'The world has changed': Team Ninja's Hayashi on more realistic, respectful games
It's been three years now since Yosuke Hayashi took leadership of Team Ninja, and although the studio's next two releases, Ninja Gaiden 3 and Dead or Alive 5, are continuations of brands closely associated with the studio for some time, he says they represent the first opportunity to show the new team's spirit.
Most of Team Ninja's staff of "about 200", according to Hayashi, are original team members, but new blood has come in from other Tecmo studios as well. Yet according to Hayashi, the studio's vision has changed since he, the director of Ninja Gaiden Sigma and leader of the Metroid: Other M team, took over from departed head Tomonobu Itagaki.
"The old team was known for making games that just had two primary elements: Sex and violence," Hayashi tells Gamasutra. "It was very obvious. The new team, we want to take it to a new level -- to a direction that contains emotional experiences that can move players."
"Rather than just having violence for the sake of violence and cheap thrill, we wanted to give meaning to violence: Why does this happen? We want to link emotion to violence." With Ninja Gaiden 3, he says, "we wanted to make a game that is for mature audiences, that can make adults think."
With a longstanding action franchise, the team has room to flex those muscles and explore that goal. But Dead or Alive has always seemed a brand just as interested in showcasing sparsely-clad, busty pinup fighters as in providing a fighting game experience -- if not more so.
"We've always had the sex factor in the game; in the past, the female characters had to have big breasts, they had to have scanty dress," says Hayashi. "In DoA 5 especially, we're trying to focus on the real women that surround us; the voice of a female, the mannerisms. We are being realistic about it."
If Team Ninja's goal truly is to dignify the Dead or Alive franchise a bit, then it seems the team risks alienating some fans who may have just tuned in for the flesh parade. But Hayashi feels confident that longtime DoA players might have grown up some over the years.
"In the series up to now we focused on some kind of... Sports Illustrated [aesthetic]. like a magazine for high school kids, with women portrayed in that sense. But that's not what we want," he asserts.
"We want to show something that's more high class, that adult males of our generation could look at a woman [character] and be impressed with her as a woman, not just as a pin-up," he continues. "That's what we wanted to tell our fans."
In Hayashi's view, one of the best opportunities for the new Team Ninja is to take both female bodies and narratives a bit more seriously this way. "The team has always wanted to do it," he says. "The world has changed. People want something that's more substantial."