In the first part of our interview with Toshihiro Kondo we talked about how Falcom approaches video game development and covered the series you know – The Legend of Heroes, Ys, and briefly Gurumin. This half discusses the company’s plans with Sony’s PhyreEngine and Kondo’s views on the industry.
Did you get a chance to use Sony’s PhyreEngine as a way to develop new IPs faster?
Toshihiro Kondo, President: Yes, we are working with the PhyreEngine. Being able to use that, it seems to be compatible with PlayStation Vita and PSP. Moving forward, we’ve already created an internal team to specialize working with PhyreEngine.
In the past, all of our projects have used their own original engine. It was not very efficient, but it allowed us to do things maybe we couldn’t have done per title if they were sharing the same engine.
Can you elaborate more on what things you could do with an individualized engine over using a common engine?
Once we moved to PSP a lot of the releases share a common engine. Our PC games we made earlier had different engines. The difference between the Ys engine and The Legend of Heroes engine is the Ys engine is centered around action. We had to program it with good collision detection and other elements for action oriented gameplay. Whereas The Legend of Heroes series, those games are focused more on event scenes and telling a story. The engine we created would let us put in small details, controlling the characters as they explore the world, and having the event scenes to move the story forward. That’s where different engines helped out.
At Falcom, our programmers tend to want to work with their own stuff. They don’t like working on middleware, which was developed other places. Moving forward, technology is getting to the point where we do need programs like the PhyreEngine to control 3D data and libraries. For graphic formats, if the libraries are off that could create problems. We have to get everyone here on board working with the same engine.
Falcom has grown a lot from the PC days and now you’re more of a console focused developer. When you look at Japan, what do you think is the greatest change in the market?
Twenty years ago, Falcom was only work on the PC platform and PC-Engine (TurboGrafx-16). The biggest difference now would be working on the consumer oriented platforms to release our titles.
Before we would license those out to Hudson or NEC to bring a PC game to a console. Now we can work on consoles directly and together with Xseed we have been able to work directly on bringing the console games outside of Japan.
Twenty years ago, games were very simple. One game could be played by pretty much anyone in the world. Games now have gotten so complicated you have to be aware of the differences in each territory in terms of gamer’s preferences and cultural issues since there is more text and story in games these days. In addition, the install base for consoles is different depending on what territory you’re in too. That’s another way gamers are segregated. That’s probably the biggest difference. Before you had one pool of gamers you could sell one single game too. Now, each territory has their own cultural influences and system preferences.
And now, that you’re starting to have a growing presence in the West how are you going to handle all of these different groups?
When it comes to the style of our games, I’m often asked what are you going to do about selling your games in America or appealing to Europe. Other Japanese publishers have been saying they’ve been trying to keep the American and European markets in mind when creating new games to try and build a worldwide appeal. Ideally, that would be nice to have a style or an initial concept that matches American or European tastes. However, all of our experiences are based in Japan, so that is hard for us to do. Even if we made a game trying to cater to what we think are American tastes we don’t think the game will turn out very well because we are not in America.
The best we can do is make the games we know we can make and we know the users like such as The Legends of Heroes series. From there try to expand that by partnering with an overseas publisher like Xseed and finding like minded people. Ghostlight will release The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky in Europe. That is a game where we didn’t look to European tastes or American tastes, but hopefully there will be a group of Europeans who will appreciate it for what it is. With the small number of programmers we have here, it would be difficult to make a game for say Xbox. We are going to concentrate on what we feel are our core strengths and get gamers around us, sort of starting off as a small snowball and rolling to make it bigger and bigger.
Before you mentioned licensing your titles to NEC. Do you think one day you would license out your IP to a Western developer, perhaps to Xseed who can make a Western oriented title?
[Laughs.] If Xseed is willing to do that it would be interesting. I’d like to see how that would turnout. Perhaps, it’s something we can discuss together.
Acquire’s Twitter feed said you met with the company’s president and Nippon Ichi, so what can you tell us about your meeting?
I don’t think he was tweeting about any firm details. It was about Nippon Ichi, Acquire, and Falcom who have strong PlayStation presence. It was him gathering us to say it would be nice if we could work together in the future given our ties to the PlayStation brand.
Thanks to that tweet from the Acquire president, the chance of a Falcom character making it into a Nippon Ichi game increased greatly.
Like Classic Dungeon x2?
Yes, as you mentioned, and perhaps in the future we can work on something in the future.
Falcom has committed to supporting handhelds like PSP and soon PlayStation Vita. However, in the West because public transportation isn’t as well developed we drive and play games on the couch at home on big screen TVs. Are you concerned that supporting handhelds while they are popular in Japan may make it difficult for you to expand in the West?
The easiest would be to release games for PS3 and 360 so American gamers can play it on their big screens. The Vita is pretty close to HD screen quality. Especially, with Sony’s PhyreEngine where games can be developed for Vita and PlayStation 3 we are hopeful we can develop games for Vita and PS3 together or have Vita games running on HD screens. We’re still looking through the engine and all the possibilities.
Even in Japan, we hear from fans they would like to see games such as The Legend of the Heroes on the big screen.
We touched on it earlier, but do you something you would like to say to all of the fans in North America waiting for The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter?
As you know, [The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky] SC is on two UMDs. With the retail UMD market the way it is in America and Europe, it would be very difficult to release it as a packaged product. Because the game has two UMDs, making it a downloadable title for PlayStation Network takes a lot of programming effort on our side to make it one file so it is compatible with the PlayStation Store.
The Trails in the Sky series, even in Japan is still shipping thousands of units a month. We’re getting thousands of new fans a month for the series as it continues to grow. At some point in the future, we would like to expand on the series by bringing it to other platforms. The best I can say right now is please be patient. We would like to bring the rest of the games over to the West. If all of the fans can keep bugging Xseed they will keep bugging us and perhaps we can work out a solution together in the future.
Special thanks to Endless History who sent us some questions for our Falcom interview. Did you know she runs a Falcom fansite?