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3. Overloading the player with new concepts and game systems.
We made three big mistakes with some of the gameplay concepts we implemented. The first issue was how the player could "scan" the thoughts of NPCs. We should have integrated this into the story more, because it never really related to solving puzzles.
I can't say the whole system was unnecessary, but it could have been integrated much better. If there is a sequel, this is something we'll need to work on.
Another stumbling block was the special attacks in the dual-screen battles. To activate the special attack, you play a card-based minigame on the top screen.
We wanted to drop the system in lieu of a gauge that fills up as the player uses normal attacks. We were hoping to fix it for the North American release, but we ended up not having enough time and went with the same system (with reduced difficulty).
The last issue was partially fixed for the North American version. Anyone playing the Japanese version was forced to wade through pages of tutorials. With all the new systems, the players had a lot to learn, and "the wall of text" was hard for people to absorb all at once.
I think the chaotic state of all these new systems confused the heck out of Japanese gamers. In the North American version, we trimmed down the text as much as possible, and made the tutorials skippable.
4. Dual-screen battles, or "What's going on here?"
The original concept of dual-screen battles came from creative producer Tetsuya Nomura, but it was easier said than done.
Fighting battles on the lower screen using the touch panel was our original concept, and turned out as well as we expected. But our biggest headache stemmed from the battles in the upper screen.
We threw a number of ideas at the wall to see what stuck, like command-based battles or even music games. At first, we were determined that the player would have to fight on both screens at once, but after trying out a few systems we realized the error of our ways.
Why did we have to make the user do anything in the upper screen at all? Once we left our creative egos at the door and looked at things through the player's eyes, we realized what was wrong.
We had to make the user want to fight on both screens, but still provide the automatic combat if they elected to avoid it.
This sped things up and we arrived at the battle system we have today, where the player can simply let the battle progress in the upper screen by itself, or actively fight using the control pad. I regret that we hadn't come up with this solution earlier.
5. Animation quantity and quality.
The biggest problem with going fully 2D is the animation costs, and heavy amounts of animation were required for our battle sequences. To reduce our workload, we created a polygon-based template for the main character Neku and some of the larger monsters. We rendered out some simple animated models, and rotoscoped the 2D pixel art on top of it.
The tattoos on the "Noise" monsters were another headache, since the sprites moved and shifted with each frame of animation. It took a while for the whole team to agree on how each tattoo should change and lock down the data set.
Additionally, with so many people on staff, we had difficulties maintaining a quality standard for the animation. We naturally wanted everything to look cool and modern, but "cool" is subjective, so strong direction was a necessity -- so, as the animation director, Tatsuya Kando had to take a trip to Kyoto to visit Jupiter every week to check on how things were going.
The World Ends With You directors from left to right: Tomohiro Hasegawa (co-director), Tatsuya Kando (director), and Takeshi Arakawa (planning director).
The main challenges in our project were trying out new ways of expressing ourselves, and maintaining quality while keeping an eye on costs -- an always daunting task.
Given the opportunity to do it again, we'd be able to work faster while keeping a high standard of quality. The hardest aspect is determining the staff's skill level and planning for it to allow for accurate time and cost estimates.
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: April 22, 2008
Developer: Jupiter, Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo DS