mostly reading classic Western mystery novels from the end of the nineteenth century until the first half of the twentieth century.

Interviewer: Maurice Leblanc’s Lupin series is also from that period, right?

Takumi: Precisely. So I had a large stock of ideas in my mind from late nineteenth century classic mystery. These were all ideas and tricks involving gas lights and omnibuses, ideas that wouldn’t work in the contemporary setting of Gyakuten Saiban, but could only work in the specific time period they originated from. That is why I decided to go with this setting. I also always had the hope of making a Sherlock Holmes game one time, so I figured I might as well use everything for this game. And so I decided to use everything I had to create Dai Gyakuten Saiban (“The Grand Turnabout Trial”).

Interviewer: Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 was released just a few weeks ago. What was difficult about making that game?

Takumi: When I was working on Dai Gyakuten Saiban 1, I planned to make a game that wouldn’t lose against Gyakuten Saiban 1~3, something that could stand proudly next to them. But now I look back, and see I poured way too much effort into the project (laugh). So I planned a story and setting that included every single idea I had. As a result, I ended up with a very dense story, that in no way could ever fit within one single game. So that is when we as the team had to change our direction. Naturally, the first game had to have a complete story on its own, so all the cases that happen within that first game were solved, but the surrounding mysteries were left as is. Because of that, I decided that the great challenge that lay before me in regards to 2 was to build upon the story of the first game, and to expand the scale even more than ever before, with cases denser and more connected than ever and with me pouring everything I have into the game. But of course, I also wanted the game to be fun to play for those who’d start with this second game. So it was a project with rather high hurdles to clear. But I paid a lot attention to the story and to how the truth is revealed in this second game, for people who start with this game and then want to go back to play the first game (laugh).

Interviewer: Making sequels must be difficult.

Takumi: Yes. It’s difficult, but I do pay attention to this. But because of this, the story became even more dense than I had first imagined, and the scale became much bigger because of that too.


Interviewer: For this corner, we ask developers why they first decided to create games. So their first encounter with games. As we have heard from you, your feelings for the mystery genre lie deep. How did you first start reading the genre?

Takumi: There were two giants back then for my generation. At my library, they had Edogawa Rampo’s Shōnen Tantei Dan (Boys Detective Club) series and the Arsène Lupin series.

Interviewer: From Maurice Leblanc, whom I just mentioned.

Takumi: Rampo’s work was scary, so I first started with Lupin and from there I went to Holmes.

Interviewer: How did you get hooked on mystery novels?

Takumi: It’s because of the sense of “surprise”. I feel the same about games, but for me, of all the emotions you can get from works of entertainment, the impact a “surprise” has is my favorite. My “first experience” with this feeling of surprise was with reading Edogawa Rampo’s short story Shinri Shiken (The Psychological Test). It’s a story written from the perspective of a college student who is planning a perfect crime, but the whole case is turned around through just a small contradiction. This feeling of seeing how this psychological blind spot, one even the speaker himself didn’t notice, was revealed so brilliantly, that is my original experience. And now I want to create new “surprises”, and I myself am also always on the look for experiences that surprise me. That is probably also what I want from games.

Interviewer: The first Rampo I read was Nisen Dōka (The Two-sen Copper Coin). I like how it has a neat trick despite being so short.

Takumi: I like how with short stories, all relies on that impact they have. And there’s the Holmes short stories. The Gyakuten Saiban stories are also made by placing small idea upon another, and I pay a lot of attention to how that sensation is.

Interviewer: And now allow me to go back to the topic of games. Are there any games that left an impression on you when you first played them?

Takumi: I’m from the generation that has seen how games developed since their dawn, so I always thought that “games” had to be something like Breakout or Space Invaders. It was around that time that a PC adventure game was being introduced on television: Mystery House. That left a vivid impression on me. It was a game completely different from what I had known, with only a door on the screen. You’d use the keyboard to input “Open” “Door” and then the door would open. It was such a shock to the things you thought of actually happen on screen. I think that Mystery House was my first experience with a game that genuinely surprised me.

Interviewer: That would’ve been the PC-8801 back then?

Takumi: Exactly. The original PC-8801.

Interviewer: There were a lot of mystery games back then. Dōkeshi Satsujin Jiken (“The Clown Murder Case”) and others.

Takumi: Yes, from developer Thinking Rabbit. From Kagiana Satsujin Jiken (“The Key-Hole Murder Case”) etc.

Interviewer: You said you lost touch with games for a while. Could you talk about that?

Takumi: Yes. A bit before the Famicom appeared, I was given the Cassette Vision from Epoch. The Famicom was released after that. So I said I wanted a Famicom, but my parents said I already had the Cassette Vision, and didn’t buy me a Famicom (laugh). And with that, I started to move away from games, towards mystery fiction.

Interviewer: I see.

Takumi: I wonder where I’d be now if they had bought me Famicom back then.

Interviewer: Playing games all day….

Takumi: I might’ve ended up in the game industry anyway, but Gyakuten Saiban might not have been born. I think that game was only possible because I had knowledge about the mystery genre. What would I have made without that knowledge?

Interviewer: So we need to be thankful to Epoch? (laugh) What is the reason you have your current job, creating games, actually?

Takumi: Hmmm, back then I wanted to do something that had to do with mystery fiction, so I was considering finding work with publishers. But I had not really prepared for the job-hunting, so I failed for every company I tried. Around that time, a friend from university who loved games was working on a game proposal as part of his job-hunting activities. I saw how much fun he had working on that, so I decided I might try that too. So I bought a word processor, and started writing a game proposal. And Capcom had just opened a second hiring round then, so I decided to send my proposal there.

Interviewer: Sounds you made it in quite easily.

Takumi: Yes. I think I was lucky.

Interviewer: You entered Capcom in 1994, which means that…

Takumi: When I joined, they were working on Biohazard (Resident Evil).

Interviewer: Are there any games from that period that left an impression on you? Doesn’t need to be a Capcom title.
 
Takumi: I like solving puzzles, so I’d say Myst, or Outer World (Another World/Out of This World) on the Super Famicom. I had always loved 3D and polygon graphics, so I was quite surprised by those graphics on the Super Famicom, and the mysterious world.

Interviewer: Outer World is often mentioned whenever I ask game developers about this.

Takumi: Outer World is a title quite well known among fans. I was told about the game from someone who joined Capcom at the same time, and started playing.

Interviewer: I feel like people looking for edgy titles liked the game.

Takumi: We were all a big fan of it. We’d play in  a group, changing controllers whenever someone died (laugh).


Interviewer: And it’s there were you made Gyakuten Saiban and worked on other titles. What is it that motivates you?

Takumi: What could my motivation be? I guess that my motivation is that I believe that what I am doing now is the best I can do, that it is the thing only I can do. I feel like I could go on as I’m in an environment where I can create something only I can create. Development is full of effort and troubles, but that’s all gone I see everyone playing my games and giving me feedback. I do feel that I am truly doing something only I can do.

Interviewer: The first Gyakuten Saiban was released in 2001. After that, “Escape the Room” games started to boom on the PC, and now “Real-Life Escape Games” have become popular, and we now even have “Infiltration Games” now. There are other games out there now that take their inspiration from Gyakuten Saiban. How do you feel about that?

Takumi: Ever since the release of Gyakuten Saiban, more games that build on those same mechanics or concepts have been set free upon the adventure game world, and I myself think that’s an honor. To have followers means that I gave birth to something new, something that has strength. I might be a bit cheeky in thinking that I left my footprint somewhere in the corner of the game industry. There is nothing better than that to a game creator.

Interviewer: Are there any games not created by yourself that you have played lately that you thought fun or  impressive?

Takumi: I was concentrating on the development of Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 so I lost touch with the outside world for a while, but as things have settled down now, I am working on making my way through my backlog. What made an impact on me lately was Biohazard 7 (Resident Evil 7) on VR. I guess it’s because of the VR, but Bio 7 VR was really intense.


Interviewer: Why?

Takumi: You know, it’s so terrifying! (laugh) This was the first time I played a game and thought I didn’t want to enter a house! And then an enemy appears right before your eyes, and then you see how everything in front of you turns white… This is an experience that goes beyond a game, I thought as I shivered.

Interviewer: it is really creepy, isn’t it? It’s also different from previous Biohazards.

Takumi: Terrifying is the word. In terms of an experience only a game can give you, I think this game is one you’ll only see once every ten years.

Interviewer: So we just talked about such new technology like VR, but in terms of game consumption, it’s social games that have seen tremendous growth these last years. I’d like to hear your thoughts about this recent trend in the industry as a developer making consumer games, also for handheld devices.

Takumi: Interesting question. Let me tell you first, I’m actually not that knowledgeable about the industry….

Interviewer: But what are your own personal views?

Takumi: Up until just a while ago, I looked at social games as an amazing medium to allowed you to pass your free time with something captivating. But lately the stories have also developed quite deeply, and I feel they have come to overlap more and more with conventional consumer games.

Interviewer: That is true.

Takumi: Still, being able to play in a simple manner in short sessions is still an important factor to the success of smartphone games. But what we are doing, is creating very dense games. There are still people who want to get all immersed into a world when playing a game. There are people who want to enjoy games in a casual manner, but also people who want to take their time to dive deep into a game to enjoy a world that has been created with much care and attention. I don’t think that that choice should disappear. But with how the industry is moving now, I do think that we might need to change the manner in which games are produced.

Interviewer: There are indeed users who say they just don’t have the time to play dense games.

Takumi: Precisely. And there are people who do want to play those games. So I think the problem lies in finding the right scale, and right way of producing such games in order to reach all those people.


Interviewer: Are there any dreams you yourself hold for the future of the game industry?

Takumi: I love the mystery fiction, so my own small dream is that I’ll be able to continue making mystery games in the future (laugh). We now have crossovers, like of people who started to read Holmes because of Dai Gyakuten Saiban, or who started to play Gyakuten Saiban through the Takarazuka Revue collaborations, and the other way around, as there are also fans of the games who started to go to Takarazuka performances. I feel really pleased whenever I see this phenomenon. I hope I can be involved with such wonderful project in the future too.

Interviewer: I see.

Takumi: And one more thing. We just talked about surprises and the surprises that games can give you. That’s a line that started with Invader games, passing via Mystery House into the present. VR technology we mentioned just now is also part of that. I hope more media is created that can bring such surprises to its consumers.

Interviewer: With developing technology, graphics have also developed, becoming better and better. There are even people who are of the opinion the “cheap” feel of old sprite art is better. But I feel that in terms of visual effects, we might be nearing the ceiling.

Takumi: But even so, game developers will find something to surprise the players with. Take the sprite art you mentioned just now. Imagine for example the surprise of using sprite artwork on purpose at a certain point.  Developments in technology isn’t unrelated of course, but those creating the surprises in games will always be the game developers, I think.

Interviewer: We've been taking your time in such a period, with Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 - Naruhodō Ryūnosuke no Kakugo (“The Grand Turnabout Trial 2 - The Resolve of Naruhodō Ryūnosuke no Kakugo”) releasing the day after this interview is held. Do you have one last message to the readers, also to promote your new game?

Takumi: This project started in 2013. All in all, it has taken almost five years, and with this the story of Ryūnosuke ends for now. It has not been a smooth journey for the development team, but because all kinds of things happened, everything has eventually found its rightful place. I think that that game has become many times better than I had imagined at first. I hope you all will become a witness to the tale of Naruhodō Ryūnosuke. I truly believe that people who love the mystery genre, that people who love videogames will have fun with this game.

2 comments:

  1. "We now have crossovers, like of people who started to read Holmes because of Dai Gyakuten Saiban..."

    I'm quite glad I wasn't the only one who went out to grab some Holmes books because of DGS.
    All in all, I think I would never have started reading (and attempting to write) mystery fiction if it wasn't for Ace Attorney. Not only that, but it also pushed a lot of my interest in game design.

    That was quite a pleasant interview. Thank you for translating it!

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    Replies
    1. Glad you liked it! I actually started with the games because I like mystery fiction, but like Takumi mentions, and it's the same for your case, I know that many fans went the opposite direction.

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