Hifumi Kouno and Atsushi Inaba Talk Infinite Space
Nude Maker's Hifumi Kouno and Platinum Games' Atsushi Inaba talk about creating vast universes in the upcoming DS role-playing game Infinite Space.
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When Platinum Games first signed a four-game deal with Sega in May 2008, no one knew quite what to expect from this bunch of talented developers that once made up a large part of Capcom's successful Clover Studio.
With MadWorld and Bayonetta successfully out of the way, the team's next project will be a DS-exclusive sci-fi role-playing game with a focus on customizable spaceships. Inspired by the science fiction authors Arthur C. Clarke and Greg Egan, Infinite Space will throw you into the middle of a quest to save the universe with the help of more than 200 ship designs and a wide variety of ship parts and crew members. The title was created by Platinum Games in collaboration with development studio Nude Maker.
To find out a bit more about the game and the team behind it, we spoke with Nude Maker's Hifumi Kouno and the former Clover Studio CEO and producer at Platinum Games, Atsushi Inaba.
GameSpot: What is the concept behind Infinite Space?
Hifumi Kouno: This game is all about venturing into the vast universe by captaining your own fleet of customized spaceships. There are a variety of ships to choose from, which you can then build on with a huge selection of available ship parts. As captain, you will also be responsible for assigning roles to your crewmen and keeping them content. As the game progresses, you’ll be able to add up to four additional ships to your fleet and create your own battle formations and strategies.
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GS: Where did the inspiration come from?
HK: I am inspired by the work of the science fiction authors Arthur C. Clarke and Greg Egan. There is a theme running through their literature, and that is how human beings face with universe. I have always wanted to explore that concept within a game. I also love science fiction series like Star Trek and the Japanese anime Space Pirate Captain Herlock.
GS: Tell us a little more about the game's story and its main themes.
HK: The major theme of the story is the human quest to understand their reason for existence within the universe. As well as this, with the setting of space, adventure and exploration are also important themes. Within the game, the player will take on the role of Yuri, the son of a famous space adventurer, in search of the mystical Epitaph, which is believed to be the key to saving the universe. The adventure is full of surprises and is productive for young Yuri through various conflicts and hurdles, but glorious young days do not last long. The last half of the story mainly shows Yuri’s suffering and struggles.
GS: How is the game played, and what are the player's objectives?
HK: The story proceeds by players visiting taverns and specific places on various planets. In each chapter, there will be separate objectives, and players will proceed by accomplishing each objective. There will also be small sub-events and selections that concern the main storyline, and each player can choose and decide for themselves which ones to take on. Of course, players will need to prepare their fleet for attack during their journey.
GS: Run us through the customization options in the game. How complex are these? Can you customize individual crew members as well as ship parts?
HK: Players will be able to choose their ship and customize interior modules and weapons. Regarding the crew members, players will decide where to assign the crew and what abilities to extend to them. There aren’t many customization options in the very beginning, so it should not be difficult to start with. However, the battle system has original rules. We are planning a battle tutorial movie, and it should be very helpful for understanding the battle system.
GS: How big a part does customization play? Will players have to pay careful attention to how they design their ship?
HK: The specs of the ship are very different between the initial setting and the well-customized setting, even if it’s the same ship. However, it is not difficult to customize once you have learned what to do. Players will be able to cope without the need to pay careful attention. However, my advice is that players should strengthen the living conditions of their ship (i.e. mess halls, crew cabins) rather than its physical strength, at least in the beginning.
Apart from the obvious elements such as the fire power and speed of the spaceship, the customization ties in to the gameplay in deeper and more subtle ways. For example, how quickly your crew can respond to orders depends on how well their suitable ability is developed. It can take days or weeks for the ships to travel from one place to another, and during this time your crew can become lethargic or dejected. By implementing relaxation or entertainment rooms in your ship, you can affect crew morale, which will then change the way they respond in battle.
The reason I designed the game like this and weighed heavily on customization is because I wanted each and every player to be able to complete the game with their favorite and ideal fleet. If the player is a big fan of Galactica, he/she may want to complete the game with a carrier-based fleet. If the player is a big fan of Star Wars, he/she may want to complete the game with big battleships. The player is able to complete the game any way they want and with any ship they choose as long as they customize it well.
GS: At first glance the game appears very complex. How steep is the learning curve? Is it targeted only at experienced RPG players?
HK: As I mentioned previously, the battle system of the game is unique and original. It is up to the player how fast they understand and get used to the system. As long as they understand this and customize their ship to cover their fleets’ weak points, the game itself is not so complex. The tutorial movie that we are planning to release should help players better understand the system. You do not need to be an experienced RPG player to play. I have designed some tricks in the game, but to overcome these tricks you'll need wisdom, not experience!
GS: How slow-paced is the gameplay? Does it require patience and a keen eye for detail?
HK: There is no time limit in the game, so players can take as much time as they like. By doing this, and taking the time to explore even the places that might appear to be worthless, players will encounter various sub-events or unexpected characters. Patience is not strongly required, but wisdom is, as I mentioned previously.
GS: You mentioned a "unique and original battle system"--can you tell us a little bit more about this?
HK: Just like other RPGs, players can earn experiences and credits by defeating enemies in random encounter battles. You will then be able to build/customize your ship with the credit you earn. In some of the event battles, the crew members that join your ship may change depending on how you defeat your enemies.
GameSpot: Platinum Games has quite a pedigree. Was the idea for Infinite Space floating around before the deal with Sega, or did it come as a result of it?
Atsushi Inaba: The idea initially occurred when I talked with Mr. Kouno from Nude Maker. The deal with Sega began to progress at the same time.
GS: A lot of previous titles developed by members of the Platinum Games team were more of a critical rather than commercial hit. What was your aim with Infinite Space?
AI: We did initially aim to acquire not only positive critical feedback but also commercial success. Needless to say this will also be the case for Infinite Space. However, what I am most interested in is what kind of evaluation this type of game receives overseas.
GS: What is the significance of the platform in the development of this title? Why is the DS the best platform for this game?
AI: We estimated that developing this game on other consoles would involve a huge risk because of the amount of large-scale customization and story we hoped to achieve. I concluded that no matter how we put it together, we could not accomplish the initial plan because of the development cost and the time constraints, and as such there would be no way of making it. I made the final decision as a producer of the game to develop for the DS.
GS: Infinite Space has been on the Japanese market for a few months now. How well did the game do?
AI: I think we did a good job building the hype just before launching. However, we lost big opportunities due to the stock-out in the first week of its release and the length of the time it takes to make more ROM cartridges. We do feel relieved to hear the users’ reactions that they are satisfied with the game.
GS: Do you think the title will do well in the West?
AI: As mentioned earlier, I am eagerly waiting on the feedback from the Western audience. I believe that their evaluation of this kind of genre/gaming may affect the future direction of producing.
GS: Is there scope for an Infinite Space sequel or perhaps a series?
AI: If we had a chance we would love to make a sequel. There is no meaning to making original titles if we don’t make sequels/series from what we learned in developing the new IP. However, this is only after we receive good feedback from the market. Above all, Sega is the IP holder so it’s up to them.
GS: Finally, what is the Platinum Games team working on next?
AI: We're working to provide titles full of originality and to bring the market a pleasant surprise. These two themes are our eternal concept at Platinum Games. We will keep working towards these objectives and develop titles accordingly.
GS: Thanks for your time, Hifumi Kouno and Atsushi Inaba.