Smiling faces make great games, it seems

It's always fascinating to have an insight into development studios. Rather than being fun-lands in the style of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, they're ultimately rows of desks and, in many respects, look like any other office. Of course what's happening is a lot different, as the biggest studios have dozens — occasionally hundreds — of staff working on small pieces of what will eventually become a whole for us to play.

Development studios don't always come across well, however, with a high profile example being the now-closed Team Bondi, with much talk after the eventual release of LA Noire coming from disgruntled former staffers criticising their management and intolerable 'crunch' periods of excessive hours. Not all studios work that way, of course, and based on a "creator's interview" from Japan that's been translated by Siliconera, Monolith Soft's Kyoto studio seems like a rather good place to work.

In terms of key facts about the studio, it has around 30 staff members — quite a modest number — with an average age in the late twenties and "a high ratio of female staff members"; a stated priority is that overtime requires approval from superiors, with a "laid back" culture and a determination not to go beyond standard working hours.

This studio contributed graphical support towards The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Despite its busy schedule, staff members have spoken positively about the working culture at the company — the following is from background designer Subaru Genbe.

Playing and having fun is the most important part. It’s the key to bringing out the fun in graphics... When the work starts to overflow, the leader immediately reviews the schedule accordingly. I spend my weekends on hobbies and polishing my skills using ZBrush at home.

Object designer Rika Aoki, who was one of those that worked on New Leaf, kept up that theme.

Not only have my skills grown as an artist, but I feel as if I’ve matured more as a person, as well. The appointed weekly hours allow me to work with a mental sense of stability.

Based on the studio's output in recent years, these relaxing and fair policies seem to be paying dividends. Whether due to Japanese health laws, management initiative or a mixture of both, Monolith Soft seems to have hit upon a winning formula.