"Judgment" was released for PlayStation 4 on December 13, 2018.
Famous Japanese actor Takuya Kimura was cast in the lead role, and the title became the talk of the show at Tokyo Game Show 2018. We spoke to Producer Kazuki Hosokawa and Senior Executive Manager Daisuke Sato.
Tell us what inspired this project.
When I finished making "Yakuza 5" in 2012, I had finally realized the thing I wanted to do. I decided to take on a new challenge, so I told Sato that I wanted to try something new that wasn't a "Yakuza" title.
Three years later in 2015, after "Yakuza 0" was released, Sato told me "You can start on a new title now."
I didn't think that the "Yakuza" series would continue for so long. At first I thought three games would be enough, but it continued for more than a decade. Of course I'm grateful to see it become such a success, but it also makes me feel uncertain to only work on "Yakuza."
That's when I gave the go-ahead to start production of a new title.
I came up with several ideas for new games and had several meetings with General Director Nagoshi. We started by writing a draft and high-level overview for "Judgment."
How did you get members on board?
Because we are trying to take on a new challenge, I spoke with individual staff members about what they want to do next.
We can make a better game by having people take charge of the thing they want to make, so I think we should respect the feelings of what each employee wants to do.
We also used a lot of new hires for this project.
That's right. We asked new graduates and mid-career hires alike about their preferences and aptitude.
Did recruiting members and other steps go well?
We really struggled in the early stages of the project.
Different people saw "Judgment" in different ways. Artists are very optimistic about making new things. If I tell them they get to work on something new, they get on board quickly. Game designers and programmers, on the other hand, don't lean in so easily.
Also, some people were frankly apprehensive about whether it was necessary to make a new IP, or even possible to make a fun game, at the studio that was dedicated to "Yakuza" for so many years. Even I didn't know how "Judgment" would turn out, but I convinced team members to work with me by telling them we should all try it together.
Of course, a company has to worry about its sales goals.
Can we really make a fun game? Should we spend so much time and effort going through with a new title that we have just started on and don't have a clear picture for the end goal? I think these are the kind of fears most members had about this project.
What did you take into consideration during the production of this game?
I didn't think any different about the "Yakuza" series and "Judgment" in terms of making games.
I really thought until the last minute about whether players would be happy, trying to make the best game possible without compromise. That's my thought process as a creator, keeping things simple.
We're in a race against time every time, but we make the games properly.
It's really amazing that we manage to meet deadlines every time while still saying "This is impossible, this is the hardest project we've ever done." (*laughter*)
I think we're raising the bar game after game, but people somehow manage to clear it because it only rises little by little.
It must be because we're all improving.
It's like if you jump a little more every day, eventually you'll be able to jump really high.
That must make it hard for new hires though?
Of course I get them to work as hard as they can, but we don't push them too far. I give them more tasks little by little as they grow.
I don't delegate work in a way that would crush them, like dumping a huge load all at once.
I've also been working on exchanges with other projects for the past few years.
Of course, the circumstances at the time also matter, so we can't go large scale. We don't just send people to work on sequels in the same series; we have employees experience making different types of games. Sometimes we have employees work on projects in other sections for a year.
That's a plus for them and for the company.
I also want to stage full-scale study sessions in the vein of extracurricular activities, apart from projects.
I want to support experiences that help them grow and gain experience as creators, beyond the ability to make "Yakuza" games.
How was the response at Tokyo Game Show 2018?
Just before Tokyo Game Show, we made a surprise presentation of this title starring Takuya Kimura at the "PlayStation LineUp Tour" on September 10. The next day we released a preview trial version for download, and got off to a running start we had planned for so long. That led straight to the Tokyo Game Show, so we got a really strong response, and I felt that in a short span of time we really raised awareness of our new game.
Casting Takuya Kimura really attracted a lot of attention, and a lot of people came to visit our booth.
Were there more than when you exhibited titles in the "Yakuza" series?
It's hard to say. We always draw a crowd when we release a new "Yakuza" title, and I don't know the precise answer, but we certainly had a lot of visitors for this release.
The shopping bags we distributed at the booth ran out in the blink of an eye.
People who come to game shows are really sensitive to games, so I really felt like we attracted the attention of serious gamers.
When we held demos and autograph sessions across Japan, there was about a fifty-fifty split between "Yakuza" and "Judgment" fans attending. I think "Judgment" brought in a demographic that had never played games before, so you could say we precisely struck our target of expanding the range of players.
How do you feel about being the producer for the first time?
There were a lot of difficulties because it was hard to judge what I should do myself as the producer, and what I should delegate to other people.
I was totally unfamiliar with budget management, advertising, and sales, so I just had to grope around in the dark. I also consulted with affiliated departments inside the company, learning new things one by one as we proceeded with the project.
I don't think there's one right answer to the question of what a producer's job is. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and it's not something you can teach people.
I've been involved in many titles as a producer, including the "Yakuza" series, but the truth is that I still don't know the right answer.
It's difficult, but it can be a lot of fun.
I've been involved in game development for over 20 years, but there are still a lot of things I don't know, so it's a great opportunity to learn. It really renewed my appreciation for the joy of making games.
I think you did well considering it was your first time.
Thinking about the "Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio" in the medium to long term, I really wanted to break out of this state where the "Yakuza" series is the only pillar holding us up, and that was another reason that I wanted to make a new title.
That was why I wanted to try something different. Working as a producer for the first time on this title, I felt that the producer's enthusiasm is what leads a title to completion. It convinced me that work cannot proceed without a producer who strongly believes that we have to make this title happen no matter what.
I've been working on the "Yakuza" series for a long time, and I think we were able to make "Judgment" specifically because we are the "Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio." Just like with the "Yakuza" series we focused on the story, so from the producer's perspective it was very important to make the dramatic scenes appealing.
I was able to emphasize that strength as the producer of "Judgment" because I have experience as an artist and game director. This would have been difficult for me if the game was in a totally different genre. I hope people have high expectations for the next title as well.
"Judgment" is currently on sale with great reviews. SEGA will continue to release more new games, so we need team members to come make those games and share the excitement with us.