Gravity Rush Central Interview With Keiichiro Toyama, Eric Bailey and Naoko Sato

Gravity Rush Central - SIE Japan Studio Interview - 5

This is something of a special article for Gravity Rush Central as we recently had the opportunity to send a few questions to some of the key members of the Gravity Rush 2 development team, namely the game’s director Keiichiro Toyama, the scenario director Naoko Sato, and localization editor and “The Ark of Time” DLC lead game designer Eric Bailey.

My thanks go to SIE Japan Studio and the Gravity Rush 2 development team for taking the time to answer these questions, and in particular to Eric Bailey for his help in not only arranging the interview, but also for translating the questions to Japanese and the answers back to English. This really is a unique opportunity for us and I’m very thankful the team was so helpful in making this possible.

I’d also like to thank @stumblincamelid for his help compiling the list of questions. This marks his first contribution to Gravity Rush Central, and you’ll be seeing more articles from him in the future.

With all that said, you can read the question and answers below.

SPOILER WARNING: one of the questions contains spoilers for The Ark of Time DLC. We marked the beginning and ending of the spoilers below, if you want to avoid them.

GRC: It’s been 10 years since you first started development on the Gravity Rush games. Looking back, were there any moments during development that stuck with you?

Keiichiro Toyama: For me, it would have to be back when the first game was released on the Vita and Kat was introduced to the world. When I saw her taking on a life of her own for fans, it was like I was a proud father watching his child venture out into the world.

Eric Bailey: There are a lot of moments, but the one that left the biggest impression on me was when the E3 demo I designed the level for first made its debut in 2011 to such a positive response. Of course I was overjoyed everyone liked it, but I was also relieved, because I knew we were trying something very different. You never know how people will react to something from your imagination until it’s out there, so that positive reaction helped fuel my motivation through the rest of the project.

GRC: As I understand it, Gravity Rush 2’s development started out on PS Vita and then moved on to the far more powerful PS4. I imagine switching platforms during development isn’t easy, but what do you feel were the biggest advantages of moving to PS4 hardware?

Keiichiro Toyama: It wasn’t an easy decision. I was anxious to give fans the conclusion to the story they had been wanting, and switching to development on the PS4 would require more time to make that happen. However, the PS4 was more capable of approaching the lofty original vision we had in mind for the game, so, in the end, I made the decision to switch. In addition to the graphical enhancements, the PS4 was also capable of more physics calculations, allowing for more enemies and more objects, which had a major impact on what we could do with a gravity power-based action game.

GRC: The game’s online mode, especially the photo reviews and treasure hunts, were well received by the fans. Were you surprised by how many photos people shared on social media?

Keiichiro Toyama: The screenshot contests held by fans of the first game were fantastic and became a strong inspiration for the photo review mode. Of course one of my favorite hobbies is photography, which might have also had a part to play in the decision. The end results from players are amazing. In some cases, even me and the rest of the development team are stumped by how players managed to grab some of the shots they did.

[SPOILER WARNING]
GRC: Gravity Rush is known to have a complex storyline. I know you typically want fans to find their own answers from the game’s story, but there’s one question in particular that has left many fans puzzled. In the ending of The Ark of Time DLC, we seemingly overwrite the timeline of the entire first game. It seems to create a paradox where some events shouldn’t have happened, yet Kat still remembers fighting Raven and traveling to the bottom of the world. Can you give us a hint to help us understand what happened?

Naoko Sato: Although Bit’s plan and Raven’s final decision in the Ark of Time led to a rewriting of the past, Kat and Raven’s rivalry and their descent down the World Pillar still exist in the new past. However, the “Why?” of “Why did they become rivals?” and “Why did they go down the World Pillar?” were overwritten with different reasons. However, in the end, we decided to leave the answers to those questions up to the player’s imagination.

Eric Bailey: Naoko made sure everything worked out behind the scenes, but we’re both fans of leaving a few questions behind to keep room for players to come to their own conclusions. For me, even from before the events of the first game, Kat and Raven are connected in such a special way that the rules of time and space tend to work a little differently for them than some of the other characters in the game.

[END OF SPOILER]

GRC: Having received feedback from both gaming media and fans over the past year, is there anything that you would have liked to have done differently for Gravity Rush 2?

Keiichiro Toyama: One thing I regret is not having a chance to expand more on Yunica and Permet’s story. I would’ve loved to have given players a better understanding of where the two were coming from in the story. The other thing in retrospect I might want to adjust is the difficulty in a few of the trickier spots.

GRC: In most cases, video games are translated well after production, and even in instances where they’re translated during development itself, there’s still a barrier to overcome that can prevent it from being a 1:1 work. Can you describe how unique of a process it is for one of the primary game writers to translate their own work?

Eric Bailey: One of our strongest motivations was getting Gravity Rush out to fans around the world as fast as possible. Having the chance to follow the Japanese with English on an almost 1:1 basis certainly helped on the speed side of things, but the other advantage to being able to work so closely with the original text is the ability to pull in opinions from all of the translators early enough in the development process that their questions and ideas could actually feed back into and improve the original.

Unfortunately, working so closely behind the original text does have a drawback. It means a lot of translation gets cut when changes are made to the original, which is still a work in progress. However, none of that work is a waste. Knowing everything before and after those cuts gives me a good idea of where the team is coming from when approaching the final text, making that part of the translation much easier to keep in line with the game’s vision. Plus that extra level of knowledge means I can field any questions from other translators, letting Naoko stay focused on writing.

GRC: You’re both credited respectively as the scenario writer and scenario designer. Can you talk about those roles and what they entail?

Naoko Sato: Especially for an action game, making sure I’m aware of what’s going into the game and communicating with the other members of the team is important for making sure the story fits the final game. The scenario director is responsible for maintaining the quality of the overall story and characters, while the scenario designers take the various story points we need to make and come up with ideas for getting those into the game through mission design, for example.

Eric Bailey: Naoko’s description covers it, but I’ll just provide a little more detail on what the scenario designers did. We would have a list of major events and story beats that Keiichiro and Naoko wanted in the game, but we had to decide how we wanted to convey that information.  With Gravity Rush, we essentially had a choice of comic cutscenes, 2D dialogs, in-game movies, and in-game captions. Each of those had their strengths and weaknesses, and each needed to be balanced against the other options and the gameplay to avoid bogging things down or getting too repetitive. Also, the missions that Kat takes on are relevant to where she’s at in the story and her character development, so coming up with rough mission outlines that could be expanded out by the level designers was also part of the job.

GRC: In Gravity Rush, conversations between characters usually happen by means of visual novel-like cutscenes. I’m curious if the scenario writers could create these themselves via custom tools, or if you had to coordinate with other team members to add matching sound and portraits?

Naoko Sato: For the comic-like cutscenes, the flow was a two-step process. After coming up with the scenario for the scenes, Minoru Kusakabe would come up with the overall plan for breaking that scenario down into the various cuts that would make the comic frames, while another artist, Shojiro Hori, would finalize the cuts and create the animations. Once the visuals were locked down, the sound designer, Keichi Kitahara, would add in the sound.

For the 2D dialog windows we call “conversation demos” internally, our programmers expanded on the tool Eric built for the previous game to give me something robust enough to handle some of the new features and make creating the demos something we could handle internally on the scenario-side.

GRC: Fans of Gravity Rush 1 translated the written language in the game a couple years ago, and late last year a few fans also managed to translate most of the written language used in Gravity Rush 2’s Jirga Para Lhao. For the spoken phrases in both games, was there an attempt for a similar kind of consistency in constructing an actual language, or were those spoken phrases left to be more open and flexible in their meaning and context?

Naoko Sato: Both the graphical writing system and the voice were made possible using a language conversion tool Eric designed. Gravity Rush 2 had about 10 times as much dialog as the first game, so to avoid flow issues during the voice recording, I went through all of the converted voice and spoke each line aloud to find out if anything needed tweaking to make it easier for voice acting. After speaking about 5,000 lines of Gravity, it felt like I was on the verge of becoming fluent.

Eric Bailey: I’ve always been interested in linguistics and fascinated by writing systems in particular, and making up a new language was always something I’ve wanted a chance to try, so Gravity Rush was a fantastic opportunity. I have a bit of a mixed background, and it’s not often I get to combine my programming skills with my interest in language. Making a full language from scratch is an option, of course, but that would’ve required far too much time, and, even if it succeeded, would’ve left me the only person on the team capable of doing anything with it. That’s why I decided to make the conversion tool that allows us to create Gravity Rush’s unique writing and spoken system while keeping things consistent regardless of whether it’s me, Naoko, or one of the artists using the tool. With Gravity Rush 2, some of the eccentricities of the language would’ve caused problems for the poor voice actors and actresses, so we decided not to enforce the language too strictly when it came to dialog. Naoko went through all of the voice and made sure it wasn’t going to get in the way of the acting, while keeping it as close to the spirit of the original as possible.

GRC: Is there anything you can tell us about the new game the team is working on? And just as there were references to past games from Team Siren in Gravity Rush, can we expect to see GR referenced in your next work?

Keiichiro Toyama: Unfortunately, I can’t say anything about what we’re working on next. While I usually don’t plan to drop references to past games before I work on a project, ideas always come to me while I’m working, so there’s a good chance Gravity Rush will get referenced down the line.

GRC: Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer our questions! To conclude the interview, do you have any message for all the Gravity Rush fans out there?

Keiichiro Toyama: My deepest appreciation goes out to all of the fans who’ve enjoyed the wonderfully strange world and characters we’ve made. I hope that whatever we do next deserves more of the amazing support we’ve been given so far.

Naoko Sato: Thank you to everyone who loves Kat and the Gravity Rush series. It’s hard to imagine someone with such an innocent devotion to justice as Kat winning in the real world, but at least in fiction, I’m happy to have written a character who can get knocked down again and again, but stand up for what she thinks is right and prevail in the end. And if life ever knocks you down, I hope Kat’s example can help you get back up again.

Eric Bailey: Thank you so much to everyone around the world who has continued to support Gravity Rush even from as far back as the E3 demo in 2011. Also, my deepest gratitude goes out to those of you who played all the way to the end of Raven’s story in the Ark of Time. I hope if you enjoyed the Gravity Rush games, you’ll give someone a friendly nudge to try them.

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