Shu Takumi isn't a name many gamers are exactly familiar with. But they should be, especially if they consider themselves of the distinctly surreal and popular Ace Attorney series. Having just completed his latest DS title, Ghost Trick, now available in Japan, Takumi was thoughtful enough to sit down and have a chat with us. What follows is a thoughtful conversation between Destructoid and Takumi fascilitated by his translator, one of Capcom's localizers, primary editor and product manager for Ghost Trick, Janet Hsu.
In between showing off the E3 build of Ghost Trick to the Dtoid staff, playing our arcade machines and generally being impressed with the Destructoid HQ, he impressed us with a thoughtful and broad interview. We discussed the unique visual style for Ghost Trick and the special mechanics to create that visual style, the status of Phoenix Wright in Marvel vs Capcom 3, the Nintendo 3DS, his videogame future, and even some gender-bending theatrical versions of Ace Attorney.
Hit the jump to hear a little bit from the mind of this unique developer.
Destructoid: As the creator and director of the Ace Attorney series, which is very popular in the US, what was it like to switch over to Ghost Trick?
Janet Hsu, on behalf of Shu Takumi: He's actually very presently surprised it is so popular in the States. When he made the first three games, they were made for Japan originally. Then the DS came out and there was talk of localizing the game and bringing it out over seas came out. So for him, he didn't really understand how popular it had gotten until he had come to America, recently with E3, Comic-Con and stuff. He's actually very happy that it has become popular in the States.
About Ghost Trick, it was kind of daunting, actually, going from an established series to making a completely new IP. For him, moving onto Ghost Trick was high stress. But he's very happy to have made it.
Does he think that Ghost Trick will have the same international appeal that Ace Attorney had?
Hsu: Definitely. Like with Ace Attorney, he feels that Ghost Trick will have worldwide appeal. One of the things with Ace Attorney, like we mentioned, one of the things is that it was made for Japan, without a thought for the worldwide audience. This time with Ghost Trick, we actually took that into consideration and knew it was going to be localized and stuff. As I was mentioning earlier [in the visit], there is no text in the background that you saw, no decidedly “this is this country or this is that country” or anything like that. So because the setting has universal appeal, it is something that we think everyone can appreciate and enjoy, because then people can focus on the story without worrying that this is from this country or that country and this and that.
One of the things about Ace Attorney is that we made it for the Japanese audience, but the thing he wanted to convey to everyone was the fun and enjoyability of mystery, mystery as a genre. That was something he was just thinking about for the Japanese audience at first, but now that it can have appeal across a wide spectrum of people from around the world. That's definitely something he has brought to Ghost Trick this time around. As well, he wanted to be able to convey the fun of mystery and mystery games.
I mentioned earlier that it very much reminded me of Zack and Wiki, a very much under-appreciated Capcom game. Has he ever interacted with or played Zack and Wiki or spent much time with that title?
Hsu: He says he's never actually played the game! *laughs * He said “well, while I have not spent time with Zack and Wiki at all, the creator of Zack and Wiki probably has a similar concept of puzzles and stuff like that. Maybe among Japanese developers there is a sense among making puzzle games and just making the player think about how they want to solve these. Maybe there are some resemblance in that respect.
Would he like to see Ghost Trick and [main character] Sissel become one of the mainstay Capcom characters?
Hsu: He says “I would of course be really happy and honored if Sissel could become a mainstay or flagship character for Capcom.” For when we designed Sissel, we wanted to create a really lasting impact. For example, if you look at his character design, he's very impactfully [designed]. He's got the very striking colors and silhouettes. More than Sissel, in Japan, so far the biggest reaction we've gotten so far is from Missile the dog. Everyone seems to really like Missile. You've got Sissel and Lynne, the guy and the girl, and you've got the dog, [who] is one of the more beloved characters in the series. But yeah, it would be great of Ghost Trick characters could become as beloved as the other characters you mentioned.
Could we see a sequel?
Hsu: The same thing happened with Ace Attorney. When they originally made the first Ace Attorney, they put everything into it, not really thinking about making it a sequel, not knowing if they could even get a sequel. Same thing for Ghost Trick. If people really want a sequel, if there is really a demand for it, we'd certainly love to create a sequel or whatever down the line. But right now, we're just happy with Ghost Trick having made that game, putting everything into it.
I want to ask him, as I know that for a while Phoenix Wright was being considered as a character in Tatsunoko vs Capcom, could see any surprises with regards to Marvel vs Capcom 3 coming up?
Hsu: He's like “well, sadly, I don't really know!” In the company, for example Tatsunoko vs Capcom, they showed him some of the rough sketches and the design and stuff like that, he was like “wow, that'd be great if they put him in”, but somewhere down the line they dropped Phoenix, and he was kinda sad about that. Same thing with Marvel vs Capcom. He doesn't know what's going to happen with that. Maybe he'll show up, maybe he wont, but that's not for him to decide. He would be happy if they put him in. *laughs*
One of my favorite things about Ghost Trick is the fluidity of the animation. Rarely does a DS look this smooth. It's very much an example of style being used really nicely. What sort of techniques did they go about to create such fluidity of the characters?
Hsu: In terms of the smooth animation, for example, that you were mentioning, if we made them in 3D, like if we made them with 3D polygons, and rendered them in 3D and stuff, you kinda start to see the limitations of the DS. It's not as high spec'd to be able to handle that many polygons. But we still wanted that smooth animation and smooth movements, so what we did was we actually made the 3D polygons, but then we rendered all the 3D polygons and all the motions to these 2D sprites and these 2D actions. So you end up with this incredible smooth and incredibly well animated motions for these characters, but without having to use the 3D polygons.
One of the nice things, is we say we use 3D polygons, we didn't actually use any motion capturing at all. It's all done by hand. You can see in the characters this sort of hand-craftedness to them, like they each have their own quirks. It's realistic, but there is something unique about them, there's some sort of quirk, there's some sort of special move about them something you couldn't capture in real life. We've really gone all out to try and make this as good looking as possible.
One of the things also, is if you use 3D polygons, it looks kinda like a game screen, and we wanted to avoid that. We really wanted to make it look more like an illustration, a moving illustration almost. That was another big aim we strove to fill.
I'm sure the 3DS is with Capcom now, and considering Shu Takumi has worked with the DS almost exclusively for almost the last few years. How does he feel about the 3DS, and if he is looking forward to anything with that handheld.
Hsu: One of the things he feels is spectacular about the 3DS is you don't have to wear any of these crazy goggles, you know, and it's awesome that you can just see some 3D, and it's just on the screen. That's something really great about the 3DS. Definitely, in terms of something he is looking forward to or wanting to do with it, making mystery games is something on any hardware. The basics of a good mystery game is a good story and a good game mechanic. It's not something where you are like “it has to be on the 3DS or it has to be on this machine.” But definitely if the 3D aspect could bring something to the genre, if he could actually use the 3D in a way where you can only use it with the 3D, that would really be something great and something we would like to do and incorporate into a game.
I would like to end the interview with sort of funny question. My co-worker loves Ace Attorney, and he was so excited when they made that all-female production of Ace Attorney the musical. Can he talk about that and his experiences with that or what was it like to see his creation become this play.
Hsu: Well, first he wants to ask you, what do foreigners think about an all female review?
Well, it's kinda funny, but we live in San Francisco, and we can see all-male productions of plays, and those type of productions are not unheard of. Some parts of the country might be uncomfortable or unsure about it, but I can say with certainty that the people in this room would not find it as shocking or as surprising as he may suspect. It is something interesting to see an all-female review. I know that for myself and for a lot of fans, even if it was still in Japanese, it would be a fun thing to see.
Hsu: Well, when he heard that they were going to make this Takarazuka production, which is made with an all female cast, he was actually kind of shocked, thinking “can they really pull this off?” But surprisingly, when he saw the final result, it fit the Phoenix Wright world pretty well. What he means by this is, when you play the Phoenix Wright world by itself, like when you the game, you leave the real world. It's like the real world, but a parallel real world. There are somethings in there that are not the real world per se. So you've got this extra special world they are in. And the same thing with the all-female cast. That's not necessarily the “real world” quote-unquote, you've got people playing roles they are not supposed to play. So it's like you've got this almost surreal world being played by an almost surreal theater troop. IT actually made for a good match, in his mind, so he was very impressed by how well it turned out.
The first one, he wasn't really involved in the planning of the play...
Did he have to allow any rights or anything?
Hsu: Of course copyright stuff, they had to work through Capcom, and we were informed of this. But he wasn't helping to plan it or anything like that. But after the first one, he helped out a little bit with two, and around the middle of production, and he gave back some input.
One of the things he was really happy about and impressed by the play, because the person who wrote the script for it, for the Tarakuzuka one, that person actually cleared the game seven times. Each of the four games seven times. That's what [Takumi] says anyway. But yeah, he was really impressed with the writer guy. Obviously he sat down and really played all the games and was familiar with the material before writing the scripts.
So what's next? What is he getting started on soon, and hopefully we can get a hint at what we can expect next?
Hsu: We he says we just finished wrapping up Ghost Trick, especially for the Japanese version that just went on sale. Right now he's not sure on what to do next. He's waiting for people's reactions to Ghost Trick, and he would love to make a sequel if the reaction is good and people like it. But he also hears from a lot of people, like when we come here, for example, when he comes over seas, we just got back from Spain, people keep asking the game. He's hearing a lot of things from a lot of different people, and he's just trying to see what people's reactions to Ghost Trick is going to be.