Special articles, columns and features exclusive to the MDb.
The MDb Interviews Yosuke Hayashi
by Infinity's End
We were given an amazing opportunity to have a 1-on-1 discussion with Team Ninja Producer/Director, Yosuke Hayashi. Hayashi-san gives us some great insight on Other M's development, as well as Ninja Gaiden 3's development. On the outside, Hayashi is a very polite, mild-mannered, and soft-spoken man, but he is also the head of one of the greatest action game dev teams in the world. At a glance, one would definitely not expect ferociously intense titles like Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden being led by someone like him.
This interview with was performed on June 12, 2011 at the Sheraton Hotel and Dallas Mariott City Center in Dallas, TX. The hotel was holding its 22nd annual anime convention, Project: A-kon, and three members of Team Ninja were there demoing Ninja Gaiden 3 in its first public appearance*. The previous day, a private demo of Ninja Gaiden 3 was shown to us with Hayashi-san behind the controller, explaining the events as they took place. You could also play a shorter version of this demo for yourself in the convention's designated Gaming Room.
Peter Garza, the Localization Manager for Tecmo (who has previously worked for Namco Bandai) translated Hayashi's responses during the interview.
A subtitled, video version of this interview may be uploaded at a later time.
*E3, which happened the week prior, is not open to the public.
First off, I'd like to say it's a great honor to meet you. I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity. I work for a site called The Metroid Database. We've been around for 15 years, since 1996, and we're basically the #1 Metroid site in the world, and we kind of pride ourselves for being the #1 place that Metroid fans can go. So yeah, it's just really great to meet you.
When developing Other M, you must have played all the old Metroids as a reference for the game. Were there any particular titles in the series that you continually went back to as either a quality standard or a model?
The title we referred to the most was Super Metroid.
Ok! That's good! That's very good. I assume Fusion was probably really inspiring as well.
Yes, we looked at Fusion as well.
Sakamoto-san is an industry veteran for almost 30 years, and one of his philosophies is to constantly challenge himself on each new project. How has working with a veteran designer like Sakamoto-san inspired your own approach to game design?
Yeah, to be able to work with a creator who I played his games when I was a kid, that makes you think a lot about your own games, and he has that much more experience making games (that much more than my experience), and he brings that much more to his creations and his work that you can't help but learn from him. The kinds of games that we make usually just beat you over the head with emotions, not very subtle. But Mr. Sakamoto is a very sensitive and a very sort of delicate person, and has sort of a delicate sensibility. So we've learned a lot working with him and seeing how he brings emotion to games in his way.
Great! That was a really great answer! Third Question: Project M was truly groundbreaking project in terms of studio collaboration. Did Project M change the way you develop games, or do you think studios should collaborate more often when they make games?
As...in the question of development, we have to see a lot of how the other half lives, and there was a lot of collaboration there. Most Japanese developers live in a very closed environment. You don't talk a whole lot with other developers.
But, being able to collaborate with Nintendo developers, there were a lot of new things for us to see as well. They work differently; they do some things differently than we do, and vice versa. So it was a very valuable experience, and we think if other developers were to be able to do this kind of collaboration work, we definitely think you'd get some very good new ideas coming out.
Do you think you'll collaborate again in the future? Maybe? Maybe not? Would you like to?
Yeah, absolutely, we would love to do it again.
Awesome. That's great to hear. Let's see...a Ninja Gaiden question for you. There have been, as I'm sure you know, there have been many ninja-themed games over the years, but Ninja Gaiden is probably one of the most successful ninja games. What elements do you think, as a designer, are essential to making a good action game, or just a good ninja game overall?
[First off, ] One of the things we think, the ninja games that we make are very different from a ninja game that a Western developer would make. [Second,] And even there are also plenty of ninja- themed games that come from Japanese companies as well, but we think that the ninja game that we offer is actually something that's not quite "traditional ninja". Other Japanese developers, the ninjas that other Japanese developers make are actually probably closer to the traditional ninja. The ninja that we create is based on all of the traditional ninja imagery that we've grown up with, but it's arranged for more modern sensibilities and modern tastes, and so it's not a traditional Japanese ninja. So it's that sort of arrangement, or that sort of variation on the traditional Japanese ninja, and so it's our take on that that we think is unique, and has lead people to enjoy the ninja that we create.
How has the storytelling techniques that you learned from Other M inform the use of the story in Ninja Gaiden 3? How did it influence how you're going to portray the story because I know you've stated yesterday how you're trying to make it this seamless experience, and Other M did that a lot. What did you learn in terms of just narrative and making the story seamless throughout the game?
During the development of Other M, Ninja Gaiden 3 was also moving, so they were sort of being developed in parallel.
And of course now some staff that was on Metroid: Other M has joined the Ninja Gaiden 3 development team. Ninja Gaiden 3 up until now has been praised for its action, for its combat, but other aspects of Ninja Gaiden have not been that well received.
So in order to make a more seamless, total-entertainment package, we took steps to rework the story in with the combat and make that a sort of seamless experience and improve the storytelling. That is something that was done with Metroid: Other M to make that seamless story and gameplay connection. So that's definitely something that we're looking to apply to Ninja Gaiden 3.
You also mentioned this before. Ninja Gaiden 3 will force Ryu Hayabusa to confront the consequences of killing. Hideo Kojima also has stated he wants players to confront this terrible thing that people do. How did you decide that this thematic component was something that you wanted to put in Ninja Gaiden 3?
One of the reasons is... We're not getting emotionally connected to the same things that we were when we were younger. We don't feel the same sense of excitement to some of the activities that you would normally do. So we wanted to make a game that excited us and connected with us as adults. So as entertainment geared for adults, we wanted to offer more adult experience, and so when we were thinking of what it really means to cut someone down with a sword, that entails a lot of consequences when you're going to kill someone with a sword...
And we wanted to approach that from a more adult standpoint and think about what that actually meant. So that's kind of where that [came from]... One thing we want to be clear about though is we're not trying to ease up on the action portions.
We're still going to have combat that's in there that hardcore fans will still love to play. It's just another layer on top of that action that gives a little bit of meaning and context to that hardcore action.
Ok. Back to Other M. The Sense Move and Overblast techniques are these really strong, really powerful mechanics that you integrated into the game, and I feel a lot of games should take those and put them in their own games if they can, or techniques like them. But a lot of times these new games coming out they seem to be using these Quick Time Events. Why do you feel that QTE's are kind of placed into so many games nowadays and I'm sure you're trying to distance yourself from those QTE's.
So in games nowadays, you can express so much, you can have so much action in a game, but you only have so many buttons.
And you can't just keep adding more buttons to controllers.
That would be a tragedy.
(Laughs) So when you're trying to map many different actions and many different expressions onto buttons, QTEs are just a necessary method for doing that. For E3 and for the E3 build, we showed a demo version of Ninja Gaiden 3, and when people are looking at the gameplay footage of the demo, we got a lot of people talking about, "Oh, it's full of QTEs, it's got all these QTEs in it, this isn't Ninja Gaiden."
So let me explain what's going on there. We think that once you get your hands on it, and players who have played it will not really feel like those are QTEs. It's a tutorial, and we're trying to get people more immersed into the action and have the action feel natural, but we need to ease them into that and train them on the controls of the game. So it's really more of a tutorial button image than a QTE.
The buttons you see actually popping up on the screen are the buttons you normally use in combat for evasion or a strong attack or a light attack - it's the same buttons. So anybody who has played Ninja Gaiden and knows the control scheme could probably play the game without those button prompts, and be fine.
So in other games, maybe you have the QTEs that are just sort of random button prompts: press A, press Y, press X, press B, and that don't really have much to do with the actual action that you're performing.
Right. There's a disconnect.
Right, and it's just sort of a random button. That's not what we're trying to do. We were really trying to link the buttons that are showing up on screen with the actions that you would be performing normally in combat. So we wanna make that distinction very clear.
Ok. I understand. I don't know how detailed you can be, but as you know, the Wii is very limited as far as its hardware goes, but Other M is just super-smooth; it's 60 frames a second, just great. What kinds of techniques did you possibly use to just keep those - it's probably some of the best graphics on the Wii - how did you accomplish that?
So all of the staff, all of our designers and the character designers, animators, background artists, they all know that those elements are in there for the game, and the game has to be fun, the game has to take priority over everything. And our games run at 60 frames per second. We need that gameplay to be solid, and in order to keep that framerate, you might have to make compromises here and there - like in backgrounds, in character models, and in little things here and there.
But we're all communicating as a team internally to make sure that all those parts still work together as a good game, and so hopefully you enjoy the game as a game and don't get pulled away by the little compromises that we've made.
Was it difficult to reach that?
Yeah, that was actually really difficult.
Ok. Cool. Maybe one more...? Ok. I'm sure you've gotten asked this many, many times. How has the feedback for Metroid: Other M affected you as a developer, or how are you reflecting on the development process as a result of Other M's criticisms?
Being able to work together with Nintendo's development teams was extremely exciting, both for me and for other members of the team. It was just a great experience, and a very exciting experience. It's difficult to say one thing that we've done or that we've changed because of Metroid. That's a very hard thing to put our finger on. But the staff that was involved in Metroid is very much hard at work on other titles and we'll put that experience to work on other titles. We know that games only become really entertainment when the users get their hands on them, when someone actually plays them. It's not the making of the game that makes it fun, it's how users feel when they get their hands on the game, and we hope to put the experience from making Metroid: Other M to work to make that entertainment as entertaining as we can.
Has there been any discussion for Ninja Gaiden on a portable, like 3DS or the NGP [PlayStation Vita]?
Yeah, there's obviously been thought about that, but we just released Dead or Alive: Dimensions for the 3DS, and so we're sort of shifting back to consoles for now.
On behalf of the Metroid Database, I'd like to thank Yosuke Hayashi and Peter Garza for your generosity and allowing us to conduct this interview. It was a great honor to meet both of you and the Metroid fan community thanks you for it. Special thanks goes out to MetroidMaster1914, the webmaster of Metroid Headquarters, who filmed the entire interview as well as encoding and uploading the footage for us. It was great meeting you at A-kon! See you next mission!