By Kris . July 27, 2011 . 5:32pm
We recently had the chance to chat with Sega’s Stephen Frost, producer of the upcoming Shinobi on the Nintendo 3DS, about the game. In our discussion, we cover how the collaboration between Sega and developer, Griptonite, came about, how the game’s combat has evolved, what the focus of the new game is, and what makes it unique.
I heard Griptonite were the ones who pitched Shinobi. How did all this come about?
Stephen Frost, producer: It’s just one of those things in alignment. There’s a group of guys there who were very excited about Shinobi as a franchise. You know we’ve worked with Griptonite a lot in the past at Sega. They’re always thinking, how can we bring back some of our classic Sega IPs?
There’s always wishful thinking or thoughts on paper, but nothing ever pans out. Shinobi’s one that’s been circulating for a little while and the IP has been dormant for a long time. It was an IP that was ripe for a coming back. Griptonite were really excited about it.
They had worked on Assassin’s Creed [Bloodlines] for PSP and [Spider-Man] Web of Shadows, which had a great combat system, and things like that, and we started to talk about bringing back Shinobi but in a classical sense. If we were to put together a spiritual successor to the old classic Shinobi games, what would that be like?
And they put together this nice sort of pitch video of Assassin’s Creed, but with a ninja. So, using some of the build for Assassin’s Creed, but dropping a ninja in there and sort of the platforming and action sequences of that. We saw that and, it’s like, that’s great because it’s modernizing the gameplay to today’s expectations, but also still capturing the essence of what was magical and classical about the old Shinobi games.
[Editor’s note: Sega later got in touch with Siliconera and clarified a few points regarding their Assassin’s Creed quote. They point out that the final Shinobi game is not running on the Assassin’s Creed PSP engine, just in case there was any confusion on this front.
The game runs on an entirely different engine, and doesn’t play like an Assassin’s Creed game. The pitch video mentioned in our interview was just that — a pitch video by Griptonite using Assassin’s Creed assets to communicate the concept of the game to Sega and demonstrate their 3DS technology. It was also closer in concept to Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery (Nintendo DS, iOS) than to Bloodlines.]
Since we’re on the topic of capturing the of the Shinobi games, what’s been brought from the Genesis games and what’s been brought over from the PS2 era Shinobi and Nightshade?
Definitely, most of our focus is on the cartridges. We did look at the PS2 one, but it’s a very different style of gameplay, right. We had a sweet spot in our heart for the classic gameplay. But we liked things like the [PS2 version’s] scarf…Hotsuma’s scarf.
The way it moves, it’s very memorable. It’s very artistic. And we knew from the get-go that we wanted to have a very unique style for this game, and so we brought the scarf from the PS2. But fundamentally, most of the moves, enemies and bosses…ideas for certain things…a lot more of that came from Shinobis 1, 2 and 3, and we went from there.
We took some of the ideas like the combat [and built upon it]. You know, in the old Shinobi days — [we had] one-hit kills for the most part. We needed to have something a lot more complex than that. So we added in the juggles, the combos people expect in a more traditional action game. We added in a dedicated parry button. In the past, we’ve had sort of parry systems in Shinobi but not really a dedicated button for it, so we put it in a button.
The parry system is really interesting because the original games were not defensive at all. The parry button has a defense value, but during my hands-on, it didn’t feel like a defensive maneuver.
The whole thing about this game is your rhythm, your flow from enemy to enemy. Later on in the game, you get in a lot of situations where you’re jumping toward enemies and they’re throwing stuff at you. Normally, you would get hit, but the parry system in this game is that in almost all circumstances, you can perform it. Even in mid-jump, you can perform the parry.
Doing the parry resets your moves, so you can do the parry, then jump out of the parry in mid-air. That lends itself to some very interesting platforming appliance later on. So it’s great from the standpoint that if you’re very oldschool, you can try to avoid doing the parry for a while and just avoid stuff based on the pattern-based gameplay. It is classic pattern-based gameplay. The first ninja you have is going to throw two shurikens at you, jump up and then throw a third shuriken. He’s going to do that every single time and you can avoid it normally.
But the parry adds a nice depth and it continues to build up on our philosophy of “become that master ninja”. Everything goes towards that. Building upon that, we have a multiplier system, which is on the top-right of the screen, and that also builds into the whole flow thing. If you’re able to continue killing enemies and not get hit, your multiplier builds up. The the distance you can jump, the speed that you’re moving, your attack damage [all] goes up.
It’s not a huge drastic change, but it’s enough to be an incentive for players. And then if you get hit once, that resets you to a level playing field, and you can start over. It’s sort of acrobatic and ballet-like. Some of the test guys who are really good, the way they flow through a level is just beautiful. And once you master that stuff, you can record your replay and record it to the SD card and watch it later.
I hear Sega Japan is consulting with Griptonite and Sega America on this…
It’s more so on my side, going through Sega, but I work closely with the original IP holders at Sega Japan. They look through, they give feedback, and they comment on our decisions and stuff like that. From the get-go, they’ve been very supportive and very excited. Fundamentally, Shinobi has been a Japanese franchise, but they’re excited to see a North American version of it, not just for the American audience but also for the Japanese audience who is looking for a fresh take on the stuff they’ve been playing for a while.
[They comment on] just designs and cultural things. I talk to them on a daily basis. Things you wouldn’t even think about, like the angles people crouch on the ground and things like that. They comment on that and we make adjustments to that, so that when Japanese people see this, it makes sense to them.
Have they done anything gameplay-wise?
They generally give suggestions about things like “What would these characters do,” or “What are these character designs like,” but they’ve given us a bit of free rein. I think it’s because we delivered early on a very solid experience. They saw the team was passionate and backed off a little bit and let it run free in that regard.
There’s certain things such as how characters are interpreted that they’re protective about, and the lore, because we’re introducing Joe’s dad and we’re building upon the backstory in past Shinobi games. So we want to make sure they’re happy with that.
We’ve seen the chain that can be used for platforming, but I was told it can be used for combat as well. We’ve seen the sword and the kunai. Are there any more items and cool weapons and items that will show up later, or is it basically your abilities and magic attacks?
Yeah, that’s basically it. We really wanted to give you the full arsenal of moves at the beginning and allow you to get better with them as you go along. There’s modifiers like the multiplier system and spells you can learn to use in clever ways, but it’s more about your core abilities and figuring out smart ways to utilize them. As you go along, you learn to discover, “This magic can do this” or “I can use the grapple to grab onto flying enemies and pull myself up.”
So, we expand your abilities but it’s more organic and more through discover of the player doing it than you come across a pick-up and have this ability. But there are spells and pick-ups that give you enhancements to your spells and kunai, like they can now penetrate certain things. So we do have the classic pick-up motif as well, but for the most part, we give you your full arsenal at the beginning.
Different Shinobi games added little different elements to the formula. For example; Shadow Dancer had a dog; Shinobi 3 had the dash. What distinguishes this Shinobi?
What makes this Shinobi special is what I call the “greatest hits”. If you go through the old Shinobi games, [you say] “Oh, I like this in this game” and “this in this game”. What we were able to do is go through those games and pull out the things we really liked — these certain moves; this kind of charge attack; the scarf — and build our ideal game.
So now, for those fans it’s all in one place , so that’s our unique thing. That’s what I think helps to make it unique.