Iwata Asks Interview With Hideki Kamiya Explores His Development Process
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"At some point the God of Video Games descends upon us"
The Wonderful 101 may be, for some, the next big Wii U release on their radar. Exclusive to the system and published by Nintendo, it's a game that bears many of the hallmarks of its developer in that it's undeniably a PlatinumGames title — it looks and feels like the work of the studio. Director Hideki Kamiya is a major part of that, too, a figure that perhaps stands out as a personality among a sea of game Directors that are relatively unknown.
His personality shone through, in what seemed like some subtle humour, in the recent Nintendo Direct for that game, but beyond his quest to be a "Master of Twitter" is a successful game creator, and a recent Iwata Asks gives an interesting insight into Kamiya's background with gaming, his early encounters with the medium and how he came to work on his early projects at Capcom.
One section looks at his time in the tutelage of Shinji Mikami, and how much he learnt from the original Resident Evil Director. Kamiya's experience with Resident Evil 2, learning from his mistakes, seemed to be vital.
Kamiya: Yes. But immediately after, when Mikami-san made me director of Resident Evil 2, I messed up in a big way. As a result of saying okay to everything that came up, it turned out horrible. We had to scrap what we had spent a year and a half making.
Iwata: Precisely because the director bears full responsibility for the result, the director has the authority to make all decisions.
Kamiya: So everything that didn't work out was my fault as director. Resident Evil 2 was receiving attention as one of Capcom's new big titles, so the news quickly spread throughout the company. I felt like people were staring at me in the company cafeteria and saying, "That's him! That's the guy who ruined Resident Evil 2!" It was a shock, and very hard.
Iwata: It must have been quite a depressing experience having only been in the company about three years, at that young age.
Kamiya: But Mikami-san kept me on as director, instead of saying, "This guy messed up, so he's no good."
Iwata: Instead, he said, "Because he messed up, he learned something."
Kamiya: Right. It was really important that I received that chance. So I gave a lot of thought to what had gone wrong. I was making decisions without vision, and amidst all the pressures, I had lowered my criteria for giving approval. And, above all, it was important how I personally suffered the disastrous results of that.
Iwata: While that experience was hard, it was also an incredible blessing.
Kamiya: I truly do think so.
A theme throughout the interview is that Kamiya is instinctive in how he works, but not necessarily the most structured from the beginning, explaining that often core mechanics to his games arrive well into the project's gestation. His original pitch to Capcom to be an employee consisted of drawings and level designs rather than detailed written proposals, and he explained how many key ideas were born out of a crisis or struggles for ideas.
Kamiya: (laughs) Inaba-san yelled at us to get it together for Viewtiful Joe, too. Everyone got together on the weekend to think it over, and the system of VFX Powers was born as a result.
Iwata: Huh? That's how those came about?! But the VFX Powers are the core of the game!!
Kamiya: Yeah, but they didn't exist until then. My games tend to go that way, so the core isn't in the plan from the start. We make the game with luck and inspiration, and if we work hard, at some point the God of Video Games descends upon us.
Iwata: Hmm… But the God of Video Games only shows up on weekends at the last minute.
Kamiya: Yeah! (laughs) I really should start thinking earlier on.
Iwata: But I do think you have an impressive ability to receive inspiration and not let what you've found go at just the crucial time.
Kamiya: That may be so if you put it in a positive way. Slow in Viewtiful Joe was just like that. A programmer who just happened to be sitting next to me was checking motions and moving Joe in slow motion.
Iwata: Huh?! That too?!
Kamiya: Slow happened because I was like "Hey! What're you doing?! That's cool!" and made him let me do it.
Iwata: I knew it. You're good at seizing on important triggers in your surrounding circumstances.
Kamiya: Well, that's because they don't come from inside my own head! (laughs) I guess that means The Wonderful 101 was rare in that we polished it up relatively similar to the original proposal.
We also feel that this excerpt reflects the free spirit — combined with hard work — that's driven Kamiya's career to date.
Kamiya: You know, I don't think I ever worked specifically toward becoming a game designer. In high school, for example, I bought an NEC PC-8801 so I could study programming, but all I did was play video games every day.
Iwata: Uh-huh. (laughs)
Kamiya: I did a little BASIC, but I'm no good at steadily pecking away at anything, so I thought it was beyond me and gave up right away. So instead of working hard toward my goal, I… Uh, is it okay to be so uninspiring?
Iwata: Please, continue. (laughs) In any case, you have played a lot of video games!
Kamiya: That’s right! I’ve never forgotten about them! Video games were the core of my life. I steeped myself in video games throughout junior high and high school and talked about nothing else with my friends.
As always, we recommend that you read the whole Iwata Asks article, as it gives insight into various titles in which Kamiya's played a prominent role, such as Okami. An upcoming second part will apparently focus on The Wonderful 101, which should also be a fascinating read.