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Tomonobu Itagaki Talks Dead Or Alive 4

ust after the last day of the Tokyo Game Show, Billy and Jeremy were invited to the offices of Team Ninja to go hands-on with Dead Or Alive 4 for the Xbox 360, and chat with its creator Tomonobu Itagaki. 

Game Informer:  How was the reception of Dead Or Alive 4 at the Tokyo Game Show.

Itagaki:  I think it was close to perfect, outside of the online mode.  The venue didn’t provide the best infrastructure to test the online mode.  That’s why it worked out the way it did.  Otherwise, the reception was good.

GI:  We were very surprised with the online lobby setup for DOA4 with the Halloween theme.  Are there multiple themes?  What made you decide to do something like that for the online lobby?

Itagaki:  You’ll start out with one that is free, but there will be lobbies that you can purchase from the online marketplace.  Even if you don’t purchase any more from the online market place – if you’re a casual gamer – of course you’ll be able to play the game online without spending money.  The free set of avatars will be ninja themed.  You’ll be a lesser ninja.  You’ll have to upgrade to get out of this sort of low class, lower set of ninjas.

One of the lobbies available for purchase on Xbox Live.

GI:  Is the Halloween one you showed at the event one going to be the one that is the default free lobby?

Itagaki:  No, only one will be given away for free.  If Ninja is the free one, the Halloween lobby you’ll be charged for.

GI:  Will any USB keyboard be able to be used for chatting in the online lobbies?

Itagaki:  Of course.

GI:  It shows the game inside that pumpkin TV, but can I hit a button or walk my character closer to the TV and see that game full screen?

Itagaki:  Yes.

GI:  Will any of the lobbies or avatars be unlockable in the game?

Itagaki:  No, we can’t do that.  The story of DOA happens on the other side of that little TV screen.  The side in front of the TV [ed: the lobby] isn’t part of the DOA world.  I don’t know which side we consider is the virtual world.  However, since we don’t allow character customization in the game, we are allowing it in the lobbies.

GI:  Why use text chat instead of voice chat?

Itagaki:  Voice chat gets to noisy and you can’t always understand what people are saying.  International players too, you can’t understand what they’re saying, so text chat was a better option.

GI:  You’ve always pushed the hardware you’re working on quite a bit.  What have you been able to do on the Xbox 360 that you haven’t been able to do on the first Xbox?

Itagaki:  At E3 we were one of the few developers to show their game demo on Xbox 360.  Although it wasn’t playable.  Most of the games were 15 fps.  Our E3 trailer we tried getting it to 60 fps, but it ended up turning out to be around 45.  That was E3.  Now we’ve brought it up to 60.  To be more specific, maybe it’s about 55 fps.  From now until launch we’ll bring it up to 60.  Other developers are now trying to bring their games up to 30fps.  That’s a fact.  Can you think of any other games that are running at 60 fps?  Every Party?  (laughs)

GI:  How many total people can come in an online lobby?

Itagaki:  You remember what happened when we tried 16 players.  In stable conditions you could pack 16 people in.  Knowing the nature of this game, I’m thinking eight may be a better number.  For chatting in the lobby it would be fun to have 16 players in here, but for the number of people who can actually join the match we’re thinking eight would be the better number.

We experienced this with DOA Ultimate, with eight people you don’t get your turn quick enough, and it just becomes that less exciting to be a part of.  And that’s even in a tournament setting.  In all actuality, one of the eight has to serve as a judge for the tournament so seven can actually play in tournament format.  With this you don’t need that one person, and you can watch the match on the TV.

"Party over here!"

GI:  At your presentation at the hotel, you said you wanted as many people in Japan as possible to get this game at launch.  Are you planning, or would like to do some sort of launch day event?

Itagaki:  I don’t have any plans specifically.  I’m just making the game and finishing the game.

GI:  Visually, what do you feel that you could accomplish with the Xbox 360 that you couldn’t with the Xbox? I’ve played Ultimate and DOA 3 on an HDTV and it already looked fantastic.

Itagaki:  What you see is what you get.  I never felt that I had enough machine power.  The more power I get the more I want to do.  Even with Xbox 360 there’s never enough.  I must tell you an interesting story since you came all the way to Tokyo for me.  Of course, as a developer we welcome more power.  From a consumer stand point, they must feel that there’s already enough power.  Back in 1997 – 8 years ago – I made games.  I look back and I surprise myself.  I’m impressed with what I see and what I did 8 years ago.  Eight years from today I don’t think I’m going to look back at today and feel as impressed as I feel about product from 8 years ago.  So of course, for the last 8 years, our focus was to improve the graphics quality, and of course without having enough power, that became a challenge.  From this point forward, obviously that won’t be the focus, and we’ll be working more on interactivity – things like this lobby – more about the actual game concept and gameplay.  That’s where I think my focus will be on. 

GI:  Which character’s level is the dinosaur level?

Itagaki:  It’s for myself (laughs).  I just like dinosaurs and animals and that’s why I made it.  The Pterodactyl is the moving danger zone, and it’ll fly in and attack you.

GI:  Will each stage have that moving hazard?

Itagaki:  The moving hazards will only be in two stages.  Because if you do that in more than two stages it won’t be fun anymore.  If you introduce the Pterodactyl into the casino stage that would become a problem.  (laughs)  In the casino level we were able to balance everything out so that you can have a fair fight with the cars, so we unveiled it.  The dinosaur mode we’re not quite there yet so we didn’t unlock it.  If you play it now, the condition it’s in you’d be upset.  (laughs)  You’d be smashing your controller on the ground. 

GI:  After seeing the dinosaurs on the loading screen, and how beautiful they are, we’d like to see Team Ninja make a dinosaur game.

Itagaki:  Maybe after I make Tecmo Bowl, I’ll think about it.. (laughs)  Now, If I say that I’ll never have to make one for you. (laughs) 

GI:  Now everyone that reads this on the internet is going to think you’re working on Tecmo Bowl.  (laughs)  Just so we’re clear, how many returning stages are going to be in DOA 4 and how many new stages?

Itagaki:  2-3 returning stages.  Everything else is new.

GI:  Other than the moving hazards in the two stages, and we noticed that blocking and countering felt different.  What are other gameplay updates have there been since Ultimate?

Itagaki:  Like I said earlier, my focus was going to be more on gameplay this time.  We’re increasing more skills and combos and different martial arts styles.  It’s going to play feel and play differently now.  In Japan the campaign headline is “World’s Most Beautiful Game.”  Since DOAU there hasn’t been any other better looking fighting game that’s come out from anyone.  Now I can say I’m going to improve on other things over and beyond graphics quality. 

GI:  You’ve said before you want to develop for the most powerful console out there.  You must be pretty confident in the Xbox 360.

Itagaki:  Yes.  I hope so.  I think Xbox 360 is the best game console on the earth.  It’s better than PlayStation 3.

GI:  Can I ask you why?

Itagaki:  PS3 has too complicated of architecture.

GI:  We asked you this last time we were here, but how do you think Xbox 360 is going to do in Japan?  Do you think that the opinion of the Japanese people has changed since we last talked?  Has it become more positive?  Do you think the Tokyo Game Show will help at all?

Itagaki:  I think that it’s going to do better than the last one.  But that’s something that everyone knows.  They can’t make a bigger mistake than last time.  Nothings changed as far as the opinion of the people.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  Even if you have some sort of pre-launch opinion.  What matters is when the system comes out, what will people think? 

With DOA franchise over the years, we of course brought this out, and recently, suddenly we’re getting more attention.  People are interested in the DOA franchise.  Similar to that, Xbox has to get peoples attention first.  Then maybe they get something going after that.  Again DOA rather than focusing on criticizing competing games, I focused on emphasizing on what we can do and what we are doing with our own game.  Similar to that 360 continues to do that.  It focuses on what it does than what others don’t.  Microsoft is doing that, and I think Microsoft will pull it off.

Of course after saying that, I have criticized, and have said bad things about Tekken and other games in the past.  (laughs)  I’m a feisty person, so if someone challenges me I have to fight back. (laughs)

No pictures? Bah.

GI:  We noticed that the counter system, the actual window to pull off a counter is shorter.  Do you feel this to be true?

Itagaki:  We are still fine tuning Dead or Alive, and we’ve listened to some comments from advanced players who’ve said that the window was too wide or too long, so we adjusted it.  It’s something that will be fine tuned.

GI:  The speed of the game has also increased quite a bit.  Is speed something that you’re still balancing?

Itagaki:  Yes.  I’m going to be gathering DOA experts all over Japan to help us fine tune the game.  So people are anxious to come in and play the game and help us tune the game.  The age range is from 15 – 35.  They’re calling us and bugging us, and we’re telling them to wait a little bit longer.

GI:  Do you miss the arcade stick feel and setup that you don’t get out of a controller?

Itagaki:  We actually licensed DOA 4 for a Hori brand controller for Japan.  We’re going to have a DOA 4 controller, and I really want you to play with that.  Team Ninja designed the exact layout of the buttons for the controller.  It’s a very good controller.  Of course it’s not commercial grade, and the durability of the buttons aren’t the same as you’ll find in the arcade.  The layout and design is very nicely done.  When I play with it my skill level goes up like 30%.

GI:  You’re always outspoken about what you think about hardware.  I was wondering if you had a chance to see the Revolution controller and what do you think about it.

Itagaki:  I think it’s good if it can be used as a sword or something like that – it would be really different.  It would be very tiring.  If you use that with my games, and it’s speed you’ll end up with a bigger right arm (laughs).  Frankly I think Nintendo’s hardware presentation is just great.  I just saw the trailer, and saw it multiple times and I was laughing my ass off.  To be top notch you need to be able to make people laugh.

GI:  What’s going on with your DS game, and would you consider making a Revolution title?

Itagaki:  I think DS is also great, too.  DS we’re already doing something with, but Revolution – right now, we’re still working on DOA 4.  Our style is to focus on one platform at a time, and make things with full attention to one system.

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