The Let's Play Archive

Dangan Ronpa

by orenronen

Part 145: Creator interview (part 1)

Sorry, no update today. Still working on the next one. But I didn't want to leave you nothing to read, so here's our first

Bonus Feature - Creator Interview (part 1)

I'm a person who really likes to read about the history of video games, and how games are made today. I love learning about the decisions creators make and why games end up the way they do. I think game designers and writers should get as much credit as book authors and film directors, instead of being almost universally nameless beings (excepting a few famous examples, of course).

So here's the first part of an interview that was published on the Famitsu web site on November 4, 2010, just a couple of weeks before the game was published. The second part contains some spoilers to things we haven't seen yet (those things were heavily advertised, but I believe it's best to be completely in the dark and enjoy them as they come), so I'll post that when the time is right.

From left to right: Writer/Designer Kazutake Kodaka, Producer Yuuichiro Saitou (who dyed half his hair white for the game's promotion), Character designer Rui Komatsuzaki

- Tell us about the events that initiated this project.
Kodaka: It was started by character designer Komatsuzaki and myself. Later we were joined by a group of people who shared our desire not to be bound by an existing game genre and who wanted to create a brand new thing.

- So you didn’t start by assembling a group trying to create an adventure game.
Kodaka: No. Since the first people on the project were a writer and a character designer, we wanted to put our individual strengths to work but challenge ourselves with creating something new. That’s why we decided to use the adventure genre as a base.

- You wanted to create a new genre based on the adventure game.
Kodaka: Yes. Adventure games have, to a certain degree, a fixed system. We thought we could bring something new to the table. We wanted to create something no one has ever seen before. Even as we continued designing the adventure game base, we made plans for new gameplay elements that take it in a different direction.

- How much time did you spend on the planning stage?
Kodaka: We polished the design for about 6 months, and the actual development took about a year.
Saitou: It took quite a long time for the design to be greenlit. It’s a work with dark themes, so we thought it really needs to be perfected if we want it to be appealing to a large audience. That said, even as we sharpened the design, I always left the unusual parts alone. That was the most difficult part - tweaking the design but keeping the things that make it unique.
Kodaka: That tweaking period was when we really boiled down the setting and design, so it was far from a waste of time.

- So you started development from a position when the design was already completely cooked?
Kodaka: Yes. The design was complete. Furthermore, we started with the high school setting where 15 students are locked in. We thought about the game system only after the setting and story were locked in.

- What’s the overall design concept for the game?
Kodaka: It’s “psycho pop-art”.

- You make it sound very dodgy
Kodaka: Yes. Like Saitou said, the project had dark themes from the very start, and we couldn’t get across the psycho-pop atmosphere easily. It was only after Monobear’s design was finished that the game’s atmosphere solidified.
Komatsuzaki: We didn’t really have any pop-like images at the beginning. In the middle of the project I was told to make my characters a little more pop-arty, so I made some alterations.
Saitou: If our characters had dark designs, the game would be nothing but doom and gloom when coupled with the story and themes. It’s the same with Monobear himself. By giving him a pop-art look I think we managed to add some needed softness to the character.

- I see. So you decided on themes and setting, and based on those Komatsuzaki-san designed the characters. Was that the flow?
Kodaka: Yes. Komatsuzaki was trained as a sculptur, and this was his first time designing characters. I think his drawings have a different feel from those of someone who was trained in anime-style design. They certainly caught my attention. Since we were trying to make something fresh, I think his inexperience was a positive thing.

- What did you pay attention to when designing the characters?
Komatsuzaki: I intentionally tried to make them look a little strange. The kind of design you don’t associate with an adventure game. We had broad ideas about balancing the designs with tropes like the hero and heroine, the fat kid and the thin kid. But I was essentially given free reign with the designs.

- Was the title “Super High-school Level **” decided on from the very beginning?
Kodaka: The title for each individual character was decided halfway through the design.
Komatsuzaki: That’s right. We took the characters I designed as a base, then decided on titles and I made alterations accordingly.

- A lot of the titles are really personality-based. Did you have any other ideas?
Komatsuzaki: We didn’t end up using it, but there was a robot at some point (laughs).
Kodaka: Other than that, we had a musician, a dog trainer and an entomologist.

- Was the choice of titles related to the murder scenes?
Kodaka: Not for everyone, but there were points when we were writing the story and thought, “wouldn’t it be neat if we had a character with such-and-such abilities...?”.

- Did you focus on anything in particular regarding the character design, Saitou-san?
Saitou: We didn’t make any special demands from the production side. The proposal by Kodaka and Komatsuzaki had an absurd amount of personality, and my job was just to tone it a little down. If you make everything too extravagant there will probably be some who would love it, but you run the danger of alienating a lot of your audience. I tried to find the balance to keep that from happening.

- So you didn’t meddle too much with what came out of the developers?
Saitou: We really didn’t, on the production side. I can’t tell you what went on between Kodaka and Komatsuzaki, though (laughs).
Kodaka: Oh, we meddled with the design all the time.
Komatsuzaki: We had rejected proposals where all the characters were ugly.

- Who was the most difficult character to design?
Kodaka: It was probably Sakura Oogami.
Saitou: Yeah, I think it was her.
Komatsuzaki: Is that so? I don’t think we messed with her design too much.
Kodaka: We all had different ideas about her, didn’t we?
Saitou: That’s right.
Kodaka: We decided on the concept of an ultra-strong student, but some wanted it to be a pretty girl and some thought it should be a man.
Saitou: When all is said and done, I really like the current design.

- When talking about the game’s characters, we can’t neglect Monobear. Was his design finished quickly?
Kodaka: Yeah. When we did our internal presentation at the company, his design was already complete. At that time the game still had a dark look, and he turned out to be the most popular character (laughs).

- Did he always have this design?
Komatsuzaki: If you go all the way back to the very first ideas, he changed quite a bit. He’s a mascot character now, but at first we had him as an examiner and went with a motif of a human anatomical puppet.
Saitou: The kind where the internal organs are exposed (laughs).

- Did you imagine Nobuyo Ooyama for the role since the beginning?
Komatsuzaki: Nope. We didn’t really think of it.
Saitou: We chose the voice actors after the scenario was written.
Kodaka: We first though about using Nobuyo Ooyama when someone joked in a meeting that it would be nice having her doing the voice. After that, Saitou pulled some moves and somehow made it happen. We were all very excited at the developer office (laughs).

- So it started as a joke?
Saitou: It was a joke at first, but then when we thought if anyone else fit the character we couldn’t think of anyone. So I sent her manager an offer thinking nothing will come of it, and when the reply said she’s interested I went, “wait, we can really have her?” (laughs)