Ryan Payton, self-described game hobo, fresh off working on Metal Gear Solid 4 and a cross-country move from Japan back to Seattle, took some time to sit down with me this weekend to talk development, Japan and life.
Payton's move back from Japan to the U.S. couldn't come at a better time for a game developer, as the focus on game development seems to be shifting from former dev powerhouse Japan to the U.S. Japan may still be the centre of the gaming universe when it comes to cold hard cash, but when it comes to development it no longer seems to be, Payton said.
"The Japanese public seems to be disinterested in next-gen and high definition gaming," he said, pointing to the 360 and its apparent uphill battle in Japan as proof of that. "There is a stigma still attached to western technology there."
"There have been a lot of good mainstream games built for the Japanese Xbox 360," he said. "But they only sold a small number of copies. I think that kind of drained a lot of expectations."
And yet the DS, with it's relatively dated technology, continues to sell well in Japan.
"It's not about the tech in Japan, it's about the games, it's about nostalgia."
While Japanese gamers still seem interested in the sorts of games coming out of Japan, the same isn't as true for the rest of the world's gamers, Payton said.
"It's apparent, everyone knows it in Japan," he said. "The developers here feel the pressure. They're starting to develop more with the West in mind and the tech is in the west now. I'm surprised at how many titles have been produced on the Unreal 3 Engine."
Team Ninja was one of the few development teams in Japan who seemed to get that, Payton said, so it's ironic that they disbanded after their latest Ninja Gaiden. He sees Square-Enix's move to snatch up Tecmo and its assets as heartening, perhaps a sign that Square-Enix is hoping to return to their golden age.
As for Payton, his future is still up in the air. He wants to stay in the industry and has been receiving lots of interest, but he still hasn't decided exactly where he wants to land. Though it sounds like he'd prefer to work on an original IP rather than an established one.
"When I'm travelling I'm always thinking about ideas," he said. "They all come from an original IP or original universe. Their are existing franchises that haven't been beaten to death and are still open that I wouldn't mind working on too."
"I'll go wherever we can make a big massive game."