Ninja Gaiden: The Essential Interview

We visit Team Ninja to meet once again with one of our fave game creators, Tomonobu Itagaki, and members of his team Yoshifuru Okamoto and Yutaka Saito, to discuss Ninja Gaiden 2 AND Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword for DS.

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By Adam Doree

The greatest thing about working for a site like Kikizo is the opportunity to meet with famous game creators, many of whom we idolised back when we were worrying about high school grades. With the introduction of Dead or Alive in 1996, Tomonobu Itagaki quickly be came one such idol.

But it was with the ever-improving, untouchable visual flare of Dead or Alive's sequels - and certainly with the release of the shockingly awesome Ninja Gaiden for Xbox in 2004 - that Itagaki, leader of the Team Ninja development studio at Tecmo - became more than just an idol to our minds - something of a ninja in his own right. And, of all the high profile creators in our burgeoning interviews archive, Itagaki - once highly elusive - is now one of only three faces to appear five times (the others being a certain well-known British designer, and somebody best known for his monkey business).

This is something we're obviously quite pleased about; Itagaki is one of the most outspoken game developers around, often expressing strong views on the industry, and his competitors. This new interview, where he discusses the fantastic looking Ninja Gaiden DS, is no exception, and he is joined by designer on the DS game Yutaka Saito, followed by our chat with Yoshifuru Okamoto, assistant producer working with him on Ninja Gaiden 2, which is due for release next year on Xbox 360.

Part 1: Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword (DS)

Kikizo: First of all, about how far along is Ninja Gaiden DS in development?

Itagaki: Around 50% or so.

Kikizo: We've heard repeatedly that you've got your 'best staff' working on this game - but you've also got your best staff working on Ninja Gaiden 2. Is there any danger of stretching Team Ninja's resources thin?

Tomonobu Itagaki of Team NINJA in his office with Kikizo

Itagaki: I mean, all I'll say is that we've never been in a position over the years when we've had enough people to do what we wanted to do. And that's not something that's a disadvantage, it's just the reality of the way it is. I think that's going to be the same at any development studio. Just to kind of elaborate, yes it's true that we never have enough people to do everything, but I don't think we're stretching ourselves thin in terms of the key staff members. I mean, Yutaka Saito here oversaw all of the direction of the ending movies in DOA4. And the main programmer on the DS game was basically single-handedly responsible for the fighting engines in both the DOA and Ninja Gaiden series. So certainly, there's a lot of talented staff working on the game.

Kikizo: One of the best things about Ninja Gaiden was the environments. It had lots of stunning, big levels. Are you trying to transfer that over to the DS version, or are you aiming for something a little more enclosed?

Itagaki: Obviously it's a little difficult to make it exactly the same, because you're dealing with a game that fits in the palm of your hand. But within those boundaries we're certainly using every technique at our disposal to make those stages feel very open, and have a sense of scale to the extent that we can.

Kikizo: There's also the storytelling aspect. First, just generally, what do you consider are elements of good storytelling in a game?

Itagaki: I think in an action game the most important thing is to stimulate the player's desire to fight - to edge them on towards combat. Of course in terms of novels, I like love stories or the novels of America's lost generation, a group of writers, just in terms of actual stories. But what's expected of a story in something like a novel or in a film, is different to what's needed or expected in a game.

Kikizo: So we won't have any side stories with Hayabusa going on a road trip across America to discover himself?!

Itagaki: [laughs] He'll also be going to Europe, so don't worry about that! The setting of this game is kind of an extension of the first Ninja Gaiden for Xbox, in terms of he's going to be going to locations within the Vigor Empire. So it is still kind of an imaginary setting.

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