The lastest Iwata Asks, detailing The Last Story,Â is out and it’s chock full of nutritious vitamins for you to enjoy. Alex B. chosen out the quotes that caught his attention the most and commented on them wherever there was something to point out:
Sakaguchi: Well, when I started, it was during the time of the Famicom when the graphics and sound meant that you were limited in what you could do.
Iwata: All that we could show on the screen were something like rough representations.
Sakaguchi: Thatâ€™s right. We had to consider how we should convey the story to the players under such restrictions. Now that high-quality graphics rule supreme, you can reproduce what you want to communicate visually, but at the same time, I donâ€™t know how to put this, but thereâ€™s an element thatâ€™s slightly excessive about it allâ€¦
Iwata: The player ends up being able to see things youâ€™d have preferred not to show them.
Sakaguchi: You end up communicating too much to the player. This is why I now feel that weâ€™re at a turning point. With this title, I pressed reset and returned to the basics of what a game is. I started by spending a lot of time considering just what it means to tell a story in a game. But it went beyond simply considering the story side of things â€“ I looked again at the fundamentals on the system side too.
Iwata: You spent a long period of time looking into those fundamental issues, didnâ€™t you?
Sakaguchi: We did. Thatâ€™s why we repeatedly experimented with the system side at the prototype stages of the gameâ€™s development. We knew that we wanted something that differed from the way things had been done before. We wanted to express the gameworld and story in a whole new style, and I feel that we gave it absolutely everything we had.
Sakaguchi: Yes, I did, though there were actually cases where the gameworld and personalities of the characters were adjusted to fit with the character images Fujisaka-san had come up with.
Iwata: Oh, is that right? Thatâ€™s rather surprising. Iâ€™d assumed that Sakaguchi-san had conceived the image of the entire gameworld right from the start.
Sakaguchi: No, that isnâ€™t the case. If I see something I like, Iâ€™ll put it in there, even if someone else has come up with it. Itâ€™s like the way that someone making a film or staging a play would adapt things depending on who the actress was. So if that actress has a certain unique style, theyâ€™ll want to make the most of it.
Iwata: So if you had an actor with a particular appealing expression or acting style, youâ€™d then weave the story around them in order to bring their strengths to the fore.
Sakaguchi: Thatâ€™s right. The images that he creates really do have that kind of appeal. So I was really grateful to have Fujisaka-san on the team, rather than just merely feeling it was fortunate to have him with us. It was in large part due to his abilities that the graphics in The Last Story turned out as they did. (turns to Fujisaka) What is it? Youâ€™re at a loss for words after getting all that praise?
[Alex B:Â I'm starting to think this game does for character-based JRPGs just what Xenoblade did for world-based JRPGs.]
Iwata: Sakaguchi-san is bursting with this vast energy that serves to fire up those around him. The impression I get is of all this energy thatâ€™s charged up and then unleashed over the course of the development process.
[Alex B: Sakaguchi is the elusive renewable, clean energy we've been looking for all along! Oil, say your last prayers.]
Iwata: How would you describe the game system you finally settled on for The Last Story?
Sakaguchi: This may be a rather highfalutin way of putting it, but I would say itâ€™s all about â€˜orderâ€™ and â€˜chaosâ€™. In battle, the side that manages to impose â€˜orderâ€™ on the battlefield will secure victory. Or to put it the other way round, disrupting the â€˜orderâ€™ of your enemy so it degenerates into â€˜chaosâ€™ is the key to victory. Thatâ€™s something I wanted to express in the battle scenes in the game. But I didnâ€™t want this to be achieved in a logical, methodical manner like Japanese chess. I was looking for a more intuitive battle system in which you can feel the flow of time.
Iwata: With the battles being fought in real time, you get an intuitive feel of â€˜chaosâ€™ for your opponent while preserving your own â€˜orderâ€˜. This means you need to be always adjusting your strategy in a constantly-changing battle situation.
Sakaguchi: Right. It isnâ€™t simply a question of you fending for yourself in the midst of the action. Cast a glance over the battlefield and youâ€™ll see that tactics that entail â€˜orderâ€™ and â€˜chaosâ€™ are in evidence all around you. Thatâ€™s the system I was aiming for, one that is realistic and vivid.
[Alex B: Wow, this is great! I think the battle system in this game is much more dynamic than we first imagined. It seems we will be looking at our surroundings for opportunities to take control of the battlefield rather often, and that's something I think is particularly engaging in battle systems.
I've actually felt the same thing in Battlefield 3 at times, that the outcome of the match depends entirely on which team is maintaining order. The entire match really depends not on which team has the most accurate or deadly players, but on which team has the most organized players. In other words, what the PC master race talks about when they say "____ game actually requires teamworkz!" is going to be present throughout the entire game in The Last Story.]
Sakaguchi: Take, for example, a scene where youâ€™re protecting someone. If that appeared as a part of the background story, you might be able to feel emotionally engaged to some degree. But by having that actually take place during a battle, I think the player will feel a greater bond with their ally. Thatâ€™s why, for this title, the system side was not designed to fit with the images. Rather, we made the system first, and then added the dramatic story sequences to fit with that system.
[Alex B: I also find this really interesting. Coming from Xenoblade, I know what he's saying is absolutely true: you definitely become much more attached to the characters and their relationships when they are constantly in battle along your side, and you can hear their banter all the time.
In addition, the fact that the "escort" story sequences are actually build around this system means they're not going to feel tacked on or annoying (like in RE4, for example).]
Iwata: When I actually saw it, I felt that this was unlike any game Iâ€™d seen before. I was particularly taken aback by the fact that there would be a story scene, but the camera would not automatically focus on it.
Sakaguchi: Ah, youâ€™re right. It doesnâ€™t. (laughs)
Iwata: To be honest, I was extremely surprised. Normally programmers and graphic artists go to great lengths to create those story scenes.
Sakaguchi: Yes, they do, donâ€™t they? (laughs) But I felt that by taking this approach, it added to the richness of the gameworld. Simply because itâ€™s a story scene, we didnâ€™t want the camera to automatically point in that direction. In this world, what the player is actually looking at is everything. When you think that something might be happening when you arenâ€™t looking, itâ€™s actually quite exciting, isnâ€™t it?
Iwata: It is rather exciting! (laughs) And this is another way I felt that the approach you took is a really innovative one.
Sakaguchi: Thatâ€™s exactly the thinking behind it. With a location thatâ€™s familiar to the player, they can pick up on even the slightest difference. It has the advantage of making it possible to communicate even very subtle nuances. For example, early on one of the passers-by will barge into you with their shoulder and say: â€˜Hey! What are you doing?â€™ But then when the hero has become a little more established, theyâ€™ll say: â€˜Oh, Iâ€™m terribly sorry!â€™ Thatâ€™s a really nice feeling. But itâ€™s such a huge place, with so much going on, that even I still find myself getting lost down some out-of-the-way backstreet. (laughs)
Iwata: So even you get lost? (laughs)
Sakaguchi: There are places I still canâ€™t seem to get to. Then when I go down the backstreets, Iâ€™ll pass someone whoâ€™s always doing their washing, and I canâ€™t help wanting to coax some kind of reaction out of them.
Fujisaka: There is a lot of graphical content specific to the city, such as people dancing in the streets, playing the accordion, or sitting at the edge of the fountain.
Iwata: Youâ€™ve made it so thereâ€™s a lot going on even in places you wouldnâ€™t normally go to.
[Alex B: And now they say exactly what we've been saying here for a loooong time:]
Sakaguchi: When I worked on hardware platforms with HD displays11 that were higher resolution than Wii, I placed a lot of importance on the workflow and the â€˜pipelineâ€™12. This is something that is standard practice in the movie industry â€“ ensuring that your work â€˜pipelineâ€™ is solidly in place, thereby ensuring youâ€™ll create higher quality images. But this time round on Wii, I started by creating the prototype, and then worked on analysing that. That meant using a totally different method than I did for the hardware Iâ€™d worked on up to now.
Iwata: So would you say that because you were working on Wii, you embarked on a lot of adventures and experiments and were able to make the game more expansive as a result?
Sakaguchi: That was part of it. To be honest, I think that the HD images which have become mainstream in the TV industry are, for me personally, still rather over the top for the world of video games. Thereâ€™s a tendency for developers to allow all their energy to be diverted into maintaining the high quality of the graphics.
Iwata: While itâ€™s necessary to be able to fully utilise those graphical capabilities in the future, if it can take up all of a developerâ€™s time, other aspects of the game end up being neglected.
Sakaguchi: Yes, I agree. But I was really averse to allowing the quality of the graphics to drop just because we were working on Wii, which doesnâ€™t have HD graphics. I do really think that, in the end, what weâ€™ve created can hold its own against other hardware. Weâ€™ve successfully implemented the texture of rocks and water, for instance. The other important area is the motion.
Iwata: Ah, yes indeed. Normally, if the movement, the model and the resolution are not all more or less at the same level, there will be something unnatural about the motion. If one of those three elements is markedly superior to the others, it will tend to stick out. But in this title, theyâ€™re all perfectly in alignment. You can really tell how much energy you put into achieving this.
Sakaguchi: Thatâ€™s right. Balance is the most important thing. If one element is too high level, you have to tone it down, and if another element isnâ€™t quite cutting it, you need to make it sharper.
[Alex B: tl;dr if you focus too much on the visuals you neglect other aspects of the game, and if you don't properly balance the different aspects of visuals then it's going to look off (for example, games that run on high resolutions and feature dynamic lighting, all sorts of mapping, etc, but still have sub-par animation and look horrible because of it).]
Sakaguchi: I basically try to entrust as much as I can to other people as this will often yield good ideas you didnâ€™t expect. Of course, Iâ€™ll make comments and suggestions, but the young staff will often go ahead and do things under their own steam, without me knowing about it. (laughs) That can lead to some striking results, and my aim is to successfully control this process so I can pass the baton to others and let them get on with it.
Iwata: What precisely do you mean when you talk about controlling that process?
Sakaguchi: For instance, it means understanding that if I explain things in a certain way to a particular member of staff and put them in a certain situation, Iâ€™ll know what strengths theyâ€™ll bring to the task. If you canâ€™t do that successfully, it leads to all sorts of trouble. You end up with situations where itâ€™s quicker to just fix things yourself. If that happens, the actual game will lose its â€˜powerâ€™. You really do need ideas and energy coming from different people or the game wonâ€™t end up being any good.
Iwata: When it comes to gathering all those disparate ideas and getting all that energy flowing in the same direction, what do you consider essential?
Sakaguchi: Although itâ€™s very time-consuming, the way I do it is to get an exchange going between myself and the team, thereby constructing a kind of channel between us. Iâ€™ll slowly but surely chip away here and there until Iâ€˜ve built this channel connecting my staff and myself. I think this ensures weâ€™re all on the same page when it comes to making the game.
Iwata: You all share the same mindset.
Sakaguchi: Thatâ€™s right. The way I picture it is that this channel connecting me and the team actually defines our approach to the game, rather than it simply being a case of me dragging everyone along behind me. If the mindset of the team changes, the shape of this channel changes, and the game itself will change. The game will undergo a kind of positive chemical change. Thatâ€™s why I feel that it was the make-up of the team that explains why The Last Story turned out as it did.
[Alex B: This a pretty advanced idea. You definitely need to be a high-level leader druid to pull off that sort of system, I would think.]
Sakaguchi: I just couldnâ€™t stand the idea of limiting ourselves just because of the resolution of the Wii console. (laughs) The staff responsible for the 2D side slaved away in the background, really putting a lot into this.
Fujisaka: The 3D art directors really gave it their all too.
Sakaguchi: Thatâ€™s why in the end it doesnâ€™t look inferior in the slightest when compared to the graphics and resolution on other platforms.
Iwata: So you refused to use the fact that it was for Wii as an excuse, and you resolved to give it everything you had.
Sakaguchi: Thatâ€™s right.
[Alex B: Now that's a developer with bravado.]
[Alex B: And this other one might be interesting for the aspiring storytellers out there:]
Iwata: What aspects of this project made you feel nervous?
Sakaguchi: Well, as you can imagine, getting away from the formula Iâ€™d used for making games up to that point made me feel nervous. With this title, I felt strongly that as the creator of the game, I was laying myself bare, and I was anxious about how the customers would respond to my ideas. At the same time, there are certain unique things I want to do and express, and in the end, I donâ€™t think that my approach is mistaken.
Still, this opportunity to create something on such a vast scale for so many people meant that it was vital that all of these people would recognise what I was trying to achieve. At the same time, I wanted to touch the emotions of these people, and make them really feel good about the game. All of this meant I had to lay myself bare and tackle this project head on.
Iwata: So youâ€™d say you were nervous about the degree to which people were going to respond to what you created, which is vitally important when it comes to mass entertainment. Moreover, this was coupled with the fact that you were attempting to do things in a completely new way.
Sakaguchi: Yes, thatâ€™s right. And this is precisely why I had to lay myself bare this time round.
Iwata: If youâ€™d done things using your tried and tested methods, youâ€™d have known that if you make something along such and such lines, people would respond in a certain way.
Iwata: However, this time round, you took a step into uncharted terrain.
Sakaguchi: Thatâ€™s right. I had to devise a new method of doing things, all the while with that sense of anxiety that accompanies leaving the old formula behind and not knowing if the new formula would lead to the correct solution.