Platinum Games seems to be allergic to creating sequels, and yet by popular demand the Japanese studio is working on its first ever, Bayonetta 2.
The original game, published by Sega on PS3 and Xbox 360, was a critical success, loved for its bombastic action, its iconic heroine and its famously exploitable combat chains.
It was perhaps only fitting that the announcement of the sequel was equally eye-popping, with Nintendo revealing in 2012 that the game would be a Wii U exclusive.
Speaking to CVG at E3 this month, the game's new director Yusuke Hashimoto - who worked as producer on the first game - described Platinum's Nintendo relationship as more than a publishing deal, but as a "collaboration" that has allowed the game to reach "even higher quality".
The director said Platinum has been so delighted with its relationship with Nintendo that, if possible, it would even "love to do it again" with future Bayonetta games.
We suspected the talented studio behind the likes of Vanquish and Wonderful 101 might be relieved to be able to iterate, rather than invent an IP for once, but Hashimoto-san insisted that in fact "the exact opposite" is true and he's very much feeling the expectation of fans.
The full interview follows below.
Bayonetta 2 is set to release on Wii U - with Bayonetta 1 included - in October 2014.
Platinum Games isn't a studio known for making sequels, and you're making Bayonetta 2 with a different director. Does that make the process more challenging for you?
Considering that the first game came out five years ago, and trying to look at it from an end user perspective, we considered what kind of game they would want to see today. On top of how fun the game had to be, the density and volume of content [expected from modern games] was challenging to consider.
When I was part of the original Bayonetta, we did have core concepts that we wanted to include in a sequel, should one ever appear. So that core concept was already there and our work now has been to expand that concept. I worked as a producer on the original game, and the original director Mr. [Hideki] Kamiya still works in the same building, so I was able to go over to his office and discuss how we should expand the concept that we had in mind.
This is the first time I'm publicly sharing this, but we had actually created a prototype of what the sequel would look like and when we compared it to the original we thought, 'oh, is this just Bayonetta 1? Just a continuation?' So we actually took that prototype apart and recreated it, focusing on making sure there was a very clear difference between the original game and sequel.
"Should the opportunity arise I'd definitely like to keep nurturing this franchise"
What kind of feedback and advice has [original director] Mr. Kamiya provided?
Mostly the advice we get is to make sure that the world view in the game remains the same, even with things like the design of the main character - to make sure we're not straying too far away from what Bayonetta really is.
Why is Bayonetta the first Platinum series to earn a sequel? What tempted you back?
Whenever we create a new IP it's always very challenging, and so as a game developer I feel that whenever we are able to successfully do that it's really important to be able to nurture it. That's what the company wanted to do with Bayonetta and also there were a lot of people who wanted to see a sequel to the original game.
I personally also wanted to create a second game as well. It's because these expectations for a sequel matched that this game came about. Should the opportunity arise I'd definitely like to keep nurturing this franchise. It might not be me [directing], but should somebody else take over I would definitely be there to support and help just as Mr. Kamiya has for me. Though there's a chance I could direct in future as well!
Is it a relief for your team to finally be able to iterate on an existing IP, rather than invent an entirely new one?
Actually it's the exact opposite: I don't feel a sense of relief because when you create a sequel expectations are expanded and we have to surpass that expectation, otherwise players are not going to be satisfied - and if I was an end user, I wouldn't be satisfied.
Some fans worry that the new Umbran Climax system may dumb down the intricacy of the action. What do you say to this?
I think that whenever you implement something new you'll get a different array of opinions. With Umbran Climax we tried to focus on making the gameplay more fun and enjoyable, and in that sense the game doesn't actually require the player to use it. You don't actually have to use it at all to enjoy the game.
I think we fans play it for themselves they'll realise that it feels good and is really enjoyable. I think it's something that you won't really be able to graps until you play it. But of course, if you still don't like it then you can choose to play Bayonetta 2 as if it's Bayonetta 1. We've designed the game so that that's absolutely possible.
Spinning off from that, how do you balance the opinions of the fan community and your own desire to reach a new, bigger audience?
We didn't try to make the game any easier in that sense. What we focused on was the flow and the tempo of the game as it progresses. We also made sure that because this is an action game, that satisfaction and rewarding feeling is still there. That's what we focussed on for the sequel.
What about East and Western audiences - did you have to consider different regional tastes when designing the game?
I've thought a lot about what works in one region versus another. I've had the opportunity to work on games like Devil May Cry and Resident Evil, but even then we just focussed on the game ideas we wanted to implement. That spirit has passed on to Bayonetta and we've really just focussed on expanding the world view of the game. We haven't been too worried about regional differences.
Do you think there's a danger when Japanese developers worry too much about appealing to the Western audience, in terms of diluting some of their creativity?
Yes, there is a danger. I feel like there are a lot of times when you'll be told, 'this is expected in a certain region, so please put something like that in the game', but when you take that kind of approach your creativity gets impacted - what you're creating becomes the same as everyone else. There are many companies that enforce that.
I feel that it's important to let your creativity flow and Nintendo has been able to provide us with the freedom to do what we had originally envisioned. We were able to have a lot of back-and-forth between Platinum Games and Nintendo and they were able to provide objective feedback; 'Maybe that's a little too much', or, 'maybe you should try this'. I feel that was really good and helped push Bayonetta 2 to even higher quality.
We started out with a fundamental freedom, with Nintendo telling us to go and create the game as we saw fit. But as the game started to take shape and we were starting to put all the pieces together, they were able to point out some things that we didn't realise ourselves. That was really helpful for us.
"It was Mr. Kamiya's strong desire to put [Nintendo] costumes into the original Bayonetta"
The original Bayonetta felt perfectly tuned for the Xbox 360 controller. Have you had to make any changes to fine tune the action for the Wii U Gamepad?
The answer is definitely yes. The hardware itself is different, but if you want to have the feel that you had on Xbox 360 you can always try the Pro Controller. We made sure that the experience is on the Gamepad is just as enjoyable, but different. We focussed a lot on that.
If you're using the Gamepad and get tired of that, you can also switch to touch control which is made to be a seamless as possible. We tried to create touch controls that made sense and really approach them from the user's perspective: 'if I was an end user, how would I want the touch screen to react?'
You've announced plans to include the original Bayonetta game in the Bayonetta 2 retail package. How did you come to that decision?
During the development of Bayonetta 2 we had a discussion with Nintendo about how great it would be to offer the ability to play Bayonetta 1 on the same console, which is how it happened. Of course it had to be a perfect port, but on top of that we wanted to add some additional, fun features that we wanted to see such as new costumes.
How challenging was the port process and what new content did you add?
We added the new costumes that I mentioned, as well as touch screen controls. We also added support for gyro sensors - I can't really divulge where we use them, but they're in there. As far as the port work is concerned, it's never easy to port to any system, but as we were developing Bayonetta 2 we became very familiar with the features of the Wii U so it worked out OK.
Once you ship a game for a piece of hardware, you get to know it very, very well. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to do so with Wii U.
Where did the idea for the Nintendo-themed costumes come from? Are there any more we haven't seen yet?
It was Mr. Kamiya's strong desire to put costumes into the original Bayonetta and they're all from his favourite games of that generation. As far as costumes you haven't seen yet... it's a secret! Please look forward to this.
Tomonobu Itagaki, the creator of another famous action series in Ninja Gaiden, has also partnered with Nintendo this week. Do you feel like that goes someway in validating your original decision to develop for Wii U?
I don't feel like we're focussed on Mr. Itagaki. But seeing a lot of developers create great games for Wii U and allowing us to expand the repertoire of the system... I'm happy to be a part of that. It's like a vending machine; adding to the drinks selection makes that machine even better.
For me, being able to focus on just one platform also makes it much easier for me, so I was definitely glad that we decided to make a Wii U exclusive.
"We learned from Nintendo and if possible we would love to [partner] again"
Do you think Bayonetta 2 can help expand the Wii U audience? Can fans of the original game be persuaded to purchase a system?
That's a really hard question to answer and honestly I don't know. But I think it would be great if even more people became interested in Wii U through Bayonetta 2. The reason we decided to include the original game in Bayonetta 2's package is to serve that function. If somebody was to take interest and purchase a Wii U because of these games, I don't think they'll be disappointed.
You touched on the future of the Bayonetta series earlier... what role does Nintendo have in the next Bayonetta games? Have the two become intertwined?
In terms of nurturing the content of this game, there's a lot that we learned from Nintendo and if possible we would love to do it again and keep nurturing our child.
How important do you think it is to diversify the genres and races of characters we see in video games? At E3 this year, the biggest games still seem to be dominated by angsty, Caucasian men...
You're right - there are a lot of Caucasian characters in games. Platinum Games doesn't have a direction or rule as to that kind of thing. What I feel is important is to first create the world of the game and then decide what kind of character or style best fits that setting.
I really do think it depends on the setting and its important to have all the features match the world view of that game. For example, if you were watching an American police drama on TV, it would be very awkward to have a Japanese main character.
Regardless of male or female, I think it's important to have an all-round attractive character and that extends to age as well, whether it's an adult or child character.
We're pretty close to release now... do you feel you've achieved your missions and surpassed the quality of the original game?
I don't know yet, because when I was working on the sequel there were ideas that I wanted to put into the game and definitely surpass the original, but until the end user plays the final game and gives feedback, I don't know. If the players are satisfied, then I'll know I was successful. In this version we packed it full of content and there are many different ways in which the player can enjoy the game. I really hope that every body is able to play the game in all the different ways it provides.