Interview: PlatinumGames doesn’t want to be known as ‘just the action game company’
The Bayonetta studio’s newly-promoted president and vice president discuss service games, NFTs, Scalebound and more
At VGC, we’ve been fortunate enough to speak to PlatinumGames’ creative leaders multiple times during the past two years.
But in our latest chat, we could sense extra clout in Atsushi Inaba and Hideki Kamiya‘s comments, the sort of confidence that comes from calling the shots in both the board room and on the development floor.
In their first English language interview since being promoted to president and CEO, and vice president respectively, Inaba and Kamiya shared their ambitions for the future of the Japanese studio.
Inaba was widely quoted via the Japanese press this month about his ambitions for Platinum to create riskier and more unique games, and potentially delve further into live service games beyond next month’s launch of Babylon’s Fall.
The new CEO elaborates on these comments in our discussion, as well as revealing that he would like to focus more on original IP and spend less on actively courting collaborations with other companies, seen in past works such as Metal Gear Rising and Star Fox Zero, as it looks to establish its independence.
However, the pair claim that it’s their intention to diversify Platinum’s release schedule, rather than abandoning the linear action games it’s become famous for in the past, and they would consider new collaborations with outside IP in special circumstances.
Part of that diversification can be seen in Kamiya’s upcoming title Sol Cresta. The shooter is the first entry in a retro-themed initiative from the studio which it hopes will see it release a number of classic revivals under the ‘Neo Classic Arcade’ banner. You can read our Sol Cresta review ahead of its February 22 release.
Inaba and Kamiya were talking to VGC’s Andy Robinson via video call.
Where does Sol Cresta rank amongst the many games that you’ve made in the past?
Kamiya: Like you alluded to, I’ve done a lot in the past. And I think honestly, with every game I’ve worked on, it’s always been a new experience for me.
Resident Evil 2 was my first game as a director. Devil May Cry was my first original title. Okami was my first action-adventure kind of game, and Viewtiful Joe was the first side-scrolling game that I did. So, it’s always a new experience with every title that I create.
And honestly, to me, I don’t want it to get easier. Because every title I’ve worked on has been different in some way that it’s always felt new and presented new challenges, and Sol Cresta was no exception. I mean, you think, ‘oh, yeah, I’ve done a lot of games by now. This must be so easy for me.’ But again, it was my first time doing this kind of shooting game.
I think that with the development I had a lot of fun, but there was also a lot for me to learn too. So yeah, it’s definitely been a memorable experience for me.
Something else I think that’d be interesting to say is just, I started with games way back in the 80s. And I fell in love with those old school arcade games. Those were super special for me. And that’s what really pushed me to get into the industry in the first place. But once I got into the industry, those times were gone. Everyone was doing 3D.
The first game that I did was with Resident Evil 2 and it was just a whole new ballgame at that point, wasn’t it? So, I really feel like this was a special experience for me to finally have a chance to do a call back to those days of the games that I felt were really special to me and to be able to have a chance to actually work on titles that really pushed off my career.
And the last thing I think I want to say is that as games get more movie-like, and there’s lots of big scenes, action, and you’ve got a lot of big budgets going into trying to make the game a really big triple-A production… I really felt like this was a fun experience to kind of just push all that aside.
And I mean, when you look at this game, it’s just like, ‘what can I do with just the gameplay just to make it as fun as possible?’ That’s all we’ve got. We don’t have flashy cutscenes or anything like that, you know, we just got the gameplay for this game, and I was able to just focus on that and polish that as much as possible and I think that that was just really fun to do as well.
Has that overall experience made you glad or envious that you weren’t making games during 8-bit era?
Kamiya: Yeah, but it wasn’t like Sol Cresta brought out those feelings for me… that’s a feeling that I’ve always had. For example, Mr. Sakurai, the creator of Smash Bros, is someone who has been in the industry since he worked on the very first Kirby games, and he’s the same age as me. I look back and I think, ‘I wish I was working on games when he was!’ I’ve always felt that way.
And what we’re doing with the Neo Classic Arcade series, it’s not exactly the same because obviously we’re trying to reproduce this on the technology that we have now, but still I really feel that it was a challenge for me to create a game that was really just all about the gameplay without any bells or whistles or anything like that. That was an extremely refreshing experience that I was glad to be a part of.
“Mr. Sakurai, the creator Smash Brothers, is someone who has been in the industry since he worked on the very first Kirby games, and he’s the same age as me. I look back and I think, ‘I wish I was working on games when he was!’”
It seems like this project is achieving a personal ambition of yours then.
Kamiya: Yeah, and I say this for Inaba-san as well. We’ve talked for years and years about wanting to do a shooting game like this: a real big call back to old school stuff.
Even with our positions, we’ve never talked about it like it’s a serious business idea or anything like that. It’s just you know, we used to be kids who love games like this and so it’s just the kids in us coming out and being like, ‘god, I wish we could make something like that’.
So yeah, now that we have been able to do that, it does feel like a dream that we’ve been able to achieve. It’s been fun.
Sol Cresta is available on many platforms, but what would you say is the ultimate way to experience the game? Arcade? Or Switch flip grip?
Kamiya: I don’t know how realistic this is for everyone who’s going to be reading this article, but we have it on the arcade cabinet. You don’t have to have a motherboard for it or anything like that, but if you have a setup where you can set up your console inside a little custom cabinet in your house… to me, that’s always going to be the most fun way for me to play. I would definitely recommend that if you had the means to.
What’s next for the Neo Classic Arcade series? New genres?
Kamiya: The most I can say is that we do have some ideas and we’re already thinking about the next step. I’ve got an idea or two on the back burner that I’m already writing about as well, so I’ve got a lot going on in my head that I want to reveal to you when the time is right.
We were able to do one type of shooting game this time, but you’ve got other types of shooters as well for example, or sidescrolling and classic platform kind of games. You’ve even got really unique kinds of games like Marble Madness or something like that… there are a lot of different ideas that pop into our heads when we hear the words, ‘classic game’ or ‘classic old school arcade game’.
What we want to do with this series is everything that pops your head like, ‘argh, I really wish they would do this for their series’. We want to fulfil all of those expectations for you guys, so we hope that you know we can do a lot of fun stuff.
Inaba-san, you recently said that now that you’re CEO you’d like Platinum to return to its roots, focusing more on original games. Could you elaborate on what you meant exactly? Have you been disappointed with recent titles in terms of originality?
Inaba: I wouldn’t say the comments originated from any kind of frustration or anything that we’ve had with any of our recent titles. It’s more just, when I think of how we’ve grown as a company, usually you take all that experience of how it’s built and changed you. But I just want to forget all of that for a second.
For me and my time as president, what’s most important is that I remember what we started this company wanting to do: original gameplay, original fun. That was the base of the company. And so, I just want us to focus on that 200%. I just want that to be the key thing that we’re focusing on. That comment is just about, ‘let’s change gears to focus on that more than anything’.
“For me and my time as president, what’s most important is that I remember what we started this company wanting to do: original gameplay, original fun. That was the base of the company.”
In what sort of ways do you feel the company has strayed from those roots in recent years?
Inaba: The first thing that comes to mind is getting caught up too much in risk management, At any company that’s making games, especially the bigger ones, you’re always going to be thinking about risks. You try to plan to minimise those risks as much as you can. But they’re still always going to be there.
But what I was just saying about going back to our roots and just focusing on fun and originality… I just don’t want anything in our company to be caught up with worry about risk, getting caught up in those kind of things and losing focus.
I don’t think it’s a big issue, but in order to achieve what I feel is the goal that I have just laid out, I think that the most important thing there is just to remove that inhibition from people, so that they don’t worry about stuff like, ‘if this isn’t successful, what’s gonna happen to the company? Are we going to be okay?’ If something happens, it happens. But I don’t want that to affect our desire or to inhibit us to be creative.
Would you say the company has been too concerned about risk?
Inaba: I would say definitely yes, there has been in the past. What I’m trying to say now is not about turning 180-degrees to where we don’t even think this is a job and do whatever we feel like. This is a business at the end of the day. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to be making decisions that I’m going to regret when I look back, right?
There are always going to be some decisions that are going to be hard to make and I don’t think that’s something that you can completely remove from the equation. But I do think that, If I see an idea that we’re thinking about or if something didn’t work, if in my mind I support it, then I want to be able to go through with it and not regret it.
The same Japanese interview seemed to suggest that you want to place more focus on live service games, when you said you wanted users to be able to ‘enjoy games for longer’. Could you elaborate on those comments?
Inaba: I can’t really elaborate further on what I said in that interview. I want people to be able to enjoy our games for longer. I think that has many meanings. For example, losing a game to a system that stops getting updated when new consoles come out is something that I’ve always felt is unfortunate. So, it has that meaning in there: finding ways to beat that.
And regarding live service games, it’s not something I’m going to confirm or dismiss. I think it’s something that we’ll be able to discuss more openly when we’re able to talk about Project GG more, which I look forward to doing some time in the near future.
Should fans of your past games be concerned that you’re about to drastically shift focus?
Inaba: I think both Kamiya and I would say that we have lots of different ideas for things that we want to do regarding online and multiplayer. We both think that’s a fun concept and we want to explore that more. But at the same time, we don’t want it to be taken as a message that we’re abandoning games similar to what we would’ve made up until now. If we have an interesting idea, I don’t think that there’s any reason that we would say, ‘no, we don’t do that anymore, we’re done with that’. So, we’re interested in both ways.
“Regarding live service games, it’s not something I’m going to confirm or dismiss. I think it’s something that we’ll be able to discuss more openly when we’re able to talk about Project GG more, which I look forward to doing some time in the near future.”
Kamiya: I think in terms of the expectations of fans in relation to linear action games like NieR and Bayonetta, we understand that we do get some respect for the action games that we’ve created, and we’re always happy to hear that. But we don’t want to be labelled as ‘the action game company’, we want to be labelled as a company that is interested in original, fun gameplay.
Something like Sol Cresta isn’t this black sheep, where it’s totally different… it still feels like part of the family because at the end of the day, we feel that it’s an original, fun thing that we wanted to do. I hope that with the things that we do in the future that philosophy will become more apparent to our fans.
Another thing that caused quite a stir this month were your comments asking Microsoft to open discussions about reviving Scalebound. Were those made in jest, or are you actually serious about reviving the project?
Kamiya: I think it’s really strange because, to be honest, I’ve been in a lot of interviews since the project ended and I feel like I’ve said many times that I’d love to be able to bring it back. Having gotten somewhere with it, as a creator I’d like to see it to the end. And I hear fans saying they really want to play that game, which is too bad, and I want to give that to them when I hear that.
That’s something that I thought I’d been saying, or I’d been trying to say for years now. I’ve said it in interviews before and gotten no reaction, but now finally I got a big reaction, and I was glad to see that. But no, it’s not a joke: I’m totally serious about it, yeah.
I think the fans must be selective or something… it’s crazy. The comment I made, “Phil, let’s do this!”… I said the exact same thing one year ago! Word for word. But now it’s kind of blown up for some reason.
So have you actually opened discussions with Microsoft about Scalebound?
Kamiya: I can’t confirm or deny anything, but we could be talking to Microsoft. But we could also be talking to Nintendo, Sony, Capcom, Konami or anybody!
Why do you think you’d be able to make the game now, when obviously before you weren’t able to? What’s changed?
Kamiya: Nothing super surprising, just time. As a company, we’ve gradually grown, gained experience in terms of technology and more people.
At the time when we were making Scalebound, there was a lot that we couldn’t deliver on and that was hard for me. It was hard to fail like that. When the project went away, it wasn’t like the very next day I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to try again’, I needed a rest.
But time passes, things change, things are different now. I’ve had some time to think and yeah, I’d like to try making Scalebound again. That’s my feeling.
Industry consolidation is moving at a huge pace with recent Activision, Zynga and Bungie buyouts. Is Platinum fighting off offers?
Inaba: The most important thing for us is to have the freedom to make the games that we want to make. What I hear about the recent acquisitions, I don’t think Microsoft is going to start micromanaging Activision to where they take away all their freedom… I don’t think it’s going to be a relationship like that.
I think there’s going to be a lot of mutual respect there and I think Activision will be able to continue doing what they do best. That’s also what’s most important to us at the end of the day, whatever form that takes for us and our company. So I would not turn anything down, as long as our freedom was still respected.
“At the time when we were making Scalebound, there was a lot that we couldn’t deliver on and that was hard for me. It was hard to fail like that… But time passes, things change, things are different now. I’ve had some time to think and yeah, I’d like to try making Scalebound again. That’s my feeling.”
It’s not often big Japanese studios get involved in acquisitions. Why is that?
Inaba: I agree, you don’t see that a lot in Japan and personally, I think it’s weird. For some of these big companies with all their money you sometimes think, ‘come on! Buy some companies up already!’ It does feel strange to see Japanese companies on the passive all of the time.
NFT and blockchain have become a popular trend among corporations. What’s Platinum’s interest, if any?
Inaba: We haven’t really been thinking about that. I understand it’s a hot topic right now and it’s really starting to gain momentum, but the way that it’s gained momentum has been focused on profitability for the company, but with no positive impact on the creators or the users in any sense. So that’s frustrating to see happening.
The people who are trying to promote NFTs and partner with gaming companies, their conversations seem extremely one-sided. ‘Hey, you’re going to make money!’ But how does it benefit the user or the creator? If I want to spend my time on something, I want it to benefit making good games.
As content gets more and more digital, I do think that NFT as a concept will gain more importance, but I think that the early adopters are just seeing it as a way to profit as much as possible. That’s not something I’m interested in being part of, to be honest.
Were you surprised to see Konami get involved in NFTs so quickly?
Kamiya: Not really. If it smells like money, Konami’s going to be there in a heartbeat!
Honestly, I have zero interest in this subject. I think what Inaba-san just said really resonated with me because I consider myself a user at heart, more than a businessman. It doesn’t have any benefit for users at the moment. In the future, if it’s expanded in a way that has a positive side for users, then maybe I’ll start to be interested in what they do with it. But I’m not seeing that at the moment.
If Konami’s interested in money, surely Metal Gear Rising 2 could be a decent earner?
Inaba: Well, you’d have to ask them, I guess!
Spinning off from that, the Metal Gear Rising project reportedly came from Inaba-san’s relationship with Kojima. Could those kind of collaborations become easier now that you’re both an experienced developer and in the CEO seat?
Inaba: I want to shy away from future conversations like that, I think. I feel like I’m disinterested in them. Because when I think about the kind of content I want to be creating, we’re trying to strive for more independence, we’re trying to make our own brands stronger as a company, so the content that we’re most interested in creating right now is original IP that helps our own brands shine.
We have great relationships with Square Enix and Nintendo and we love the stuff that we’re able to do together with them. We don’t want to change that per se. But to answer your question, now that I’m president I’m not thinking, ‘right, let’s start conversations with all these people’.
For me, what’s more important to focus on is, how can I create more original content that can help build the company? That’s going to be more important to our future. That’s just what I’m more interested in.
“If it smells like money, Konami’s going to be there in a heartbeat!”
Kamiya: I don’t think that means that we would ever shy away from any interesting possibilities. Inaba and I still speak about our dreams a lot and yeah, it has helped with the mobility of that with Inaba-san’s position now. He comes from a creative background and now he’s the leader. I wouldn’t be surprised now if there are some things that fans would really love to see us do… I wouldn’t rule out that becoming reality in the future.
Since we last spoke, Bayonetta 3 was finally revealed as part of a Nintendo Direct broadcast. How much of a relief was it to finally be able to show that?
Kamiya: People were asking us all the time: ‘Where’s Bayonetta 3? How is Bayonetta 3?’ I got those questions on a daily basis and all I could say was, ‘it’s fine, it’s going fine’. We were being sincere when we said that and we were trying to make clear that we couldn’t share anything, but the more we said it, the more stressed out everyone became.
Ultimately, you’ve got to show something and finally we did. I think there was a lot to make the fans happy [in the trailer] and we were able to show a lot of the new, fun concepts about how Bayonetta 3 is going to be different from 1 and 2, and I also we left the fans with a lot to wonder about.
I’m glad that we were able to get that out there. I just want to say also that, it’s been a relief for everyone working on the project in this office, every day behind closed doors for a long time. You get stressed out sometimes wondering if people are going to like it, and you want to show fans something that’s going to make them happy. When we were finally able to do that, we got a real burst of energy seeing the reaction. I was happy for the team that we were able to do that.
Circling back to Inaba’s comments on wanting to focus on more original IP, does that mean this could be the last Bayonetta game?
Inaba: I think as long as the fans show interest in a series, then I don’t think we should stop that series. There are obviously cases where the fans do lose interest, or you don’t hear a lot of people clambering for the next title. But when you’re a creator and you put something out there, as soon as it’s public it’s no longer 100% yours anymore: it becomes half-owned by the fans and they give it life for you.
So, I don’t think the future of a series is something any creator should determine on their own. That being said, we’re also not the publisher of Bayonetta and we don’t own the rights. So that’s not really the conversation for us to have. We can’t make the decision on whether there will be another game, unfortunately. It’s not our call. What we are in a position to focus on is to make sure Bayonetta 3 is the most entertaining and satisfying game possible and hope that those voices never die out.
Kamiya: I think it might be strategic that if we were to say this was the end for Bayonetta, we could then find out how the users really feel! Maybe they’ll just expect it to come out if we don’t say anything. If we do say it’s the end, then maybe the users will say: ‘We want Bayonetta 4! We want Bayonetta 4!’ and I’ll be like, ‘I’ll think about it’.
On the same topic of continuing series you don’t fully own, Bayonetta 3’s trailer included a rather cruel Astral Chain tease. Does that series have a future?
Inaba: That’s something that we can’t decide for ourselves. I would love for fans to take that conversation to Nintendo.
Kamiya: For me it’s the same thing: I love seeing people Tweet out in the open asking for another Okami, or Viewtiful Joe on their timeline. But while I’m always happy to see that, unless they are an influencer with a million followers, I implore them to try reaching out to the publishers who own the rights to these games to get their voice heard more.