Creating a new style of games, in Tokyo
Project management in the mobile realm
Up until now, I’ve had a handful of expereinces with console games, in Japan and abroad. I’ve worked at large publishers and start-up studios, each with their own different history. I started working on adventure games for the Sega Saturn over 20 years ago, then worked on console games from PS2 to PS4, and some mobile games as well. I’ve worked on all types of genres, from simulation to fighting, action, RPGs, FPS, sports, and more. They all required different types of project management, and they all have provided extremely valuable experiences to me.
I’ve worked on around 8 different sports games for mobile platforms that were live ops. I’ve always found live ops to be stimulating because of the turnaround that’s possible for seeing users react to your product. Then you get to analyze those reactions and reflect them back into the product to improve your user experience, which is an opportunity I had never had in game development before then.
I’ve worked as an art director overseeing quality and costs, as well as managing the other members of the art team and expanding said team in the studio. Team management has always been rewarding for me. Leading a team comprised of different artists from different backgrounds and aligning them to a mutual goal, achieving results only possible from their unique skillset, is an experience I’ve found to be like none other. This is also what has led me to a career more focused on project management.
For the current and future fans of PlatinumGames
From here on, PlatinumGames will be facing the challenge of developing live ops titles for consoles. Platinum has already achieved a supportive fan base making packaged console games. On live ops titles, finding a following for the title is an important step, so Platinum definitely has an advantage here. And I believe this can also be a change to introduce a new wave of fans to PlatinumGames’ titles. It’s exciting to think how we might be able to expand the playing field here.
Having worked on both console and mobile, package and live ops has opened me up to understanding both sides of development. I hope to be able to blend these two mindsets together to create some truly amazing games. Since I have spent nearly half my career in project management, its my hope to be able to provide an environment where the development team feel free to follow their creativity.
Tying things together
The Tokyo Studio is an opportunity for PlatinumGames to develop games they previously did not have the chance to. To take on these live ops titles, we will require a more diverse team than before. I believe that Tokyo will be the right place to find such a group. There are plenty of IT companies and mobile developers, and talent moves around quickly. I’m hoping to find the right team to fortify our studio and start realizing this new potential. Our initial plan is to create a core Tokyo team from mid-hires, with some cooperation from the Osaka Studio where necessary. Deciding these core staff will be vital to determining how the studio will be able to handle teamwork. I’m hoping to create a team of varying backgrounds and experience who can come together to create something one of a kind. I believe this should help us see the quickest results on this new challenge we’re taking.
- Motoi Fujita
Development Division/ Divisonal Vice President/Tokyo Studio/Director
Previous employers include Sega, SCE, Disney Interactive in Vancouver, and EA.
After working as a 3D environment artist on projects such as Def Jam Fight for NY and Turok, he moved to mobile development as a concept artist on FIFA Street. Afterwards, he worked as an art director on such projects as FIFA World Class Soccer and FIFA mobile.
Game Client Engineer
For Live Ops Development, Release Day is Only the Beginning
From Minnesota to Tokyo
I’ve loved video games since I was a kid, but back when I was working in a small town in Minnesota, USA, making them seemed like the stuff of dreams. When I moved to Japan in 2008, little did I know that, someday, those dreams would come true. Luckily for me, I arrived in Japan at around the same time as the iPhone; there was no shortage of companies in Tokyo, looking for help creating new mobile apps. The more I worked in the Tokyo tech scene, the more game creators I met. One day, I realize I now had the chance to turn my dream of making games into a reality. With a lot of hard work and a little luck, I was ready to jump to the games industry.
I joined a major games publisher as a software engineer, where I had the opportunity to work on several different games, including some well-known mobile sports titles. Throughout my time there, I got involved in several different aspects of game development, from design to post-release live operations. Needless to say, there was a whole lot to learn!
In the meantime, I made yet another important connection when I picked up Bayonetta for my Wii U. That was my first encounter with PlatinumGames, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Today, working here at Platinum, creating console games – that kid in Minnesota could hardly ask for anything more.
Learning from Players
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time working on mobile titles, it’s that live ops game development is a bit like tuning up your car. While driving it. At top speed, down the freeway.
It’s fast-paced, exciting work, but at the same time, it demands a lot of analysis and introspection. Once a live ops game is officially released, that’s where the real work starts. Providing new in-game events and features, while watching how players react to the game in real-time and reacting back, is extremely demanding, but it’s also a lot of fun.
One thing I love about live ops titles is how developers and players essentially work on the game together. Once a live ops game is out in the wild, it’s only a matter of time before players find new ways to play and create unique experiences that the developers themselves never imagined. Our job as live ops developers is to learn from our players and incorporate those ideas for the good of the game.
Games themselves are relatively new to the entertainment scene, and live ops games are the newest of the new. As a creator, the potential for evolution that live ops games bring to the medium is exhilarating.
Ever-Evolving Game Development
Nobody in the games industry has stumbled on the one “correct” way to succeed with a console-based live ops title. There are several examples of successful live titles in the console space now, but who’s to say what the field might look like just five years down the line? It’s anybody’s game.
Any approach has potential for success, and PlatinumGames brings our own unique strengths into the fray. As a member of the live ops team here, it’s thrilling to think about ways to take advantage of Platinum’s strengths and perspectives in this exciting new world.
Development schedules for typical console games are typically loaded with things the team must accomplish, from day one, all the way up to release day. Dev teams have a lot of ideas to consider, test, tweak and toss out if they aren’t working. Meanwhile, time marches on towards that final deadline, and finally, release. Live ops titles are different. For these titles, release day isn’t the ending – it’s the beginning to an even longer battle.
Stability, deliberation, solid design – all of these things are important. But after years working in live ops, I’ve come to learn a crucial truth: Nothing is certain.
You can release a live ops game feeling 100% confident that the design can stand as it is forever, only for your players to immediately show you places where it needs to evolve. That’s not a rare occurrence by any means. If you aren’t flexible enough and ready to make changes quickly and gracefully, then come release day the consequences can be immense. I want to take the creative skill that makes PlatinumGames who we are, and help move it forward as we adjust and update and tweak our way to the next evolutionary step in game creation.
- David Scripps
Software Engineer, PlatinumGames Tokyo, Game Creative Division
Before moving to Japan, Scripps worked in the IT department for the Target corporation, where he oversaw human resources systems and others.
He moved to Japan in 2008, where he began working on iPhone application development as an engineer. In 2013 he joined EA Japan, where he worked on titles including NBA Live, FIFA Mobile, and FIFA World Class Soccer. He joined PlatinumGames in 2019.
Console Quality and Volume in Live Ops Titles
Putting Experience to Use
Before joining to games industry, my career as a graphic designer led me to advertising agencies and a company that took school portraits in America. Graphic design demands an openness and understanding about clients’ different cultures and ways of thinking. Being from Japan, there was a lot about America that I didn’t understand. But after living there for a few years, I got a grasp of the local culture and the ways that people around me thought about things. This helped me create designs that seem fresh and interesting to someone who’d grown up in America, even though I hadn’t.
After I returned to Japan, I had the chance to work as an artist on mobile, live operations games. In the world of live ops, you have to take a hardline approach to time. You must create new content – and enough of it to satisfy your players – in a very short time frame, and then do it all over again for the next release, and then the one after that... Seasonal content based on yearly events is particularly challenging – there’s no way those deadlines are budging. You might find yourself looking at your work and thinking, “If I just had two more hours, I could make it even better!” but no, it’s already time to finish it, release it and move on to the next task.
In such a strict environment, it’s important to manage your own personal resources. It’s not enough to think about the short term right in front of you; you’ve got to regulate yourself to put out the most power you can with consistency over the long haul. But you learn as you work, and those lessons can be put to good use in the next release, right around the corner. I think that’s part of the appeal of working in live ops titles.
Making the Most of Limited Time
Let me look back at my old job at the school portrait company again. We would hold promotional photography sessions at kindergartens and preschools, where our models were regular kids, around two or three years old. At that age, there’s hardly any point in asking them to stand still in one place for very long – let alone to strike a particular pose! We typically had about fifteen minutes of shooting time before the kids would get bored and start tearing apart the sets we’d put so much time and effort into building. It was our job to coax natural smiles out of the kids and catch them in photo-worthy poses before those fifteen minutes were up. Do you see where I’m going with this? Just like live ops game development, it’s about getting the best results possible in a limited amount of time.
I’m still relatively new at game development, but I’m very happy to be working on live ops titles at PlatinumGames. Delivering console-worthy quality and volume on a live ops timeframe is a tall order, but the challenge makes it all the more rewarding.
A Bridge Across Cultures and Companies
As an assistant project manager and outsourcing manager at PlatinumGames, I try to create a smooth, stress-free environment so all of our artists, engineers and partners can focus on their work. Sometimes that means providing more detail-oriented support that isn’t directly related to development, like making sure meetings are scheduled and set up properly.
I’m well aware of the challenges people face when working in a different culture – I learned all about that during my years in America. And as a graphic designer, figuring out the best way to get a company’s message across to the customer was my primary task. I want to put that valuable experience to work building bridges between PlatinumGames and the world.
- Miki Sato
Project Manager, PlatinumGames Tokyo, Game Creative Division
After graduating from university in the United States, Sato stayed in the USA and worked at a graphic designer in both print and web media, for advertising firms and photography agencies. She lived in the southern United States for sixteen years before returning to her home country of Japan and starting her career in the games industry at EA Japan. As an artist, she has worked on titles including FIFA Mobile and FIFA Mobile China. Hooked on game development, she’s brought her experience and desire to PlatinumGames.
Data can’t talk, but it can teach us
Looking at tutorial completion rates
I’ve worked on an assortment of mobile titles, ranging from action RPGs to sports games, as a game designer/director for the past four years. I have around ten years experience developing on consoles as well, but I think the best part about working on live ops titles is the conversation you get to have with the player, being able to see the ups and downs in real time, and reworking that back into the product.
For example: right after you release a content update, you can immediately jump over to social media and start reviewing user reactions. When the reactions are negative, that’s obviously not so much fun, but when they’re positive, it can really motivate your work. It’s helpful to be able to visualize user trends as data, too. On a previous project I worked on, we were able to compile tutorial completion rate data that would tell us the exact moment where users stopped “getting it”.
When players were matched in competitive modes, we could also look at the level difference between both users, and pinpoint reasons for why the weaker player was at the lower level. This, in turn, allowed us to add precision to our balancing for more enjoyable competitive play.
Data can’t speak up about some issue. But it can tell you a lot about user satisfaction with your product, so it’s important to keep it in check.
That said, obviously it’s not realistic to try and fix every problem that data reveals. Understanding your project’s structure and design concept, and finding a development plan that works with your schedule is a key component to being a live ops game designer.
The difference between a 100-meter dash and a marathon
When you work on a console title, you try to over-deliver on quality in every way. When you’re working on a live ops game, you take that quality and keep it consistent along a 5-10 year roadmap. You’ll be tested on your determination, your spending, and your creativity. PlatinumGames, however, has a strong foundation that continually produces tools that give you the advantage on such titles. Also, being an industry that not many have still dared to step into, there is a lot of unknown territory to discover. Currently, I believe we’re starting to see a bit of an overdone trend in what is expected from live ops titles, but I think that gives us the opportunity to try and develop something new and exciting.
To me, regular console titles and live ops titles are about as different as the 100-meter dash and a full marathon. They both might be categorized as “game development” but the mentality and techinology required for each are completely different. For a live ops title, if you use up all of your best content right at release, you’ll soon run out of steam and lose the trust of your userbase. But if you horde too much good content, you’ll lose users to other games and might never get an opportunity to win them back. You need to think very carefully of when to release what. Having seen both sides of development, I try to communicate to my team what the right vision should be for each project.
“Fun” is a universal concept
I previously worked at the Japanese branch of a major publisher, where I had the chance to work with several different studios abroad, and experience what game development looked like in different countries. Take even the home screen of a mobile title: in China, it’s typical to store a ton of information on these screens, whereas in Europe they try to keep things to the minimum. Putting aside which might be more effective, you can tell that they are both the products of each region’s gaming culture. Working as a creator, you quickly learn how important it is to not try and compromise these traditions. And still, I also felt there were things I was able to uniquely bring to the table from my Japanese background.
This still doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to only follow the trends of your target market. PlatinumGames has several titles that were successful abroad, but not because they tried to emulate any trend at the time. “Fun” is, I think, a universal concept that will always reach the user. And I know that PlatinumGames has achieved this, having played their titles and become a fan of their games.
I think that, with the opening of the Tokyo Studio, it’ll be important for everyone on the staff to find their own interpretation of that essence, and work with the Osaka studio to try and preserve it.
We’re already starting to see live ops take off for consoles in the west, and I think that PlatinumGames’ devotion to its brand and uncompromising style could provide a formula for similar success.
- Takahisa Sugiyama
Game Development Division/Tokyo Studio/Game Designer
Previous employers include Bandai Namco, GREE, and EA. Building up experience as a game designer on action RPG titles at Bandai Namco, he then moved on to mobile development at GREE, where he was able to utilize past experience on action RPGs there as well. In EA, he worked on FIFA mobile as a creative lead coordinating with studios in Japan, Vancouver and China. Now he is back on console titles, trying to find new ways to create stimulating live ops content.
ENGINE STAFF INTERVIEWS
An Interview with our Engine Developers
Bigger, more expressive, more creative – the new PlatinumGames engine
Our Research and Development Group finds the technical solutions we need to create thrilling next-generation action games. Now, they’re hard at work on the PlatinumEngine* a new in-house engine to drive all of our creations. Below, our engine developers talk about their process, and how their approach differs from most in-house engine development.
*Please note that “PlatinumEngine” is still only a working name for our new engine, and the final name may differ.
Speeding up the Prototype Phase
How did development start on the PlatinumEngine?
Wataru Ohmori: We’ve used our own in-house engine, specialized for action game development, since PlatinumGames was founded. But modern games demand a whole new level of quality, a greater variety and number of objects on-screen, and a richer amount of expressive visual power. We came to the frightening realization that if we don’t make our work more efficient, we’re simply not going to be able to keep making the games that we want to make as technology and expectations grow. Our new engine will help us make bigger, more expressive games than ever before, and with greater ease.
Why develop an engine in-house, instead of using an established engine like Unreal Engine or Unity?
Ohmori: We tested out external engines like those, but we found that they were lacking some features that we needed. It’s possible those features could be implemented at some point, but even if so, it would be on a timeframe that’s completely out of our control. When you’re trying to develop highly original titles, that lack of control can be fatal. We decided that developing and improving our own engine is the only way to be sure that we meet our game development teams’ exact needs.
What’s unique about the PlatinumEngine?
Ohmori: It bucks a few recent trends in engine development.
Tsuyoshi Odera: When people try to sell you on their game engine and what it can do, usually the first thing they do is tout its graphical capabilities. Which makes sense, since that has the most visual impact. But we’re thinking of the engine we’re building as a game engine, through and through. Don’t take that to mean that we aren’t giving graphical performance its due; we just think that there are other elements that are every bit as crucial to making truly engaging, AAA titles, and we want to give them as much emphasis.
Ohmori: Another major point is that ease of use is a very high priority. With this new engine, prototyping – which is where we try out new ideas for action gameplay, to see how they feel – will be much faster. To give an example, programmers at PlatinumGames have more freedom to directly control game animations than they do at most game studios; that gives them a particularly important role in action game development. Our existing engine already puts assets in the hands of each artist to freely control, so it’s easy for programmers to tweak what they need to, too. This is one of PlatinumGames’ strengths as a developer, and with the new engine, we want to give artists and programmers even greater control to try things out with their creations. The idea is for the new engine to both boost efficiency and make it easier to try new challenges in how our games are presented.
Better visuals with less effort
Tell us about the team developing the PlatinumEngine.
Ohmori: Development itself started about two years ago, with Odera thinking through the fundamental settings and layout. Once he had that foundation set, we got the engine team together. There are six or seven people working on the engine to extend its capabilities right now. To be perfectly honest, we could use a few more...
Odera: At this point, I leave the finer details up to each of the engine team members, but I’m still in charge of the overall architecture. This may be rephrasing something Ohmori already said, but our goal with this new engine is to reduce, as much as we can, the amount of effort that goes into game development. The idea is to take all the unnecessary work away from our game development teams. We’re looking into everything we can do to make their work more efficient, even if those changes seem minor on the surface. Things like reducing the number of button presses needed to convert data, reflecting new work in the build right after it’s converted, or making levels playable directly from the editor. I have experience setting up digital content creation pipelines, so I have a sense of what artists want their workflow to be like.
Ryoichi Takahashi: I’m in charge of adding new rendering features to the engine. I see it as building a frame on top of the foundation that Odera made. Right now, I’m looking into all the tools that we might want to implement, and putting together systems that will allow us to put those tools to good use to improve our games’ visuals. My top priority is creating a canvas for rich visuals, with an eye towards recent trends in technology. On top of that, I want to make sure it’s easy for anyone to get good results.
For the most part, I’ve worked more closely with game development teams than on system development, and each project has its own needs that have to be met through manual work; they often start to approach the limits of what can be done in terms of time and scale. At the end of the day, I want to give our artists an engine that will let them dig in to a wide variety of visual styles – photorealism, cartoony cell-shading, and beyond – to make sure our games are up to Platinum standards visually.
Seki’s position in the development team is a little different, though.
Ohmori: We expect Seki will be merging into the main PlatinumEngine team a bit further down the line. Right now, he’s doing independent research into things that interest him, and to help meet the technical needs of all of our current projects. I know that he’s focused on topics that will be considered essential to game development in the near future. It’s up to him to decide where he allocates his costs and how he provides feedback based on his research to the team at large.
Qun Shi: Two themes have driven my research so far. One is figuring out how to meet requests we’ve gotten from PlatinumGames’ various game development teams. The other is working out what is necessary to build new game mechanics. For example, I might look into pathfinding in open-world games, or full-body IK systems that control character animations in real time; those would fall under the first theme. As for the second theme, that means talking with Ohmori and, based on the judgement of the R&G Group as a whole, implementing technologies that will open us up to wider mechanical possibilities in the future.
Lately I’ve been focusing on techniques for fast asset creation. One of those techniques is markerless motion capture using machine learning, which we could use to generate 3D animations, even from flat 2D video. Of course, doing motion capture the old-fashioned way with a studio and a full marker setup would yield higher-quality animation, but it also takes more money and time. Markerless mocap with machine learning could be useful for creating placeholder animations for game prototypes. I’m also researching how we could automatically generate normal maps using the principles of photometric stereo, and other ways that we could make even more high-quality assets as efficiently as possible.
There’s much work to be done
What sort of people is the engine development team looking for?
Ohmori: Not many companies build their engines from square one these days. I think the challenge that presents is a valuable opportunity. PlatinumGames is known for our action games, but going forward, we’re going to have to try making things we haven’t made before. Those new challenges might be under the broad “action game” umbrella, or they might be something completely different, with some action elements. Either way, we’ll need to step up our game in terms of scale and expression. There’s much work to be done all around. If you’re thinking, “I have ideas I want to see through, but I don’t know, they’re kind of different from what PlatinumGames usually does...” then please apply. Your different ideas might be exactly what we’re looking for.
Odera: PlatinumGames is making strides towards self-publishing, but we’ll still have plenty of opportunities to work with other publishers and across many different platforms. Up until now, it’s been unusual for a studio to be able to offer so many challenges and chances. If you want to test your skills against those challenges – not to mention the challenge of creating fresh, new games – then you should apply.
Shi: On the research side of things, I’d love to work with people who have specialized knowledge from a scholarly background, but who are still passionate about game development. Pure academic research feeds on novelty; no matter what fruits your research might yield, presenting those results effectively requires a fresh approach. Meanwhile, in game development, you can research all you like, but at the end of the day, the goal is to finish and release a game. Functionality and stability are paramount. The most fulfilling part of this job is taking the technology you’ve researched and figuring out how to put it to use in creating a strong game system.
What makes a PlatinumGames programmer?
Odera: A lot is left up to your own discretion at PlatinumGames. It’s a work environment that values following through on your own ideas, which is very satisfying.
Takahashi: I’ve worked at PlatinumGames for ten years, and in all that time, I’ve never felt bored or tied down. There’s a lot of freedom here, which makes the work feel meaningful.
Ohmori: Right now, we’re focused on the new engine, but that puts us in a close relationship with the teams working on our games themselves, too. About half of our work comes from hearing the project teams say, “Oh, I want to do this,” and not only solving those problems, but also digging in to those desires to find something to add to the engine for future projects.
Other engine developers are often somewhat detached from game developers, and may not see how the features they’re creating are really being put to use. Some of them may only interact with game developers over support e-mail! As an engine developer at PlatinumGames, you’ll get to know the faces of every game developer who uses your creations. Of course, that also means they can walk right up to you and complain when something goes wrong, so maybe it’s a double-edged sword... But if you value direct feedback, then this might be the job for you.
Research and Development Group Lead and Chief Technology Officer
Wataru Ohmori worked for Capcom and Clover Studio, on titles including Resident Evil for GameCube, Steel Battalion, and Okami. After joining PlatinumGames, he worked on Bayonetta before establishing the R&D Group that develops and improves our in-house game engine. He helps all of our project teams to explore and properly implement new technologies.
Research and Development Group Team Lead
Tsuyoshi Odera’s claims to fame at PlatinumGames include building and implementing the UI systems for Vanquish; creating the Blade Mode and rendering systems and DCC pipelines for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance; and more. He is currently handling planning and implementation on our new in-house engine.
Research and Development Group Programmer
Ryoichi Takahashi has worked as a graphics extension and shader programmer on Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Transformers: Devastation, NieR:Automata and ASTRAL CHAIN. He is currently adding new rendering features to our new in-house engine.
Research and Development Group Programmer
As a member of our R&D Group, Qun Shi researches and verifies new technologies that could prove useful in future titles. His research is centered on improving our workflow by finding ways to efficiently create high-quality assets.
PLATINUMGAMES TOKYO OFFICE TOUR
*The opening has been postponed in consideration of
the national government's declaration of a state of emergency.