By John Szczepaniak, March 2012
Shinta Nojiri: from Policenauts to NeverDead
Shinta Nojiri first started with Policenauts and went on to be involved with Ghost Babel and all subsequent MGS games. Recently he was in charge of Konamiís NeverDead project. Here he shares some wonderful anecdotes, including how working on a big project can be like forming your team in a JRPG, and also the difficulties now facing Japan and the world when it comes to development. Answers have been slightly edited for clarity.
JS: Please tell us a little about yourself and how you joined Konami. You first worked with Kojima-san on Policenauts, correct?
SN: Correct. Policenauts on the first PlayStation. It is a sci-fi adventure title which is not released in the US. This was my first title in my whole job in the video game business. When I joined Konami, I joined the team and learned many things as a rookie.
JS: According to MobyGames your second game after Policenauts was Ghost Babel, as event planner and director. Can you describe what these roles involved? Can you briefly describe an average day in the office when working on Ghost Babel?
SN: One day Mr Kojima told me to work with an external company in Kyoto, [away] from Tokyo, to make a GameBoy title, Ghost Babel. I was working as a lead designer and director then. It was tough work then but my ex-colleague who worked with me in Kyoto is still my friend.
JS: Japanese company Tose Co., Ltd, was involved with Ghost Babelís development. Can you recall what their input was?
SN: This is hard to answer about them.
JS: Kojima-san clearly had great trust in your skill. Were you given the freedom to create the game as you wanted, or were there some rules to follow? Was there a lot of pressure to live up to the success of MGS on PlayStation 1?
SN: This is hard to answer.
JS: I very much enjoyed the Radio Drama included in Ghost Babel (Spy 2.5). Can you remember who came up with this idea and who wrote the script?
SN: I came up with it first, then asked Shuyo Murata, who is both the director and script writer of Anubis Ė Zone of the enders 2nd runner. I was thinking how to make the audience play [through the game a second time], so we needed to provide new feature after the first play through. His sense of humour was [very] suitable for my idea.
JS: In most Metal Gear games Snake starts with cigarettes, but in Ghost Babel he starts with ハツエントウ (Japanese for smoke flare). Can you recall why?
SN: I know why, but hard to answer..
JS: Ghost Babel is a 2D Metal gear game. Before starting development, did you play the other 2D games in the series, such as メタルギア (MSX2), メタルギア 2 ソリドスネーク (MSX2)?
SN: Of course I played these two titles which are released much before I joined Konami. Stealth games were very unique, but surprisingly not only unique these games had both serious themes and humour at the same time.
JS: Ghost Babel is the first Metal Gear to feature multiplayer, where two players can connect their GameBoys. Can you tell us about the decision to include multiplayer?
SN: Reason is simple, GameBoy had a multiplayer function. We wanted to use it. I thought that it should have a multiplayer with stealth element.
JS: What was the most difficult part of developing Ghost Babel?
SN: We had many technical challenges, it was on the 8-bit machine even after MGS1 on the PlayStation. Of course we could not use polygons, but we tried to provide the features of the latest MGS.
JS: Did you have to remove anything before completion?
SN: I donít remember, but it must have.
JS: Can you recall your favourite part of Ghost Babel?
SN: Personally I love some funny features and puzzles. Besides boss enemy battles, which each has specific [methods to be defeated].
JS: Today, more than 10 years after Ghost Babel was released, everyone agrees that it was the best game ever released on the GameBoy Color. How do you feel about this? Is there a chance it will ever be re-released somehow?
SN: This is my honour to hear that. About remaking I am not sure. I remember I was so young and spent all my time then in development. I donít know how well we achieved, but every single feature has its own memory, mostly [overcoming a challenge]. But I am sure each fight wasnít a waste of time. But personally I think, we should not always look back on the past, but we should look at the future. Even though I personally prefer retro games, definitely.
JS: You were involved with MGS2, and then MGS3, and then MGS4, correct? Can you briefly describe your involvement for each one?
SN: After my work on Ghost Babel project (named Metal Gear Solid in the US), I joined MGS2 as a level designer. I worked for MGS3 not so much because I just started my Ac!d project around there and planning its concept and mechanic. About the MGS4, I joined the team at its middle of development and worked for Act 3. It was also tough and fun work with the team. They were very keen to make the game great.
JS: What was your strongest memory from working on MGS2? How challenging was it for the team to introduce a new character, Raiden, while continuing the story from MGS?
SN: I worked for the Tanker chapter, so I [canít speak about Raiden]. The project was so tough, but much fun for all of us, when I look back. We all could be creative, so the Tanker area has some features only I know. For example: you can take a photo of Ocelot from aside in the deepest area of tanker before he kills Scott, but if you try to kill him he vanishes. Codec Otacon reacts to some sexy shots of ladies and so on.
JS: What was your strongest memory from working on MGS3? This changed direction from MGS2, because it deals with the life of Big Boss, and has many outdoor environments Ė were you excited by the changes?
SN: As I mentioned, I didnít work so much for MGS3. At the beginning it was lucky for me because I thought I could enjoy third one purely as a fan without any knowledge of it. But sadly my ex-boss forced me to read all the script of his and finally I knew everything about it. So even when I played it after its release, actually I could not enjoy it in private. I knew everything what would happen next. If you are a big fan of some franchise, joining the team is no good at all, donít you think?
JS: What was your strongest memory from working on MGS4? What was the atmosphere like in the Konami office, working on Sonyís new PlayStation 3 console?
SN: It was also tough project for everyone. I worked for Act 3 with staff, who were extremely keen when making the game. I remember that the team was huge, much bigger than previous titles, so to solve one small issue we visited each staff in order, and finally many guys participated. It was impressive for me Ė just like making a party in an RPG!
JS: Can you recall, while working on the MGS games, if there were any gameplay ideas which were planned to be included, but due to time restrictions were removed before completion?
SN: I am not authorised to answer this.
JS: You are now involved with NeverDead Ė can you explain to our readers what this is and how you came to be director?
SN: I wasnít involved. I started the title alone. I have been working as a creative producer. NeverDead is a dark fantasy third person shooter/action game with an immortal protagonist, whose name is Bryce. 500 years ago, Bryce, a demon hunter, challenged the demon king but failed, lost his wife and finally the demon king made him an immortal body. It is a story of revenge with an immortal hero who has been fighting demons for 500 years with no hope. The player character Bryce is an immortal, so he fights against demons by using his immortality. Even though he gets damaged, it only causes dismemberment on a part of body. Then he can pick it up, reattach and recover. Also he can gain an advantage by using his immortal body. An environment models are destructible, so he can break collapse just above himself and involve many demons with him. It might dismember him, but it is no problem because he never dies. So NeverDead is a game which player fights by using his immortality.
JS: How does NeverDead compare to working on the MGS games? Is it easier, or more difficult when working with a new concept and ideas?
SN: As you might know, creating a new IP is so tough especially in these [past few] several years. Besides, I developed the title with a UK developer, it was so tough to stay in the UK alone and work with the team there. But now I am so pleased to release my own title soon.