Keiichi Yano, VP of development for iNiS Corporation created Gitaroo-man and Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. Americans know him most recently for the conversion of the latter title to Elite Beat Agents. But since the original Japanese rhythm game centered on the rousing Ouendan, at his GDC seminar, Yano explained the process of rebuilding the title for a more American approach with "The Agents."
With two Ouendan helpers occasionally chiming in, but mostly standing at attention during the presentation, Yano described the history of his company's titles. He was the game designer and also lead programmer for the company's first game, Gitaroo-man -- "[my ambitious role] was the stupidest thing ever." He hadn't created a game before, saying, "[I] studied pretty hard, read all the books, [and] came to GDC. At the end of the development cycle, we thought we had a really good game. ... We gained a fair amount of confidence."
But Gitaroo-man was a retail disappointment. "It sold, like, nothing," Yano continued. "Any confidence that we had built was completely crushed like a fly. At this point, we had kind of lost all confidence in the music genre. ... We really did a lot of soul-searching back then."
iNiS went on to prototype a new game and show it off to Nintendo. Yano said, "To make a long story short, they thought our idea sucked. ... We went on and we kept pitching this game [elsewhere]."
The new project went nowhere, with the company waiting for a greenlight for months. Yano joked, "I was having some very nice conversations around the third month with our CEO about samurai swords and how warm cardboard can be."
They went to E3 after that project was canceled, and ended up seeing two future platforms for the company, the PSP and DS. The Ouendan attitude of "courage in the face of adversity," the "spirit to fight on, [and] never give up," pushed Yano and iNiS forward. He said, "We wanted to create this hot-blooded rhythm game that would make the world dance like crazy."
The team put together a Flash pitch for the new idea. "When we presented this to Nintendo, I played it on my notebook. I had them use a regular pen. They were touching my PC screen to get an idea for how the game would play. ... I got a lot of scratches."
He showed Nintendo a rousing scene -- and also played it at the session -- of people trying to hold back a speeding train from crushing a wet-eyed puppy. The gameplay looked fairly close to the final version, with the same circles closing on numbers and even some of the rolling beach-ball items.
Nintendo loved the pitch and approved the project the next week.
Yano and his team wanted to include that demo level in the final game, but he realized that would be a problem. He said, "I discovered one glaring design flaw in the stage. What happens when you don't succeed?"
The team and Nintendo liked the original version of the game, but later, Yano considered, "How the heck are we going to translate this into something the Western audience can appreciate?"
He needed to change the Ouendan characters to something with Westerners would understand. Early on, he thought of a substitute that may fit. He said, "We thought that a team like the Village People would kind of be interesting and fun to play... We thought that they had it all. They had a cop, a construction worker, a Hell's Angel. ... What more could you want for a [team] rooting you on?"
But Yano eventually changed his mind, drawing on other Western influences. He considered the Ghostbusters and Men in Black. He added the swagger of the Blues Brothers, melding the three into The Agents.
Yano added, "The biggest [difference between Ouendan] is, instead of these hot-blooded guys, they were kind of these cool guys who... [cheer] in a cool manner." He combined the Austin Powers style to this aesthetic, saying the Blues Brothers were on a mission from god, and Austin was on a mission to groove.
Finally, he thought that the Western audience needed a little more prodding from an authority figure and added the Commander Kahn character in the same way Charlie would send his Angels on missions. Yano slyly said, "[Kahn] was derived from one of the Village People characters. ... He kind of looks like the cop."
Yano was asked about some of the concept art he showed, charting the progress of the original characters and their translation into the American game. Some of them had a "D" or "R" on their belt. He laughed, replying, "I'm really embarrassed to say this. I don't want to talk about this. [Early on,] they were called the Disco Rangers. I really wish you [hadn't] asked that question."
Whatever they're called, we like both versions of the game and enjoyed Keiichi Yano's overview of the development process. Before ending, he confirmed a Japanese sequel to Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan that we can anticipate this year.