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Q&A: Marvelous' Hashimoto Talks The 2D Renaissance

Harvest Moon publisher Marvelous Interactive is one of the companies keeping 2D gaming running in Japan, and Gamasutra spoke with Marvelous producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto about his work with Odin Sphere creator Vanillaware, whether a 2D renais
After years of keeping a low profile, Japanese developer Vanillaware has re-emerged into more common parlance - and a cult Western following - with the release of the 2D action-RPG Odin Sphere, which gained attention for its unique hand-drawn animation. Japanese publisher Marvelous Interactive is currently supporting Vanillaware in production of its next set of titles, and Gamasutra recently spoke with Marvelous producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto at the Tokyo Game Show about the next title in the works from the small studio, whether a 2D renaissance is on its way, and whether the DS bubble has burst in Japan. Is Vanillaware's new 2D Wii game Oboro Muramasa Youtouden a proper action game this time? It seems more action-oriented than Odin Sphere. It's an action-oriented RPG. So it's similar to previous Vanillaware titles? It looks like Odin Sphere, but maybe with more action than Odin Sphere. Do you know what has been going on with Vanillaware for the last ten years? There was such a long time between games -- the last title, Princess Crown, was released in 1997 -- and now they've made three in a short span. Even though it may look like there's a big gap between the titles, with each title we're actually working on this stuff for a really, really long time. The game concept was already planned, a long time before. How long was the development process for this game? So far, it's been something like six or seven months that we've been working on this title. But that still doesn't explain why there were so many years of no Vanillaware games. So the thing is, Vanillaware has started to become really famous. But before becoming famous, first you have to release one title. Then people are going to focus on them, and people are going to start to want to work with them, and so development is going to get faster. And that's something you have again, with a gap and... it's not just for Vanillaware, however. For everyone, it's more or less the same. It's a kind of cycle. What is the graphical process they go through in making these? Is it all hand-animated, or is some of it done with Flash? To get this result, everything is actually done by hand. We have to create lot of illustrations and reduce processes. It must be incredibly important to plan it all ahead of time, because it takes so long to do hand-drawn animation. As you say. If there is a change in between, all of the stuff that was drawn before can't be used anymore. From the concept, we have to decide what is the target and what kind of result we want. Then, after that, we start to work on it and draw things. How many people are developing this game? Around 15 to 20 people, if you include the programmers and the people in training. On this title, we only use people that are really talented. Even with a small team, you can make a really, really good product. Because everyone is actually really good in what they're doing in each of their fields. Since Princess Crown's time, has it gotten easier to make high-res 2D games with newer systems? It's harder now to make 2D-graphics games. Before, everything was 2D, so you had enough people who were actually specialized in making 2D characters. But now, everything is 3D. So now, to find a good team that can make 2D games, even if you have better technology and more RAM or whatever, it's really hard now. I've heard from some people that it's actually more expensive, in terms of time and money, to make 2D games, versus 3D games, in high-res. Yes. To explain, when you are making a 3D character and just want to make it punch, you can just build a model, put the skeleton in it, and just make it punch. But for a 2D character, you have to write each step of the punch animation. So it's more expensive now, to make 2D games than 3D games. Is it also difficult to put it on the newer displays like 720p, or 480p in this case, because of the animation detail required? Pixels have to be smaller -- or you can't even use traditional pixel-art at all. In this case, when you are attacking, there is actually a close-in to the character, So for this title we actually had to go into details when we made the characters in this game. In the end, eventually it's not 2D versus 3D for me; it's more about putting what you have in your guts in the game, and to make it really fun and enjoyable to play. Previously I was working on 2D arcade games before, so it's not just 2D versus 3D, it's more what you want to show, and what kind of game you want to make. What was your background, before Marvelous? First I worked for a 2D fighting publisher, and I was also helping another development team to make their game in the meantime. Then I joined Marvelous. Do you feel as though there's a 2D renaissance now? More 2D games seem to be coming out again, not only just large titles like this, but on Xbox Live Arcade and things. I think there's kind of a boom in 2D games. The users that didn't know the 3D games and were born with 2D games feel nostalgic and want to play these kinds of games again, so I think for those users, publishers are re-releasing and remaking some of their 2D games again like you said for Xbox Live Arcade or for Wii or for new platforms. There is a kind of boom. How does Marvelous support developers? Are the titles funded by Marvelous, or is it just production and publishing support? It's not just well-wishing. We're really supporting. What happened is that usually once you have a development team, they make the kind of games they like, actually. That's what we want to see. But sometimes, it's harder to commercialize. It's not marketable sometimes. So we at Marvelous, in addition to funding them, we add a producer to the game, try to guide them, give them a piece of advice, too, and to try and make the game a success eventually. It's really a partnership with development teams. So you're also working on the Harvest Moon fantasy spin-off Rune Factory 2, right? Yes. It's developed in-house at Marvelous, right? It's outsourced to Neverland Company. Where are they based? They're based in Tokyo. How did the idea for the spinoff come about? I was actually working on Harvest Moon before. Several different Harvest Moon titles. For a number of RPGs, you build up your character, you fight the boss, and that's it. There's nothing after. But for me, I wanted to see what happened after you beat the boss. That's how we came up with the idea of mixing Harvest Moon with a fantasy RPG-style world. You're the hero of an RPG, and you beat the boss, so then what happens? You still have to go back to the farm to work and live, so you work in the field or whatever. That's how I came up with this idea. I wanted to make it so that you see what happens after you beat the boss. So it was your idea? Yes, I was the project leader. Was it also influenced by Monster Rancher? It might look like Monster Rancher or a mix of different ideas, but when I had this idea, I was really wondering if this kind of game would sell in Japan. I didn't know where to go, actually. It's not as antagonistic as a lot of RPGs; you're beating the monsters, but you're not killing them forever, and you can befriend them as well. I assume the series is somewhat successful, since a sequel is coming out. Would Rune Factory ever come to consoles as well? We have some ideas, and maybe you will see a version for consoles. Have you felt that the DS market has been a good place for the game? Yes, definitely. I think it was meant for DS in the first place. Do you think the DS popularity boom in Japan has burst? There was this period where you could make anything on the DS, and it was just selling, because as you said there was a DS boom. But now, you really need to make a good, fun, and interesting game on the DS if you want it to sell on DS. Any company that even had the ability to make any sort of software made a training game. Now you have the casual market, too. The casual users are sometimes very specific. Sometimes they only like certain kinds of games. This time, I want to make a game for video game users that anybody can enjoy. It's one even I'm really looking forward to.

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