HarmoKnight, a Nintendo eShop platformer developed by Pokémon studio, Game Freak, is headed to the U.S. and Europe soon. One of more interesting points about the game is that it was conceived by a non-Japanese designer. James Turner, the Game Freak staff member who directed HarmoKnight, is originally from England.
Turner has lived in Japan for about ten years, and has been with Game Freak for over three, he shares in an Iwata Asks interview. While Turner has been in Japan long enough to be able to handle himself in Japanese, Iwata points out that directing a project involves being able to communicate subtle concepts to your staff, which can be difficult to express if you aren’t using your native language. Turner replies that his solution to this was to express himself visually.
“When it was hard to express an idea verbally, I would often use sketches to explain things visually,” he shares. An example of this can be seen in a page from HarmoKnight’s design document, translated and provided by Nintendo:
A translated page from HarmoKnight’s design document. Click to enlarge.
As previously reported, Game Freak adopted a new development structure last year, that allows members of the staff to pitch new, non-Pokémon projects. Under this new structure, if the brains behind the project can get at least two of his colleagues actively interested in his idea, the project is greenlit for prototyping, with a progress check conducted three months later. Iwata compares this to Google’s “20% time” concept, which allows Google employees to dedicate 20% of their working hours to their own pet projects.
If the project is considered worth pursuing after the progress check, the development team is then given another three months to work on it further. At the end of this period, a decision is made regarding whether or not the project in question will be turned into a full-blown game.
Not only is this comparable to Google’s 20% time, it’s also reminiscent of the game industry’s fledgling days, say Iwata and Game Freak director, Junichi Masuda. “I first got involved in game development back when you were expected to come up with a new title every three months,” Iwata shares. “It’s unthinkable nowadays!”
In fact, the original Pokémon games were born of a similar working environment as well. “There were about nine of us who worked on [Pokémon Red/Green] all the way to the end,” Masuda reveals. Masuda also mentions at one point in the interview that, experience gleaned by Game Freak staff during pet projects like HarmoKnight will be useful during the development of Pokémon games as well.