[IMGW]http://media.1up.com/media?id=3172940[/IMGW] Now that the holiday console melee and all the smack talk that ensued has settled down, we decided to take a look back at one of the games that seemed to get lost in the shuffle: Dead or Alive Xtreme 2. The original game, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, did quite well on the sales side of things, moving over 800,000 units in total. The sequel, once highly anticipated on Xbox 360, did considerably less, in both critical reception and number of unit sold. Was it the wrong game at the wrong time? To get to the bottom of things, we sat down with Team Ninja's boss, Tomonobu Itagaki, to talk to him about the gaming world's chilly response to his team's vacation-on-a-disc, as well as his opinions on the respective PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii console launches. While Itagaki is rarely at a loss for words, we found the man behind the Dead or Alive series to be unusually verbose this time around. Settle in and see what he had to say (a lot) about the topics at hand.
1UP: So what's been going on?
Tomonobu Itagaki: First of all, I'd like to start off by saying we're very happy that we released Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 in the middle of November on time, as planned. It's been four years since November 15th of 2002, so it's almost kind of a memorial date for us. We've reached a milestone in that sense.
1UP: How do you feel about the reaction to the game?
TI: So far, from what it looks like, it looks like the fans are enjoying it. I've heard a lot of good things from the fans here in Japan. And as far as the U.S. goes, the really hardcore DOA fans and the people who enjoy the DOAX series are recognizing it as being a good step, a new evolved game and they're enjoying it.
1UP: Do you think there's any relevance to the notion that the first game was a pleasant surprise, but going into the sequel, since people sort of knew what was coming, that expectations were much higher?
TI: Do you think there's a prettier game out there than the jet-skiing I've made for DOAX2? Obviously the concept is the same as the first game, but I think if you take each part and look at it as is, you'll find there's no better example of it on the market. And that's how I intended things to be when I made this game.
I think that there is a bit of misunderstanding in terms of the smaller mini-games, like the Butt Battle and Tug-Of-War. This is all kind of coming from a ... tradition if you will... a series of TV shows in Japan where you had bikini models, athletic competition where you'd have bikini models doing those kinds of things. It's almost kind of a joke, a throwback to that, something to make you laugh. And so, maybe in the U.S. there wasn't that kind of TV show, that kind of culture, so maybe people sit down and looked at those mini-games and studied them seriously as a real game, but that really wasn't our intention when we put them in.
If you think about the activities that give you the most money in the game, it's the volleyball and the jet skiing. We're particularly proud of the jet skiing, and I think if you take that jet ski game on its own, there's nothing that can beat it in that genre. What I want to say is that if you take this game and play it for what it is, that you'll really enjoy it. I know that there's a ton of DOA fans out there right now playing this game and enjoying it. And I want to take this opportunity to thank them, these are the really hardcore fans and that's who I made this game for.
So when it came time to discuss the design philosophy for DOAX2 my first thought was out of all the people that bought the first game in the U.S. -- of which there were quite a bit -- I don't think all of them were satisfied with it. And I think the reason the first game sold well was because the concept was new, but because people were buying and enjoying it. I don't think that everybody who bought the game truly understood what made it fun. So that was the first thing I thought about when approaching the second game.
Basically I had to go back and think "what were some elements in the first game that people didn't understand," in other words what were some areas we could have done better. It's the same thing I did with Dead or Alive 1 -- I went back and looked at what people might not be satisfied with, what might be some problems with this game? So then you go back and solve all of those and that's how you get Dead or Alive 2, which I thought was a polished game for the time. And I believe we were successful in that. Aside from a few areas, I think we were successful in accomplishing that. I think for the most part we were successful at looking at what people in the U.S. might not be satisfied with, removing the aspect of a girl throwing away a gift in the trash and losing it -- which was added to give the original game a different feel, but it didn't necessarily correspond well to the people playing the game. So I think we did well in recognizing those areas and trying to fix them before putting out DOAX2.
1UP: Are there any criticisms that reviewers gave DOAX2 that you think are valid points?
TI: As far as the review scores go, there was a guy on our staff who came to me with the reviews when they first came out and said "Look at the scores, they're so low!" I said "Come on, out of all the games I've made that this was going to have the lowest scores on a point scale. Don't let that get to you." I've been doing this for 14 years, and obviously when reviews come out if there's a high score, satisfaction comes along with that, and if it's a low score I do have things that I think about and consider when I see that score. But that doesn't affect my opinion of the things I've done myself. If I did there's no way I'd be able to create games for 14 years.
1UP: Right, but I'm not asking if you agree with the scores. Are there any things that you've seen the various reviews harp on pretty consistently that you've reevaluated and think to yourself "Yeah, that probably could have been done better"?
TI: You know, everybody thinks their own child is cute, and this game feels like a daughter to me. What I will say is that I don't typically look back on the games in an objective way until it's been at least three months since release, at which point I'll begin to look back and consider things. There's no particular logic to the 'three months' rule, it's just the way I've always been. For some reason, three months after a game has come out and instead of the game being a cute child, I can actually sit down and see its imperfections. But generally some time has to pass. I think the biggest issue I have with people and their reactions to the game is that not enough people are getting their hands on it. There's a great majority of people out there who once they get their hands on it will actually enjoy it.
1UP: Do you think there would be any benefit to having a demo of the game available on Xbox Live?
TI: Logically speaking that's probably the best solution, yeah. For people who are looking for a demo it's unfortunate, since I've already begun moving on to the next game, but for people looking forward to the next game it's probably fortunate. So I've already put it behind me in a good way. That's one of the good things and bad things about Team Ninja, is because we're so fast and move on so quickly, we're already talking about and physically working on the next game. So that's one of the things we'll need to look at in the future, whether its worth it to have some people whose job it is to focus on things after the sale and how to keep interest in the game going even while the majority of the team moves on to the next project.
1UP: Well, you guys did release a DOA4 demo well after the game's initial release. So I don't know how much work that takes, but could you guys isolate one of the most attractive elements of DOAX2 -- the jet skiing -- and release a one-track demo of it so people could get a taste of what it's like?
TI: Well, you know the DOA fighting games is Team Ninja's flagship series, so we're prepared to spend as much resources as needed to make sure that game gets all the support it can, even after it goes on sale. But DOAX is kind of Team Ninja's hobby, we spend a lot of time and money on that hobby, but it's still a hobby. [Laughs] But as you said, if we released a Marine Race demo, it probably would be effective, but for me it's already like we've raised this daughter up right, but now I have to focus on my son who's just been born, if you will. In that sense maybe I'm a lucky man that I've got all these kids I get to raise.
For me a downloadable playable demo is something I may have to create for my son, but not necessarily this daughter, since she's already standing on her own. I do think it's necessary to support the people who have already bought and are playing the game right now, so that's where I am with that.
1UP: So how do you plan to support the people who have already bought the game?
TI: I have been informed that there are people who are using the Xbox Live functionality to do things that we never intended to do. [Editor's note: Itagaki is referencing pulling up the Xbox Live menu as players are about to lose in the gambling mode, enabling players to avoid losing money on a bad bet] They're playing in a way to make things easier. But there's a bunch of people out there who wouldn't cheat and don't want to use this loophole. But because it's such an attractive temptation, these honest people are struggling inside with this loophole that's within arms reach. So for us as designers we want people to enjoy the game the way it was meant to be played, in the most relaxing way possible, and that's kind of what we're focusing on now. We're basically removing that temptation.
When you have an exploit that basically allows you to print money, a free money generator, the entire balance of the game, in terms of the currency that's used in the game is ruined. So you no longer have people who are playing for the vacation aspect, and enjoying being on this island, it's all about getting this money. We discussed this issue with all of the top members of Team Ninja and came to a conclusion as to what to do. One of the options we discussed was to leave it as is, and let people do what they wanted to do. So I want to make it clear that we don't want to prevent people from doing this per se. It's like Wizardry on the old Nintendo system. You could hit the reset button to take you back to your last save point if you made a mistake, but the real fun of the game is overcoming your mistakes and really experiencing the game. So I'm sure there are people out there who are thinking "Should I push reset or shouldn't I?" because you're basically ruining the experience for yourself by doing that, but at the same time it's such a temptation. So I want to alleviate that conflict for people.
When I was playing Wizardry back in the day, there was an exploit where you could fight the Greater Demon for a lot of experience, and to escape you would have to warp out, but there was always a chance you would warp into a rock and your entire party would die. But if you watched closely and saw you were in the rock when you warped out, and you hit reset, you could go back and try again. It was an exploit for people to get experience easily. As a player it was a conflict because I thought "I want to do it but I don't want to do it." That spoils it, that goes against how the game was meant to be played. And I didn't want to worry myself with that conflict, so what I did was took a piece of plastic and super-glued it to the Nintendo so that I wouldn't be able to reset it, and removed that temptation. So people who are using this free money generator, that's their decision, and they shouldn't download the update we put out. This is also for people who haven't bought the game yet
1UP: So the patch prevents you from performing this trick with the Xbox Live dashboard?
TI: I do want to applaud the person who devised this method in the first place, because it was pretty impressive. One of my team brought this to my attention -- "Somebody found a secret method to make money within the game" -- so I applaud the entrepreneurial spirit of this, if you will. It caused us a lot of trouble, as the economic balance of New Zack Island was destroyed because of it. This is going to be an auto-update, which means if you start the game with your 360 connected to the Internet, you're going to be required to download it. This is basically an announcement of new interest rates by the Federal Reserve Bank of Team Ninja. But that's not all.
It's not just going to be that. There's a reason that people use that exploit, so we went back and examined why they're doing that, and we corrected that in the patch. So after this auto-update is applied, while you won't be able to use this free money generator any more, we are making it so that when you play the game normally the way it's meant to be played, you'll be earning more money for every activity than you were before, as a way to address the initial reason people began cheating in the first place.
1UP: So if you don't want this update applied, you better not log onto XBL with the game in your 360 then?
TI: That's basically it. I've already heard remarks from people playing the game saying "I'm not going to connect to XBL any more, because they're going to patch it." But it's not my style to make a surprise attack on people, without any warning whatsoever. Since you were nice enough to come talk to us, I want to take this opportunity to let people know that we've released this auto-update.
1UP: Are there any achievements or rankings that are affected by cheating, that spurred you to correct this loophole?
TI: It's basically because the game's no longer fun if they cheat. They just do this to earn money so they can buy whatever they want to buy without going through the trouble. I don't want to look back at this -- when I look back at the history of Team Ninja and the games we've made -- I don't want to look back and see that the way we left it, that the New Zack Island economy was destroyed because of inflation, and we left it that way.
1UP: But this is only affected on the user's own specific Xbox 360. It's not like there's anything online that you can buy using game currency. And the stuff you buy isn't even reflected in the character models in online play, only offline. It doesn't provide any advantage for one player over another player does it?
1UP: Since it's obvious you can patch things in the game, do you plan to offer any other kind of updates, like downloadable items for DOAX2?
TI: Well, we've changed the scoring rules for Marine Races, fundamentally changed them to make them more fun. Plus, we've heard from comments from people about how the volleyball is really challenging this time around, and it's hard to win with a shutout, which gives you the most money. So we've tried to adjust it to keep it challenging to make it interesting, but also make it worthwhile so you're getting the reward you deserve for the amount of time that you put into it when you're playing volleyball.
1UP: One of the big criticisms of DOAX2 is that you go through all the trouble to unlock this stuff, but when you go online, you're restricted to default swimsuits, and can't show off the cool stuff you've earned. What was the reason for this? People who play MMOs, for example, go through the trouble primarily to get the best stuff and show off how good they are at the game. I assume people would like to do the same thing in DOAX2.
TI: I wasn't expecting people to go online that much, I thought DOAX2 would be primarily a single-player focused game. You can tell by the way we implemented the online features this time around that we weren't putting all of our energies into online.
1UP: I think it's hard for gamers to decipher a developer's intentions. If they see an online component, they're thinking about it in comparison to other online games. Johnny Gamer in Idaho can't read your mind and understand "Oh, you really don't want me to put too much time into this online."
TI: I agree with you 100 percent, that if a person hears the game is online that they'll expect a full online component. In that sense, and looking back on it and thinking about it now I'd say that maybe it would have been better for us to not have included an online component at all. From my design philosophy on this particular game, I was 99 percent focused on single-player, so for the other 1 percent to be such a big issue for people to criticize the game, it would have been better just to not have it to begin with.
1UP: Yeah, but if you didn't put it online, people are always going to want what they can't have. People would have been asking "Why isn't this game online?"
TI: Let me clarify some things for you, and give you some facts so we can look at this logically. This way people can understand why we did what we did. There were comments from people when we released Dead or Alive 4, regarding Kokoro in a kimono in one of the opening movie scenes, but the costume wasn't in the game. And the reason for that is that the cloth physics for something that complicated is incredibly stressful on the system. So the same thing goes for DOAX2. If you're playing online in jet skis, and you have four girls all wearing the most elaborate flowing costumes in the game, and they all have their hair down and it's flowing around their shoulders, and they're wearing ribbons on their wrists and accessories maxed out, there's just no way the game will run on this machine with the girls dressed up in that way. So we decided for this game that for online we'd limit the specifications to make it feasible for the game to run. In hindsight, hearing what you say, and hearing that people are frustrated at not being able to take these costumes online, that's why I say maybe it would have been better not to include the online portion at all, because we knew it wasn't going to be possible from the get-go.
It's difficult, because some people might say that starting out, why didn't you implement the cloth physics so it was precalculated, or why not make the hair less processor intensive. It's tough for us because we're always pushing the envelope in physics and graphics, when it comes to real-time graphics. We want all that flowing realistically and moving in real-time, but because of that there are other limitations that come across, so it's always a balancing act for us in how we get the technology to be the best it can be while giving the people what they want.
So you can bring in any physics engine you want from any company, but it's not going to give us the kind of active movement and animation and things that we want for our games. That's why we always do our physics engine in-house. There's a certain level of quality we need that can't be reached by standard solutions. Now, if there are any executives of software companies out there who think they have a physics engine that can do what we want, let me know, I'll sign the contract on the spot, because to me it's all about the results.
[Editor's note] This is a short list of the specific costumes and accessories that Itagaki told us were too processor intensive to allow players to use online in the jet skiing portions of DOAX2:
Hairstyle: Hair Down (flowing)
Swimsuit: Ostrich (chinese-style dress)
Head: White Flower Crown
Eyes: Chic Sunglasses (any color)
Feet: Heart Sneakers
Papaya: Kokoro's swimsuit with a transparent skirt
Alnile: A furry suit that uses special graphical effects
TI: You know, so talking about online, if the game -- in a logical way -- was going to be misrepresented, then maybe we shouldn't have been put in. I also know that there are a lot of people out there who would say "Don't say that, it may not be completely what we expected, but we're glad it's in there." If our goal was to be so that you could take all those swimsuits online, we could make new character models for online characters with less polygons, we could redo all 2,700 swimsuits to have less polygons, we could go in and make a less intense, less impressive water physics engine to make it all run. We could do it. I also think the Marine Race aspect is fantastic, I really like it. And I know that I said that the online part of the game is one percent, but for Team Ninja, one percent is still pretty big. So maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to say we should have just cut it out, because it's still important. So I just want everyone to realize that we wanted to get this game out on Memorial Day, and in order to make it happen we had to think about what's the best way to use our resources. So yes, if we wanted to create low poly models to make everything work, we could have done it. But it wouldn't have been feasible or logical in thinking about our goal of when we wanted the game to come out. And we want our next game to come out in the same time frame next year, so we have to think about that in the big picture, and we had to set our priorities, and we made our decisions regarding the online mode based on all of these decisions.
Also, as a lot of people who read these interviews know, that I am a camera buff, and we included a full-featured photography mode into the game. Originally we had been thinking about a feature where you could exchange photos with other people back and forth through Xbox Live. What do you think? Is that something people would want to do?
1UP: I think if it was there, there are people who would definitely get into it. But it depends on what people were able to do with it, like e-mail it to themselves and generate wallpapers, or use them for Xbox Live dashboard backgrounds, something fun.
Ti: Well you can always get that thing that fits in between the hard disk and the 360 that you can hook up to the computer. The XSATA by Datel, which acts as a conduit between your Xbox hard disk and your PC.
1UP: So, I'm sure it's no small coincidence, but you guys are offering microtransactions for DOAX2 now, right? This dovetails nicely with the recent patch. Some players are bound to say that the patch was designed to coerce people into having to buy things.
TI: It really doesn't have anything to do with it. This microtransaction 'shop' we're opening, so to speak, which is called the 'Boutique,' is really for people like myself or you, people who like to play games, but don't have as much time on their hands. It's a service designed for people to get enjoyment out of the game without having to spend a lot of time on it, so for people who are out there and playing the game for hours on end and earning the money in-game to buy the items, it's not going to affect them. The way I see it as far as using this exploit, which allows you to make money easier in the game... that in and of itself in the pre-patch version is still a very time-consuming process. When someone on the team showed me how to do it, I thought "This is so boring and repetitive." So I don't see the microtransactions as being a fundamental deterrent to cheating. If people are bent on using this exploit, that's up to them. But microtransactions are for people that want to get a lot out of the game who don't have a lot of time to spend on it.
1UP: So what's to stop people from playing DOAX2 offline, and using the exploit to build up as much money as they could possibly need, then going online and patching?
TI: They're free to do whatever they like. I'm not going to dictate what people do in the privacy of their own home. I just don't want to look back on this game in the future, I don't want it to be left in a broken state. I want it to be in a state where I can say we did everything we could to make sure the game was fun and people enjoyed it in the way it was meant to be played.
1UP: Are all of the swimsuits be available for purchase or it will only be a specific tier of items?
TI: It will be all of the items. They'll all be available and the prices will be pretty reasonable. If people want to see all of the swimsuits in the game but don't have the time to unlock them, this feature is basically for me. [Laughs]
1UP: So people who want to mix and match the process can unlock what they want to in the game themselves, and buy whatever they want in the Boutique?
TI: Yeah you're free to mix and match what you want, and the stuff that's being sold online, just because there are so many swimsuits, they're in gift packages with a certain number of suits in each pack. We've actually done the design up really nice and stuff with boxes and everything specifically for that. So I think when people go online to the Boutique they're really going to enjoy that. To the people who are our customers, feel free to do whatever you want. I'm a programmer and I know it was because the code written by a person on our staff that this exploit was made possible, so that's why we're doing what we're doing to rectify it. So when you're tired of shooting aliens with a machine gun, come on over and enjoy a vacation with the girls.
1UP: Well, I think that's everything we need to know about that topic. What to you think about the recent console launches? Let's begin with the PlayStation 3. What do you think about it?
TI: Unfortunately I haven't been able to get a PS3 yet. They're not selling them anywhere. Of course we have the development kits here, but no retail units.
1UP: Did any of the launch titles appeal to you, in theory?
TI: There's no launch titles that create within me an urge to search all over Tokyo to find a PS3 so I can play them.
1UP: Do any of the titles that came out at launch -- at least from what you know about them -- feel like next-gen titles?
TI: Sorry, I haven't played any so I really can't comment on any of the games. This isn't me trying to back away from a comment, but since I haven't tried any of the games I can't really say anything. The only thing I've seen running on a PS3 is Ninja Gaiden Sigma, so...
1UP: How's that doing?
TI: Hayashi's doing good, he's taking charge in his own way. So I want everyone to trust in his abilities, and wait for the game. The only thing I can commit to saying right now about Sigma is that Hayashi is someone I hand-picked to lead the project, and I have faith in him.
1UP: How do you feel about Genji?
TI: I'm pretty sure Hayashi played it and he said that there's some interesting things in it visually. The other thing you should know is that I've beaten the first Genji about eight times, so I'm probably the biggest Genji fan on Team Ninja.
TI: I just like the Kamui system, where the game tells you what buttons to push, where it's like a rhythm game and all the enemies fall down. Remember I'm just talking about Genji 1. I think the button-pressing is dumb, but when the music comes in and all the enemies fall down, I think it's kind of fun. All of my games have such a high level of interactivity, so sometimes I do like to play the counterpart where it's not as interactive.
Thankfully I was able to get my hands on a Nintendo Wii, I got one the day before yesterday and I bought all of the Nintendo launch titles, and I'm playing them right now.
1UP: How do you feel about Zelda?
TI: I haven't gotten my hands on Zelda yet, but I've been playing Wii Sports lately. The problem is if I start playing Zelda I'm not going to get any work done, so I have to be careful when I start that.
1UP: Have you tried Made In Wario?
TI: My daughter said she played it but I haven't touched it yet.
1UP: If you look at a game like Made In Wario, which isn't graphically astounding, but offers tons and tons of mini-games, most of which are funny or entertaining, does a game like this make you rethink how you should have approached the mini-games in DOAX2?
TI: I think they're pretty much exact opposites. I don't really think I could make a game like Made In Wario, but I do think that'd be a good game to help teach new developers, to raise them. Maybe not Made In Wario specifically, but a mini-game collection type of game. The reason for that is because as teams get bigger and as projects get bigger, there are less and less opportunities for each game designer to look at what fundamentally makes games fun, and that's why I think as an educational tool for developers those kind of mini-game collections are interesting because each one has to have its own specific point and design element.
1UP: What do you think of the way that each console is positioned? The Wii de-emphasizes graphics and encourages innovation, whereas the PS3's message seems to be high-def, high-def, high-def, while sidestepping innovation. What do you think about each approach?
TI: I think they're both necessary. In our house, my daughter was playing DOAX2 almost exclusively, playing volleyball and playing Kokoro and getting all her swimsuits. But as soon as the Wii came to the house she's been playing Tennis. And she plays tennis in real life, she can return a serve from an adult, so I've just been seeing her playing tennis a lot.
1UP: Do you think Nintendo should maybe as a slight concession to modern times at least support a minimum resolution? Because all of the people who are upgrading their televisions for their 360s and PS3 -- and especially in Japan, where everyone is moving over to space-conserving high-def flatscreen TVs -- do you think Nintendo should have at least supported 720p?
TI: Obviously technology is always going to be evolving. Eventually we're going to reach a point where you can't tell the difference between systems, but we're still pretty far from that point. Right now, advancing technology aims towards realism, they're all aiming for the same thing, so I think it's important that Nintendo brought out a system that's totally operating on a different wavelength, since it gives you something outside of that. However, the feeling I had when the Wii was first announced, the feeling I had at that time and the feeling I had when I actually played it were quite different, so that was interesting to me.
1UP: Different in a good or bad way?
TI: I thought it would be good, but I didn't think it would be this good. I do think now that there are more types of games that are suitable for this machine than I actually thought. I thought there would be fewer games that would be suited to this machine, but now that I've actually played it I think there's more possibilities than I originally thought.
1UP: Does that mean you'd like to develop something for the Wii?
TI: Well, I've got my hands full looking over my 'daughter' and my new 'son,' [Editor's note: DOAX2 and Ninja Gaiden 2] who's going to be born soon, so I don't really have the ability to think about that right now, but I think it would be once again handled by a young member of the team. So even when I'm playing with the Wii and I close my eyes, I envision myself holding a Japanese sword. So that's the frame of mind I'm in right now, so I hope everyone looks forward to what we're working on next.
1UP: You know what I think of when I close my eyes? I think of when we were in Hawaii, and I had a hand full of poker chips.
TI: [Laughs] You lost in the end but you won in style. [Laughs] I'm just looking forward to having a drink tonight.