During a conference held at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris, attended by DualShockers, Bandai Namco Worldwide Technology Director Julien Merceron, who played a crucial part in the creation of the Fox Engine and of the Luminous Engine when he was working at Konami and Square Enix, talked about the difference between game development in the west and in Japan.
The first difference is the structure of the teams, which influences greatly how decisions are taken. In Japan it’s extremely hierarchical, and generally a single man is at the core of the project. For instance, Hideo Kojima is at the core of Metal Gear, wile Hironobu Sakaguchi was the essence of the original Final Fantasy games.
In the west, games are created more as a team. There’s a Lead Programmer, a Lead Artist, a Lead Animator, a Lead Designer, a Lead Producer and so on, and ideas and a direction for the project are created starting from them. This brings the big advantage is that those ideas tend to be already functional when they are born, because a Lead Programmer and a Lead Animator already contributed to their creation. Everyone already understands his role and how things will generally be done.
In Japan when the idea is initially presented to the team, they have no clue of how it will be done, at first. They have to do what the creative says, trying not to stumble into problems.
In Japan the artist is also considered “sacred.” Manipulating the work of the artist is seen in a bad light. Every time a programmer has to work on the tools’ side, they’d rather avoid it, because it might not please the artist, and that wouldn’t end well.
In the west, on the other hand, both side have a better understanding of each other’s needs and roles. People meet to discuss on problems like memory performance and to make things run smoothly. When there’s a problem, meetings are called as soon as possible in order to take the necessary decisions. In Japan, on the other hand, the artist is kept in the dark for too long on the sacrifices that have to be done. When he’s made aware of that, it ends badly, which is why there’s often a lot of overtime to be done.
In Japan no one wants to make those sacrifices, so they work “at the risk of their own life.” Merceron clarified that he’s serious about this. He heard stories about Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, mentioning that at the end of development, a few developers went directly to the hospital just after the game went gold.
The Video Game masterclass event in Paris was organized by Jeux Vidéo Magazine and Cité des Sciences.
[On-Location Reporting and Translation: Morgane Bouvais]