Something About Japan: Keiji Inafune, Yosuke Hayashi and Toshihiro Nagoshi talk PS4

Comcept's Keiji Inafune.

Comcept’s Keiji Inafune.

Traditionally, the best-loved game consoles have almost always come from Japan. From the early days of Nintendo vs Sega to Sony entering the market in the ‘90s, Japan has coughed up the consoles the rest of the world wants to play games on. But the past eight or so years have seen the rise of the Xbox 360 and the decline in popularity of consoles made in Japan. Nintendo still dominates the handheld space but Wii U has so far failed to set the world alight. Is Japan’s hardware going the same way as its games?

Sony’s unveiling of the PS4 at Wednesday’s PlayStation Meeting 2013 would suggest it is, for now at least. Although Sony Computer Entertainment has become one of Japan’s most iconic game companies, its next console has an American passport. Apparently designed in the US, with American lead architect Mark Cerny taking the stage at a New York press conference at an awkward time for the Japanese (8am Thursday), PS4 is rich in exciting new features – and clearly many of these were born in the States.

Ken Kutaragi’s mad policy of creating exasperating bespoke processors is out the window, with a more dev-friendly “supercharged PC” chipset in its place. While Japanese media companies avoid streaming their content at all costs, for fear of damaging their highly controlled retail income, California-based Gaikai will power PS4’s exciting content delivery. And of the games shown at this week’s event, only two and a half were from Japan (Capcom’s Deep Down, Square’s vaguely promised Final Fantasy title and Cerny’s Knack, developed in collaboration with Sony’s Japan Studio).

Not that Japanese developers think unveiling PS4 in New York as opposed to Tokyo was necessarily a bad thing. Nintendo first announced the price of Wii U in the US, and released the console there several weeks before Japan.

“I think Sony were absolutely right to do it in the States,” Comcept’s Keiji Inafune tells me a few hours after PlayStation Meeting. Inafune famously declared the Japanese game industry “finished” in 2009, and among his many projects he is developing Ninja Gaiden Z: Yaiba in collaboration with California-based Spark Unlimited.

“There’s no rule to say that a Japanese console-maker has to announce its new hardware in Japan,” he says. “The most important thing was for Sony to get the maximum amount of global attention for its new hardware, and the place with the biggest market for console games now is America.”

Yosuke Hayashi, head of Team Ninja at Tecmo Koei (which is also collaborating on Yaiba), has a slightly different view on the New York presser. “As a Japanese person, it does feel sad to some extent,” he admits. “But we will continue developing to our best so that PS5 can be announced in Japan.”

Indeed, Japan does seem to be making a special effort to get ahead in the next generation, at least on the tech side. In Japan, software engines are often made concurrently with a game and are rarely as flexible or adaptable (or sellable) as Western tools such as Unreal Engine or CryEngine. Although Square Enix had nothing new to reveal of its Luminous Studio engine during its presentation at PlayStation Meeting, showing the same demo video we’d already seen at last year’s E3, it does reconfirm the RPG giant’s intentions to devise tools that make jaw-dropping visuals cheaper to achieve. Capcom’s Panta Rhei engine looked pretty spectacular too, while we’re already expecting big things from Kojima Productions’ Fox Engine.

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