Blog of a Japanese Game Design Student

I found this on gametab this morning, and I’m definitely gonna keep an eye on this one (though there hasn’t been an update in a while). I’m curious to see what kind of things they teach to game design students in Japan.

http://designblog.theirisnetwork.org/ (DEFUNCT)

I’m gonna ramble for a bit:

The Japanese and American traditions of game design are pretty divergent. While Japanese games do pretty well (on the whole) here in the States, American games don’t tend to do very well AT ALL in Japan. (The exceptions thus far are Crash Bandicoot and Ratchet and Clank, from what I understand, both of which have done REALLY well in Japan.)

This is kind of funny to me, since from everything I’ve read the Japanese very much like American culture — especially pop culture. With games becoming more and more of a pop culture item over here, you’d think some of that would translate over, but it doesn’t really…

Having worked on an American game that did fairly well in Japan, here’s the differences I’ve noticed:

1) Characters can’t have four fingers. Ever. They can either have five or three. It has to do with a cultural taboo based around organized crime — something about the Yakuza cutting off fingers or something. The odd thing about this is that they LOVE Disney, and Walt Disney INVENTED cartoon characters with four fingers.

2) Japanese gamers tend to get sick from camera motion easier than most American gamers. In most of the games I’ve worked on, we’ve had to make some modifications to the camera to better appeal to that audience. If we have a slider for how fast the camera moves, we slide it all the way down for Japan by default. Further, we do a lot of stuff to make sure that the gamers have to move the camera manually as little as possible — we put things easily in frame and code the camera so that it can account for small changes relatively easily.

3) Our Japanese producers usually had a really crazy list of things they wanted to see added into the game. For example, in Ratchet: Deadlocked we had to include a “transformation sequence” for Ratchet when he would don his full suit of armor. Apparently it’s very popular in Japan for kids to follow the motions of these transformation sequences, so they wanted something like that if Ratchet was going to be “transforming.”

I’ve also noticed a lot of trends in Japanese games as opposed to western games:

  • They tend to prefer linear paths with a strong story to open paths where you make your own story (FFXII vs Oblivion)
  • They tend to heavily restrict your ability to save your game (Resident Evil VS Bioshock)
  • They tend to include lots of retraversal of areas you’ve already been in — often without adding anything new to those areas (“Grocery List Quests” in Zelda VS linear path of Halo)

Now these aren’t hard and fast rules on either side of the cultural curtain — just certain patterns I’ve noticed over time.

At any rate, I hope she talks about what she’s learning. It could prove to be fascinating.

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6 Comments

  1. Interesting points. I’m curious how much Eastern and Western design are intermingling, though. Look at the difference in saving games from RE1 to RE4.

    I’d have to agree that Japanese have a higher tolerance for retraversal of areas (Metroid Prime!), but many Japanese games, like Mario or Star Fox or Metal Gear, tend to avoid it. (I haven’t played every release from those series, so correct me if I’m wrong) On the other side, Metal Gear is an excellent example of the strong story linear path, while Metroid Prime has less story than Mario.

    Seems hard to pin down a single design pattern, but I suppose that keeps things interesting. In some specific cases, like RPGs, the differences are a bit more easy to highlight. Oblivion (or X title from Black Isle) is very different from anything in Japan. They don’t like inventing their heroes, even if they like spending hours on defining their skill sets, jobs, equipment, etc. Of course, a dating RPG (instead of a heroic RPG) might be totally different.

    Does Japan have a history of Pen & Paper RPGs, cuz that might explain a lot…

    Anyways, thanks for the low down on cameras, I never would have guessed that. The transformation thing should have been obvious, but it hadn’t occurred to me either. 😛

  2. As I said, they’re not hard and fast rules — but dude…

    Mario doesn’t like trifling retraversal? MARIO? Really?

    That game is all ABOUT retraversal.

    Or were you talking about the 2d ones?

  3. Oh I’m totally talking about the 2d ones. I haven’t played any of them since then. :shame:

    BTW, has Splinter Cell had any success over there? It seems really similar to MGS. If it hasn’t, why? Is it just because of the Xbox’s failure?

  4. For shame John. For SHAME!! Mario 64 was based on retraversal. That’s how you progressed. You’ve missed a lot of Mario since #3. 😉 (so says the girl who’s favorite franchise is Mario followed by Star Fox)

    I loved Star Fox 64. LOVED!! I wish it had save points. 😛

  5. Yes, my shame is truly epic. The sad fact is that I never owned a Nintendo console. My mother took a no game console stance early on, and my only access to games was through the PC. I played a little Contra at my friends, along with other games, but my console experience is meager. 🙁

    So yea, I’ve never even seen someone playing Mario 64. As luck would have it I was able to play Mario Bros.(on Atari), Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World at friends houses, but after that I’ve got nothing.

  6. How sad! You’ve missed nearly 20 years of Mario!

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