Team Ninja’s Itagaki on choosing DS over PSP

ItagakiSure, he wears sunglasses at night, but Team Ninja’s executive producer Tomonobu Itagaki’s got game, man. He’s also highly opinionated and confident and dresses like a Japanese Michael Jackson, which can put some people off, but any man that can turn the DS on its ear (literally) and deliver a touch-based Ninja Gaiden game is worth listening to for a spell or two.

This interview I found today at Gamasutra is one of those spells, because it represents how many developers are approaching the DS today.

Basically, the DS had Itagaki-san at hello.

And when it comes to doing stylus-only gameplay, was that something that you set out to do from the very first with this title, or was it something that developed as you realized you could do this?

TI: It certainly was what I envisioned from the beginning. In fact, when Nintendo first announced the specs of its unit, it was around the time that Sony was also announcing that they were bringing out the PSP. When I looked at the estimated specs of both, I knew which platform I wanted to work on. Basically what we see here today is the culmination of that vision that I have had since then. It has taken a while to get this far, of course. And I am sure that you, or people like you, might wonder, “If the visual is so important, then why choose DS over the PSP?”

The reason is because the PlayStation Portable is basically designed on the philosophy of having a console that you can take with you. They are basically just toning down what we see on home consoles such as the 360 or the PS3; whereas the DS was looking at a whole new method of input. Just as I said earlier, one of the key aspects of game design is the interactivity between the user’s input and what happens on the screen, so I thought: here is a chance to do something totally original, using the strengths of this hardware. If I was going to make a game for PSP, I would be better off making a game for PS2, because they are essentially attempting to do the same thing.

Do you think that’s why the DS is so successful? Because of the new control method, or because of marketing, or innovative titles?

TI: Up until now I have been speaking as a game developer. Now I am going to speak from the standpoint of management of a game company: the success of the DS is directly related to the success of its predecessor, the Game Boy Advance. Someone like yourself, an editor who is very concerned with the industry, asked me back when the DS and PSP were first starting to come out, “Why did you announce a title for the DS? Why didn’t you announce one for the PSP? The PSP is gonna be the clear winner in this struggle.”

What I told that person is: you frame in terms of a battle between a PSP and a DS. But what the PSP needs to defeat is the predecessor, the Game Boy Advance. Because Nintendo has made all their profits, and made this fan-base off of the success of the GBA. And they never imagined that the DS was going to be the success that it was; it was just a new challenge, a new way for them to broaden their market.

So the whole viewpoint of the PSP versus the DS is flawed. What Sony really needed to do was get those key Game Boy users and broaden the market. When Nintendo first announced the DS, they were very realistic at the time in knowing that it may be a success or it may not; they certainly weren’t convinced of its success. They just knew that it was something they needed to try, for the sake of the industry, to continue to expand the kind of experiences that were available. And that type of spirit is something that I could relate with, and part of the reason why I chose to go with this hardware.

I like to support people who are trying to challenge the status quo, and do new things. That’s why when Microsoft announced the original Xbox back in 2000, I said, “OK, I’m going to get on board with that.” And then when Nintendo announced the DS, I thought, “This is a good thing for the industry, to have these new kinds of challenging experiences.” That’s why I’ve gotten on board with this hardware.

Now, take Nintendo out of the equation for a second. I wish more developers had the guts to think the way Itagaki does in that last sentence. EA? I’m looking at you, but not really, since I haven’t played one of your titles since Madden ’07.

Next, I liked this interview because it raised a point I hadn’t thought of before now; that the Game Boy Advance is the real competition for the PSP. It’s an interesting point by itself, and makes a lot of obvious sense (it’s a full-fledged media player, I swear!), but when you compare it to another dynamic pointed out by Infendo contributor Malstrom it gets even more interesting, in my opinion. That dynamic? The Wii. No one’s really been able to pin down what it’s competing with, and I think the DS’s history is a great way to figure it all out. My wild, full-of-bias fanman opinion? The “next gen” systems are competing with the NES. Wild? Sure it is, but hey, it’s me.