We spoke with The Wonderful 101 (and Viewtiful Joe/Bayonetta) Director about game design, Twitter, and Star Fox.
When you have the chance to interview such an outspoken Twitter personality as The Wonderful 101 Director Hideki Kamiya (also known for Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and Bayonetta), you take it. So, when we had the chance at E3 2013, we made sure to take it.
Kamiya, along with his boss at Platinum Games, Atsushi Inaba, answered our questions about The Wonderful 101's themes and inspirations, game length, and even Kamiya's burgeoning social media personality.
Nintendo World Report (NWR): To start off, what is the inspiration for the Wonderful 101?
Hideki Kamiya (HK): Initially we started off with an idea of a particular theme, and what that theme was me wanting to get together a lot of popular characters to put together in a game in some fashion. But how to do that was a separate question. How do you please the fans of all those characters? You have precedent of things like Smash Bros. where you have lots of popular characters and you have them fight together, or you have RPGs featuring lots of popular characters but you only encounter those characters for a short time and it's over.
So how do you put together a lot of interesting characters in a way where you can select the ones that you grow to like or you have affinity to? And so from there I started developing this idea of having, for example, 100 characters together in a group that you can control and you can select which character you take control of, and then guiding those characters together and proceeding through the game.
And then when I started thinking about what kind of game, well I took inspiration from a picture book that I read when I was young where there were these monsters, "kaijibo," where monsters that were put together could create bigger monsters, and there was also this other story when I was younger called Suimii where there were little characters that had different colors and they were threatened by these bigger fish. For example, there was this main character, Suimii, who would get all the characters together to form a giant fish and Suimii would be the one to form the eye of the fish and there would be this sort of heroic moment where they chased off whatever threat was threatening them and it was very heroic. So that inspired this idea of getting large groups together so you could have a situation where a lot of characters could make a fist to be able to have some sort of physical punching action, getting together to make a sword or gun. And I thought this would make a great action game, and so from there that's where we sort of ended up with the final idea for the game where it is today.
NWR: I know that with Bayonetta there was kind of this theme of "sexiness." If there was a specific one word or one sentence theme for Wonderful 101 what would it be and why?
HK: So one theme we definitely capture is the concept of hero and the other is combining forces. So, individually you have all these smaller characters but when they combine to form something greater they can overcome obstacles or enemies. But I would say the number one theme is probably the concept of hero. This is something that sort of carried on spiritually from Viewtiful Joe which i was involved in before, and the idea of donning a heroic costume and standing up against threats.
NWR: And more specifically for the controls and gameplay of Wonderful 101, do you prefer using the GamePad for drawing the unite attacks or do you prefer the right stick? And if there is kind of a preference how does that factor into the multiplayer with one person being on the GamePad and everyone else being on the Pro Controller.
HK: Personally I don't think one is better than the other, both have advantages. For instance, it might be a little bit faster or a little more intuitive to be able to draw them on the GamePad screen where on the other hand the stick has a little more convenience factor but also maybe a little bit more difficulty to draw the forms faster. So it just comes down to a matter of personal preference, but i don't think there's anything there that says clearly "I am better."
NWR: And then as far Wonderful 101 I think at some point there was some mention of it being on the shorter side. As far as game length comes into game design is it something that you are kind of cognizant about throughout the entire development process or is it something that you make the game and then you kind of see "Oh it's four or five hours."
HK: Basically, with action games, like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, something that we really strive for is replayability. These are types of games that you get out of what you put into them, the play quality is really important. So we estimate with some of these past games you get around maybe 10 hours of play, but it's also the type of experience that you put in a lot of effort in designing so that you may get 10 hours of play but its the kind of experience that you can play over and over. Like, you come home from school and once you get really good at it you can start getting through the game a little bit quicker and, you know, there's this constant sport of effort to outdo your last play sessions.
NWR: I did that with Viewtiful Joe, a whole lot!
HK: Yeah with Viewtiful Joe the very best could beat it within an hour.
NWR: Yeah, I could never do that, but I would strive for it.
HK: So, we do pay attention to the length. It's something that I try to put in a lot of volume into it, but also reward players who are able to play it quicker and better, and so the experience of course in that case ends up shorter. But the focus on replayability has been something really strong, especially in Bayonetta and Wonderful 101, and even Resident Evil 2 so you could get it down to a two-hour play session.
In The case of Wonderful 101, we really try to pack a lot of different ideas into it, and it got a lot bigger than I thought. And in fact we estimate that a normal play session would be 20 hours. Personally I think that I kept piling stuff on and I realized "Wow, this is going to be a pretty big game." But that notwithstanding, replayability is a really important factor, it has to be sort of easy to play in the sense that you don't get tired of playing it, and you would be able to ultimately play it in a day.
NWR: In an ideal world [would] everyone would play [a game] on the normal difficult level as opposed to the easy mode? That being that the easy mode would be something that maybe you wouldn't want in the game but you have it in there to go to a wider audience.
HK: As a gamer myself I think I'm, as far as skill, among the better type of gamers, probably higher than average. You know I grew up as a gamer in the '80s where there was a lot of technique, a lot of skill, required to beat games. So in my mind, I have sort of a certain vision for how the difficulty should be in games, that's something that will appeal to other players who like action games, it's something they will appreciate.
Now, going back to what you mentioned about "sexy" being a theme of Bayonetta, there might be players that aren't necessarily that interested in action games or good at action games that want to play the game because of the style presented by that. In the same sense, there might be players who just want to experience playing as these heroes or using these unite morphs that don't necessarily have the technical ability to play, so even though I have a vision that I want to show for how I think the game should be played it should be available to people who don't have the technical abilities as well.
So one thing that's important to note is that when we put an easy mode into a game it's not just that we make it easier to progress by making the enemies weaker or by making it easier to progress in that sense, but the gamers that maybe need a lower bar of entry also want to be able to enjoy the sort of exhilarating combos and a lot of the action. So in that sense, giving them the same experience in an easier level by sort of automating a lot of the combos and making it easy to perform those, but by still delivering the same experience.
NWR: How do you feel your social media presence affects people's view of your games and, I guess, you?
Atsushi Inaba (AI): Mr. Kamiya expresses opinions on social media, and those are his opinions. So you do get a true sense of what kind of person he is and that's sort of something that can't be helped, but it's also true to who he is.
HK: I feel sorry for the people who are working on the game that I caused this trouble for them.
NWR: With Platinum games working on The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2, working closely with Nintendo, in the future if you were to keep working with Nintendo would you want to keep on doing original games like The wonderful 101 or work with a Nintendo franchise? If it could be the perfect dream what would be the Nintendo franchise that you could work on?
HK: Of course I'd like to work together with Nintendo to make original games going forward. But as far as Nintendo franchises, the reality is that these are big franchises that have lots of fans and lots of history and it'd be really hard in my position to say "Oh, let me make one of these games." So for instance, Star Fox, it would be hard for me to get up the courage to go and ask "let me make a Star Fox game," because there would be a lot of responsibility behind that, I'd be in big trouble if it didn't turn out very well. So considering the history and size of those games I'm not sure that I have the courage to go and ask to do that. But tomorrow, if suddenly somebody came to me and said "We want you to make Star Fox," of course I would be pleased.
So Star Fox is one, another series, Murasame Jo, but there's a lot of great content and that would be really amazing. I grew up on Nintendo games so there's a whole lot of respect for those.
NWR: So on the show floor today I just happened to play the Wonderful 101 and Pikmin 3 right after one another. And although Wonderful 101 is obviously a very original game, I happened to notice a lot of similarities between things like the way you manage your units and even the way you attack in some cases. Is there any inspiration taken from the Pikmin franchise, and, if so, what is it, or is it just somewhat coincidental?
HK: I'd say that's coincidental. I know of Pikmin but I haven't actually played Pikmin. I can understand where some things might seem coincidental but it's definitely not something that I had in mind or was focusing on.
While they may look quite similar, the gameplay itself is totally different. In 101 you got changing powers and whatnot. You obviously have a lot of games that end up on the surface looking the same, but the gameplay is entirely different.
NWR: I would ask something about Bayonetta being on Smash Bros., but you probably wouldn't want to hear that. [Laughs]
HK: So it's not something that I could comment on. In fact, you could probably ask Mr. Sakurai! If Mr. Sakurai wanted to put her in the game it probably would happen and I'd be more than happy to!
Thanks to Nintendo and Platinum Games for providing the interview opportunity and translation!