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Keiji Inafune sets the record straight on Japanese video games Exclusive

Keiji Inafune sets the record straight on Japanese video games
September 21, 2012 | By Kris Graft

September 21, 2012 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Keiji Inafune -- he's best known for his integral work on such beloved video game franchises as Mega Man, Onimusha, and Resident Evil.

He's also known for laying into the Japanese game industry every now and then.

But it's a misconception that the most vocal critic of the old guard of the Japanese video game industry somehow has a deep-rooted disdain for his domestic peers. If anything, Inafune isn't anti-Japanese games -- he seems anti-corporate, and pro-game creator.

So it might seem somewhat ironic that he's working with one of Japan's "old guard" corporate game publishers, Tecmo Koei, on the flashy action zombie-slashing game Ninja Gaiden Z (U.S.-based Spark Unlimited is also working on the game, making it a multi-party, global creative effort). Inafune assures me that as far as the game's overarching vision goes, he's the creative in charge. And I tend to believe him.

When you talk to Inafune the game creator, instead of Inafune the Japanese game industry critic, he offers compelling insight. Here are a few examples from when I chatted with him at the Tokyo Game Show.

On collaboration with Western studios:

"Western [developers] still really love and respect Japanese games. They want to work with Japanese creators. Every time I work with a Western developer, they're so willing to take in my ideas on game creation. Then on top of that, they do what they do best -- they know how to appeal to a Western audience. Every time I've worked with Western developers, I've had a really good collaboration."

On concepts (ideas and vision are Comcept's expertise):

"The most important part of making a [game] concept is having a vast, wide vision. Because when people try to come up with a concept for a game, they're preoccupied with common tropes in gaming, in genres. Then you get all of these thoughts that hinder the free thinking. You have to have the core, then the details come afterwards, after you have this strong concept. When I'm coming up with a concept, I try to have a wide vision, I try to take in whatever is around. I try not to be preoccupied by game concept stereotypes.

ninja gaiden z 2.jpg"When you're thinking of the initial concept, you can't think, 'is this good for the West' and 'is this good for the East.' That hinders the free thinking."

On mobile game development:

"There's a tendency to say that mobile gaming is separate from console gaming. I don't see it that way. I'm creating a couple titles for mobile, but I'll do something on mobile, on 3DS, on Vita, on console. I don't think of them separately. It's all about what you create, and what you want to create, as a creator. If I want to create something that'll fit for 3DS, I'll make it for smartphone. If it's suited for smartphone, I'll create for that."

On knowledge sharing:

"That's probably true, how Japanese developers kind of hide their knowledge, compared to the Western industry, where they knowledge-share proactively. 'Super-officially,' we do have CEDEC and different conventions that mimic your GDC. It's like we 'wanna-be' GDC [laughs]. [Those kind of conferences] exist in Japan, but in Japan, it's more about the company than the individual. 'Super-officially' it looks like a cooperation between big studios, but really the companies' profit comes first. In the U.S., it's more about the individual. In Japan, it's more about the company.

"It's really hard for creators to do real knowledge sharing. It's just difficult. And if there was any knowledge sharing at all, they'd do it behind the companies' backs.

"...I believe that [secrecy] did corrupt the Japanese game industry over the years. There hasn't been that individualism for the creators. It's been all about the company and the business. And when you're strong and stand as an individual, as a creator, in the Japanese game industry, [your company] rips you apart."

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