Summary: On March 30th, 2018, series creator Takumi Shū headed a presentation about the Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) series at Game Creators Conference’18. In this presentation titled “About the Scenarios of Gyakuten Saiban / Dai Gyakuten Saiban”, Takumi explained how he creates the mystery plots for his Gyakuten Saiban and Dai Gyakuten Saiban ("The Grand Turnabout Trial") series. He explains his methods for coming up with the stories, with the trick needed to pull off the fanciful murders and how he plays with the information flow to keep the player engaged in the story. He also explains about the worldview of the games, and other things he did to make this an entertaining adventure game series for players. Takumi also explains the concept behind Dai Gyakuten Saiban and some of its key points. At the end of the presentation, there was also room for a short Q&A.
This is a translation of the report of this presentation posted by Famitsu on April 3rd, 2018. Images are taken from the source column. Copyright belongs to their respective owners.
Takumi Shū Explains How The Scenarios and Tricks of Gyakuten Saiban and Dai Gyakuten Saiban Are Created (GCC’18)
On March 30th, 2018, Game Creators Conference’18 (GCC’18), a conference for game creators in the Kansai area, was held in Grand Cube Osaka. This article is a report on the presentation “About the Scenarios of Gyakuten Saiban / Dai Gyakuten Saiban”.
This session featured the appearance of Takumi Shū, who worked on the three early games in the Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) series starring Naruhodō Ryūichi, as well as the Dai Gyakuten Saiban (“The Grand Turnabout Trial”) series. He explained how he created the story and tricks for these games.
Dai Gyakuten Saiban
-Thinking About / Creating The Scenarios-
Takumi Shū first explained about the main theme of the Gyakuten Saiban series: “puzzle plot mysteries”. He describe how there are two types of mystery=puzzle : suspense and an orthodox, puzzle plot mystery. There is a clear difference between the two. A suspense mystery refers to a story where the interest into a certain mystery serves as the propulsion for the plot, pulling the reader in. A puzzle plot mystery however refers to a story where the focus lies on the process of how a mystery is solved in a logical manner, which is where Gyakuten Saiban and Dai Gyakuten Saiban belong to.
Furthermore, regarding the “logical manner” part, Takumi explained that “as long as there are rules shared between the creator and the reader, a puzzle plot mystery can work in any type of world.” A spirit medium named Ayasato Mayoi (Maya Fey) appears in the Gyakuten Saiban series and Takumi tells that he got feedback that “it can’t be a fair mystery story if spirit channeling is possible.” Takumi however held on to his beliefs and starting with Gyakuten Saiban 2 (Ace Attorney 2 - Justice For All), his goals included creating puzzle plot mystery stories that involved spirit channeling.
At any rate, “it is important to build on the rules”, and Takumi gave Layton Kyōju VS Gyakuten Saiban (Professor Layton VS Ace Attorney) as an example. That game is set in a world were magic is possible. With magic, anything is possible, but there are various rules in place when using magic, like “one needs to hold a magic staff to use magic,” “one needs to exclaim a spell,” “the type of magic depends on the type of staff used,” etc. By creating contradictions through those rules, it is possible to create a fair puzzle plot mystery even in a world where magic is possible.
Mystery = Puzzle
Suspense: a story where the interest into a mystery serves as the propulsion for the plot, pulling the reader in.
Puzzle plot mystery: a story where the focus lies on the process of how a mystery is solved in a logical manner
"Logically" means: there are shared rules between the creator and reader, and the mystery is solved following those rules
Takumi continued by explaining that the core of a mystery story is made up by the “surprise” (Odoroki) of the truth revealed at the very end of the story, and the feeling of “I see” (Naruhodo), when all the foreshadowing and hints spread throughout the story all fall into their proper place. That Gyakuten Saiban’s two protagonists Naruhodō Ryūichi (Phoenix Wright) and Odoroki Hōsuke (Apollo Justice) share their names with these core concepts of mystery fiction was not done on purpose, but coincidence. Takumi also touched upon the fact that in mystery fiction, there are two roles: that of “the great detective” who figures the truth out and “the reader”, who is surprised by that truth. Takumi explained that he started working on Gyakuten Saiban hoping to make a game where one could enjoy taking on both roles.
Core of a puzzle plot mystery
Surprise (Odoroki) and the "I see" sensation (Naruhodo)
-Two positions of mystery fiction-
The great detective (who solves the puzzle)
Reader (who is surprised by the truth)
After this part, Takumi went into detail about how the structure of his scenarios. As mentioned earlier, The Gyakuten Saiban series has a special structure where the player experiences both the fun of solving a mystery themselves, while at the same time be pleasantly surprised by that same mystery. To accomplish those two goals, Takumi structures his scenarios as follows.
The scenario structure with both surprises and the "I see" sensation
Great mystery (the incident occurs)
Small mystery (contradiction) ←
Development (new information) ⤴
Case Solved (Ending)
Contradiction: Story develops through the solving of various small mysteries
New development: Each time a mystery is solved, the answer and new information are given
Ending: Truth behind the grand trick is hidden through controlling information flow.
He then continued talking about the world of Gyakuten Saiban. Takumi described the world of Gyakuten Saiban as a “comical, and sloppy” world. The story that they once had real prosecutors play Gyakuten Saiban 4 (Ace Attorney 4 - Apollo Justice) and that they told him that they don’t do such sloppy work had the audience laughing. The developers themselves don’t do sloppy work of course, and they have certain rules in place. These three rules are:
- Exclusion of reality
- Universality / suitable for all ages
- A comical tone
“Exclusion of reality” means that they want people to have fun while playing these games, so they don’t touch upon ugly motives like insurance murders, or cases that invoke incidents that have really happened.
“Universality / suitable for all ages” means they avoid current news, popular words or parodies when making this series, so people can play them after ten years without having the games feel outdated. However, technological progress is something they can’t do much about, so while at the time the first game was released in 2001, everyone was using a garake-type cellphone, nowadays everybody has a smartphone. When the series was adapted as a TV anime series, protagonist Naruhodō Ryūichi was still using a garake-type cellphone, Takumi revealed they had a meeting where it was proposed whether they shouldn’t change his phone to a smartphone.
Finally, a comical tone can be considered one of the characteristics of this series. In the investigation parts of this series, the player needs to move the cursor to various places to investigate them and collect evidence, but of course, not all of the points of interests provide necessary information, so there are also “wrong” points of interest. It is discouraging if the player clicks on a wrong spot and all they are given are blunt messages like “There’s nothing here” or “Nice flowers”. By adding some small talk when you investigate the wrong spots, the player is motived to check out all the other spots too. “The text a player reads after getting it wrong, is also an important factor in adventure games,” Takumi explained with heart. He also explained regarding the colorful names of the characters that as there are so many characters, he tries to give them names with impact, so the players remember them even by hearing the name once.
Image of Gyakuten Saiban
Comical and sloppy
- Exclusion of reality
- Universality / suitable for all ages
- A comical tone
Worldview: crossing between preference and necessity
Takumi explained that the scenarios of Gyakuten Saiban are created in the order of (1) Mystery, (2) drama/story, (3) characters. First he decides on the crux of the story, like “what kind of case is it” or “what kind of trick is used”. He then continues adding more to the story, and by the time the story is done, he’ll have an idea of the characters too. However, when he’s working on the characters, he’ll also think of the details like “what kind of personality will they have” or “why would they say that?” and Takumi says it’s important to write characters, their lines and their background so they feel like they’re really living in that world. Once the scenario is done, he has the other team members read it so he can brush it up. Then it is handed over to the programmers, who turn it into a game. He then plays the game, making adjustments to the text speed, timing of the animations or other changes to the music, all to improve the final product.
Elements of a Gyakuten scenario
(1) Mystery (case, setting, trick, contradictions)
(2) Drama (character relations, motive, story developments, story theme)
(3) Characters (character positions, gender, occupation, name, speech pattern)
So how does he come up with tricks for his stories? Takumi introduced three methods. First is coming up with a case with impact and then figuring out how it was done. The third episode of Gyakuten Saiban 2, Turnabout Circus (Turnabout Big Top) was created following to this method. A murder is committed near a little circus building covered by snow. As there’s a witness who says the culprit flew to the sky without leaving any footprints, the magician who specializes in levitation illusions is put under suspicion. Takumi thus had these conditions in mind as he considered what kind of trick would be interesting for these circumstances.
The second method is “combining existing tricks”. “You can’t watch the television during a power outage” and “the reason that clock’s off is because they went abroad” are two concepts everybody’ll know, but by combining these ideas, something original is born. The first episode of the first game, The First Turnabout, was created like this.
Coming up with tricks
- Start with the case
- Combining existing tricks
- Forcefully inflating the whole story
Originality is born through combination and arrangement
(1) If “something” had been inside the ice (something not even the murderer had expected) → once the ice melted, that “something” would fall on the floor, be found inside the locked room, leaving a mystery.
(2) If that “something” was something that fell into the ice tray a few hours earlier, when the block of ice was made → there is a good possibility that the owner of this “something” was the one who used the ice, making them a suspect.
(3) If that “something” had fallen when the victim and the client were having a fight → The client fears the police would think they had a motive for murder, so they keep quiet.
(4)If the client and the murderer are engaged → the murderer is surprised by this truth they themselves didn’t know about either. Seen from outside, the player might figure out who the murderer is, but can’t see why they would implicate their own fiancé(e), which results in a new mystery and new misdirection.
(5) If these three had been in a love triangle → you’d have a perfectly normal reason for the fight and a motive for murder.
And like this, a story and a trick is created. By this time, Takumi would also have a good idea of the setting, the personalities and genders of the characters and things like that in his mind.
Opening a latch
A block of ice is stuck between the latch and the catch. Once the ice melts, the room is locked. But what if "something" happens to be inside the ice? Once the ice melts, it'll fall inside the room, and become a mystery.
What if that "something" fell into the ice tray a few hours ago, when ice was being made. What if there was a fight near the ice tray, and an earring fell? If this was a fight with the victim, they wouldn't dare to tell anyone about it...
Takumi then continued with another Gyakuten, namely the Dai Gyakuten Saiban series. The concept behind this series was to differentiate it from the main series. While they had considered doing civil trials, they turned away from that because of various reason, like how it was hard to do the story after the verdict, and how it’d lead to rather ugly cases. Eventually, “a classic mystery story set at the end of the nineteenth century” was chosen, as it was the birth period of the mystery genre and by doing things they hadn’t done before in the other games, Takumi felt he could “use this setting to make a new Gyakuten different from the main Gyakuten Saiban series.”But as the impact of this concept would still be too weak on its own, they decided to add in the story of Naruhodō’s ancestor as well as Sherlock Holmes.
The concept of Dai Gyakuten
Differentation with the main series
The story of Naruhodō’s ancestor ⇔ Sherlock Holmes
There are four main points to the scenario of Dai Gyakuten Saiban. The first is “The Great Japanese Empire” and “The Great British Empire”. It was decided in the concept phase that the game would be about the meeting between Naruhodō’s ancestor and Sherlock Holmes, so Takumi wanted a story that would play across the two countries. He then started thinking about the details of the cases, with “the reality of the nineteenth century” as its theme. He wanted to portray “cases that could only work in the London of the nineteenth century” so he did research on the culture and trials of that time. He learned that in the trials back then, bribes were quite natural. Takumi started to think about what a “prosecutor who would never lose” would be, and that’s how the concept of a Death Bringer prosecutor was born.
“Sherlock Holmes” is one of the best-loved characters in this world, Each of the stories have been researched up until the details, and Takumi himself is also one of those fanatics. He mentions he wanted to use The Speckled Band. He also mentioned that Natsume Sōseki really lived near where Holmes would have lived, so he added that in the story too. Takumi explains that knowing things that most people don’t, but fans do, is very valuable when writing a scenario.
Takumi finally finished his presentation by saying that he thoroughly examined the connection between the tricks and cases for this game, and that everything he talked about in this session has been put into these games. “If you haven’t played the two games yet, I’d be happy if you’d try them out now.”
The classic mystery that is Dai Gyakuten
- The Great Japanese Empire and The Great British Empire
- The reality of the nineteenth century
- Holmes references (Sōseki references)
- Connections between the tricks and cases
There was some time reserved for Q&A, which will be discussed now.
Q: How long does it take to make adjustments to the timing of the text or other details of the presentation?
A: It took about seven or eight months for Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 (“The Grand Turnabout Trial 2”). We didn’t had that many options back with the first three games, but nowadays, we can make adjustments to about everything. In the Dai Gyakuten Saiban games, Holmes can make deductions about a client with just one single look. So we wanted him to move his eyes around, but as the direction of his gaze changes depending on where he stands, it was a lot of work to get all of that right. But once done, it really results in a better game, so you could say that for us creators, it’s the most happy time, as it’s a fun task where you can really see how it all comes together. But as we have to make adjustments to details like that, it takes a long time.
Q: Do you create your stories in order, starting with the first episode?
A: The games are made in order, but the stories themselves are not always. With Dai Gyakuten Saiban, like I just said, I first made a big frame, which I then filled. The first three games were created in order. I often hear people say I did a good job at answering all the questions and addressing the foreshadowing in Gyakuten Saiban 3 (Ace Attorney 3 – Trials & Tribulations), but in fact, I just came up with that in real-time.
Q: In Dai Gyakuten Saiban, you have real persons or characters with copyright appear, like Sherlock Holmes or Natsume Sōseki. What did you do to get permission for that?
A: Regarding Holmes, I wrote my proposal with some worries, but when I asked the legal department of Capcom, they confirmed there’d be no problem. As for Natsume Sōseki, we contacted his relatives, and they were kind enough to say I could do whether I wanted with him.
Q: How long does it take to complete a scenario?
A: I started working on Dai Gyakuten Saiban in 2013, and the game was released in 2015, so I think the first year was what we needed for preparation.
Q: Do the programmers also work on programming while you’re still working on the scenario?
A: I’m working all on my own at first, and we add people as the project progresses.
Q: So at first you work alone on the scenario?
A: Yes. But the first game took about ten months in total, so I came up with the scenarios and wrote them as the whole team worked on the game.