Level-5's President Discusses Professor Layton's Origins and Plans for More "Unique" Games in the Series
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"We wanted to offer two intelligent characters"
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy has now arrived in stores around the world, bringing a close to the prequel trilogy and, it seems, the adventures of the iconic Professor Hershel Layton. It was a fantastic finale that was also tinged with sadness, as it closed the door on the top hat wearing gentleman.
Through four games on DS and two on 3DS, the core Professor Layton series represented the break-out success for Level-5 and endeared itself to a broad audience. Its charming mix of an old-fashioned world that's half-real and half-fantasy along with extravagant tales has helped it stand out, with gorgeous animations and music also contributing to make it more than a simple puzzle game. Yet Akihiro Hino, president of Level-5, has explained to Eurogamer how the original title began as a collection of puzzles based on the Atama no Taisou series of puzzle books in Japan; these were written by Professor Akira Tago. When denied permission to use the brand, the demo of the first game — Professor Layton and the Curious Village — was already well on its way, so a bonus mode that based some puzzles around a story became the core concept. From that point, the focus shifted to creating the protagonists.
We wanted to offer two intelligent characters who could bounce ideas off each other. When I saw the illustrations I temporarily named them Professor Layton and Luke. The names seemed to fit perfectly and before I knew it they'd stuck. The characters stayed just as I had conceived them at the beginning.
The story in each game began as an initial "world view and game concept" before being expanded into a full script. The puzzles, meanwhile, were put together for each game by Professor Tago and a dedicated team, with Hino-san explaining how they were brought together and emphasizing the importance of finding the right balance in the end result.
To this day we design the puzzles via a process we call 'Puzzle Camp'. The puzzle team, headed by Professor Tago, and the game development team spend several days' together away designing puzzles. We are all extremely passionate about the puzzles and often our discussions become pretty heated.
Math-based puzzles are especially tricky as it is easy to see them as something right out of say a calculus class. We use descriptive text and illustrations to make these puzzles look and feel interesting - even at a glance, they rely heavily on a flash of inspiration.
The design of the games deliberately stripped away gameplay that could be considered essential in other genres, as Level-5 tapped into the "Touch Generation" of the DS years.
We worked hard to identify game components that are generally considered integral to games but are inessential and which could be set aside. For example, in the Professor Layton series, you can progress in the game without solving a difficult puzzle and choose to solve it later on instead. This is an unusual approach in game design, but it was quite deliberate.
Of course the main series, or at least the part of it focused on Professor Hershel Layton, has ended. That's a source of sadness for fans, of course, but also for Christopher Robin Miller — who we spoke to last year — as the lead character's voice actor since the beginning. He admits that he'll miss the almost-yearly routine of a new adventure.
I will miss the reveal of a new story of adventure each year. Not to mention working with the producers and developers, and seeing the adoration of the fans of this delightful series. People care about the characters and their relationships. I hope that the creators will change their minds and decide to keep going... but right now I have to let go.
Hino-san does give some encouragement for those that want to see the series continue in some form. The question is how it'll evolve, with a previously released smartphone spin-off being one area, while not much has been seen of Layton 7 since its peculiar and unimpressive reveal last year.
I don't plan on letting Layton end here. While Hershel Layton's personal story is now finished, we intend to continue on with the challenge of adding more unique Professor Layton titles to the overall series.
While a refresh could be a positive for the franchise, there's certainly scope to continue with the core principles of the series to date — charming storytelling with plenty of challenging puzzles. There are certainly enough characters and branches of lore to utilise, too.
We'd recommend the full interview feature (linked below) for all Layton fans. Let us know what you think of the series origins and what you'd like to see in the future; meanwhile, Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney arrives on 28th March in Europe, with a North American release date yet to be confirmed.