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Going Platinum: Bayonetta 2, combat design and the Nintendo angle

Director Yusuke Hashimoto and producer Atsushi Inaba are determined to make Bayonetta 2 better than the original -- and talk about working with Nintendo, combat design, and what being an independent developer means.

Platinum Games has big ambitions for Bayonetta 2 and the studio. Director Yusuke Hashimoto and producer Atsushi Inaba are determined to make the Bayonetta 2 better than the original -- here, they discuss working with Nintendo on the Wii U-exclusive game, combat design, and what being an independent developer means.

How do you feel about the relationship with Nintendo for Bayonetta 2? 

Atsushi Inaba: Due to various circumstances, we've now had a chance to work with Nintendo and it's been really great. You have a certain image of a company, and in the case of Nintendo, we've found it's been really nice to actually work with them and find out what that's like.

They know a lot about games, and they've been really great to work with.  Our relationship so far with Nintendo hasn't been very long, but so far it's been a great experience. Not to say that we won't have some serious fights over things later, but so far it's been good.

You got a superficial question about whether the game had to change its aesthetic direction due to the Nintendo relationship during the roundtable Q&A [at E3 this year]. But I'm more curious if you learned anything from your relationship in terms of the direction gameplay should go. 

Yusuke Hashimoto: In certain terms, there have been instances where there's been feedback Nintendo brought to the game -- where we come up with something and they'll be able to play it and provide it with feedback that we've been able to use.

You tend to get tunnel vision when you're working on a game, so when suddenly this volley of advice lands from the outside, honestly, it's refreshing.

Bayonetta is so gameplay-focused that I honestly feel that Nintendo would understand it very well. Do you find that's the case?

YH: Yes, exactly. And all of the things we want to do in the game, they're not standing in our way, in that sense. But it's almost as if they are a very critical player that can sit back and give us great advice on how we're creating the game.

AI: Working with Nintendo, one thing that comes out of that is that we're not able to cover up weaknesses in the core gameplay by making the graphics prettier or adding cutscenes, or whatever. The concern, first and foremost, is the core of the game and the quality of the gameplay. They really have our back in that sense. And that's actually a little bit unnerving, working with people who are such perfectionists in that sense.

Has the game changed much since Nintendo came into the picture?

YH: Actually the spec hasn't changed at all. Really, Nintendo has been more as an observer, and really good to just let us do our work, but to point out some minor things throughout the course of development.


It's a very showy game, and at the same time it's very responsive, quick, and deep. How do you pull both of those things off at the same time? Many games do one or the other. 

YH: A lot of that comes down to the battle programmer, Don-san. His sense of being able to establish a feeling that feels right, but also to counter that with the visual representation of something -- so something might feel right, but doesn't necessarily have that action reflected on the screen -- is something that he's very good at.

In a sense you're saying it's really a technical challenge to make it feel that way, rather than a gameplay design challenge?

YH: Yes, that's absolutely the case. From a design perspective, we throw things at the battle programmer. We can come up with materials that say, "We'd like it to be this way." We have requests. In that sense, we do leave it up to the programmer. There's discussion of small things -- "Bring this more to the forefront" or "implement it in this sense" -- but essentially a vision that's then implemented and allowed by the skill of the programmer.

As an example of that sort of relationship, sometimes suddenly you realize the game is really difficult. Then there's a discussion between us that maybe we should ease up on enemies a little bit, or make certain adjustments that way... so it's definitely not a one-way relationship.

In the first game you could get upgrades that significantly changed the way the game worked. Not just weapons, but also abilities. You could skip them entirely -- it was not obvious how much they would affect the game. Do you feel it's dangerous, that players can't necessarily understand the potential of the game unless they get deeply involved in it?

YH: Yeah, that's feedback we received for the first one -- we're taking that feedback and working on it in the game, how we can implement it. There have been improvements there, in the second one.

At the same time, do you think there's an advantage to the flexibility? Bayonetta -- the character -- can behave completely differently for different players, depending on how you configure things. That's pretty atypical for a game like this. 

YH: So that flexibility is absolutely something that we're putting a lot of importance on. It's not necessarily the most important thing, but players, some might prefer to use guns, some might perfect to use hand-to-hand combat weapons. Increasing the quality of the game to provide that sort of flexibility in the gameplay is really important.

Is it just as important for the game to look good as to play well, when it comes to combat?

YH: Both are important, and I wouldn't place one of those things above the other. And this is something that is evident in the E3 build of Bayonetta 2 -- it's our goal to surprise players. And whether that surprise comes from one element of the other, they're both equally valued in the production of the game.

When we're talking about surprise -- how do you define surprise for players? 

YH: Of course, how surprise is defined and where people are surprised, that depends on the player. We come at it from a stance that if all the people making the game aren't surprised -- if everyone isn't surprised by an element -- then it has no chance of having that effect to as many players as possible. So we approach creating a game with trying to surprise everybody on the development team.

Do you find yourself throwing out your first ideas, or obvious ideas? Do you have to go beyond your initial ideas to find those surprises?

AI: I would say that I've noticed with Mr. Hashimoto, it's not so much about coming up with ideas and then killing them, coming up with ideas and then killing them -- but coming up with ideas that he'll then polish further, rather than haphazardly put in.

It sounds like refinement is more your process rather than just trying things. Would you recommend taking a strong idea and refining it, or trying a lot of different stuff?

YH: That is definitely the case with me personally. There are a lot of different directors and designers within Platinum Games and that style doesn't necessarily apply to everyone -- but I would definitely say there is more polishing in my personal style, especially in the case of Bayonetta 2. We start with a solid base and the goal this time is to create something bigger, greater, and more polished. For example, we had a base, and this time we're announcing we have a co-op mode. So that's consistent with that philosophy of adding to the experience, and that's consistent with my personal style.

If you were going to give advice on someone who's working on a combat-focused action game, what would you say is the most important thing to keep in mind? 

YH: This also applies to the first Bayonetta, but one of the big things of the combat in the game, as a designer, was having almost a direct link to your brain -- having no inconsistency between what you were thinking and what you wanted the character to do, and what was happening on screen.

Of course, that all depends on responsiveness, and that all depends on feel. The main thing was to put effort into achieving that. You can take that kind of advice in different ways, depending on the person, but that would be my advice.

And, of course, that responsiveness relies heavily on a good framerate, being at 60 frames per second. So that was also a really important element to achieve that initial goal of responsiveness.


Bayonetta was Platinum's first big game. You've come a long way since then. Do you feel you have as much to prove with the sequel as you did with the original? 

YH: Of course, this time, we want to prove ourselves in the sense that we want to show we can make something even better than the original. We're known for making original titles -- this is our first sequel. In that sense, there's still a lot to prove. We want to achieve something greater than the original in many ways.

AI: When Platinum Games was first established, we were working on a number of titles. But, in particular, Bayonetta was the first major title, and we felt like we had to put a lot into it -- so much so that we felt like the future of the company depended on the title. So in that sense, everybody in the company had a strong feeling of value placed in that title, so in that sense it was a very, very critical title.

This time around, with Bayonetta 2, we have to increase the bar. So in the same way, not so much in establishing our reputation around this title, but establishing where we can take the company -- and in that sense, again, it's just as critical as the original.

Now that you've been doing the independent studio thing for a few years, having come from Capcom, do you find it's even more pressure than you were anticipating?

YH: Compared to back in the Capcom days, we feel more pressure, but at the same time, we feel more motivation to create something.

Do you find you can have the freedom that you had dreamed of when you started this company?

AI: I wouldn't say, necessarily, that it was freedom that we wanted -- it was just that we found the industry to be in a situation where the same type of games were coming out, and there was a lot of repetition, and other companies were continuing to bring out sequels to the same games. And what we were looking for was to create impactful, unique titles that would be an inspiration to the industry. We also wanted to create a place where there were other creators and game designers who wanted to achieve the same goals.

Do you think that Platinum has become that place?

AI: I've been working with Mr. Hashimoto for a long time, so I'd definitely like to hear what he has to say about it, too, but we get the opinion from a lot of people that come and join us that it is the type of place that they've been looking for, and that finally they've found a place that helps them achieve the things they want to achieve, in addition to helping us achieve our goals.

YH: Of course, everybody individually, we all have different styles and different situations. But we all come together in a place where we can say freely to one another, "You know, I don't think this is any good," or "Maybe you should do it in a different way -- or cut it altogether." So there's definitely a sense of trust that you build in that kind of environment. Additionally, there's motivation to be gained from that sort of environment. Because of that, there's this positive tension that supports one another within Platinum.

It's really a place where all of these people who are really playful at heart can contribute and create a really fun atmosphere. 

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