Japan’s Deadliest Developer Tells The Next Generation To Grow A Pair

Japan’s Deadliest Developer Tells The Next Generation To Grow A Pair

I got the chance to sit down with Dead or Alive creator and former Team Ninja boss Tomonobu Itagaki yesterday, ostensibly to talk about his studio’s upcoming action game Devil’s Third.

Since that game made a late pullout from the Tokyo Game Show, however, there wasn’t much to talk about. So instead we talked about something a little more interesting.

Itagaki is a rare treat of a game developer, in that he’s always willing to speak his mind. Which is part of the reason I was curious to hear his thoughts on the current state of the Japanese games industry.

As part of a generation of “celebrity” Japanese developers, along with the likes of Miyamoto, Mizuguchi, Nagoshi and Sakaguchi, Itagaki has enjoyed relative rock star status in his native land, along with a degree of recognition overseas as well. He’s seen as one of a group of men who were able to singlehandedly shape the way video games were made for nearly two decades.

Yet that’s a list of names that’s been fairly constant for over a decade. Since the turn of the millennium there have been very few, if any, younger Japanese developers rise to take their place (or at least join them). Part of that is the natural enlargement of development teams, of course (reducing the amount of influence one person can have), but another is that, according to Itagaki, there are less people willing to take risks, to be bold. There’s a crisis of confidence. And it’s about the worst thing ever.

“It is terrible”, he says bluntly. “It is the worst thing possible”.

“It’s terible that there is no younger generation of prominent Japanese developers coming through. The young people of today should be confident. Even if that confidence comes from nowhere, you should act like it comes from somewhere.”

“They shouldn’t be afraid of a slap in the face”. Given the man wears sunglasses, even in bed, and has a reputation of being a little surly, I had to ask if he was being literal.

“No…I have never slapped a developer in the face. But many, many times I tell them, ‘you shouldn’t be afraid of getting a slap in the face'”.

“Even the masters, like Picasso, can never please everybody. When you create something, there will always be people who don’t like it. There are people who don’t like what I make, and say bad things about them, and to me that’s like a slap in the face.”

“So young people need to be more confident, they have to be willing to crash into something ahead of them whether other people like it or not”.

Which sounds fine by me. After all, great art never came out of focus-testing and pitching for the safe ground in the middle of the market.


  • Keiji Inafune (Megaman creator) has also been saying something like this for a long time. He says Japanese developers need to look to the west for inspiration, as Japanese developers are ‘stuck in a time loop’ of outdated concepts with shiner graphics, while western developers are constantly pushing the envelope.

    To prove his point, he made Dead Rising, which was phenomenally successful.

    • That’s all good and fine though but look at the current industry in the west. How many original titles have we had come out recently vs how many are remakes or sequels?

  • “Which sounds fine by me. After all, great art never came out of focus-testing and pitching for the safe ground in the middle of the market.”

    Yes. THIS.

    I mean really, not even the masses of the mediocre really truly desire being served up mediocrity.

  • I wouldn’t say NO new japanese designers have stepped up to join the ranks of those guys named. There are a few (although not many). Fumito Ueda springs to mind as one. The Demon’s Souls / Dark Souls guy (Miyazaki?) is on his way there too, I reckon. Both make very distinctive games with very clear identities that are quite different to the vast majority of other games out there.

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