Xbox.com: What's the appeal to you of the Mystery Gamer format of the Dead or Alive® Ultimate™ Tournament, as opposed to other structures you might have chosen (such as a worldwide scoring competition or some other competitive means, ala the Master Ninja Tournament)?
Tomonobu Itagaki: Personally speaking, I don’t feel very enthusiastic about a tournament based solely on simple score-based rankings or the comparative grading of participants. The way that this current tournament is being carried out has a live aspect to it that I think is really great.
Xbox.com: Both the Master Ninja Tournament and theDOAU Tournament have made use of nontraditional styles of competition (the former with the single-player score competition format and the latter with the Mystery Gamer format). What other kinds of worldwide online competitions would you like to see happen with Team Ninja's games?
Itagaki: I’m currently planning something forDOA4 that will blow everyone away. That is all I can say at this time.
Xbox.com: Interesting … We can't wait to hear more. Now, the Dead or Alive universe seems to have been designed with this sort of worldwide competition in mind, bringing together many more gamers than might otherwise join together for a single game. Is the DOAU Tournament what you envisioned when designing the game's online options?
Itagaki: I wouldn’t say that is exactly the case. You see, the online features of DOAU were designed to resurrect online the air of excitement that surrounded playing games in the arcades until their decline more than five years ago.
Xbox.com: Is this the first of many worldwideDOAU competitions to come? Do you foresee competitions like the Master Ninja Tournament or the DOAU Tournament becoming regular or even annual events?
Itagaki: I’m not really sure at the moment. You have to understand, I’m really busy with my next development projects right now! (laughs)
Xbox.com: Okay, that's fair. So, how have the Team Ninja Mystery Gamers been faring in the tournament? What fighters have they been using? Can you tell which Mystery Gamer has performed the best so far?
Itagaki: Everyone is doing their best. I haven’t heard of any of the Mystery Gamers getting lazy on the job.
Xbox.com: The tournaments Mystery Gamers put in a lot of hours playing DOAU over the course of the tournament. Do you play regularly to stay in practice?
Itagaki: I have been having warm-up sessions for no more than about five minutes before the beginning of the tournament sessions. However, my turns as the Mystery Gamer start at 3:00 A.M. Japan time, so I’m usually so drunk that warming up is the last thing on my mind! (laughs)
Xbox.com: Are you using one fighter for all of your own Mystery Gamer matches? What makes you stick with a character? The look? The moves? The versatility?
Itagaki: I use Kasumi exclusively. Why? Because I like her the best. After all, if I used someone other than Kasumi and lost, I would regret it, wouldn’t I?
Xbox.com: Yeah, that's usually the way it goes. Will the events of the DOAU Tournament have any impact on the overall DOA storyline in any future DOAgames?
Itagaki: If I give special privileges to someone, someone else will have a problem with it. This is a rather difficult issue.
Xbox.com: What, if anything, has surprised you during your own Mystery Gamer sessions and the tournament as a whole?
Itagaki: Everybody competing has been quite strong. Although, this has been more of a pleasure than a surprise.
Xbox.com: Who do you think offers a bigger challenge: one of the Team Ninja Mystery Gamers or an experiencedDOAU "civilian" gamer?
Itagaki: Hmmm, I wonder which … (laughs) For the time being, I was able to do my part by beating down two of my competitors in the session the other day.
Xbox.com: Do you think any particularDOAU fighters have an advantage in this style of tournament?
Itagaki: It is said that victory and defeat is all about the luck of the moment.
Xbox.com: That's nice … profound even … When you're designing a game, do you incorporate the online components (if any) from the beginning, or do you prefer to focus on the basics and then build the online component to fit?
Itagaki: Let me be a bit serious with my answer. Considering the current climate in which there are still very many gamers who do not play online, it is unthinkable for me to design a game to be “online only.” This is why I design my games as not to be “online only,” but rather “online compatible”. However, I do not want anyone to misinterpret this as meaning that I take online features lightly, as this is definitely not the case. On the contrary, I consider the new surprises and expanded playability that online play offers to be very important, and I actively make use of this. Anyone who knows about our innovative downloadable content for Ninja Gaiden® or the fact that we were able to make theDOAU virtual online arcade features a reality (instead of just simply offering peer-to-peer online matches) should be able to comprehend our passion for online gaming.
Xbox.com: With the success of Ninja Gaiden and DOAU, do you plan to include online options in your games from here on out? In your opinion, is an online component essential to a good game these days or would you consider making a game without it?
Itagaki: It is common for people to discuss the relative importance of an online component from a game design standpoint, but I included Xbox Live features in Ninja Gaiden and DOAU for a completely different reason. The reason I consider Xbox Live to be so important is simply because I love the Xbox. This is an issue that relates to my philosophy in my profession as a game developer. The “happiness” of a particular game machine lies in the ability of programmers to be able to fully extract all of the individuality and originality that that machine has to offer. The originality that the Xbox boasts over its competitors is its power as a gaming machine (which completely overwhelms the others), its standard internal hard disk, and the Xbox Live service, operated with a high level of precision and comfort, thanks to the technological expertise of Microsoft. Therefore, my mindset regarding game design on the Xbox is rooted in a very simple foundation: Extract to the maximum extent these three strengths that it possesses, fuse them, and use them to develop games on a level that no one else could possibly reach. That is what it is all about.
I believe that we were able to show the superiority of the Xbox console's hardware power and the utility of its internal hard disk with Dead or Alive® 3 and Dead or Alive® Xtreme Beach Volleyball, but we were not able to show everyone the potential of Xbox Live. However, we were able to accomplish that with Ninja Gaiden and DOAU. That is why Team Ninja and I myself are currently feeling very satisfied.