Ace Attorney creator on the making of the original game and more
Famitsu recently published interviews with Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi in back-to-back issues. We have a translation of the first part ready now.
During the discussion, Takumi had quite a bit to say about the original game’s origins. He touched on the Japanese name, how it was initially targeted for the Game Boy Color, and more.
Here’s our full translation:
I think ‘Gyakutensaiban 逆転裁判’ (the Japanese name for the game, literally: Turnabout Trial) is a great title.
Takumi: Thank you, but actually I didn’t come up with it.
The game went through a few title changes in the development stage, didn’t it? I hear that ‘Sabaiban’ was also a contender…
Takumi: That’s right! (laughs) At the time I really liked that name. When I first heard it I didn’t really understand where it came from, but over time it sunk in and in the end I wanted the game to be called that. It’s something like a sketch from the old British TV show Monty Python, combining the two words of survival (JP: Sabaibaru) and trial (JP: saiban). But because we were really worried that no-one would understand the meaning it ended up being kicked by the wayside. In the end the whole team gathered in front of a white board and everything was decided in one go by my boss. ‘Takumi, write Gyakutensaiban on the board,’ he told me, so I did.
Those four characters really had an impact.
Takumi: To be honest it still didn’t quite click for me. Probably because I was still obsessed with Sabaiban… (laughs) But when we released it to the world people definitely took to it. At the time there were a lot of games with English and Katakana (Japanese alphabet for writing foreign words) in the title, so I think those four kanji characters really stood out. I think more than anything those characters put across the appeal of the game. I think it’s a great title, even if it isn’t Sabaiban… (laughs) At the time there were also a lot of calls for me to change the name of the main character because they thought ‘Naruhodo-kun’ (JP: ‘I see’ or ‘that’s right’) was a bit too silly. I had backed down on the title but I wouldn’t back down on this.
It might just be because the series is so established now, but I can’t imagine him having any other name. By the way, was the game originally intended for release on the Game Boy Advance (from here: GBA)?
Takumi: Actually we originally planned to release on the Game Boy Color. When we started planning the console was still being sold. But just before we started production Nintendo announced the GBA. When I first saw it, it was just a rough prototype with no body, but I was really impressed with the LCD screen. From that point on everyone got really pumped to make the game.
Around when did you start work?
Takumi: The first plan for the game was written in summer 2000. Up until then I had only made Dino Crisis 1 and 2, but my boss said I could have six months to make any game I wanted. I thought, “Now is my chance to write that mystery game I have always wanted to.” The reason I originally entered the games industry was so that one day I could make that type of game. When I first started looking for a job I was really hoping to enter a publishing house that handled mystery novels, but for better or worse it wasn’t meant to be… (laughs)
What was the original plan like?
Takumi: Pretty much right from the start the idea was to make a game about a lawyer, but after writing it all over the summer I got a call from my boss telling me that it was too difficult to understand and that I should give up on the idea.
Uh-oh! So basically you ignored his advice and carried with your plan anyway?
Takumi: Well, he did say I could make whatever game I wanted… (laughs) After the summer I got all of the team together for a meeting. Because I was set on a young team from the start, all of them had been with the company for less than three years. At the time I was the oldest with six years under my belt. The designer, Iwamoto (Tatsuro Iwamoto, character design), was also a newcomer. To list it out, we had me on planning, two designers, two programmers and just one person on sound effects and BGM. Because I was the only one in planning I had to think about the content of the game and write the plan, and naturally also write the script and direct. That was how things worked at first and I think it suited me well. While we were originally given the timeline of six months, in reality the game took ten months from September until June. When I look back on it now, I dread to think how we made a game in such a short time. (laughs)
A team of seven seems pretty small even for the time.
Takumi: Yes, it was. Trying lots of different things with a small team of youngsters was the way my section worked back then. But even though that six month deadline ended up being extended, I still get the feeling we overdid it! (laughs)
For comparison, how big would a team working on Ace Attorney be today?
Takumi: In the main team there would be around 30 members. But then the scale of the original game was very different. As a portable device of the time the GBA had a lot of restrictions, but you could also say that those limitations dictated the style of a lot the original Ace Attorney. For example, because the illustrations in the original used 8-bit color we realized that making the entire game color would mean the game data would be too large. But if we used the 16 colors needed for monochrome, the data took would only be a quarter of that amount, so we ended up making all of the evidence photos and memory scenes monochrome. There were lots of examples like that.
So behind all of those beloved scenes there was a more practical reason. When actually making the game how far did your role extend beyond scenarios etc….?
Takumi: It was pretty broad actually. Because I was the director this time I oversaw direction of both the illustrations and the music. As scenario lead I wrote the story and also the player manual; I did the timing and syncing for the speech tracks, designed the movement of the characters, set the timing for the BGM and sound effects, added the flashing effect and the screen shake, and also did the final edit. At the beginning of development one of the programmers made me a detailed tool that I could use for setting the timing. I did all of those things for the first three games.
So you pretty much oversaw everything. But as the game grew in popularity the team under you also grew. Was it a relief to finally be able to pass the torch to someone else?
Takumi: At the time there was no feeling of passing the torch. Up until the third game the scale of the team didn’t grow all that much. The number of programmers and designers increased a little bit but there was never any suggestion of adding to the planning team. It’s fifteen years ago now, but the days were so crammed back then that a lot of my memories of it have disappeared.
Wow, so busy that you have amnesia… (laughs)
Takumi: I was just so driven and single-minded back then. There were times when I didn’t know how I was even going to begin writing for the game all on my own. In the end I relied on my love of mystery and first thought only about the tricks, writing from there. But I soon hit a brick wall. The first thing I wrote was the second story of the Ace Attorney game, but in that Phoenix Wright’s mentor is killed and he goes to question the younger sister. At that time he naturally asks about her parents, but then my hand stopped. I thought: What am I going to do with this girl’s parents? That’s when I started to panic a little and decided to think more about the overarching story. With those things in mind I also wrote the story for ‘The Turnabout Samurai’, but later when I reach back through them I thought the quality was poor, so I decided to re-write them from the beginning. After that I decided to always work out the whole plot before writing, but that came afterwards. Under those conditions, I’m amazed I managed to write anything at all.
What led to the creation of Steel Samurai?
Takumi: At the same time as writing the scenarios for the series I was also thinking about the sort of world the game would be set in and the sort of things that would happen in that world. I thought that the most typical kind of case would be one like Turnabout Samurai. I liked the idea of this defender of justice playing the role of main villain and actually murdering someone. Once I had tentatively written that scenario and gone back to edit the Turnabout Sisters, I returned to the Steel Samurai character once more. I was like: What the hell is this? I think I’ve always been good at mysteries, but when it comes to characters my understanding is still pretty weak.
What?!? You think that even though you created a series famous for deep and involving characters?
Takumi: But I think those characters taught me a lot too.
Translation by provided by Corks on behalf of Nintendo Everything
If you use any of this translation, please be sure to source Nintendo Everything. Do not copy its full contents.