Mini Ninjas Game Director Interview
We're excited to share an interview today with Jeremy Petreman, Game Director of IO Interactive's Mini Ninjas, which releases on Nintendo Wii and DS (as well as other platforms) September 8. Mini Ninjas is an action adventure title coming from the same development house behind the Hitman series, but this new game is a stylized, family friendly departure for IOI. In Mini Ninjas, the Evil Samurai Warlord has harnessed dark magic to raise an evil army bent on taking over the world. Gamers will play as the young ninja Hiro and his friends, using stealth, exploration and benevolent magical powers to combat the Warlord and restore harmony to nature and the world. In our exclusive interview, we got a chance to ask Jeremy what it was like creating a game for the enitre family, how the game's world came together, and the console and portable versions' special features.
What are the key differences in developing a game targeted at kids compared to creating the adult games you are famed for?
The challenge was in making Mini Ninjas a game for both kids and older gamers at the same time -- that's something we had never attempted before. It was a lot of fun, designing situations that had the intensity of a great action game, but without the violence or gore that usually goes along with that.
How did experience with your previous titles impact the game design decisions you made for Mini Ninjas, such as when comparing your title to other family video game adventures? Further, did any other family-friendly titles from other developers serve as a strong influence in your game's design?
At IO Interactive, when it comes to building environments and designing gameplay, we have a love for creating games with player choice. That is a common thread in many of our games and it's definitely something we focused on for Mini Ninjas. The game is a journey, so you always know the general direction you're supposed to be traveling, but there is a lot of exploring and wandering off the path (finding secret shrines, other routes, quests, etc.) to be done. I'm not sure that we drew upon any game in particular for experience. We all love the Zelda series, for example. I'm also a personal fan of Fumito Ueda's games, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
The target audience for Mini Ninjas makes the game a perfect match for Wii and DS. How important are the formats to the Mini Ninjas franchise?
We definitely approached each platform differently. I would say that the Wii and DS had the most fun opportunities to interact with the environments in inventive ways (shaking apples out of trees, performing special moves, etc). Overall though, we strove to make the experience across platforms as similar as possible so that nobody would be excluded from a fun part of the game just because of the type of console they have. The DS is a special case though, as it was designed in parallel to the other consoles and has many gameplay differences. There is more emphasis on puzzles in that game.
Mini Ninjas' visual design and soundtrack are enriched with Asian culture and aesthetics. How did IO Interactive research and ultimately design these aspects of the game? Trips to Japan? Martial arts movies?
Note to self: more trips to Japan for next project! We had to do much of our research locally. The visual style was directly adapted from paintings which our art director, Henrik Hansen, created throughout the project. We worked very hard to capture his style and bring it into the 3D world. We also worked closely with a very skilled composer Peter Svarre, who wrote all of the music in the game. Peter and our sound designer managed to track down people who either owned or played many of the original Japanese instruments, which helped to give the game the authentic Japanese sound it has.
We were amused to see a boss in one trailer attack with, essentially, vicious, far reaching farts. Are there any other fun or memorable encounters or locations you'd like to share?
My favorite thing in the game is the subtle interactions that the smallest samurai grunts have with their "Captain." I actually wrote dialog for these characters in English, and then had it translated into Japanese (all of the samurai speak Japanese). The idea is that they are constantly complaining to their captain about having to march all the time, and do this, and do that. They're very lazy and not so smart, but potrayed in a funny way (they are frogs and rabbits after all). The captain, on the other hand, is always furious at them for this and spends most of his time shouting orders at them, pointing them back into battle, and pulling his hair out when they don't listen to him.
What gameplay features will separate the Wii version apart from other consoles?
We were excited to develop Mini Ninjas for the Wii, as we could draw the player deeper into the world through interactions with the Wii remote. The player can shake trees and bushes to get at the things hiding inside of them, push open doors, pick flowers, that type of thing. The Wii pointer is also used for many secondary attacks and controls within the game, such as aiming explosive arrows, casting spells, or firing off shuriken.
Will MotionPlus or Wii Speak be featured at all in the Wii version?
The DS has multiplayer and drawing puzzles that will extend replayability. Are their comparable modes or replay incentives in the Wii version?
There are various ways in which we have made replaying the Wii version of Mini Ninjas fun and fresh. Any section of the game is repayable, and you can return to them with the new skills, powers, spells, and ninjas that you have accumulated. Things will play out very differently if you returned with a rescued ninja companion, for example, who has their own unique gameplay associated with them.
What gameplay features delineate the DS single player adventure from the home console games' single player modes?
You could think of the DS version of the game as different from the other platforms -- it is essentially a game on its own. The two were obviously designed in parallel, so the overall story and environments which the ninjas find themselves in are similar between the two, but the DS has many strengths that allow it to stand on its own. The Plane of Spirits gameplay is very different on the DS and comprises my favorite part of that game.
Does the story or boss challenges differ in anyway compared to the console offerings?
I don't want to give away too much here. I can say that the bosses are for the most part consistent between the platforms, but there are some key differences as well.
Can you tell us about the Japanese-style drawing puzzle mode in the DS version?
The 2D parchment puzzles are part of the spirit world. That is actually a representation of how Hiro views the Plane of Spirits, though this world can be shaped in various ways. Certain barriers in the "real" world will prevent the ninjas from continuing on their journey or entering an area. At these points, Hiro may try to enter the spirit world to tackle the problem by manipulating the environment (cutting pieces of it, blowing them into the air, drawing in new elements such as bridges or walls, etc).
How will DS's multiplayer mode work? Is downloadable play possible or is multi-card required? Is gameplay limited to LAN or can you play with others around the globe?
The multiplayer version of the DS game can only be played via local wireless connections only.
Would you like to see Mini Ninjas become more than just a video game franchise? If so, how?
We hope so. Whenever I show or demonstrate the Mini Ninjas characters to people in any setting, I always get a lot of smiles, so I guess that speaks volumes as to its potential.
After the Square Enix buyout of Mini Ninjas publisher Eidos, will there be any chance of seeing Final Fantasy characters in future Mini Ninjas titles?
It's a crazy business.... anything can happen.
We'd like to thank Jeremy for taking time out of his schedule to answer our interview questions. When at E3 2009 earlier this year, seeing Mini Ninjas' trailer and demos at play frequently gave us pause as the game has beautiful aesthetics and a lot of personality. We're very excited for the game's release next week.