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From Kojima Productions To The UK

In this in-depth interview, NeverDead director Shinta Nojiri explains why he left Metal Gear Solid studio Kojima Productions to take a job developing a new IP -- and ended up relocating to England to work with the team at Rebellion on the title.

Shinta Nojiri is not a famous name -- but he's been working at Kojima Productions for years, notably as the director of Metal Gear Acid, the surprising PSP title which turned the popular stealth series into a portable card game. He worked on more mainstream entries in the series as well.

Now, however, he's splashed out on his own -- and has come up with the concept for a new IP in the form of NeverDead [YouTube trailer], a game where the main character is immortal. More surprisingly, the Tokyo-based developer has relocated to the UK for large portions of the game's development at Rebellion.

Here, he talks about integrating new-style gameplay with familiar mechanics and controls, how the game is pitched only towards Western audiences, what it's like to work as a Japanese director in a UK studio, and why the company felt the need to send him across the ocean in the first place -- and more.

What is the gameplay dynamic when your character can't die?

Shinta Nojiri: The player is an immortal, but I know there must be some kind of failure for the player. I can tell you one of them. He has an AI character partner named Arcadia, who is a normal lady. She can die.

When she's dead, it's a kind of Game Over for the player, but we have other cases; she's not always along with him. The player will also have other cases of failure, but it's not death. This doesn't happen to him.

When failure relies on an AI character, how do you make sure that doesn't get frustrating? Because it can be very frustrating to have failure come from something that you can't really control.

SN: She's always following him, but there might be some cases of what you mentioned -- but they won't be annoying, I think. Yes, we can control probability, adjusting health and power.

Have you done some play tests to see how players feel about that mechanic?

SN: We haven't had any play tests now, but we will. Yes, we need to check so many mechanics of this gameplay, because we will have so many unique and special features for NeverDead. Yes, the player needs to learn so many things. It's a kind of third-person shooter action, but we have a lot of unique control methods.

Can you talk about those "unique control methods"?

SN: We aren't trying to change third person shooter control. We will add some unique systems. I think Western players are very familiar with ordinary third-person shooter control, and we will use the same scheme. But, as you might know, the main character's potential for dismemberment needs another way of thinking. I think it's additional, and we will teach it by degrees. I think we will provide situations for the player, starting from easy ones, and it will get more complicated.

I presume that the main market for this game is the West, right?

SN: Yes. Mainly North America.

Do you think that it's possible to make this kind of game popular in Japan?

SN: In Japan? I think now many more people are playing this kind of third-person shooter than before. Ten years ago, so few people played third person or first person shooters. Now, Grand Theft Auto IV sold over 300,000 units.

Yes, it's much less than in U.S. and Europe, but before GTAIV it was less than 300,000. I mean [interest] is growing up. I'm not sure how popular it will be, but, yes, it's increasing. I am very familiar with third person shooters and first person shooters; Gears of War, Call of Duty, or other titles. Sorry; I'm not mainly thinking of the Japanese market for this, but mainly for the Western market.

Did you have anything to do with this idea before it went through Rebellion, or did Rebellion come to Konami?

SN: This is the title I conceived. I conceived everything about this, and I provided most all the features: the characters, story, and everything. Yes, the concept art is by Rebellion, but the gameplay and mechanics were by me. It's almost by Konami, and they are now constructing the game with me.


How has it been working with a Western company so closely?

SN: Yes, I'm enjoying it. (Laughs) But most days, we're fighting -- positive fighting, I mean. But I have some confidence about the quality of the game, and I know how to make this game much better -- even great. I order them on what to do, and how, and sometimes they don't like my way. (Laughs) But I think, yes, with my way we would get higher scores and reputation from the audience.

I think this is a kind of Japanese way and not Western way, because Western people have more discussion, but I always make a decision for everything. This is not the necessarily a Japanese way, but I guess it's a kind of Kojima Productions way.

Why did you decide you wanted to go outside of Kojima Productions and do something else?

SN: I jumped to make my own new IP because I think Konami needs new IP, but it's complicated. In Kojima Productions, we have some obligations to make a franchise. My ex-boss (laughs) wanted me to make games in the franchise, but I didn't think so.

When I got out of Kojima Productions, I wanted to make another kind of title because I, personally, love portable games -- just like DS and PSP -- but my new boss wanted me to make a new IP, but for Xbox 360 and PS3. He ordered me to work with an overseas company because Konami needs to work with companies all over the world. I'm not the first, but, yes, we needed more cases to work with them. This is the reason why I'm making this game.

Konami has always had a relationship with Western developers but it's been somewhat unsuccessful. With Silent Hill: Homecoming and other games, something not quite as successful as it should be. What do you think about the company's relationships with Western studios?

SN: In a sense, I disagree with you because, for example, Castlevania; we have such a good relationships with MercurySteam. I'm unsure about the details, but it's just a work between a Spanish team and Konami Europe.

In another sense, [these relationships] were not so successful between Konami Japan and overseas developers. I can't really tell you [the details]. It's just a challenge. We recognize it, and, yes, this is the reason why my boss wants to work with them. This is a challenge, and now we believe it will be successful to work with overseas companies.

Working with an external developer is difficult when they essentially become essentially just a work-for-hire studio. With MercurySteam, it seems like a lot of their own ideas are in Castlevania. The other way, a top-down kind of situation, doesn't tend to work as well.

SN: I understand. I feel the same thing -- because it's so difficult and tough for me, yes. But I was originally a designer and also a director.

I'm working as producer now, but, yes, at the same time I am working as designer. I provided details for the gameplay and everything, and I think I have a definite vision of the final game. It makes it easier for me to answer everything. When they ask me something -- you know, "Which is better?" or "How should I do it?" I can answer that every time.

The point is: I'm staying on the team, and I always am staying among the team and working with them. I can answer anytime. If I am in Japan, it's so difficult to respond to them. It takes hours. But now I am staying with them.

So you're actually in the U.K.?

SN: Yeah. I have been staying in the U.K. for four months, from last year, and working with them. I also have a team of Japanese in Japan, but I mainly work with them as a producer and designer. I have daily meetings with them. I'm also writing script and dialogue, and explanations and specifications.


What kind of a game was it that you wanted to make before you were making this game?

SN: (Laughs) Just for DS and just for kids—and domestic [Japanese market]. I prefer domestic; that title was just domestic for the kids -- not similar to Pokémon, but the same target, boys and girls, because I love portable games and also kids because I have a daughter. (Laughs)

Yes, but it's the [company's] concern to make a new IP, and the concern was to work with an overseas developer, and to work with an overseas developer goes two ways: Asian area or North America or European area.

North American and European area developers are just for current-gen: 360, PS3, and PC. It leads to this kind of title, a sort of Western market title. I'm not sure if it's suitable for the Western market, actually (laughing). I hope so, but this is my answer. I think I will make the title I previously tried to make later.

I guess later you could do it for 3DS.

SN: Yeah, 3DS is pretty cool. Yes, I saw this as a chance for us to make a new IP, because it's so difficult to make a new IP these days. Also, in America, I don't know, but in Japan it's so difficult to make a new IP. All of them are making franchises and sequels, and I don't like this situation.

As a developer and also as a user, I'm not sure they are so happy with these 3, 4, or 5s but, this is the situation and condition [of the market]. I cannot complain about the situation. Yes, but 3DS sounds a good situation and condition for new IP, I think.

Yeah, it's got good potential, definitely. And this game is certainly an interesting concept. When his head falls off, can you roll him around or something?

SN: Yeah.

It's kind of cute. You know, it seems like a hardcore title, but it's very lighthearted in a way.

SN: One thing I should tell you is many people misunderstand this as a kind of funny and joking game, but I think it's mainly a serious title.

Oh, really?

SN: (Laughs) Yeah. Definitely yes. I must admit, because we have so many funny situations and stupid and silly features, but... For example, he's a disillusioned and sarcastic guy, but there is a definite reason why he is. 500 years ago he was defeated by the demon king, and this is the reason why he is [the way he is] now; he despairs of everything, and it's a kind of tragedy we will show in the game. I think he will be serious at the end of the game.

Also, about the gameplay, I understand we showed so many insane or stupid features, just like throwing hands or throwing the head. It's a definite part of the gameplay, but gameplay will be filled with strategic gameplay. Players need to choose their options by seeing their situation. We will use a different way of thinking, so the player needs to change their way of thinking.

For example, the player can break the ceiling above him. In other titles, the player needs to evade the wreckage falling down, but in this title he is an immortal; this is nothing important for him. He can be involved with some wreckage with enemies, and the player can defeat enemies by chance; but he can be involved in that because it causes only dismemberment. That's only one case.

Players need to choose from many options in a short time in gameplay. For example, which is better: to go and get his dismembered arm back, or continue to attack? Gathering the arm increases attack power, but it might be better to continue to attack if he's close to the enemy's death. The player needs to choose.

We will reveal some new mechanics with swords, but, simply, a sword has twice or three times attack power of guns, but that's short-range. The player needs to choose which weapon is better. The player can switch among these weapons during fights.

It's not so joke-oriented! Rather than a joke, it's an action game. The control will be so familiar for players, but they will need to change their way of thinking.

A lot of games, the melee weapons like swords or things like that are much stronger than guns, but it doesn't actually make sense in reality for striking weapons to be more powerful than guns because, in reality, you get shot once and then you pretty much die. So, in your game, do you have an explanation?

SN: I see, but I think it's different in games! (Laughs) But, you know, a sword has a wider range, and it attacks so many enemies at the same time; but a gunshot attacks only one for each firing. I don't mean which is stronger -- I chose wrong, I guess. Each weapon has its own specification, and the players need to switch the weapons between situations.

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