Interview with Hajime Chikami (Experience Inc.) & Juntaro Kohno (Kadokawa Games)
Why the name ‘Demon Gaze’?
At the beginning we thought hard about the theme of the game, and we came up with this concept where the beings within the game were demons, who weren’t necessarily human but didn’t have any evil intentions either. They sort of fit snuggly between the two in existence. There are characters who are able to control these particular demons and those characters are known as Demon Gazers, and so, the point was to figure out how to use ‘Gaze’.
We thought about using ‘Gazer’ but it came off a bit childish, sounding a bit too much like something out of Kamen Rider. We wanted to retain the idea of Gaze, reinforcing the power these beings had to destroy enemies and so between ‘Gazer’ and ‘Gaze’ we ultimately went with ‘Demon Gaze’.
What inspired you to create Demon Gaze?
Experience (gaming company) has created many games over the years, and we often created robotic type characters. So we wanted to create a title where robotic female characters would battle against each other. However since much of our portfolio revolved around creating dungeon crawling based titles, we thought the best way for our ideas to become reality was to focus on sticking to what we knew best and thus, Demon Gaze was created.
With the gaming market growing at such a rapid pace, both domestically and internationally, how do you stay current with the competition?
The term ‘Competitive’ is something a little hard to define. We started off with the PlayStation 2 then gradually moved to the PS3 then PS4, and eventually there will be a 5 at some point. One thing that remains consistent however is the cost of development is growing larger. Honestly, we (Kadokawa Games and Experience Inc.) just can’t battle against the bigger companies with much larger budgets or something of that scale. For us, something we can control is the playability, especially how good the game feels as you play it. The other is the overall style of the game and so, focusing on these two factors help us to maintain our competitive edge in the industry.
For the playability aspect, that’s where Experience Inc. comes in because they’ve had years of experience creating dungeon RPGs, and from the style point of things that’s where Kadokawa comes in to add their flavor to the game. We believe that with the combination of these two parts the Demon Gaze series will continue to grow its fan base now and well into the future as well.
From Experience Inc.’s standpoint we want to ensure that whatever title we release is at the same level as other titles on the market. So the issue that arises once again is that we can’t put enough funding into the title, so the area we want to drive home the most is “how can we make it different? What spin can we put on this game that makes it different from our competitors?” This is the challenge that we’ve confronted with from the beginning of the development process up until the very end. We never stop coming up with ideas to really make sure we stand out in the way we truly desire, and that’s our edge.
*laughs* Certainly, passion.
As a gaming otaku (I went to school to study game design), I understand the challenges that you face as you go through the process of development. What do you do to overcome challenges (character modeling, designing, programming, etc)? How do you free yourself from all of that?
*laughs* Most definitely passion right? It’s definitely looking back at the process of the game and paying attention to the aim of what the game should be for those that play it. As you mentioned, there’s a lot of difficulties that arise during the development stage such as delays and so forth, so we always go back and forth during the process to ensure our ideas stay on track and maintain the integrity we initially planned for.
Making games is much more fun than playing them because, during the creative process you can imagine your customers and focus on what will make them happy, what they’ll enjoy. Of course, there are a ton of various difficulties to tackle during game development but, the fact that we can focus our attention on the customers and implement things that we feel our fans will enjoy is what makes designing very rewarding. That’s our main motivation to keep going.
Is there any advice that you’d give to aspiring game developers?
There are various motivations that come into play here and they differ from person to person. For some, it’s “I can draw” or “I can program” and so, they focus to make games like that. However, the thing about making games is that it’s a collaborative process and it involves a group of people. So rather than just saying “Ok, I can do this particular thing so I’ll continue doing it”, it’s really important that you put your attention on something that perhaps you’re not able to do. Search for other people who possess skills that you yourself don’t have because at the end of the day, making a game once again is a collaborative effort and so the teamwork aspect of game creation is pivotal. So please focus on that.
Nowadays, people who want to venture into the industry are most likely into games. We’re now at a point in the industry where there are so many options to choose from pertaining to consoles, genres, and various ways to play. I suggest that you play various types of games because it can help to widen your perspective. We’ve had individuals come into our office with very little experience outside of their comfort zone, so it’s encouraged to expand and not limit yourself. Broaden your perspective, this is key.
What would you NOT recommend to do for aspiring game developers?
Don’t get TOO involved in games themselves as you may miss out on the bigger picture moving forward. Focus on other areas as well since games aren’t the only things that exist. This is very important when wanting to take on the leadership role because it’s vital for you to have a strong understanding of what else is out there. Knowing all about the various industries out there along with learning the rules and manners that go along with working in this industry will be of great benefit to you in the long run.
Be able to explain WHY you enjoy something. Too often I encounter people who say “I like this because oh a lot of people bought it” or “It won this award!” and that’s not a very good justified reason to explain properly why it is you like something or dislike something. It’s very important to get your point across in an accurate way and learn that skill as you move forward.
Demon Gaze II has become a very successful title in Japan for cultural reasons. So what is your main mission to achieve the same success to serve overseas fans?
(speaking from Demon Gaze to Demon Gaze II) Needs certainly are different between regions, but what we found to be a big factor was the difficulty curve from the original Demon Gaze. That was the general feedback that we received relating to the title on both sides (Japan/Overseas), and so we wanted to address that issue in Demon Gaze II. What we did then was due to the difficulty dramatically ramping up in Demon Gaze, we tried to focus on implementing a more gradual increase in the difficulty as players advanced through the game. Personally, we didn’t feel like it was poor game design because naturally, games are meant to grow in difficulty as you play. However what we did was, since there are players who do love that challenge, we had to address their needs as well and that’s where the Yagyu Dungeon comes in.
So in Demon Gaze II we added a bonus dungeon for the people who really want that hardcore experience so that way, both fanbases are rewarded with something they can enjoy. Whether you like the slow gradual increase or the in your face difficulty, both are now available for you to choose. The games you actually end up beating are the ones that stay in your memory, not the ones where you give up halfway. That’s where our focus was set towards, allowing players to have their experience resonate over the long term.
Rather than focusing on “Stairs” (relating to game difficulty), we wanted focus more on a slope. It’s all about getting the player to reach the end and one thing that connects that difficulty is the story, so that players can see their way through the game. For Demon Gaze II, we wanted to make sure that the story was really good and drives the player to reach the end game.
What did you focus on more, the story or the gameplay?
I’d have to say both but I feel people will praise Demon Gaze II’s story more than anything. The original Demon Gaze took place in the countryside and there wasn’t really anything pertaining to the incident that pulled at your heartstrings to create an emotional attachment. So we thought for Demon Gaze II, changing the location would certainly be of benefit, so instead of the countryside, we went with the city. There’s a huge plot behind the main character as you join forces with a revolution against the government and by doing so, you lead these people in the city into something bigger and better. The game is about to release in the west very soon so I’m not sure how people will receive it since we’ve made these changes. There’s a little trepidation revolving around that, but we hope our fans will enjoy the experience and enjoy what we’ve done with the story.
The scale and the scope of the story is a lot bigger than the first Demon Gaze, and it was really important to us that players can beat the game this time around. In Japan, the Yagyu Dungeon portion of Demon Gaze II came out a month later for the Vita as free DLC but not many people downloaded it which was unfortunate for us. That part of the game adds so much more overall appeal so this time, for the western release we’ve made sure to add in the Yagyu Dungeon DLC right from the beginning so that we can see just how our fans respond to the gameplay. It adds so much more depth and narrative so we encourage fans to play the post game content to truly experience Demon Gaze II to the fullest.
I’d really like to emphasize that if you’ve never played a DRPG before and you’re new to the genre, Demon Gaze II is the perfect place to start. Even though it’s the second game in the series, it’s built so that you don’t really have to play through the first game to understand or appreciate what’s going on. It’s a game for anybody to enjoy and I really hope you give it a shot. I also hope that those who like a more hardcore experience will really enjoy our post game content and sink their time into it. Please enjoy it!
I totally agree with Chikami-san here. One other thing to point out is that even though there’s a II in the title it’s still a brand new experience since you’re in a new environment, with a fresh plot and a new direction. Also with the post game dungeon, it takes place within the same events that occurred during the first Demon Gaze, so you receive a call from the characters in the first game asking for your help. So you actually are able to go back to the first game without really having to play through the first in its entirety. So it’s actually a great segway to start with Demon Gaze II and travel back to the first one to gather information about what transpired.
Wrapping up the Interview
Thanks once again to Alan for translating the interview in a very thorough and accurate way, and of course a big thanks to both Kohno-san and Chikami-san for taking the time to answer our questions in a meaningful and insightful manner. We wish all the best to the two of you and of course wish Demon Gaze II becomes a success overseas as you dreamed. We’re proud of your efforts and hope that the two of you continue to spread your love and passion for gaming all around the world for many years to come.