Lonely Soul: Tecmo’s Garza on all things Ninja Gaiden 3

By Johnny Cullen, Friday, 14 October 2011 07:31 GMT

Ninja Gaiden 3 is all about Ryu Harabasa becoming a dark hero, according to Tecmo Koei localisation boss Peter Garza. He spoke to Johnny Cullen at Eurogamer Expo on the game.

Ninja Gaiden 3

The third game see Ryu Hayabusa become a “dark hero.”

Multiplayer will be introduced for the first time, but is entirely separate from NG3’s narrative.

It’s the first main Ninja Gaiden since creator Tomonobu Itagaki left Tecmo in 2008, weeks after Ninja Gaiden 2’s release.

It launches early next year for PS3 and 360. A Wii U version is also being developed.

For someone involved mainly in localisation, Peter Garza has a bit more of a say on the development side at Team Ninja than you’d think. It’s probably why he was whisked over to London to show off Ninja Gaiden 3 at Eurogamer Expo.

The game, also playable on the showfloor, was in fine form, but there’s seemingly a lot of fan worry around it. More notably, the lack of gore and the fact it’s the first main Ninja Gaiden without the touch of its creator Tomonobu Itagaki.

I sat down with Garza at Earls Court, among the noise and PA announcements, to talk about those worries, multiplayer and a bit about the game announced at TGS last month: Dead or Alive 5.

VG247: So you’re definitely going forward with a very personal story with Ryu. Why is that?

Peter Garza: In looking at how games in general are evolving, there’s definitely more focus on story in videogames. There’s more focus on making this immersive experience, you’re a participant in all the stuff that’s going on within the game. That just seems to be the way that video games are going.

We want to be part of that, we want to try and push the genre forward, and if that’s where the games are going, we want to be there. I think that was one of the big motivations for trying to humanise and personalise Ryu Hayabusa so it’s not just a video game.

Why now did you decide now to go down a personal route for Ryu?

We’re not trying to deny what we’ve done in the past. The combat is still there, the action is still there. I think what we’re trying to do is add in another layer, so maybe the actions that you do, maybe those have another meaning in another level through the course of the story: they connect to you on a different level.

So it’s not just a clinical video game trying to up the combo meter or up the number of enemies that you’ve killed. But the action also has meaning within itself and within the course of the events in the game itself.

There’s been a lot of fan worries about the gore in the game. What can you say about that?

We’re not trying to tone down the gore. What we’re trying to do is focus on violence over gore. In the past, I think it’s been more about spectacle and locking the limbs over and seeing the blood spray and all of that. We’re just trying to take a different take on it and explore a more visceral…

Before, Ninja Gaiden 1 was all about getting the controls right and getting it to feel good in gameplay. Ninja Gaiden 2 was taking that and going over the top with dismemberment and all of that.

“Rather than the splatter and the gore, we’re looking at violence and that kind of brutality and seeing how that plays into Ryu Hayabusa as a human and as a ninja who’s there to do a job.”

We’re going for a more visceral style and hopefully something that will connect with players on a different level. For the dismemberment system that was in Ninja Gaiden II, once you cut someone’s limb off like that, and the way it was used there, the enemy becomes just another object, it’s a game object. And the game becomes just a game, it takes you out of that immersive aspect.

In order to show Ryu Hayabusa as this dark hero, you need to, at some level, emphasise with the enemies. And you don’t emphasise with just an object if it’s the same as a watermelon or lampshade. You sort of need to humanise the enemies.

I think that’s something that definitely came across earlier with the soldier pleading for his life.

Right, so we’re trying to explore that aspect of violence. So rather than the splatter and the gore, we’re looking at violence and that kind of brutality and seeing how that plays into Ryu Hayabusa as a human and as a ninja who’s there to do a job.

I want to stay upon the gore, this is actually a reader question (thanks, Strange Sultan): “If they wanted the killing to be so real, why did they remove the dismemberment?” What’s your take on that?

Think about the reality of the dismemberment. The way it was presented in the past games, you would lop off some limbs and then, the enemies would still come back at you to blow themselves up and do more damage. That’s not realistic in itself. It was fun and we’re not saying it wasn’t fun and that it wasn’t good, it was a good system at the time.

I keep going back to visceral brutality and that you get a different feel, a different emotional connection if you’re just lopping off limbs from a faceless enemy or you’re going in to push a button to get that final cut into a human’s body. It’s not easy to cut off, to cut through bones.

And that’s what we’re trying to show with the steel on bones sequences as you get that katana stuck in people’s bones and it gets caught in the muscles and you have to push through for that final cut while the enemy is there less than a metre away. That’s more of the brutality we want to show.

There’s a lot of worries within existing fans about toning down about the difficulty in the game.

We’re not looking to tone down the difficulty for existing fans. We know that people have played the game on Ultimate Ninja and cleared the game on Ultimate Ninja. That’s sort of like pride for these people.

You’re just opening it up for new audiences.

Right. What we’re trying to do is we don’t think it’s just a matter of putting in a bunch of difficulty levels. No one wants to choose an easy mode. We’re trying to make different play styles and have the game sort of adopt to people who aren’t used to the Ninja Gaiden system or haven’t played many action games before.

The playstyles we have right now are Hero and Ninja. In the Ninja playstyle, you can choose right now normal or hard and that’s there for people who know the series, who know the game and know how to do the moves. If they want a challenge, that’s there for them.

But for people who maybe aren’t as familiar with Ninja Gaiden or are throwing their controller away, there’s a Hero playstyle. And that’ll help them focus on the events of the story and Ryu’s journey as a dark hero.

Ninja Gaiden 3’s TGS trailer.

Within Hero mode, the computer will work behind the scenes to support some of your play. You’ll have auto-guard and auto-evade under some conditions. We’re not just playing the game on auto and set it to go, you’ll still be performing some actions and making him look good, just like a player who’s very proficient in Ninja Gaiden.

So the idea’s not to dumb down enemies and make it really easy for players to mash their way through, but to bring their skills up and bring the player’s up to the same level as someone who’s playing through on normal or hard difficulty on Ninja playstyle. Enemies will still be aggressive, even in Hero mode, enemies will still be coming at you.

It’s just that behind the scenes, the console will help you and sort of give you a couple of helpful nudges here and there.

You’re making the game with a new internal engine. What are you getting from that that you couldn’t get from an outsourced engine?

For us, we’re not starting from scratch. We have a codebase from Ninja Gaiden 1, Ninja Gaiden 2 and the Sigma iterations in-between. If we already have that base and the base has turned out good games, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for us to go and reinvent the wheel on an engine that we can’t control. We know we have certain limitations, but at least when we own all the code, we know what those limitations are. We can work with those.

If we have a bug or if we want to fix something or when we want to add something, we can go in and tweak all of the code ourselves. It just gives us that level of control. And we’re also familiar with the code that’s there. Like the people who are developing the game right now have been on the series for years, so they kinda know what they’re doing. They know what they’re going to be up against.

And we can work to improve on our existing engine more easily rather than we can than throwing everything out and starting from scratch on someone else’s engine.

You’re introducing multiplayer for Ninja Gaiden 3 for the first time. Are you worried that fans may start turning away for a fear of a tacked-on multiplayer?

For Ninja Gaiden 3, we’re not just trying to tack on multiplayer just to tack it on as a bulletpoint. Multiplayer for Ninja Gaiden 3 really is coming from a different concept, and it has its own sort of core concepts.

The single-player is based on Ryu Hayabusa being a dark hero. Online is the world of ninjas, and we want people to go in there and create their own ninja and fight with other ninjas throughout the world to try and compete and build up their own ninja to be that top ninja in the world. The combat is going to be the ninja action combat you know from Ninja Gaiden, but now, you’ll be facing other human opponents rather than AI opponents and you can test your own skills.

“I don’t think you’re going to see too much of a departure from Itagaki-san and the kind of things he made.”

And rather than being tacked on, we want to put a ninja spin on the kind of gameplay it’ll be doing. So in the rules for the team matches or the deathmatches, I can’t say what they will be, but there will be some twists and some turns in trying to make a ninja-like experience with the online modes.

So yeah, hopefully, it won’t turn people away. If they just want the pure gameplay experience, we actually think the multiplayer will be something they’ll be into.

Ninja Gaiden 3 is the first main game that Team Ninja has done since without Itagaki-san and under Hayashi-san. What’s it like developing a game at Team Ninja without Itagaki-san these days?

I have to preface that because I wasn’t there when Itagaki-san was there. I came in with Mr. Hayashi at the top.

In talking with people, though, they definitely respect Itagaki-san as a game creator. The gameplay systems he made, the games he made, were obviously well received and they were really good games. And the people who are still there grew up in a sense in that development environment. And that’s sort of their culture as Team Ninja culture. So I don’t think you’re going to see too much of a departure from Itagaki-san and the kind of things he made.

But there are new people at the helm, and we’re trying to look at where games are now, and if we were to just rehash what Itagaki-san did and just say we’re going to have, in essence because that’s the way its always been in Ninja Gaiden, then we wind up rehashing things from the past. And that wasn’t what made Ninja Gaiden as good as it was. It was a passion for making an action game that felt good that pushed hardware to its limits.

And that’s the thought, that’s the culture that is still there in Team Ninja. It’s not denying what Itagaki-san did, but it’s also not bowing and saying that was the be all, end all of game development for Team Ninja. We want to be there pushing current hardware and pushing current gameplay into the future for action and fighting games.

You mentioned at the end of the session it’ll be out for PS3 and 360 in early 2012, but there was no mention of Wii U. Is that still there?

It is still there. It’s not being developed in parallel, but we do have the game up and running on the dev hardware. We’re still playing with control schemes to see what would be fun with Wii U, but it’s definitely there and it’s definitely getting worked on.

How far are you pushing the Wii U hardware with Ninja Gaiden 3?

That’s kind of hard to say right now because, like I said, we’re just getting it up and running now on Wii U. And we’re still finding out what the hardware can do and how to work with the hardware itself. Right now, we’re at a very early stage, so we can’t say that we’re pushing it to its limits right now. But I can tell you that the team being what it is is definitely interested in pushing the hardware as hard as it can.

On Ninja Gaiden Vita: “We’re looking at putting in the playstyle selection that we’re doing for Ninja Gaiden 3, the Hero and Ninja playstyle.”

With 3DS, when we brought out Dead or Alive: Dimensions, that was one of the best looking 3DS games out there. And we really wanted to use whatever hardware we were on, we want to use to its full potential and really push that. Not just in spec, but the features that make that hardware unique.

So right now with Wii U, we’re just starting to know what Wii U is and how we can make it fun.

Can you give a ballpark on how far you’re on with the WIi U version? I know you said 70-80 percent with PS3 and 360.

It’s really hard right now for the Wii U version. It’s early, but it is starting to get up and running.

I want to touch upon Ninja Gaiden Sigma for Vita. I don’t know if you guys have announced it for a western release. Is it coming here?

It is. I don’t think we have a release date, but I know it’s definitely in the works.

So it’s definitely coming west, then?

As far as I know, yeah.

How are you finding development on a platform like Vita?

That again is still, for us, sort of playing with it. And it’s a really interesting time for developers because it’s just pure ideas and games and, ‘what if we do that and what if we do that? Well we can do that, but oh we can do this and oh what about that?’ And just sort of iterating on different ideas and different control schemes.

So we definitely have ideas for what to put into Sigma for Vita. But we’re still testing whatever those are actually fun and how we can make it even more fun and things like that.

One thing I can tell you is that we’re looking at putting in the playstyle selection that we’re doing for Ninja Gaiden 3, the Hero and Ninja playstyle. Bringing that to the PlayStation Vita version of Ninja Gaiden Sigma as well, so again, for people who are new to the series or maybe not used to it on a handheld, we think that’ll be a good point of entry for them.

Okay. Just to clarify, is Sigma on Vita a new story or is it based off a previous release?

It’s based off the Sigma that was released for PlayStation 3 a while back.

Finally, I want to talk to you about Dead or Alive 5. It’s been a long time coming, a lot of fans have been anticipating that. I assume you’ll be going dark for a while, but how does it feel to get that out there?

It feels really good. The response we’ve had from TGS, coming out strong with the playable demo right there and seeing the fan response and people just blowing up about that, it feels really good.

Dead or Alive 5’s debut TGS trailer.

For a while after Dead or Alive 4, the team was kind of wondering what the next iteration would be. We could put in some new characters and some new stages, but that really didn’t seem to be pushing things like we wanted to push them and to make a title worth calling 5.

And so, in looking at other games – not just fighting games – in trying to bring influences from how action games and shooting games and how they’re evolving, and trying to bring that into the fighting genre, we thought that was perfect for Dead or Alive with interactive stages and just taking that to another level, with the spectacle of entertainment that can give.

So yeah, it feels really good, the response has been really good. We’re psyched.

When do you think we’ll next see it? I assume E3?

Yeah, I would hope we have something at E3. To be honest with you, we haven’t thought that far ahead [laughs]. We just got done with TGS. I’m sure we’ll be able to show you something sooner than later, but I can’t give you an exact date for when.

Ninja Gaiden 3 launches early next year for PS3 and Xbox 360, with a Wii U version also in development. Dead or Alive 5 launches later next year for PS3 and 360.

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