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Riding Dragons – A Talk With Grounding's Yukio Futatsugi

Yukio Futatsugi may not be a household name, but he's worked on a slew of memorable games, including Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. Sega Saturn fans probably know him best as one of the creators of the Panzer Dragoon series. We spoke with him about the upcoming Xbox One game Crimson Dragon, his older projects, and what he'd like to work on next.

Looking back on your career, it's interesting that you were able to tell such sweeping stories with such comparatively weak hardware. At the time, did you at all feel hemmed in as a creator?

During the Sega Saturn days, when I was creating Panzer Dragoon Saga, it was fully voiced and had sandbox style gameplay where you could walk around freely. Back in those days, it was pretty ambitious for the hardware. At my core, I haven't really changed, but to do the same thing nowadays it takes like 10 times more of the budget. So that's one of the things that's giving me a headache. 

I would imagine one of the other challenges comes with introducing more player freedom. In Panzer Dragoon, while you were able to control where you were facing directionally, you were ultimately being guided along on a rail. That allowed to you to show off points of interests relatively easily. How has free flight changed things?

You're able to fly freely during the boss battles. If we create the bosses in a solid way, we don't need to worry about the battles going out of control. The rail shooting type of game works really well with the Kinect type of controls, but we've decided to correspond to the game pad as well so free flying goes really well with the game pad. We have a limited amount of resources, and when you're flying into undiscovered places and you make those places able to do free flight, then it just turns into Grand Theft Auto. To control that, we made some of the parts, like the parts that aren't boss battles, rail shooting.

And that makes sense, too, because storywise the dragon is a living creature with its own mind...

I agree – it matches perfectly with the concept of you riding a dragon.

I've read that you went with a dragon in Panzer Dragoon because you didn't want to make a game with a boring plane or another military vehicle. Why a dragon instead of a big bird or other creature? Have you always been interested in dragons?

Who doesn't want to try to ride on a dragon? That's an awesome thing that everyone would dream of. There were other ideas during the planning phases, like riding a battle car and shooting from a war vehicle, but I wanted more of a softness to the game, and because of that I thought it was perfect.

I always liked the design of the dragon as well; they were kind of weird looking, with oddly shaped head crests.

This is something that I've been talking about a lot. How Japanese people think, it's like deduction. So basically, how many elements can you take out and keep the form. Japanese people are really good at de-forming objects. I feel like the Western approach is adding stuff, but the Japanese approach is more like deducting stuff. When dealing with lower-specced hardware, Japanese people have more compatibility to that, because of the way we think. Creating games for the current-gen, high-spec hardware, the Western way probably matches better.

How did that inform your designs in Crimson Dragon?

In Crimson Dragon, what we're trying to do is taking a different approach, so not de-forming stuff, but actually adding more details to the living creature. Since these dragons are living beings on an unknown planet, we wanted people to really understand the world and also the monster designs as well. Microsoft has given us some feedback for what the Western people like, so I'm taking some of those suggestions as well to come up with the current design of Crimson Dragon.

Phantom Dust had a cult following in the United States. Now that online console gaming has matured, would you be interested in ever going back to it?

I really, really want to make the sequel to Phantom Dust. I also have had a few attempts to create it. However, if we're going to make a sequel to Phantom Dust, it has to be with Microsoft. And currently we're making Crimson Dragon with them. It's difficult to create another title while we're doing this, so I'm going to wait until Crimson Dragon comes out and after we see the sales. If they're good and Microsoft says, "OK, let's do one more," I'm going to say to them that I'm 100-percent certain that I want to make another Phantom Dust. The Phantom Dust team itself got separated, but the art director of the game and also the game design lead of the game work at my company, Grounding, and also the programming lead is working as a freelancer. Right now he's saying, "If you're going to make Phantom Dust, just call me and I'll be there." I'm going to be able to gather the real, core team together. So we are ready.

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