Namco Bandai is backing the PlayStation 3 in a significant way, with two games, Ridge Racer 7 and Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, planned for the system’s launch. We spoke separately with both Hideo Teramoto, Ridge Racer 7 designer, and Gundam chief producer Hirofumi Inagaki about the challenges of developing for the PlayStation 3 at such an early stage. With Teramoto, we discussed the accelerated pace of the series, development communities in Japan, and of course, fashion.
Gamasutra: What do you think of the PS3 so far?
Hideo Teramoto: Well as you can see from the TGS demo, Ridge Racer 7 is running at 60 frames per second at 1080p, and that’s what the PS3 is capable of. Some of the machines over there support online functionality, so you can actually play online here. I think we’re using the power pretty well.
GS: Is it easy to develop for so far, in your experience?
HT: Well since it’s a new piece of hardware, it took us some time to get to the source of the power of this new machine. So it was difficult. But we learned a lot from making this game that we can apply to the next one, I think. It should be easier in the future.
Ridge Racer 7
GS: Why was it several years between Ridge Racer 4 and 5, but only one year between 6 and 7?
HT: There are various reasons. After Ridge Racer 5 was released on PS2, we thought ok, that’s Ridge Racer done for now. But then the PSP came out, and we realized how popular the franchise was, so decided to make one for that too. After that, it just became standard to release them quickly.
GS: And what is the thinking behind having a Ridge Racer at every console launch?
HT: Well, my team likes to work on new hardware a lot. We’re kind of hardware nerds, I guess. Any time something new comes out, we want to mess with it.
GS: How would you compare the power of the 360 and the PS3?
HT: Ah, that’s a hard question! It depends on what we’re talking about. I’ll have to think about this. They have their good and bad points.
GS: Have you personally worked on both?
HT: Yes, of course.
GS: Which do you find simpler to program for?
HT: Tough question too. From my perspective, both the games I made for each were for launch, so both were with unknown hardware at the time. So both were equally difficult at the time, for me. If you’re a PC developer, you’re really experienced with new hardware techniques, and can follow this stuff as it comes out. For us as a console team, we have to spend all of our time making the most of whatever hardware we’re currently on, so it’s tough for the Ridge Racer team to gauge the power of these systems.
GS: Do you feel like Japan is lacking a development community to help you deal with these sorts of issues?
HT: It’s true that there are lots of secrets here, officially. Developers do keep things from each other. But unofficially people do talk about techniques and each others’ games.
Ridge Racer 7
GS: In the U.S. development ideas are shared pretty freely, and it seems like Japan could really use that, to lower costs and increase ability.
HT: I think that’s an interesting idea certainly, getting different development teams to share ideas. You might come up with some good looking games that way.
GS: Has there been any Namco-Bandai sharing as far as technology so far?
HT: Since the beginning of this year, we’ve been talking with the Gundam producers for PS3, so we’ve been sharing some ideas.
GS: And that’s being done by Dimps, right?
HT: No, it’s (Bandai's internal development team) Beck.
GS: Did you see the Sony U.S. press conference at E3?
HT: No, I didn’t…
GS: Just wondering if you knew about the whole ‘Riiiiidge Racer!’ thing?
HT: Oh, that! Yeah, I’m happy people are saying the game’s name so much.
GS: Well actually it’s a bit of an ironic meme, as Kaz said he loved the game, while grinding against the wall as he played.
HT: (laughs) Oh…well I’m not as happy with that! But hey, if he’s having fun with it, that’s ok, even if he can’t play.
GS: Not sure if you can answer this, but I heard a rumor some time ago that the Ridge Racer model Reiko, who changes with each game, had her face modeled after one of the male producers. Is there any truth to that?
HT: Totally not true! She’s an original character completely, always designed by the same guy, just changing with advances in technology.
GS: Well her fashion has been progressing very well.
HT: (laughs) Yeah, I guess so!
GS: How do you feel about the PS3 having only two [Namco-Bandai] games in the lineup for launch?
HT: Well, I’m sure other games may be announced before launch.
GS: So you’re not concerned?
HT: Not at all.
GS: How long have you been at Namco?
HT: Ten years now.
GS: And what games did you work on previously?
HT: As far as the Ridge Racer series, I worked on RR4, 5, Ridge Racers, Ridge Racer 6 and 7. I also worked on Klonoa and Time Crisis.
GS: I liked the Wonderswan version of Klonoa a lot.
HT: Well, I didn’t work on it!
GS: That’s ok, I liked it anyway.
Hirofumi Inagaki has worked on almost any internal PS2 Gundam game you can mention, so there’s nobody more appropriate to spearhead the PS3 venture. Even so, he found the lack of libraries difficult to work with early on. We spoke with him about this, as well as the importance of fan input, and potential ideas for the gyroscopic controller’s in-game applications.
Gamasutra: So [Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire] is being developed internally at Bandai?
Hirofumi Inagaki: Yes, that’s correct.
GS: The other [Mobile Ops: The One Year War, Xbox 360] is being done externally?
HI: Yeah, that’s done by an outsourcing company.
GS: OK, just checking. So how have you found working with the PS3?
HI: I think there are a lot of possibilities with the hardware, and there were lots of things we’ve wanted to implement in games for quite a while but couldn’t, which the PS3 makes possible.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire
GS: Is the Cell processor easy to work with, using multiple cores and all?
HI: One aspect of the Cell that’s been really helpful is the physics simulation. We can use it in the game to enhance realism, like with location-specific damage and things like that.
GS: Has the processor itself been easy to figure out, even with a young library?
HI: Definitely hard! The library is basically zero, we’re starting from scratch, and there are no programmers out there who really know how to use it well yet. So it’s a challenge.
GS: Do you feel that it’s significantly a step above the 360 in power?
HI: I’ve never worked on the Xbox, so I have no idea, but in general I do feel there are more possibilities with the PS3.
GS: What games have you worked on previously?
HI: The PS2 Gundam series. Basically all of those. I was also involved with the anime Eureka Seven.
GS: [Crossfire] looks really fast in the videos, but when I play it, it’s really slow. Is there a lot more to go in terms of development?
HI: This version is way faster than the previous version, so it’s getting better, but of course we’re just showing certain parts for TGS – the game isn’t even close to being finished. There should be some speed improvements.
GS: Have you thought about using the gyroscopic controller at all?
HI: Yeah…we’ve thought about it a lot. The thing we’re considering now is when you zoom in to snipe an enemy, maybe you could control the scope with the movement of the controller. Just one idea we thought of, not decided yet.
Mobile Suit Ops: The One Year War for the Xbox 360 is an externally-developed Gundam game
GS: What do you think of the Xbox 360 Gundam game?
HI: [laughs] Well…they’re trying something new with that, with things you’ve not seen before in Gundam. They’re not bound by the Gundam universe, really, so they can try new things. It could be interesting if they do it well.
GS: If you see something you don’t like in the game, will you tell them?
HI: Of course sometimes I advise them on certain things, and they do the same for me, so it’s not like a rivalry or anything. We’re both trying to improve each others’ products.
GS: Do you have much interaction with and reactions from Gundam fans in Japan regarding these games?
HI: In Japan we have questionnaires with each Gundam game, and people do send in suggestions and things like that. We actually take them really seriously when working on new titles, as they’re our market after all. We look at the market reactions when we have a new design document on the table as well, as it’s simple market research.
GS: What’s more important, your ideas or the consumers’ ideas?
HI: (laughs) Mine! Mine, of course!