Itagaki on Ninja Gaiden II dismemberment, difficulty and DLC

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Itagaki on Ninja Gaiden II dismemberment, difficulty and DLC
After spending about 30 minutes with a final build (awaiting certification) of Ninja Gaiden II at the Xbox 360 Spring Showcase, we had a chance to sit down with designer Tomonobu Itakagi, along with a handful of other game journalists. Staring out at us through dark shades, as an assistant translated his responses, the Team Ninja front man spoke on the "Deadly Ds," as we like to call them: dismemberment, difficulty (as in, tweaking the design philosophy to make us feel less like wusses for playing on easy) and Down-Loadable Costumes. Actually, there was another "D" addressed here too -- the one that ends with "-rinking on the job," or rather, the lack thereof. Yes, this was a new, sobered Itagaki, folks. Hard to believe given the swirl of emotions surrounding the realization that this could be his last *gasp* Ninja Gaiden.

Joystiq: We noticed the name of the casual mode in Ninja Gaiden II is "Path of the Acolyte" and not "Ninja Dog." Are you trying to remove the stigma of playing on the easy setting?

It's really about the philosophy this time around. The first Ninja Gaiden was a hardcore game for the hardcore gamer. There wasn't really any way to make it easier except to make a mode where you artificially dumbed down the difficulty by constantly giving health recovery items, so that's why we kind of came up with the whole "Ninja Dog" -- you know, "you should feel bad for playing this kind of thing." Whereas for Ninja Gaiden II, the philosophy is, now that we have enough bandwidth with our game design, we can make it not only accessible for casual gamers, but also include the higher difficulties. So we see "Path of the Acolyte" as being an introduction to Ninja Gaiden, not something you have to feel bad for.

Not Joystiq Guy #1: What you guys are showing here today compared to the build that came out just a couple months ago looks significantly different, like it's advanced quite a bit, can we expect it to advance even more graphically by the time it comes out?

This is the final build here.

Oh, okay. That's my question. *laughs*
Not Joystiq Guy #2 [via translator]: So I was wondering why you chose to change your philosophy for Ninja Gaiden II, as opposed to making another more hardcore gamer game -- why did you choose to expand to a wide audience? Do you think that's going to bother any of the hardcore fans?

No I don't think so because, while we have made some effort on the "low end" to help make things more accessible, if you choose the hard difficulties it's still gonna be as punishing as it was before. So I think we're just offering different choices for different types of games.

I think an important distinction to make is that we haven't dumbed down the difficulty in terms of making the game easier. It's about improving the control, the combat, making things more organic so that you feel like you're getting constant reinforcement as you're playing. In the first one game it was really like you either could either kill the enemies or you couldn't, and that was it. But here, you really feel like there's a lot of feedback throughout the combat. So, it's more about making it easier to play.

Not Joystiq Guy #3: For the dismemberment, what brought that on? Is it just because you had a next-gen console and you wanted to try to do something you couldn't do before? Or was it something you thought of? How did that come into play?

"When we were right in the middle, it was tough. I didn't have much time to drink."

To be honest, I don't remember the exact the reason why we chose to include it in the first place. Working 24 hours a day, a lot of times I lose some of the older stuff ... Ah! I remember! [Note: At this point Itagaki grabbed my arm and motioned for me to drop my notepad ... then, after a moment, recanted and put my pad back in my hand. He mimed a sword slash, grabbed the notebook from my now dismembered arm (c'mon, use your imagination) and stylishly "tossed" it at another writer, all the while explaining the thought process.]

I remember now: The original idea was that if you dismember an enemy that's holding a sword -- so you could cut off his arm, right, and his arm would go flying -- you could grab his sword out of the air and like throw it at another enemy, and like pin him against the wall or something like that. But that was just too hard to within the context of the game. We tried to do it so that he would be looking in a different direction and just kinda reflexively throw his enemy's weapon at another enemy ... So that was the original plan, but as we were going through we said let's incorporate that as part of the core gameplay, not just as a gimmick.

Not Joystiq Guy #4: Now that the game is done, did you have to work more or less on the game than you thought you'd have to?

Yeah, I think I worked harder than I though I would. It's easy to look back in hindsight now. When we were right in the middle, it was tough. I didn't have much time to drink.

*laughs* ... That can't be.

Yeah, only every so often.

Not Joystiq Guy #5: Are you happy with the job that Yoshi did, at the end of the day?

Yeah, I think he did a good job. He's got a little bit more of a broader scope, world view, than I do. So I think that kinda helped him with the areas that he as working on.

ninja gaiden ii

Not Joystiq Guy #6: Is there gonna be any non-cosmetic-type of DLC we can expect?

We are certainly going to continue to look at our options. But for right now, what we have planned is costumes -- we'll have several different packages of costumes. The main reason for that is, unlike the first game, this, shipping as is, is the definitive version of the game, and I don't see us having to go back and adding a lot of stuff on top of it. I think anything we were to add further would just be extraneous -- just kinda tacked on to what we already have. As I always said in my interviews, I think it's impossible to make a game that's 100% perfect, and there's a lot of decisions that I made where I went with "Choice A" and now I think "oh, maybe I should have gone with 'Choice B.'" But that's all in hindsight, right? I think that everything turned our great in retail version of the game.

I can give specific examples of choices that were made if you want ...

Yeah, alright.

"The only weapon I really liked in the first game was the Dragon Sword."

There's constant decisions that you make about, you know, "do you want to please this type of group, or do you want to please this type?" Like with the Ninpo magic attacks, you guys may have noticed when you played, but after you start casting the Ninpo, if you use the left-stick you can aim it where you want; and right now, what happens is, if you don't use the left-stick, you just push buttons, it's a rather short casting time and it just goes out and automatically hits the nearest enemy. If you go into the aiming, you get extra time, but then after the end of that time limit, you can still automatically use the projectile sent out. I had considered something that would be better for the more serious, hardcore gamers, where you could hold down the buttons and use the stick to aim, and then when you let off the buttons, that would release. So, in other words, you could make it as long or as short as you wanted. But then I thought, once again, you can't please all the people. So we ended up going with this method because this way you're guaranteed to have a certain amount of time to make up your mind. Things like that ... you're constantly making decision every day.

[Time for one more question!]

Not Joystiq Guy #7: Of the new weapons, what's your favorite one to use?

I like them all. I know that's not what you want to hear, but ... the reason why this is a good answer is because the only weapon I really liked in the first game was the Dragon Sword, so for me to say here that I like all the weapons means that they're all really cool. And, like, the obliteration techniques are different with every weapon, so it really makes you wanna go in and play with all the different weapons.

I found that I stuck with the Dragon Sword.

Don't. Try others.

Well, I actually tried the claws. The claws on the build we played were maybe a little too overpowered, and I felt like I was just wiping people out. I just like the "feel" of the Dragon Sword.

Yeah, well give it a try with the final version and see what you think.
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