Inside Platinum Games: we chart the history and future of the studio behind Bayonetta
One of the world’s most magical stories gets underway when Charlie Bucket finds a golden ticket. This slip of paper contains the promise of secrets and wonders untold: a visit to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Charlie’s thrill of anticipation at what lies behind those gates is palpable.
We’re in Osaka, about to enter the Umeda Sky Building, and it feels like we’re holding a platinum ticket. This is the home of Platinum Games, a studio that in just five short years has made some truly spectacular titles. But from the moment Platinum made its debut in the pages of E190, it’s had to live with high expectations. Led by and made up of veterans of Capcom’s short-lived Production Studio 4 and Clover Studios, Platinum formed with a collective CV full of classics, including Okami, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Resident Evil 4 and God Hand. Those founding developers took their independence seriously, and agreed to a five-game deal with Sega on one condition: the creative freedom to make the games they wanted to make. Five years and five games later, it’s time to catch up.
Tatsuya Minami, president and CEO of Platinum, is finishing up some emails as we enter his glass-walled office, the only one on an otherwise open-plan development floor. Atsushi Inaba, Platinum’s executive director and producer of all the studio’s titles, is behind a nearby desk. Pretty soon, directors Hideki Kamiya and Kenji Saito (the Platinum up-and-comer in charge of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance) have turned up for the photo shoot. Masaki Yamanaka, the director of Anarchy Reigns (AKA Max Anarchy in Japan) is the last to surface, wearing expensively distressed jeans and sandals – the latter immediately clocked by the eagle-eyed Inaba, who sends him off to put some shoes on.
Photos out of the way, it’s time to talk about Platinum. “Our real goal for the first five years was simple,” Inaba tells us, then leans forward, “stay around. Survive. That was it. Within five years, 80 per cent of companies fail, so being able to survive these years was the target.”
“Five years ago, no one had heard of us,” adds Minami, “so at the same time we wanted to build the company’s reputation: for people to know [Platinum] make great games, and recognise the logo.”
We ask Kamiya if the only thing wrong with Bayonetta was the PS3 version, and he cracks a big grin and answers in English: “Exactly!” Fans of the witch should visit www.platinumgames.com, where an outstanding ongoing series of developer commentaries hit its 52nd episode as of May this year
The company’s desire for independence is frequently re-emphasised by Platinum’s founders during the next couple of hours, reflecting the Japanese industry’s ecosystem, which is dominated by big publisher-developers such as Capcom and Sega, and largely devoid of studios like, well, Platinum. “Many of us were from Clover Studios, although not me,” says Minami, a Capcom producer at the time. “When Capcom decided to disband Clover Studios, or, should I say, they decided to leave, I was thinking of leaving myself. So I spoke to Mr Inaba, and we had a lot of options. We could have become an in-house studio for another publisher, but the best option was becoming independent.”
“We never thought about the other companies seriously,” clarifies Inaba. “If we were going to be in-house, we might as well have stayed at Capcom.”
Two holding companies – ODD Inc. (Minami) and SEEDS Inc. (Inaba, Kamiya and Shinji Mikami) – merged to become Platinum Games in October 2007. Shortly afterwards, the Sega deal was announced, which seemed like a dream come true for both parties. Sega had a poor track record with new IP. Platinum Games wanted a publisher capable of taking its titles to a global market, and that promise of no interference. The relationship wouldn’t turn out quite so simple, however.
Platinum’s debut game was MadWorld, a 2009 Wii exclusive that combined an unforgettable black-and-white visual style with over the top ultraviolence. It received an Edge six, falling at the low end of the scale, with an overall Metacritic score of 81. Sales were poor, too, serving as a stark warning to other third parties thinking about the Wii. MadWorld tanked.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see a black-and-white game like that again,” says Inaba. “We might not even see that particular kind of ultraviolent game in that hardware situation again.” It’s a comment that gives some context to the friendlier style of P-100, the upcoming Wii U game being directed by Kamiya.