Part three of our extensive chat with iNiS co-founder Keiichi Yano sees attentions turned to how the boutique Japanese developer managed to find a global audience without even trying, and what it feels it can learn from Western developers...

iNiS to win it? – Part 3

Were you surprised by Ouendan’s reception amongst hardcore gamers in the West? It had quite a fanbase in the import community.

Yeah, I was surprised. I mean, we knew the game was fun, but to me – I don’t consider that myself that super hardcore – if I’d have been in the States I’d have said ‘Huh, what is that?’ Yeah, it was great. I was surprised at Gitaroo Man too. I’m always surprised – there’s always this set of people that understand what you’re doing, even if they’re not Japanese.

It’s kind of been half a learning experience for me, just to understand the very low level of who we are as people, and what the common foundations are that means we can all enjoy this content. It’s been a very interesting experience; I’ve gained a lot just from reading random sites and blogs.

And it seems to be quite a cross-section of players, not just core gamers.

Yeah, you’re right, it’s not just hardcore gamers per se – obviously if you went to PAX or something then it would be – but even at things like GDC, I’ll meet people and it’s like ‘Oh, wow, you know our games!’ I think that’s the thing about music that’s different from other genres – it’s always about the music, right? It doesn’t matter what genre it’s in, if you like the song it doesn’t really matter. It goes a little bit in part with the story question – again, songs have the same taste, you might like some and dislike others.

On a slightly different tack, a lot of Japanese developers have said recently that they think Japanese game development is lagging behind the West. Do you think that’s the case, or is it just characteristic humility?

Where Japanese game development lacks possibly is in process – I think that North American and European process is much more sophisticated, and recently very well built to handle large-scale development. Japanese process, I mean, I can’t speak for every company, but I think that’s where a lot of people are feeling the pain. And also, for certain games, there might be a little bit of old school game design – it just depends on what you like and dislike.

I know for us at least, because of our multinational background we try to incorporate North American and European process with Japanese game design aesthetics, but we also try to think about game design in a more North American way, and then mix that with Japanese graphical style. So we really try to meld the best of the two worlds into our unique kind of thing. I believe that being based in Tokyo has its advantages – we’re on the cutting edge of a lot of things – but at the same time, I think there’s a lot of things we can learn from North American and European developers.

And from publishers too – our relationship with Microsoft has been a great learning experience for us, and I hope we can continue on that trend on learning more about that –maybe not just with Microsoft. But I mean I go to GDC a lot – I’ve been like nine times – and that’s always a great learning experience for me, just to interact with other developers, hear what they have to say and stuff.

CEDEC’s growth, and the establishment of the Foreign Track this year, seems to point towards more Japanese developers embracing that.

I think that’s a sign that developers are starting to see that they need to gain more knowledge about the development process in order to keep up with worldwide developments. Because I think there is a kind of feeling that North American and European publishers are growing more in their popularity, and we can’t dismiss that, we have to take a hard look at that and see what’s successful there.

At the same time look at Nintendo – they’ve got a similar way of thinking, they don’t look at game development at large in Japan at all. They are their own thing, they’re own entity, they have their own beliefs I think and they do what they think is right regardless of the environment. And that’s how the Wii came out, and that’s how games like Wii Sports and Wii Fit come out – that’s not from traditional methods of thinking.

So I think it really depends who you talk to and where you go, but I think for us, we want to do games that we can simultaneously ship across the world – that’s a big deal for us – and that requires us to have a level of discipline that I know for us at least that we’ve had to learn, definitely, and are still learning.

I hope a lot of other Japanese developers can do the same – you know, like Grasshopper and Mikami-san working with EA now, I hope that works well for them. There’s opportunities for Japanese developers to learn more, and I think if we can all do a little bit of that and take a bit back to our development community in Japan that can be a good thing. We’re all hopeful and mindful about the future.

Do you think that that mix of Western and Japanese development styles in iNiS has helped create things that appeal more cross-culturally?

I’d like to think so, because that’s definitely our goal. As to whether we have the perfect formula or not, I don’t know, but that’s definitely the goal and the mantra. I think that, at the end of the day, at the very least that’s a big thing that we bring to the table for a lot of people. And hopefully, yeah, we can deliver that.

I mean, I think we’re one of the very few companies that could do a ‘localisation’ like we did from Ouendan to Elite Beat Agents, it’s kind of totally a different game. Did we do it perfectly? I don’t know, I’m sure there’s things we could have done better, but at the same time, I think we bring that part of the development formula to the table and I hope that’s one of the ways that we can be successful in the future. Not to mention just making good games!

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