• Hey, guest user. Hope you're enjoying NeoGAF! Have you considered registering for an account? Come join us and add your take to the daily discourse.

4Gamer interview with George Kamitani

GekigangerV

Member
Jan 16, 2008
1,598
0
995
AZ
http://www.4gamer.net/games/134/G013480/20130521001/

This is actually a few days old. Here are some general translations with a big thanks to Maou and Prof over at The Madman's Cafe. It just various info about Kamitani's experience as a game developer overall. It's a very nice read.

Got his start in the gaming sector in high school during the Famicom heyday when a friend at a software company gave him a part-time job doing pixel art. He tricked his parents into saying okay by saying it would improve his mathematics grades.

Later entrusted with doing porting work to different consoles. Did the graphics graphics for Famicom port of AD&D Hillstar.

Moved to Osaka from Hiroshima after college and applied to Nintendo, Capcom, etc. Went with Capcom which was really thriving then under Executive VP Yoshiki Okamoto (Time Pilot, Sonson director)

At Capcom, entered as a planner in order to see how games were built from ground up, around 1992-1993 when SF II was a huge hit. When he entered the company, his department was mostly working on side-scrolling action games.

Worked on Muscle Bomber, heavy on the throwing techniques, making for complicated graphics--putting different graphical parts together and animating. This experience was important in developing Vanillaware's 2D tools later on.

Worked on D&D Tower of Doom after Muscle Bomber, on red dragon and stage layouts. Lots of fun, and wished he'd been on project at start rather than mid-way through. This shows in Dragon's Crown, too.

Left Capcom after feeling he could never direct there--too many talented people. Invited by an old upperclassman from school to join a small game company in Kansai that formerly did adult games but that was diversifying. Started building the foundation of what would become Princess Crown there.

Princess Crown originally from idea of making a Princess Maker 2 type of "raise your character" game with many endings. Character training/raising sections would be replaced by fighting action sections instead.

Strong RPG elements in Princess Crown because when shopping the game to Sega, it was assumed that it was an RPG, and he answered yes, of course, it will have 40 hours of playtime!---Sega really needed RPG's for the battle with Sony (Saturn vs. PS) then. Talked with his two main programmers on the train back and said that they'd really need to make it an RPG now that they'd said it was one.

Entered development at the end of 1995 but problems a year later because the development company went bankrupt. A friend at Sega introduced him to Atlus, which totally saved him and the project. Deep appreciation for them still.

At the end of project, rather than Vanillaware becoming a smaller unit of Atlus, all of the development members scattered, so later Vanillaware games with entirely new staff. 10 years later, still hard to make games now!

After being saved by Atlus, he became a staff member there at "Atlus Kansai" (Atlus Osaka Development Office, from which some members later broke off to form Noise Factory). Was very attached to his Princess Crown team and always wanted to make another work and thought of Dragon's Crown at that time. However, Atlus Kansai dissolved soon after.

Though Princess Crown was highly praised, it came at the end of the Saturn's life and sales weren't huge---bankruptcy of the development company was a big loss, too. Princess Crown was branded as a "red ink project"/money-loser and people who worked on it weren't looked upon favorably.

He really wanted to keep his team together and make even better things with them, but he didn't have the grit or the guts to start his own company at that time. An Osaka development company called Racjin took on his team members.

So, after Princess Crown, there was no sort of "Team Kamitani" around to make games.

Later invited to Tokyo by Shigeo Komori, who helped with Princess Crown development, and went to work at Sony Computer Entertainment in Tokyo (Kamitani's work at Sony is not well-known and much of it is confidential). Wanted to do game planning there but the team he assembled ended up in pieces.

In the end, he and Ohnishi (current Vanillaware programmer) were the only ones left, in dire straits with no money, living on 200 yen a day and eating bread ends. This was 2001 and he was 32 then. Couldn't just go back to Osaka with no job so stayed in Tokyo, got introduced to a job that would become involved in development of Fantasy Earth~The Ring of Dominion (MMO). His involvement shifted the world theme from a humans vs. vampires thing into a more princess/fantasy thing. His team that was contracted for this work was an early version of Vanillaware.

This was his most harrowing project. He owes a lot to Shigatake (now a Vanillaware illustrator), who at the time told Kamitami he was in love with Princess Crown---Kamitani says he "tricked" poor Shigatake into joining the project based on this!
Vanillaware gets established soon after Kamitani leaves the Fantasy Earth project. Princess Crown 2--later to be known as Odin Sphere, started out with only 5 developers. Only two members, Kamitani & Nishii, were from the original Princess Crown. Despite Kamitani's bad credentials doing no help to gather people up for his suspicious company (He was only known for Princess Crown til then), his staff eventually grew to 10 members.

His reputation really didn't help him to get a funding from Atlus either. When he proposed Odin Sphere to them, a lot of voices were heard in the company saying that it's a bad decision considering that Princess Crown was a flop and Kamitani hasn't even made a new game in 7-8 years. Their R&D cheif decided to go with it though, and the proposal miraculously went through.

Everything went smoothly with Odin Sphere except for its schedule. But that alone brought down Atlus' trust, and after development was finished, they refused to begin talks on a new project until they see how well the game will do. What's more, Atlus was going to delay the game's sale to accomodate their release schedule. Given that Vanillaware needed money to keep alive, Kamitani had to seek around for new funds. This led to Nipponichi Software's Grimgrimoire and Marvelous AQL's Oboro Muramasa.

By the time Grimgrimoire was completed, Vanillaware was so dead out of funds that Kamitani had to personally borrow money. About 20 million yen. He went so mental that the ceiling looked like it was morphing whenever he lied down.

Odin Sphere came to the rescue. Atlus had set its loyalties pretty high that Kamitani got enough money to pay back his debt and even give bonuses to his workers. Still, Vanillaware was down to its knees again by the time that Oboromuramasa was done.

His company just ignores deadlines and keeps working until its funds run out. That hasn't changed even as of now. It's bad practice as a company, but Kamitani is just happy being able to make games. Given that Vanillaware has more employees now, he realizes that he needs to reconsider his dangerous approach-- even though Vanillaware exists to make games, doing so til' money runs dry is simply not ideal.
Reason he doesn't do sequels is that he can't usually, so he makes games such that they're stuffed full of all the ideas he wanted to have, with no potential for regrets over things left out. Dragon's Crown is one such game, where he's completely exhausted all the ideas he wanted and implemented them, so that it'd be hard to make a sequel quickly even if asked.

Agrees that it's unusual for an independent developer to be able to continue to make originals rather than sequels, suggesting that Princess Crown's influence was probably there---even if it didn't sell well, it was critically acclaimed within the industry.

Vanillaware is now trusted to create originals that also make money, which enables them to keep creating originals, with everyone's support. He has never had any intention of taking on work for other companies because he believes most strongly of all in creating original games.

Right now, there are 24 people at Vanillaware, slowly transitioning so they can have two lines of 12 people on 2 projects. Odin Sphere was 12, Oboro Muramasa was 16.

As for Kamitani's direct work, he does the overall design, character and monster drawing, and scenario writing. But everyone at Vanillaware does all kinds of jobs.

Wants to keep making consumer-oriented games (i.e. for gamers) as opposed to smart phone games, seeing as he worked so hard to have his own company.

FINALLY TALKING ABOUT DRAGON'S CROWN NOW

Dragon's Crown is Vanillaware's largest-scale production, not something they could normally make. It was a long and meandering road, taking 4 years to make. Everything they could think of was put into the game.

Originally meant to be published by UK-based UTV Ignition but then given to Atlus, with some risk that the project would be frozen because UTV was no longer involved. Kamitani felt strongly about this project, though, begging Atlus for help, which decided to bring the money.

Dragon's Crown is just packed with things he liked, everything he was hoping for pretty much got put in. The game system, the art, the game book style [does this mean like in Odin Sphere? I don't know.], monsters, scenario events. Now that he's made this game, he can die happy. Not that he wants to die yet----even when his game designs weren't going forward, he always was making planning documents and has tons of other ideas he wants to do. There's at least 10 that he still wants to do most of all.
I am glad to hear about a more consumer oriented approach to game design. I love seeing that he wants to pack his game with as much content as possible to try and create something definitive.

As you can see, it has led to a lot of risk on his behalf as he needed to borrow quite a chunk of change, but I am glad he is able to do things on his own terms.

I think I will ask my brother to pick up Princess Crown in Japan if he can find it. I have heard about it for years, but never got around to trying to get it. I guess it would at least give me a chance to brush up on my Japanese.
 

SolidSnakex

Member
Jun 7, 2004
85,527
2
0
Yikes, I really hope that DC does well for them. It seems to be riding high on Amazon charts (not that it means a whole lot). Did he comment at all on Grand Knights History? I only ask because it's their best selling game, so i'd be curious if it put them in a better spot financially. Muramasa Rebirth also performed really well.
 

Urban Scholar

Member
Jan 7, 2008
11,143
0
820
Miami, Florida
accelzero.1up.com
Yikes, I really hope that DC does well for them. It seems to be riding high on Amazon charts (not that it means a whole lot). Did he comment at all on Grand Knights History? I only ask because it's their best selling game, so i'd be curious if it put them in a better spot financially. Muramasa Rebirth also performed really well.
Oh yeah I'd like to know about GKH too.
 

wrowa

Member
Jul 26, 2006
14,351
1
1,170
Germany
This actually makes me appreciate Vanillaware more than before. Making games until you're financially ruined is quite a dumb move, but having the ambitions to risk everything for your game is something I definitely look up to.
 

thuway

Member
Feb 25, 2008
10,994
0
1,010
This is the type of studio Nintendo or Sony need to acquire. Smaller, arty, and could use the mega dollars and mega advertising. Their assistance on art assets for first party titles could go unmatched.
 

Uncle Rupee

Banned
Apr 18, 2011
7,115
0
0
Wow, had no idea Vanillaware was on the brink of collapse so often during the PS2 era.
Hopefully Kamitani can continue to make the games he has in his head.
Didn't really talk about Grand Knights History... still upset about that one not getting localized.

This is the type of studio Nintendo or Sony need to acquire. Smaller, arty, and could use the mega dollars and mega advertising. Their assistance on art assets for first party titles could go unmatched.
Sony's not that interested in 2D though, and Nintendo would likely hammer this square peg into a circular hole.

I still think a collaboration with Capcom on Ghosts n Goblins / Gargoyle's Quest would be great. So far the main complaint with his games is lack of good level design. So to take Capcom's level designers and team them up with Vanillaware's gorgeous art design = win.
 

Monomythian

Neo Member
Jun 1, 2012
57
0
0
I fucking love Princess Crown, it was a random budget buy from Gamecave, a thumbnail sized image from the back pages of a 1997 Gamefan.

At the time I was amazed at it's visuals, and wondered how such a beautiful game could be so cheap and so completely off the radar.

As time went on I never saw anyone talk about it, and it's just not a style of game I ever expected to see more of.

So imagine my surprise when Odin Sphere just came out of nowhere 10 years later. I was very happy to see the style return and now always look forward to new Vanillaware titles.

I wish Kamitani/Vanillaware nothing but success/piles of money for Dragon Crown, it's long overdue.
 

jgmo870

Banned
Jul 29, 2011
2,363
0
0
This is the type of studio Nintendo or Sony need to acquire. Smaller, arty, and could use the mega dollars and mega advertising. Their assistance on art assets for first party titles could go unmatched.
Except Nintendo and Sony wouldn't give Vanillaware much advertising because they make niche games.
 

erpg

GAF parliamentarian
May 10, 2009
15,207
1
0
Ottawa, Canada
Dragon's Crown is just packed with things he liked, everything he was hoping for pretty much got put in. The game system, the art, the game book style [does this mean like in Odin Sphere? I don't know.], monsters, scenario events. Now that he's made this game, he can die happy.
Must be nice to make your dream game after so many rough patches. :)


Thanks for the translation, I appreciate it.
 

web01

Member
Jan 20, 2008
3,124
0
0
This is the type of studio Nintendo or Sony need to acquire. Smaller, arty, and could use the mega dollars and mega advertising. Their assistance on art assets for first party titles could go unmatched.
No thanks they are better doing their own thing. Something like that could ruin them.
 

Hypereides

Member
Jan 19, 2009
7,662
305
1,005
Denmark
Kamitani may be passionate, but he also sounds dangerously reckless. They seriously need to make budget restrictions and keep track of what they pour the money into.

The structure at Vanillaware sounds very unoriganised and will probably eventually collapse on them at some point way if they continue to pursue it.
 

Takuan

Member
Jun 6, 2004
12,835
53
1,460
His company just ignores deadlines and keeps working until its funds run out. That hasn't changed even as of now. It's bad practice as a company, but Kamitani is just happy being able to make games. Given that Vanillaware has more employees now, he realizes that he needs to reconsider his dangerous approach-- even though Vanillaware exists to make games, doing so til' money runs dry is simply not ideal.
Jesus, it's no wonder no one wants to touch them. As much as I appreciate his passion and determination, this is pretty awful.

Yeah, what highluxury said.
 

Weltall Zero

Member
Mar 11, 2012
10,279
1
460
Madrid, Spain
Awesome interview, even the summary was engrossing as hell, and for years I've been dying to know more about Kamitani. I kind of wanted to give him a hug and tell him everything was going to be all right, during the toughest part :(. Still, there's something really inspiring in his tireless quest to fulfill his vision and make games he can be damn proud of; such drive and determination in the face of adversity.

Man, after reading this, I guess I'll have to buy a Vita, plus Vita versions of Muramasa and Dragon's Crown. Was only planning to get the PS3 version...

It's kind of funny because at the end I was thinking where he'd go after Dragon's Crown, because it really feels like it's his life's grand project and masterpiece, but it's great to know he still has ideas for more games. :)

Kamitani may be passionate, but he also sounds dangerously reckless. They seriously need to make budget restrictions and keep track of what they pour the money into.

The structure at Vanillaware sounds very unoriganised and will probably eventually collapse on them at some point way if they continue to pursue it.
On the other hand, I have a feeling a more managerial approach would preclude them from releasing such unique games. I have a feeling that the focus on giving it all rather than obeying deadlines is what makes their games bloom.
Or perhaps I'm just sour that we've given a deadline at work that can't result in anything else than a buggy piece of... software.

I still think a collaboration with Capcom on Ghosts n Goblins / Gargoyle's Quest would be great. So far the main complaint with his games is lack of good level design. So to take Capcom's level designers and team them up with Vanillaware's gorgeous art design = win.
I just imagined a VanillaWare Gargoyle's Quest and nearly wet my pants. :D
 

Clott

Member
Dec 5, 2008
2,118
0
750
New York, Manhattan
What a story, I will support them when dragons crown comes in August.

Artists work in different ways, I think the investors can look at their track record and know what they are gettin into, if going over budget gets the game done than go for it, whatever works.
 

Hypereides

Member
Jan 19, 2009
7,662
305
1,005
Denmark
On the other hand, I have a feeling a more managerial approach would preclude them from releasing such unique games. I have a feeling that the focus on giving it all rather than obeying deadlines is what makes their games bloom.
Or perhaps I'm just sour that we've given a deadline at work that can't result in anything else than a buggy piece of... software.
You have to wonder at what expense. As gamer sure it awesome to see games like Dragon's Crown.

But software products/projects like those won't see the day of light if they continue to work under that kind of management. It's too much of a risk, for any publisher to fund a firm that operates their finances that way.

Ultimately any studio can keep pushing to perfect their game for eternity and it most likely won't turn into a final fantasy profit success story.

But sure, it sounds like a heart warming bed time story when you read it. But the reality is different.

I'm all for unique games, and I can't see why they can't be developed under a well constructed management.
 

Nosgod

Banned
Mar 10, 2013
76
0
0
Love Kamitani. You can feel the guy is truly an amazing passionate artist who's got sheer raw talent. Hoping he can get better success with the release of Dragon's Crown.

You don't get many people who can push sheer creativity and amazing visuals in this industry. We need more people like him.
 

thetrin

Hail, peons, for I have come as ambassador from the great and bountiful Blueberry Butt Explosion
Sep 14, 2005
43,287
0
0
36
Osaka, Japan
www.playism-games.com
I was a big fan of Princess Crown back in the day (mostly because of the animation), and that's what originally drew me to Grim Grimoire and Odin Sphere when Vanillaware emerged. After that, I was sold on their brand.

I still think Grim Grimoire is their best game. Such a fresh take on the concept of an RTS.