Keiji Inafune may be best known for Mega Man, but he’s also a huge fan of zombies. Inafune created the Dead Rising series and is working with Team Ninja on Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. In this interview we talk about the game’s comic book style, Yaiba’s fight with Ninja Gaiden’s regular protagonist, Ryu Hayabusa, and Inafune breaking his personal zombie rules.
When I played Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z there was humor, like the scene where a zombie was driving a truck into another zombie. I remember back when you were working on Dead Rising you had an idea of making zombies like toys, which is quite different from zombie flicks of even Resident Evil.
Keiji Inafune, CEO of Comcept: I feel there are two sides that make zombies interesting when it comes to movies and games. There is a drama aspect like you would see in The Walking Dead, which has elements of tension and fear, but there is also humor and that’s what makes working with zombies a fun theme. Personally, I like the humor aspect, which is why both of those games have humor in them.
I love zombies and I have my own rules for what zombies can and cannot do. Zombies can’t run. They aren’t intelligent, and so forth. For this game, those rules don’t apply.
The zombies that appear in Yaiba are different from other zombies. Like in the truck scene you mentioned, a zombie told another zombie to get out of the way. We loosened the mold of what zombies can and cannot do. That leaves a lot of freedom for us, Team Ninja, and Spark to input lots of ideas. Certainly, there will be humorous ideas that come from that. I hope you look forward to different kinds of humor in this game.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z also has wacky weapons like the zombie nunchucks you can get when you yank a zombie’s arms off. Where do you get ideas for weapons like this?
When I produce a game, I don’t necessarily say, “Do this specific idea.” I give a high level idea and set the framework. So, I told the developer [Spark Unlimited] to come up with an idea for this. Harvesting arms and limbs from zombies actually came from Spark. From those ideas, I choose what I like.
After setting the framework, ideas come out. If ideas slip out of the framework they aren’t used and I pick the ones that fit the game.
Was having a comic book art style one of the high level ideas? Were there any alternate ideas?
It was decided early on in the development of the game that we were going with this art style. We talked with Spark and Team Ninja and all of us decided this was a fitting art style and we went with it. There wasn’t an alternate art style we were considering.
Why did you pick a comic book art style for Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z?
The inspiration came from when I saw the Walking Dead graphic novel. Even though the story addresses serious issues and has a dramatic story, it’s done with a comic style. For me, that stood out and I wanted to do something with zombies in a visual style like The Walking Dead.
Will players be able to fight Ryu? I mean the game starts with Ryu Hayabusa cutting through Yaiba.
I don’t want to give it away at this point, but I think players will have expectations of what will happen and certainly we want to cater to those players. At the same time, we want to go beyond their expectations and surprise them with the outcome.
I can imagine Yaiba having multiple endings then depending on what happens, if Yaiba and Ryu fight.
At the moment, we haven’t decided if the game will have multiple endings. It’s common to have multiple endings and online co-op and we don’t want to be confined by those kinds of rules. It’s too early to be discussing this, but Yaiba will be the game it will be whether it has multiple endings or not.
Hmm… early? Isn’t the game coming out in early 2014?
[Laughs] There’s still time!
Compared to Ryu, who is portrayed as a stealthy and honorable character, Yaiba is completely the opposite. He’s vulgar, angry, and loud—kind of barbarian-like.
When developing a new protagonist, it’s always easier to go with the archetype of what a main character should be. What happens if you go with that, you end up with a character that is like Ryu Hayabusa.
I gave the direction and told the team to take off the breaks and get as far away as possible from Ryu Hayabusa. When we started this project it was mutually agreed with Team Ninja.
Who is the girl with the pink hair who acts like a navigator for Yaiba?
She is intertwined with the gameplay. She informs Yaiba where he needs to go and gives him information. She is also the heroine of the game. Since there are two ninjas we need to have a female character, too. Just like how Ninja Gaiden games have female characters as well.
She’s also the character that makes Yaiba’s cybernetic body parts, too, I believe.
[Laughs] I can’t really go into that, but it’s not like she’s Roll-chan from Mega Man or Bulma in Dragon Ball. It’s certainly not like that.
How has Team Ninja guided the game in terms of combat, since their specialty is making stylish action games.
We have a director from Team Ninja who looks specifically at the game’s combat. He needs to sign off to approve all of the combat decisions. If it isn’t feeling right Team Ninja will give feedback on how to make it better. Even the combat is a collaborative process. Spark gives us ideas and we’ll discuss if it’s a good idea and figure out how to grow it into an even better idea.
With Dead Rising, you threw a survivor in a mall. With Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z you mixed zombies with ninjas. What else do you want to with zombie games?
Not specifically, a zombie game genre, but one of the things I would like to do is a big budget zombie game that would be the last thing you would see at a Sony or a Microsoft conference. Something really big.
What about you, Ohara-san? You also worked on Dead Rising 2 as the game’s co-producer.
Shin Ohara, Producer at Comcept: Probably the same. I would like to see a big, big zombie game that involves a lot of people. Maybe multiplayer or a grand scale zombie game. Maybe an outbreak starts from an area and as the game progresses the area grows. Maybe there is another group of people that try to suppress the zombie outbreak. If it’s a multiplayer game, maybe there is a group of players trying to suppress zombie outbreak and another group trying to spread it. That would be interesting.
Since we talked about Dead Rising 2 a couple of years ago, what are your thoughts on Dead Rising 3? It seems like Capcom is trying to go that route.
SO: I saw it. I went to their booth and saw the presentation. It’s open world and since it’s Dead Rising it takes on the good elements of the series, but it’s just much bigger. Not a whole lot of new gameplay has been introduced yet, that I know of. It doesn’t necessarily fill the gap for me. Certainly, I will play it and most likely enjoy it, but it’s still a single player game.