Interviewing Tomonobu Itagaki is often a challenge. He generally likes to keep his answers short, and it’s even tougher to get a read on his mood through his dark sunglasses. However, occasionally you’ll toss him a question that he’ll bite into, ponder for a while, then issue a deep reply that says a lot about his motivations and desires in the art of game design. Of course, you can always look at the games that come out of his Team Ninja studio for perhaps more insight into the mind of this mysterious game designer than any question-and-answer session could provide.
During the short visit to the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, where members of TeamXbox, GameSpy and IGN got the first look at the forthcoming Ninja Gaiden II, we also had an opportunity to lob a broad variety of questions at Itagaki. Below is an edited transcript of what he served back through his translator—in some cases, the answers are concise; in others, he elaborates on the design decisions that are the building blocks making up Ninja Gaiden II. It’s pretty much all intriguing.
In reading past interviews, you’ve referred to your projects as family. What would you say is your favorite child, so to speak: your first born, middle children or a game like this, which is your newborn?
Tomonobu Itagaki: [laughs] Well, usually the brattiest children are the cutest.
When you sat down to do this project, what were the top two things that you were hoping to bring to this game to move it forward?
Tomonobu Itagaki: Two? One would be the AI, and the second is the interactivity.
Can you explain a little bit more about the interactivity? Obviously, you wanted to make the AI more challenging, but as far as the interactivity goes, is it that there’s more to do?
Tomonobu Itagaki: No, that would be a one-way street…like unrequited love, right? If only you could do something and you don’t get anything in return. No, it’s more about the cause and effect…the action and reaction. The main character, Hayabusa, can be the cause of something, but then there has to be an equal effect. So, if you cut an enemy’s arm off, his AI changes, he becomes more desperate…that’s the kind of two-way street we’re looking for.
Ryu has been described as the ultimate ninja…the ultimate bad ass with nobody to stop him. Is he going to find a foil in this game? Is there going to be someone to stop him?
Tomonobu Itagaki: Well, you can be sure that there is a guy in the story who has made it his life’s mission to stop Ryu Hayabusa.
In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned a Japanese proverb, that a man who chases two animals gets none. I’m wondering how, with developing two Ninja Gaiden titles in the same year, how you’re beating that proverb.