The lights are on
With the Shin Megami Tensei IV release date (July 16)
inching closer, any insight into the game can only make the wait
easier. As such, we sat down with SMT IV lead character designer Masayuki Doi
to discover his approach to designing characters for the unique SMT universe and how
he was selected to create for the acclaimed series.
The Artistic Vision
We often become attached to the characters that grace our
video screens. But before we even get to know them, a character designer gives
them an identity. We come to define these characters by their hairstyles, eyes,
facial mannerisms, and clothes. As an artist, Doi has to make all these choices, and none of them come without careful consideration.
To capture the characters' distinct samurai style in the medieval-inspired Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, Doi was challenged with retaining the Japanese elements of the culture, but also making the characters fit into their environment. He said he kept both the European and
Japanese influences in mind and his goal was to come up with something creative
when combining the two styles. To help meet his vision, he watched many
Japanese samurai movies and films set in Europe. He was even inspired by Star Wars and said the characters'
stances with swords are throwbacks to the lightsaber. He mused that the
characters' samurai mission reminded him of the Jedi Order.
SMT IV takes you not only to the classic Mikado, but also
futuristic Tokyo. Doi strove to make sure each inhabitant of these two distinct
worlds had their own style and stood out to help further cement the different
points in the story. He decided to make characters more distinguishable between locations by going the "fancy route" to establish the ambiance of Mikado. He even looked at pictures of the
time periods and locations to get the contrast just right. Depending where you
are, peasants, yakuza, and fashionably-dressed denizens roam the world. As Doi
speaks, his passion for being meticulous about crafting characters and paying
attention to the world is evident.
How He Got The Gig:
All About Doi
Doi got his start in fashion design, but his favorite hobby
was playing video games. Soon after being inspired by various artists, he
decided to make the switch from designing clothes to games. He started out in environmental
design at Atlus, but then moved on to designing characters when he worked on Trauma
Center: New Blood.
SMT IV isn't Doi's first bout with an SMT game; he designed
environments for SMT: Nocturne. However, his work on the Trauma Center
series landed him the SMT IV gig. He discussed how he worked hard for
realism designing characters in the medical field and that prepared him for
crafting characters for SMT IV, especially when considering different time
periods and personal styles.
Doi's approach to creating characters is also very concise.
He said he rarely draws and completely changes his vision, instead he puts a
lot of time into crafting a very strong concept and then he
tweaks it along the way. He said the hardest aspect to get down is proportions.
A more minimalistic approach to designing is his forte. He doesn't like making
too many additions in his creative process. Instead, he subtracts more attributes.
Being Passed The SMT
Previously, Kazuma Kaneko designed characters for the
majority of SMT games. Doi was inspired by Kaneko's worked, but tried not to
imitate it. He felt if he tried to mimic it, he wouldn't create anything unique
or fresh for the series. Doi felt it wasn't a "good way to go for SMT IV,"
and so he intentionally tried to avoid going through the older games'
Doi ended our talk by saying that SMT IV is his one of his favorite projects. However, he also doesn't want to forget how Trauma Center catapulted him to the position he's in, along with all the wisdom that series provided him. In even brief time with SMT IV, Doi's touch is evident, but still fits the SMT universe. If you pay close enough attention, subtle changes to characters' facial expressions, particularly in the eyes, are noteworthy. Soon enough, you can experience Doi's work and see where the SMT IV journey takes you.
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.