Yaiba Creators On Japanese Ninjas, Western Zombies And Life After Capcom

Ryan King


Yosuke Hayashi and Keiji Inafune tell us about Yaiba curious development set-up, Western zombies and Japanese ninjas.

Published on Aug 29, 2013

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is one of the more unusual games in development thanks to its unusual development set-up: Team Ninja, Comcept and Spark Unlimited are all working on the project.

We catch up with Team Ninja's Yosuke Hayashi (left) and Comcept's Keiji Inafune to find out about the project.

What was the intention behind creating Ninja Gaiden: Yaiba?

KI: The start of it was that I wanted to make a game with ninjas and zombies. The intention is I wanted to make a solid ninja game. As a Japanese developer, ninja games are one of the things that represent Japanese development. Bringing zombies into that mix, something that works really well in the West, that would be the chance to have a really fun game that we couldn’t just make in Japan but also couldn’t just be done in the West, for a really fresh take on ninja action games.

Within that of course, the top ninja action game is Ninja Gaiden. Everybody knows that game and if we could set this new ninja action game within the universe of Ninja Gaiden and still keep it its own thing, I thought that would be a great way to broaden the audience of ninja action games and hopefully by teaming up with a Western developer to create it, have some of that influence rub off on the Japanese side as well and in that sense, bring a little bit of energy back in the Japanese game scene.

You both obviously have extensive experience working with Japanese developers and publishers through Tecmo-Koei, Sony, Capcom and so on. How do you find the experience of working with a Western developer compares to that?

KI: At the core, it’s creative people, game creators talking to each other. Whether it’s Japanese creators talking to each other or Western developers talking to each other, that creative aspect, that conversation, it really doesn’t change. Of course with a different culture you will bring some different perspectives. Western developers have different strengths and you have to be open to those strengths and bring them out of each other.

Of course, there are inconveniences – it’s a different culture, a different area physically – so it’s easy to focus on the negatives and the problems but we have to get past those and realise there’s something better to be gained from that collaboration and really play on each other’s strengths to create the best game you game.

You've both worked on plenty of projects throughout your careers to this point. What’s made development of Yaiba unique?

YH: Western developers have a different image of ninjas than we did. Than Team Ninja does. We’ve grown up with a certain image of ninjas and we created our own ninjas within Ninja Gaiden. There are aspects of that that we can just feel that are right for this world. Some of those aspects are hard to understand from a Western perspective. For example, there are ninja rules or a ninja code you have to follow as part of a ninja clan.

The Western developers asked ‘why do you need to follow these rules? They’re just rules!’ But that’s something you need to do. That’s part of being a ninja. So it’s interesting to see the different take and understanding on what a ninja is in the eyes of a Western developer.

Is that true of zombies as well? That Western audiences see them differently to Japanese audiences?

KI: Yeah, absolutely. Zombie entertainment isn’t as popular in Japan and not a lot of Japanese people are familiar with zombies or what makes zombies cool. I’m a rare case – when I was little, I was watching zombie films so I know zombies.

So this is a good opportunity in rather than having to tell a Japanese development staff that doesn’t know zombies how to make them or these are the rules you need to follow, when talking to a Western developer who knows zombies, it’s easy to get different ideas and that makes it much faster to come up with better ideas.

Japanese development can learn from that and what makes a zombie cool, just as we can teach Western developers what makes a ninja a ninja, so it really is a learning process on both sides. Through that, we’ve been able to come up with some really cool designs and really cool zombie action.

Was there anything you learnt through Dead Rising that has carried over to Yaiba?

KI : When we were making Dead Rising, there were really no other zombie games out there. There was Resident Evil but that was really about it. Dead Rising really tried to get the experience of a zombie movie into a game. Through that process, that really reinforced my idea that there has to be elements of humour in zombies.

Zombies are stupid and there’s just something about that stupidity that’s funny and that humour plays well in zombie entertainment movies, so that’s something we focused on putting in Dead Rising. It played really well – people seemed to respond really well to those aspects. In Dead Rising 2, we had those elements as well

That’s one thing we’ve been very adamant about for Yaiba, to keep that element of humour in the zombies that we have. So in the comic book art style, we can do non-realistic things like zombies that are spitting fire at you and electrical zombies and stuff you probably wouldn’t see in a regular zombie movie.

But there’s still that element of humour in there, that element of zombie stupidity or zombie silliness that for Yaiba especially, as we can do the non-realistic stuff we think we’ve been able to take that to another level.

How much have you seen of Dead Rising 3? What do you think of it so far?

KI: I saw the E3 footage and I know that’s not everything about the game but my impression was there wasn’t much humour in there. I know they’re still working on it and there’s more information to come out, so I hope there’s a little more humour.

What have you learnt from working on previous action games that will carry over to Yaiba?

YH: The core of an action game is fairly simple – it’s got to feel good. You push a button, perform an action and it’s got to feel good. That’s something that Team Ninja has worked really hard on through our history and we’ve got really got at. And we have that experience in Yaiba that we can oversee the action elements of Yaiba and give direction on the feel of the game, the feel of the action. The responsiveness.

We’re really taking a close look at that and we have the director of Ninja Gaiden working on this as well and giving that feedback. So that’s probably the biggest thing we’re directly contributing to Yaiba.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve found working on Yaiba so far?

YH: The art style that we have for Yaiba is something we haven’t done before. Going with the comic book style is something we agreed upon in the beginning and everybody was on board with it but Team Ninja hadn’t done that before. Seeing it take shape and giving feedback in the course of development to what we had at the E3 builds and here, it seems like we’ve done a good job.

People have been very receptive to the art style. There are a lot of games out there but it seems Yaiba stands out and people recognise that as something different. It’s definitely involved a lot of back and forth and there have been challenges in the middle but we’ve come up with something special.

KI: From my time at Capcom, I was working hard to connect developers at Capcom to developers overseas, Western developers. I was always looking to find more people in Japan who would be open to that interaction and collaboration with overseas developers. With Yaiba, being able to connect Team Ninja with an overseas developer, there are challenges involved with that but I hope that this turns out well and we’re working hard to make sure it does turn out well.

Seeing the response of Team Ninja to this collaboration and seeing them in action, I definitely feel there’s a lot of potential for Team Ninja to have more of these collaborations with Western developers in the future and if that happens, their own strengths will become that much better and they’ll be able to make games that are even stronger on their own end.

I hope in the future they’ll continue to do these kind of collaborations. For that to happen we need to make sure Yaiba itself is a success so we’re hoping this collaboration right now between the three turns out well.

Why is it so important to have that collaboration?

KI: Japanese developers have their own way of creating games and Western developers have their own way of creating games. I think it’s important to be open to different ways of creation. The Japanese games weren’t made through a Western style development and it wasn’t thinking of something else to create Japanese games. Japanese games are created through a Japanese games development process. Right now the process itself is weak, so it’s important to look around at different processes and learn from those differences to strengthen our own development practices.

In that collaboration, Western developers as well will get a glimpse of what makes Japanese games Japanese games and the thoughts that go into that as well. The more that they can see that, they can take the good parts of that development and have that reflected in their own games as well. Having this feedback that goes back and forth, the games that they make will get better and better and friendly competition between the two raises the quality of all games.

I think for the future of the medium in general, that’s very important and for the future of Japanese development in particular, it’s very important to be open to those ideas and to improve ourselves and see what other people do with our ideas and learn from that as well.

On the table here, I see you’ve got the artwork of the disgusting baby boss that I remember from the E3 build. I've got to ask -  who the hell came up with it?

KI: [laughs] This was actually created by Spark and designed by Spark. It’s their own idea. We don’t think that’s something a Japanese creator would make. This is definitely a product of the collaboration and working with a Western developer. We think that’s one of the reasons it probably sticks with you because the image resonates with you.

If a Japanese developer had come up with the design, people probably would have looked at it and said ‘oh yeah, okay, another boss character, that’s cool’ but from the design here to the way it comes on screen – this little baby riding this big car and it falls off and it gets mad – that whole sequence, was all thought up by Spark. So it’s nice to hear that that’s stuck with you.

Were there any ideas that were that were deemed too over-the-top for Ninja Gaiden that have made it into Yaiba? It seems like a better platform for OTT action.

YH: From our end, we think of Yaiba as its own thing. It’s separate from Ninja Gaiden. It takes place in the Ninja Gaiden world but we don’t try and compare them or think of game designs that are too out there for Ninja Gaiden. Yaiba is Yaiba. Of course Hayabusa appears here and we’re checking the design for Hayabusa, the motion for Hayabusa, we need to make sure the same Hayabusa aspects from Ninja Gaiden are correct. But other than that, we really want Spark and Mr Inafune to be free with their imaginations.

Team Ninja doesn’t make zombie games and obviously Mr Inafune knows zombies extremely well. Spark as well, the designs that they come up with, we want to see what they can produce, what their imaginations come up with to make Yaiba unique and its own thing.

Last question then - Inafune, since leaving Capcom, what have you learnt about the games industry that you couldn’t have learnt while you were at Capcom?

KI: When I was at Capcom, I fought hard for people to be creative and to take risks but within a larger organisation, you sometimes get numb to taking those risks. You sort of project it by the organisation. When I was at Capcom, I felt I was one of the ones fighting to take those risks and that I wasn’t numb to the fact that we needed to do that.

But going independent and starting my own company, I realised that even I was still somewhat numb when I was still at Capcom. There were aspects where Capcom was protecting me. I think for a creator to be creative, they need to take risks and they need to be out there and willing to take those risks and be willing to fail.

Starting my own company [Comcept], I have all of that risk. My company lives or dies on how we run the company, the creative ideas and the games we can create. I realised going independent, just how sensitive I need to be and how much more it takes to really push to take those risks and what those risks can actually mean to the company itself.

In the duel that you see with Yaiba and Hayabusa, Yaiba isn’t sitting there saying ‘oh no I’m scared, don’t hit me, don’t hit me’. If you see a duel like that, that wouldn’t be a cool fight, it wouldn’t be a good duel. Nobody would get stronger through that kind of a fight. So you have to go into this and approach things thinking that you could get cut in half. You could get killed. You could fail. You have to be okay with that. You’re also fighting as hard as you can to make that not happen.

You really need to make sure when you’re independent, that you’re bringing all of that energy to that fight on your own because you don’t have a big company to project it. Companies will take risks but they generally don’t put the risks on individuals within the company. They don’t make them take that risk themselves.

When you’re independent, it is your own risk that you have to take on personally. So that feeling and sense of determination is something that I’ve really felt after leaving Capcom.



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