Those readers who followed us over in our transition from IndustryGamers will no doubt remember our ongoing Better Know Q&A series with industry luminaries like John Carmack, Peter Moore, Ken Levine and more. We're proud to continue the series underneath the GamesIndustry International banner. Our newest participant is Team NINJA studio head Yosuke Hayashi.
Hayashi-san now leads the talented folks who have developed games in the popular Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive franchises. Replacing the somewhat controversial and outspoken Tomonobu Itagaki is no easy task, but Hayashi-san appears to be more than up to the challenge. His studio is preparing to ship Ninja Gaiden 3 for Xbox 360 and PS3 next week.
We spoke with the Team NINJA leader about his career, filling Itagaki-san's big shoes, the state of the Japanese games business and more.
Q: At what point did you know that you wanted to work in games? What inspired you?
Yosuke Hayashi: I came across the NES when I was in elementary school and this was the event that sparked my wish to work as a game developer. Since then, games have always had a big presence in my life. I felt and learned a lot from each game I played and I am trying to give gamers the same feeling I had with my experience with games.
Q: The turbulence around Tomonobu Itagaki's departure must have been tough for the team. How did that affect you?
Yosuke Hayashi: Actually, it helped me go back and think about who I am actually making games for. I was not making games for him or the company. The important thing that I realized was that I am making games for our Team NINJA fans and players out there. This may seem like a very simple connotation, but it is something that developers have a tendency to forget very quickly.
"If you are to have violence in a game there needs to be some meaning behind this. After all, the gaming industry has matured to a level which can accommodate this"
Q: What did you learn from Itagaki-san's leadership and in what ways do you think Team Ninja can improve?
Yosuke Hayashi: The most significant thing I learned from him was that you need to have "soul" in what you are developing. He was my biggest teacher after all. But at the same time I witnessed the way he tended to abuse this in the last years he was with the team. Most of us on the team were only starting to get negative impressions about the way he went on making games.
Well, talking about the current Team NINJA. In every generation there needs to be a change. And this change has happened to us. We have kept the values that make us who and what we are as Team NINJA, yet we have managed to change so much since Itagaki-san's time. What I can definitely say is that each member is more organically and spontaneously going about their game development. I think that players will be able to feel this change in the game itself.
Q: Itagaki-san was one of a handful of outspoken Japanese game designers in recent years to slam the games industry in Japan, noting that the West is more creative. How do you feel about this?
Yosuke Hayashi: I don't think that Japanese developers should go around saying this. Instead, I think that developers should be more focused on delivering to players what they can pull off with their games. At Team NINJA we prefer to let the game speak for itself.
Q:We were fascinated by Nintendo's decision to work with Team Ninja on Metroid. Looking back at the project, how do you feel about it and how Metroid: Other M was received? What lessons were learned?
Yosuke Hayashi: Other M was the first game that let us work with an external partner whose philosophy towards development is completely different to ours. This was a great chance for us to revise and rethink our approach to development, and this experience is something that is being applied in the studio.
Q:Team Ninja has some great IP in Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, but are you interested in pursuing some new IPs in the future, perhaps in other genres?
Yosuke Hayashi: Of course we are looking into new IPs and genres, but the first and the more important challenge that we face is to redefine Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive in their respective genres. It has been a while since the last installments of both these games have been released and we want to show the future of each respective genre through these latest installments.
Q:You're supporting Vita with Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, but what's your view of the portables market? Will smartphones and tablets eventually make platforms like Vita and 3DS obsolete as many have predicted?
Yosuke Hayashi: If you are thinking outside the boom that the DS made in the portable industry I think that all these platforms will be able to coexist together on the portable market. The only difference is that the types of games you can play on smartphones/tablets and portable consoles will separate even further. If games that can also be played on smartphones/tablets are the only thing being released on portable gaming consoles then I can see the market shrinking for the latter, but if consoles can provide something unique of their own then I don't see them going away anytime soon.
Q: Which game designers have had the biggest influence on you and your career?
Yosuke Hayashi: That would definitely be Shigeru Miyamoto. If it weren't for him I wouldn't be here now.
Q:If you had the latitude to do whatever game project you wanted, regardless of time or cost, what do you think you would do?
Yosuke Hayashi: I would make something to do with either action and/or fighting as these two genres interest me the most as not only a game developer, but as a player.
Q: Ninja Gaiden 3 looks to be one of the most violent and bloody entries in the series yet. Are you concerned that this might cause controversy in America or Japan? What's your stance on the whole video game violence debate?
Yosuke Hayashi: Since a few years ago I felt the lack of potential in meaningless expressions of violence that were dominating games. If games just continued on the path of having more blood and more body parts flying everywhere then this would just lead to some strange and bizarre direction in gaming. If you are to have violence in a game there needs to be some meaning behind this. After all, the gaming industry has matured to a level which can accommodate this. That is why we wanted to explore themes of karma and consequence in Ninja Gaiden 3 so that players can feel a result and meaning of the actual violence in the game.
Q: We wouldn't think Ninja Gaiden would lend itself to multiplayer battles. Some developers are accused of tacking on multiplayer to games that are traditionally single-player in an effort to sell more copies. What's your reaction?
Yosuke Hayashi: We are not that stupid as to just tack on a multiplayer mode that no one can play into a single player action game. I touched upon the redefinition of the genre a moment ago. This is also what we are trying to do with the multiplayer mode in Ninja Gaiden 3. We felt potential in this and that is why we are putting it in.
Q: Do you believe consoles may one day be replaced by cloud gaming? What does your vision for the future of the industry look like?
Yosuke Hayashi: When the TV was established I guess people thought that cinema would vanish. When YouTube made its mark people thought that TV would vanish. What is the actual reality? Well, everything still coexists. I think this will be the same with gaming. Cloud gaming, consoles, social games, etc, will all have their nook and cranny in the gaming world and together will lead the industry into the future.