Continuing our Namco Bandai Games America interview, we discuss their in house projects and what it’s like to collaborate with Japan. Similar to MadWorld both NBGA developed games, Afro Samurai and Dead to Rights: Retribution, are only announced for the West. Two producers share their thoughts on why this is the case.
When you’re developing titles are you planning on using more classic Namco Bandai IPs like Dead to Rights or are you developing original IP?
Mitch Boyer, Producer: I would say we’re doing both. We’re trying to diversify our entire game line up. Some of that is looking at the IP that we have from the past and saying that was awesome! Part of me is saying OK cool, we’ve done that, I love that, what else can we do that is new?
How did the Dead to Rights revival come about?
MB: Dead to Rights is interesting. We’ve been thinking about it internally for awhile, but haven’t decided exactly what we wanted to do with it. Volatile came to us as a studio and said we’ve got this idea. And, so we said let’s hear it. They gave us their pitch on what they wanted to do with the franchise. Then we gave them our ideas on what we wanted to do with the franchise. In the middle we came to a shared creative vision.
Dead to Rights has not been announced in Japan yet. Actually, none of the Namco Bandai America games have been announced for Japan yet. Are there plans to release them overseas?
MB: I can’t speak for the other titles. There is no official word on whether we’re going to bring Dead to Rights to Japan. That is still being discussed. I could potentially see some issues with CERO if we were to release the game in Japan just because of the nature of the game. It’s a very violent type of game. At that point I think we would have to pull back the violence a bit, potentially tone it down. Those discussions are still underway and we’ll take it from there.
What about Afro Samurai?
Chester Vegara, Associate Producer: Initially, Japan was part of the region we were going to ship Afro to. As Mitch said, and he hit it right on the head, CERO has really stringent rules on what type of games can be released out there. Afro was definitely, definitely going to be one of the blacklisted Z rated games mainly because of how the game is being played. You’re slicing people in half, decapitating people, and there is blood everywhere.
I really don’t know what’s going to be done to change the game, but there are some talks about [Namco Bandai Games] Japan wanting Afro in Japan. I just don’t know what it is going to take for them to actually want it and have it successfully released over there without taking too stuff much from the game.
If we can a CERO D* rating without modifying it much it’s a no brainer and we’ll go for it. I know we tried submit it to CERO before, but they told us we would have to redesign the whole game, pretty much. That means taking out the blood, slicing, and decapitation. There’s not much game after that. To make a comparison to another game in that genre we wouldn’t have anything to offer, but just to walk around and fight. You know what I mean?
MB: I think it’s uncommon, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s uncommon for Z rated games* to be financially successful in the Japanese market. We would want a game that stays below the Z threshold, in terms of this being profitable. If we have a concept that’s too violent we have to decide do we want to change the concept of the game or do we not?
[* Editor’s note: CERO Z games are similar to “AO” rated games by the ESRB. CERO D games are similar to “M” rated games by the ESRB.]
CV: It’s either or, basically. If it’s cutting too much fat and actually cutting into the meat you mind as well not do it. It’s not worth the time, effort, and the money to take all of that stuff out and then try to sell it.
MB: Ultimately, those decisions are happen far above Chester and me. Those are decisions that happen at the executive level.
What are some of the benefits of working closely with Japan?
MB: Namco Bandai, as a company, is launching a worldwide studio. The collaboration between our team and Japan has been greater than it has ever been in the history of the company. And that is an amazing, amazing opportunity for us.
We have access to some the top designers in the company — in Japan. We can pick their brains just to say we have these directorial challenges, how do you guys solve them? That’s amazing.
We’ve been able to bounce off ideas to key members of the Soulcalibur team. If a game has an intense hand to hand experience we can go to the Godfathers — the guys who know how to make fighting games better than anyone in the world and ask what are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? How can we make this better? I thank my lucky stars everyday to have that opportunity.
CV: It’s always better to have a project is shared between two teams. That’s a great advantage we have now. We no longer have to be responsible for one project. It’s a shared project now. A lot of great ideas, good games… we’re going to have Japanese team members calling us and we can ask what’s a hot commodity in Japan and they’re going to have voices from our team telling them what’s hot and what kind of games are being sold in the North American side of things.
That collaboration right there is going to be really beneficial because you have two different markets and two different styles of games. Japan is more of the quirky RPG type of stuff. Whereas in America you have action/fighting game stuff. Somewhere in the middle, we can meet and create one thing that can be accepted by the Japanese and North Americans.
Could you give us an example when Japan asked for advice from North America?
CV: The first example of that kind of collaboration we have with Japan would be Active Life. They presented an idea and they asked us what would be a good thing to inject, something that was North American, in this weird Japanese game.
We injected the thing that would make the most sense, extreme sports. The game, if you play it, has a very Japanese feel to it. Yet the games and activities you play are very American. You know, BMX, street luge, stuff like that. That’s just the very tip of the iceberg. There are bigger teams that get together and toss ideas around. It’s a very exciting period we’re in now.
Have you guys given feedback to Magnacarta 2 or Tales?
MB: I personally haven’t.
CV: Yeah, me neither.
MB: Our feedback has been related to projects a lot further out and we can’t talk about those.
Do you think tossing around ideas will also lead to more Japanese games getting localized for North America?
MB: I’d like to think so. I’d like to think that a lot of the games that are exclusive to the Japanese won’t be exclusive since they can be introduced to a wider audience.