shrine.jpgViewtiful Joe creators Atsushi Inaba and Hideki Kamiya sat down with Japanese games site, ITMedia for a chat about Okami [JP link], their recently released "nature adventure" game. Turns out it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to create something as beautiful as Okami.

According to the ITMedia interview, the project started out innocently enough. Inaba mentions that when Viewtiful Joe was done, he asked Kamiya what their next project should be and was met with this reply, "I want to draw the greatness of nature." Inaba says he was taken aback at that response from the man who was involved in such violent, grotesque fare as Biohazard and Devil May Cry. Kamiya's yearning stemmed from his childhood in the country and how he felt, in some ways, homesick for that greatness of nature, living in a city. When Clover Studio was formed, there was a desire to produce something with a larger team than Viewtiful Joe's very small one and thus Okami got its first green light. But that was when the problems started.

Kamiya remembered a photo book of white wolves that had made an impression on him, and decided that the nature theme would be expressed by having that wolf swiftly fly and tread over the ground. So they made a demo movie of the game that was entirely realistic, but limited by the hardware, and the team was stuck. Then someone made a random drawing with Japanese painting feel to it, and from that moment on, they decided to go with a brush stroke style. But the team still didn't have any idea how to make an actual game out of this. They completed a couple of demo movies, but the style wouldn't stick until the third. At the time that Clover and Okami (here's import impressions of the final game from IGN) were revealed in 2004, the movie was actually a complete fake and all the gameplay showed inside it didn't really exist.

okami.jpg The trouble they experienced was not that kind of development trouble where they'd decided on something difficult and now they just have to implement it, Kamiya states in the interview. It was that over and over again, they batted their heads on what to do with the title to the point of getting headaches. Nothing was resolving itself, and as their first big title, the pressure kept mounting. There were points where Inaba became furious with Kamiya and the entire team was sprawled on the floor in anguish. (As an aside, Inaba mentions that Kamiya wrote the entire scenario by himself.)

So how did it get there? Mostly through things that came into Kamiya's head in chats with his development team, according to the interview. Somebody mentioned that it would be a shame to just draw the scenery for the player. From that, it was thought that simply having the graphics that way, with no gameplay concept to link to, would be merely playing to the peanut gallery, and reviving nature came up as an overarching goal. At this time they held many meetings, and Kamiya was struck with the thought of actually letting the player create things like trees and rivers and such.

In one such meeting, someone used the word 'shinra banshou', which means the entirety of creation and nature, in reference to how gods should be able to control it - thus, the idea of using a brush to draw things flew into Kamiya's head. Even after this, the team experienced difficulties with, well, difficulty. Kamiya's past games were very hard, and Inaba begged him not to go down the same road. So that they decided to make Okami a game where the depths were more suggestions of what you could do and accomplish in an open world, than something where you learn and refine past mistakes to greater skill.

In the end, Okami is a game both designers think should be fun just to play and not to master, as in Viewtiful Joe, where even extremely inexperienced can enjoy the small parts and reactions of playing the game. At this point, Inaba states, "Okami is not art." He explains that the offbeat graphics direction came to be seen by gamers as something special for them, something the typical person would find hard to grasp. But Clover's intentions couldn't be farther removed from this. (By the way, pictured at the top here is Oomiya Shrine, which shares the same kanji as Okami.)