Hideki Kamiya's personality ripples across everything he touches, growing in strength as it travels and comes out like a roar. His signature, hardcore style is found in a long line of original gems like Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta; these are titles that, arguably, couldn't have come from anyone else.
We caught up with him at PAX Prime this weekend to chat about his latest project, The Wonderful 101, Platinum's close relationship with Nintendo in developing the game, watching others make sequels to his games, and the intense fan reaction to Bayonetta 2's reveal as a Wii U exclusive.
Nintendo Life: What was the inspiration behind Wonderful 101?
Hideki Kamiya: Originally, Platinum Games president Mr. (Tatsuya) Minami came to me with the idea of taking Nintendo characters or other popular characters and putting them into one game — an all-star collection type of game. With that sort of scenario, it can be difficult taking a lot of characters and giving equal exposure to each of those characters relative to the different fans that are playing those games, implementing them into the game in an equal way to please all of the different fans. I came up with the idea of taking all of these different characters and putting them onto the screen at once, which is similar to the final form factor that it's in now. That was the original kick-off point as far as the idea for the game.
NL: Traditionally you've worked with a lot of original characters — Viewtiful Joe, Bayonetta, etc. — and so the idea of working with already established characters, what was your approach to that? What seemed most important for you to capture?
Kamiya: Quite simply, the prospect of using popular characters, these well-established Nintendo characters, was sort of the first time in my career filled with original games that I had a strong feeling that it might produce really good sales results. (laughs)
NL: When it became clear that Wonderful 101 would be a Nintendo project, what were your expectations for working directly with Nintendo?
Kamiya: I'd say rather than having anticipation or expectation for Nintendo I was filled with a lot of worries about what it would be like to work with them. Nintendo has this track record and this huge library of very successful titles, so I sort of expected Nintendo to come with all of this user research or very strong analytics about how game design led to certain sales results. I was expecting to receive these data-based instructions for how to go forward with the game, but in actuality working with Mr. Yamagami and his staff at Nintendo, it really was a mutually beneficial relationship; it felt like craftsmen working together to mutually make the game better. In the end, everyone was really happy with the relationship. It exceeded my expectations.
NL: In what ways did they provide support? Did they mostly leave you to your own devices, offer guidance creatively or business-wise, or otherwise?
Kamiya: First of all, from a technical standpoint they provided a lot of support. This was our first time working on this particular hardware, so they were able to answer a lot of questions and it was really helpful to have their technical expertise. From a design and production standpoint, we got the impression early on that they really understood Platinum Games and they were very respectful of our design process — actually, their feedback worked very well with the structure we have. They didn't just say, “go ahead and make the game," they provided a lot of feedback about what might make the game more interesting or perhaps tuning this or that in a certain way could be beneficial. We at Platinum would go back and say, “we did this, what do you think of it?" It was really a game of catch, a very good relationship.
NL: Speaking with Iwata, you mentioned that the game was at one time “darker" than it is now. Could you explain what you meant by that? Right now it's a very happy-looking game.
Kamiya: For example, with Viewtiful Joe, the aesthetic was sort of this comic style — he was really muscular and riffing off the style that you see in things like Hellboy from Mike Mignola. There was an emphasis in the aesthetic on thick black strokes, and definitely this American comic, a little bit more adult-focused, darker aesthetic in it. With Wonderful 101 at first, while not exactly like the style in Viewtiful Joe, the trend was going in that darker direction.
Initially what I was going for with that was this counterpoint between a comical lightheartedness and sense of humor but with an edgy look. But there was this realization that that's aiming for a very small, particular audience, so there had to be some more thought put in on how to reach a larger audience with that. By saying that, I don't mean that I was diluting or creating something that was very ordinary, instead that I wanted to come up with something that was unique and had its own character.
Actually, we got feedback from Nintendo regarding the visual style and it was that (the original look) might not be the best direction for reaching a wider audience. What we ended up with is this idea of a world of figurines, which is represented by what you see in the final version.
NL: When it was made clear that Wonderful 101 was being made for Wii U, you now have the GamePad, something no other home console has really done before. When you first saw that, as a designer, what was going through your head for this game?
Kamiya: Up until now, in all the games that I've worked on, I haven't exposure to making games on a two-screen device or using a touch screen. Being introduced to the GamePad, I was really able to follow my sense of curiosity about the device and let that inspire different ideas. Initially the game idea wasn't developed when the Wii U was the decided platform, so there wasn't this idea of having two screens involved. Once that was decided it was a really good opportunity to take a look at options for having two screens. For the development team, it was really inspiring to get this device, like a child with a new toy: (it allowed us to) really let that sense of curiosity take over and drive the ideas that were implemented in the game.
NL: A signature of your work has been a high degree of skill required of players, which many might find intimidating. How do you approach balancing the challenge that you want to see with what a mainstream audience might find palatable?
Kamiya: I think we were really able to achieve a nice balance in separating difficulty levels in Wonderful 101. We have a Normal mode, an Easy mode and a Very Easy mode. Normal mode is the degree of difficulty that we as gamemakers think is the ideal challenge — that's the level of play that we want to experience. By also providing Easy and Very Easy modes, that opens up the door for a wider variety of players.
NL: Let's switch gears for a bit and talk about Bayonetta 2. You're in a supervisor role for the sequel instead of a directorial role like for the original game. How does that feel to see, for lack of a better term, one of your “babies" in the hands of someone else?
Kamiya: There's been cases in the past — for instance, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Okami — where other people take over for making sequels. There's a certain sense of sadness having that in somebody else's hands. With Bayonetta 2 I felt that way a little bit, but this time it's, for one, being developed inside the same studio, and it's in the hands of someone who I work very closely with. I'm right there and I can see the game in development, I can see the quality that the director, Mr. Hashimoto, is getting out of the game and that team's progress. It's actually fun with that context for me to sit back with a user's perspective and see what kind of new stuff they're putting in to the game and feel comfortable about it.
NL: When Bayonetta 2 was announced as a Wii U exclusive, the Internet sort of melted down. What was the mood inside Platinum at that time?
Kamiya: Frankly, I was pretty shocked by a lot of the voices heard on the Internet after the announcement. We were making progress with the game with Sega, but certain circumstances (led to it) getting shelved. There was a lot of disappointment regarding the fact that Bayonetta 2 wouldn't see the light of day. We really wanted to be able to make that game, and so the opportunity came up from Nintendo to work together and make Bayonetta 2.
There was a combination of being really thankful for Nintendo's support in the efforts, and there was also this large feeling of relief going from the disappointment of not being able to make the game to suddenly being in an opportunity to make the fanbase happy that a sequel to one of their favorite games is going to be coming out.
After the announcement, the disappointment from the fans, that was a little bit hard to take. It was also hard and unfair that a lot of that negative energy was directed at Nintendo too. I was left in a little bit of shock based on the Internet's reaction to it.
NL: Are you any closer to getting that Star Fox game made?
Kamiya: (laughs) Not at all.
We thank Mr. Kamiya for his time.