Interview: Team Ninja Creative Director Talks About Creating a Fun Game With Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z will be launching on March 18th for Xbox 360 and PS3 and for Steam on March 21st. For the occasion, I was able to ask Team Ninja’s Creative Director Tom Lee a few questions about Yaiba (the game), Yaiba (the character) and how the game came to be at a recent preview event.
Keep in mind that this wasn’t a formal interview, simply a Q&A session, which is why it’ll be pretty abridged and very casual.
Allisa: What first inspired Spark Unlimted, Team Ninja and comcept to come up with this game? Did they already have a strong idea in mind when they first started or did it kind of flow as they went along?
Tom: Things came together at the right time. Inafune-san came to the development teams because he wanted to make a ninja/zombie game — what an extremely crazy combination, right? — but didn’t know how to go about it. So he sort of came to us for help. In terms of Yaiba, we wanted to push it and take it as far as it could go. This whole game has been an experiment in what we could do, honestly.
Allisa: So I know Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a collaborative work between Team Ninja, Spark Unlimited and comcept’s Keiji Inafune-san. Did each development team split work or did everyone pitch in on the same tasks?
Tom: Everyone came together for the project but Spark Unlimited developed the actual game, comcept handled the creative input aspect and Team Ninja was also in charge of creative input.
Allisa: What were the differences between Inafune-san’s creative work and Team Ninja’s?
Tom: Team Ninja was in charge of keeping things consistent with the Ninja Gaiden universe. Inafune-san was in charge of the bigger picture. This game is sort of his baby, since he was the one who came up with the idea in the first place.
Allisa: So even though this game can be considered AU, Team Ninja made sure that Yaiba still had the major elements of the Gaiden universe, correct?
Allisa: I wanted to know a bit more about Yaiba. How did your teams come up with his character? Because Ryu Hayabusa is this heroic character who is always doing things for the greater good, while Yaiba honestly is a really terrible person (laughs).
Tom: Well we wanted to do something different with the universe. We’ve been putting Hayabusa as this classic hero and we thought it was time to make a change. So we created this unlikable guy, someone different that, combined with the much darker universe, would make Ryu stick out and look really ridiculous.
Allisa: Yeah, he’s like Superman in this game. But Yaiba is so unlikeable that you end up liking him.
Tom (laughs): Yeah exactly. He’s like the Joker — this completely horrible person that’s so evil that you enjoy watching him and kind of hope he wins.
Allisa: True. I’m actually rooting for Yaiba because he’s so interesting. And even though I love Ryu, I kinda want Yaiba to beat him.
Tom: Exactly! That’s what we wanted — to have fun and kinda poke fun at Team Ninja and what they do a little and not take these characters and story so seriously. I feel developers lost the idea of fantasy in gaming. With the next-gen consoles out now and developers pushing the envelope in graphics and story, they forget to have fun and how to make a stylish game.
Allisa: I know what you mean. Like with the push for more realism, they don’t remember that video game worlds should be more fantastic and uniquely stylized.
Tom: Exactly. Everything can’t be a first-person shooter (laughs). Which is why we tried to go for something very different.
Allisa: The cutscenes were really striking I noticed.
Tom: Yes, we were inspired to use a comic book style for the game and so we incorporated that in the cutscenes.
Allisa: I can also see that in the cell-shaded graphics, which are incredibly beautiful and intricate I must say.
Tom: Thank you. Many developers say their games are inspired by comics but the actual game doesn’t really reflect that. We wanted to really show the comic book inspiration in Yaiba with the graphics and story presentation. So we worked hard to reflect that in everything in Yaiba.
Note: At this point we ran out of time for the Q&A.
Allisa: Thank you very much for your time. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Tom: Likewise and thank you as well.
And so ended the interviewing session. Hopefully the few questions I was able to ask gave you all a much better idea of the game and its fascinating world. For an in-depth look into Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z‘s gameplay, check out my preview of the upcoming title here.