During Japandaman and crew’s recent trip to Japan, we saw many cool stuff ranging from Tokyo Game Show to the many sights and sounds of Japan. However undoubtedly, the biggest highlight was reserved for the second last day when we managed to have some sit down time with an important guest. Project Phoenix marks Japan’s first foray into uncharted territory by being the first Kickstarter funded project, featuring amazing AAA talent, to come out of Japan. And leading the charge as Director and Producer of this huge undertaking is Hiroaki Yura, founder of the sublime Eminence Symphony Orchestra and CIA, or Creative Intelligence Artists.
We met up with Hiroaki in Harajuku where we were able to have a chat in a local cafe about the status of Project Phoenix, the state of indie game development and just why so much is riding on the success of Project Phoenix.
Japandaman: Is PP a code name, if so, when will we hear what the title will be?
Hiroaki Yura: Yes, its the project title. It’s not really the title of the game.
J: Do we know what the title will be?
HY: Hmm, no…no idea. NFI (laughs)
J: Has PP been an idea that you’ve had for a while?
HY: It was initially a get rich quick project. We were going to use a tower defence mechanism with some JRPG elements but as us creators got together, we’re never really good at making get rich quick projects. We decided to do a proper JRPG. We were kind of tired with the mechanics and we decided to do a pretty interesting RPG, sorry RTS mechanics.
J: How have you found the transition from music directing to leading a game development project?
HY: I haven’t finished my job yet, I can’t really comment on that. It’s my first time so we’ll see how it goes.
J: How did you pull the project team together? This is a large team of world renowned industry professionals, so pulling that together is a significant achievement, how did you go about doing that?
HY: I didn’t. I think we initially started with friends that I know and those friends brought in their friends to fill in gaps we don’t have filled. And the friends I know are really top notch developers and that’s because I don’t just work in japan, I also work outside of japan as well.
J: So it was word of mouth, people hearing about it and saying count me in?
J: Were there people that you wanted on the project that knocked you back?
HY: There are several but it’s mostly because they want to do it except they have other work, other commitments that’s going to take a lot of time.
J: If the game is successful, have you considered setting up your own game studio?
HY: We are planning to make a game studio for Project Phoenix. But it won’t operate like a normal game studio as in having a bunch of designers or illustrators. I think that defeats the point of being an indie game. I think its better to have freelance people and people get together on the merit of their skill rather than their business skill.
J: So it would be on a project by project basis?
HY: Yes. So people would still have to perform in order to be a part of it. They’re always being scrutinised.
J: With additional stretch goals being added, are you still in the process of adding to the team?
HY: It depends, if anybody has the skills that we need that benefits us.
J: So for all intents and purposes, the team isn’t locked down, it’s still open to having more people join?
HY: Well, to a certain extent. There are already a lot of people we haven’t announced.
J: Tell us how you were feeling with reaching and then surpassing your initial stretch goals?
HY: We’re not gullible enough to think or naive enough to think we can reach the biggest stretch goal of $4.8 million. But we did prepare it just in case. But truth be told, we only needed 100,000 to prove to the world that we can make it.
J: We noticed that one of the later stretch goals included the Skywalker ranch, did you have to negotiate this before offering it and is this one of your dreams, to record at Skywalker ranch?
HY: All you got to do is pay money to get to Skywalker Ranch. That’s it.
J: so it’s open to anyone as long as you have the money?
HY: Absolutely, why wouldn’t it be? It’s a studio. I think its the world’s best recording studio.
J: With the game itself, what stage are you up to? Are you still at concept stage or are you into the development?
HY: We’re into development already. I mean some of the art is still being concepted but we’re getting ready for mass production of characters and the world. So what does that mean? It means we are getting ready to set the standard of the model creation and how we do things. So once that’s set, then it gets out to a lot of other people that will turn out things of that quality.
J: With PP being Japan’s first indie game Kickstarter funded project, can you please tell us how that feels?
HY: It felt like the right thing to do, for me anyways.
J: Is this an inspiration to other indie developers in Japan?
HY: Well, I hope so, that’s what I kind of hoped from the indie stream event yesterday at Sony. The thing is its still very hard for people, indie people, to actually do this. Now Keiji san with mighty number 9 has a whole company set up just for this. So if he doesn’t, you know, he can take care of all that. For us, we don’t have a company, I’m bilingual and I know people outside of japan who are friends who are willing to help out that are doing this. But for other people, you need to speak english and deal with the backers. Talking to the backers even if you’re fluent in english is hard enough because you have so many questions flying around.
J: Do you see this as a start of a shift in development?
HY: I hope so. I’d love to have some competition.
J: What influenced your decision to port the game to PS4 and PS Vita? Playstation is talking about making the PS4 accessible to indie developers. Was this an influence?
HY: Not really, it was the fact that PS43 and Vita are compatible with each other. It was the fact that I believe currently Playstation is a superior, well the Playstation Vita and the Playstation 4 put together is a superior gaming experience than the Microsoft Xbox One. I hope Xbox One puts its focus back onto the gamers not just the multimedia aspects.
J: Do you see Nintendo’s stance on indie development a deciding factor?
HY: Well, Nintendo changed its tune on our portal Kickstarter. During the start of the Kickstarter, Nintendo said no Japanese indie developers are able to create games on their platform. I think 2 weeks into our campaign they changed their tune and they said they’ll allow, you know, the small type is gone. So I guess they’re allowing it now. But that being said for us gamers, us game developers, we want our game to be accessible by as many people as we can and the sales on the Wii U is way too low for us. It’s a great platform but the sales are just way too low for us to commit to it.
J: Me with the 3DS, that’s a different story?
HY: The problem with the 3DS is Unity isn’t supported so that’s a compatibility issue.
We had to wrap things up there but we were extremely thankful to Hiroaki for his time and wished him all the best with Project Phoenix. And for the record, Japandaman backed the project as well, We can’t wait to see this across all platform but especially on the PS4 and PS Vita consoles.