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Team Ninja's Itagaki Speaks His Mind

hile we were in Tokyo visiting Tecmo’s headquarters for a quick Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword demo, we also got to sit down and talk to the man himself, Team Ninja’s Tomonobu Itagaki. As always, Itagaki was brash, bold and unafraid of hurting anyone’s feelings. We talked about downloadable DOA 4 content, balancing game difficulty and why other developers are soon going to lose their will to continue.

Game Informer: Team Ninja games share a lot of common elements, and there’s a lot of interplay between characters. Is that something that you would like to continue, or do you have any thoughts about creating something completely separate from that universe?

Tomonobu Itagaki: I don’t know how many more games I’m going to make in my lifetime, but in the past ten years we’ve done four major franchises. Who knows—it’s been four major franchises in ten years. Who knows how long it’s going to be until the next one comes along. At that time, it will be a decision of, “Do I make a new game with the characters that we all know and love or do I make a new franchise with a totally original setting and things?” Right now, it’s kind of impossible to tell.

GI: It’s well known that you work a lot—how much of your time is spent working on peripheral projects such as Ninja Gaiden DS or Ninja Gaiden Sigma than working on current projects?

Itagaki: Currently, I’d say if my entire time working was 100 units, then one of those units would be for Ninja Gaiden Sigma, 49 would be for Ninja Gaiden DS and then 50 would be for my remaining project. I try to make it 120 whenever I can.

GI: Games like Code Cronos and Ninja Gaiden 2 have been sort of waiting in the wings for quite a while now. Do you think we’ll be hearing some announcements about those titles in 2007?

Itagaki: I’d like to show everybody some of the new stuff that we’ve been working on in the near future. The only problem with that is that when the other developers see what we’re doing, they’re going to lose all of their motivation to create any game in the same genre, because there’s no way they can beat it.

GI: Games take so long to develop now, and Team Ninja games set a pretty high standard—and people like that. Is there ever a temptation to grow the team exponentially to produce more titles?

Itagaki: There is such a thing as an appropriate size. It’s like the armed forces—you can increase the number of foot soldiers as much as you want, but if you don’t have enough commanders to lead them you’re not going to get the same amount of fighting strength. In other words, if you double the size you’re not going to double the fighting strength if there aren’t enough commanders to lead them. In that same regard, one of my biggest challenges is to start help along a new generation of directors, one of which is [Yosuke] Hayashi, who’s doing Ninja Gaiden Sigma, in order to get more commanders to get more troops.

GI: Now that Sigma’s done, how do you rate Hayahsi’s performance?

Itagaki: I think he did pretty well for a younger guy. He used the battle formation that I taught him to use, and I think he was pretty successful.

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