In the world of video game development, Keiji Inafune is a giant among men. The illustrator and former global head of production at Capcom has played a key role in the development of an astounding array of games spanning a diverse lineup of genres, everything from Mega Man to Resident Evil to Lost Planet and many more.
With his new role at Comcept and Intercept, Inafune is expanding his influence to new projects, including the upcoming “dark fantasy” PS Vita title Soul Sacrifice. During Gamescom last week, we caught up with Inafune to learn more about his ambitious new game that forces players to make painful decisions.
PlayStation.Blog: How do you take something painful — sacrifice — and make it fun in a gameplay setting?
Keiji Inafune: If you hear the word “sacrifice” it obviously sounds painful. But that’s because you think of sacrifice as sacrificing yourself. But when you’re playing together with your friends, it could be entertaining because it creates a new dialogue. If my character is dying, and my friend decides to sacrifice me, I might say “hey, what are you doing?! Don’t sacrifice me!”
So it creates a reason to come up with new ways to fight. It could lead to different kinds of heroism; you could save a bad situation by sacrificing yourself or a friend, or ask your friend to sacrifice himself for the good of the group. I don’t know that it’s always “fun,” but it’s a new kind of entertainment.
You’re forced to make choices in this game. Of course you could go through the game making smaller sacrifices – anything you find in nature you can use as offerings, rocks or a rat you find in a field – and you’ll get a smaller amount of power. The more you sacrifice, the more power you’ll gain. You’re the one to make that choice.
PSB: You recently revealed the backstory about one of the game’s monsters, the Griffon. When you don’t know someone’s motivations, it makes it easier to kill them. Do you want us to sympathize with these monsters?
KI: One of the things I want to illustrate is a feeling of guilt, a feeling of complexity. So there is sacrificing, but there is also saving. Those are the two extreme choices, the dilemma that you’ll face every time. I want you to make sacrifices, but I also want you to think about saving. Perhaps you’re fighting a powerful enemy but you learn that he has a sick daughter that he has to save back home by earning money in battle. When you hear this during the battle, the nice part of you might think about losing so he can save his daughter. But you want to win your battle, too!
So you’ll feel these complex feelings. I wanted to make this a big part of the game. Can you make these extreme choices given the situation?
PSB: Do you think moral ambiguity is something that’s missing from video games? Are too many game stories focused on black and white, good versus evil?
KI: I’ve watched the evolution of games and the games industry for the last 25 years; I’ve always had a front-row seat. In many modern action games, it’s about how realistic you can make the experience, how sensational the action is.
But the creators of the best games today have realized that they need to do something more than becoming more realistic, more sensational – it’s probably already hit the ceiling. They’re thinking about creating something new by including that emotional aspect. In thinking globally, in order to compete with the top game creators today, I’ve also had to think about including that emotional aspect. The games I work on will all include that as a big theme.
PSB: Is there an advantage to sacrificing versus saving? Does your character develop differently?
KI: You’ve probably heard that you can customize your character, and you’ll have a lot of choices and options. But the way you choose to fight will affect your appearance. So if you keep on saving, or keep on sacrificing, the visual effect will look different; you’ll look more angelic if you keep saving, more evil if you keep sacrificing.
If you go towards one extreme or the other, the time will come when it may be difficult to keep on going [in your chosen path]. If it’s easier to sacrifice a particular enemy, you might face a difficult decision if you you want to save him. But you can choose to stick with an extreme approach, and you’ll earn more power if you choose the hard way. That might come into effect when you’re playing with a party.
PSB: What more can you share about Soul Sacrifice’s multiplayer mode? How can the different players work together?
KI: Multiplayer mode is definitely a big part of Soul Sacrifice. It’s not just about four people getting together and fighting one monster, though. You have to be strategic in terms of creating your party and choosing your sorcery. One player might want to be aggressive and fight on the front line, while another might want to save more and heal more. Another player might stop time in order to help the others.
Every party you come up with will have a different strategy, different ways to attack and fight. That’s a big element of the game.
PSB: Developers have taken many strategies in creating PS Vita titles, from bite-sized games to home console-style games. What do you think makes the best portable experience?
KI: I was very involved with the Monster Hunter series, one that pioneered multiplayer gaming in a portable device, and I think my experience there will be very valuable as I explore PS Vita’s opportunities. That said, though there are many ways to approach game design I think that real-time online multiplayer is the most fun and exciting, though it can be challenging to create.
In a portable gaming environment, you can’t have hours and hours of gameplay – 30 minutes is probably the comfort zone. I like to view it as playing chapter by chapter, as opposed to the whole book. At the end of each chapter, I like to see results. In Soul Sacrifice, for example, you fight the boss character and at the end of the battle you decide whether to save or sacrifice [and that provides a payoff]. At the end of the game, you’ll have a whole “book” of experiences. From my perspective, that approach makes a lot of sense for PS Vita design.
PSB: What more can you tell us about the universe of Soul Sacrifice? What inspirations did you draw from to develop the look and the lore?
KI: You begin Soul Sacrifice as a weak, hopeless human locked up in a mysterious cell waiting to be sacrificed. I wanted to create a dark fantasy world, but it’s not about just creating a story. If your character is placed in a hopeless situation, and you look through his eyes, anything would seem dark and depressing. “Dark fantasy” is a result of the situation you’re in.
PSB: You’ve mentioned that one reason you’re making this game is because you made sacrifices in your career. In your life, would you say you’ve saved more or sacrificed more?
KI: [laughs] I would say that up until now, I’ve probably sacrificed more. But I believe I’ve made those sacrifices in order to earn something back. I want to save people…I want to save a lot of things, moving forward.