Earlier today IGN ran its first look at World of Demons, the latest project from PlatinumGames – an Android/iOS samurai action game that will be published by DeNA. That feature covers off key information about gameplay, art direction and story, as well as giving my hands-on impressions, but I figured you might also like to hear from some of the people that have been working on this game for the last three-odd years.
The quotes below are pulled from interviews, presentations and conversations that took place while I was at Platinum, and include a pretty wide range of people. To quickly introduce them, there's: Atsushi Inaba (Executive Vice President and Studio Head), Masaki Yamanaka (PlatinumGames Head of Game Design and World of Demons Creative Director), Andrew Szymanski (World of Demons Producer and Product Owner), Kento Koyama (PlatinumGames Lead Game Designer/World of Demons Co-director), Yasutaka Maeki (Environment Artist) and Hiroshi Yamaguchi (Music Composer).
I hope you enjoy the extra insight, and be sure to read the World of Demons overview feature first!
On the Genesis of the Project
Andrew Szymanski: “My goal initially was to bring action to touch devices. I’d been working in consoles games for a long time in my career, but I never felt there was anything on a touch device that had that level of fluidity, that level of responsiveness, and I couldn’t think of any better company in the world to do that than Platinum. So this was a really auspicious confluence of events where I essentially came to Platinum and said ‘I want to do an action game on mobile. I want it to have swords. What can you guys do?’ And that’s when Yamanaka-san came up with this idea – we’ll do samurai versus yokai, with oni and this whole kind of traditional worldview and that blew me away… The action element was there from the very beginning… and then Platinum brought that traditional element and proposed this world, and it’s something that I immediately fell in love with.”
On Platinum Making a Mobile Game
"Our vision is to focus on originality and action, regardless of platform." - Atsushi Inaba
Atushi Inaba: “I think it’ll actually be the first [mobile] title you’ll be seeing from us, but it’s not actually the first mobile title that we’ve worked on, and… as a developer our vision is to focus on originality and action, regardless of platform, so I don’t think that it was really a shift for us going into mobile per se… we wanted to create a quality action game regardless of what it was for.”
On Depicting Yokai
Andrew Szymanski: “This has been a great opportunity to have this sort of synchronised cultural background, where we can - instead of other properties that are done for Japan where they actually take the yokai and change them up a little bit and play around with them to make them fresh for the Japanese audience - we wanted these to be as traditional as possible, and that was something that Platinum was very passionate about and I 100% agree with.
“Yes there’s some original [yokai in the game] – Platinum has this amazing sensibility, you’ve got to include some of their original creations – but for anything that’s a kappa or anything that’s a tengu or something that’s super super traditional we’re going to make this as absolutely authentic as possible, right, and go back to that 1776 book by Toriyama Sekien and actually use those illustrations as inspiration for the concept art, for the models, so that essentially, you don’t have to know about these creatures to be able to appreciate them.”
On the Art Direction
Masaki Yamanaka: “The initial concept was to draw on sumi-e, which is an ink-based style used in China and Japan that uses monotone and distinctive brush strokes. But as we were developing the game, we felt that there were different kinds of elements of the game design that couldn’t be captured with just that one art style and in single colours. So we also started to borrow from a more colourful woodblock art design that’s used in traditional Japanese art - ukiyo-e, and we made it a hybrid fusion between those two elements. It made me really appreciate those traditional artists.”
Yasutaka Maeki: “As we developed more stages and there started to be more variety between the stages we wanted to bring out more colours and so we started to say ‘I think we need to bring in some ukiyo-e’ - the woodblock style - to give some more colour and life to the environments. So pretty much all of the environments are kind of a fusion of these two. And out of that fusion – depending on the stage – you’ll see stages that have a much stronger ukiyo-e, woodblock influence, whereas… [in others] you can see the brush strokes pronounced a lot more, and this is more sumi-e influenced.”
Masaki Yamanaka: “In previous titles we’ve worked on we’ve had experience with creating some toon shaders, but for this title we wanted to really bring out the brush strokes, the ink painting that you’d see in traditional Japanese work, so we really worked on a shader just for that and we’re really happy with what we came up with.”
On the Player Characters
Masaki Yamanaka: “For the first character [Onimaru]… he’s a hybrid between a ninja and a samurai, but… he’s not an actual character from Japanese history, but a lot of the elements, the clothing, the accessories he wears and different things about his character, all come from Japanese history – from actual items or accessories that were from that period, so there’s a lot of different research that’s done to make it feel authentic.”
On the Gameplay
Andrew Szymanski: “In addition to bringing that incredibly intense core action that Platinum is known for, there’s also a lot of quasi RPG-style elements – levelling up of characters, weapons, …monsters that can help you out, and you can use those and level those, so all of that ties into this idea of taking this moment to moment amazing action experience, but being able to have something that you can go back and replay for months and months as the game continues to be supported.”
Kento Koyama: One thing… that I’m proud about with this project - there are a few things but one that I’d like to touch on specifically - is just that I think that it does have an uncommon and yet well-implemented approach to a fusion of action and RPG elements.
On the Soundtrack
Hiroshi Yamaguchi: “Talking about the very early development stages of the game with Yamanaka, the original plan was – it’s a smartphone game, maybe six songs would be enough – but the team just keeps working on the project, adding more ideas, everybody’s just building the game out and making it bigger and bigger and then we ended up with about 40 songs plus jingles and sound effects, which doesn’t go to, maybe, your hundred song epic RPG soundtrack, but I think for a mobile title it’s pretty unheard of.
“I was the main composer for Okami and I learnt a lot from that project." - Hiroshi Yamaguchi
“[We used] …very classical Japanese instruments throughout the whole composition. Everything was programmed digitally but we have selected very realistic virtual instruments for the game. To go along with the sumi-e art style, we really wanted to have all the music have an acoustic quality to it, we thought that would create a nice balance. That was one of the focuses that we had with creating the music design. It’s hard for some of these acoustic instruments to hold a candle to, like, a loud distorted guitar, but we also have our reputation as a fast-paced action game studio so I think one of the challenges for the project was to get the most volume and expressivity and power out of these acoustic instruments. As for the compositions themselves, rather than it just be ignorable background music that’s just part of the feeling of the environment or something, I wanted it to be more memorable melodies that stay with the player, so I had a very strong focus on melody in the composition for the game.
“There’s a lot of characters, a lot of different themes. We used Chinese instruments for some characters, we’ve got some… Bulgarian choruses for certain themes as well.
“I was the main composer for Okami and I learnt a lot from that project. There was a lot that I could borrow from that for this game as well – a lot of that knowledge… about traditional Japanese music.”
On the Free-to-play Model
Andrew Szymanski: “There is no content that is behind a paywall, nothing is blocked off, there’s no content that requires purchase to access, that was very important for us. We also wanted to… give people different ways to interact with the game… we have the summons that… can, of course, be purchased… In addition we also have a system that… is essentially a single one-time purchase that gives you a permanent buff for drops of various types… other cosmetic items, additional buffs, other pieces of equipment you can equip that give you a one-time advantage in a battle…
“The only timer mechanic is for the live events… simply because they have the best rewards so if you spam them they’d become imbalanced, but when it comes time to do the single player story missions there’s no stamina type system… we’re trying to bridge that gap between an experience that people would expect when they hear the name PlatinumGames as well as bringing in the current state of what you’ll see on the app store or the Google store.”
On Needing an Internet Connection to Play
Andrew Szymanski: “Even with optimisation techniques, to get this level of 3D graphics the app size is large so we’re constantly streaming assets, so that is a necessary part of the process for sure.”
On Making a Living Game
Masaki Yamanaka: “I think that developing the action elements of the game - and that kind of gave us the visual look of the game - those went very smoothly in the very early stages of development. I’d say that, what was a learning process for us, it was a new experience for us to have… [was the] growth elements and having to work on meta game elements, and I think that we had to talk to DeNA a lot about how to merge… the meta game elements… successfully with a core game – the action – and have that be a happy marriage in those two things. That took us a bit of time to find a happy medium for that.”
On Post-Launch Plans
Andrew Szymanski: “We will have additional story chapters that will be going live after launch, and these will include not only the actual story of the game, but the yokai that come along with that, since every mission essentially introduces a new yokai - when we introduce new single player story content that introduces new yokai as well. We’ll also have new playable characters… we’re going to have three playable characters at launch with more to follow after launch… for the multiplayer aspects we’ll have new bosses… It’s all part of a long content plan… on a monthly basis we’re going to be looking to have updates that touch every part of the game cycle so there’s always something new to look at.”
Cam Shea is senior editor in IGN's Sydney office and loves covering Japanese games. Check out his first feature on World of Demons and his piece on the Japanese indie scene. He's on Twitter.