These two interviews with Clover Studio founders Atsushi Inaba and Hideki Kamiya mainly cover the design philosophy of Clover and the creation of Okami. There are also a few small comments on Viewtiful Joe at the end.

These interviews were found at the GSLA, a Japanese a website that, among other things, preserves game developer interviews from older, now-defunct print sources. The GSLA often redacts the original interviewer questions, so the text ends up reading more like a narrative than an interview.

Ace Attorney (Inaba) interview
Okami Interview @1up

Clover Studios and Okami – Developer Interviews

with producer Atsushi Inaba and director Hideki Kamiya

Early Inspirations

Kamiya: I had various reasons for wanting to create a game in a natural setting, but one of them is the fact that I’ve recently developed a deeper appreciation for nature. (laughs) After I started working and living in a city, I came to understand the experience of “hometown nostalgia” that people talk about. To soothe this new yearning in me, I wanted to create a game with the natural beauty of the Japanese countryside.

Inaba: Kamiya first explained his ideas to me after we had finished Viewtiful Joe, and were trying to decide what to do next. I agreed that the concept was great, and we were fired up to get started right away!

Kamiya: Another inspiration for Okami was the impact the visuals from the Resident Evil GameCube port made on me. When I joined Capcom, the Resident Evil team was the first team I worked with after I joined. When it was remade for the GameCube, I was very impressed by how far the visuals had come in their ability to depict realistic situations. The director Mikami used to use the word “seikan” (roughly “a feeling of life/aliveness”). I thought if we had enough institutional knowledge at Capcom to make a realistic horror game like Resident Evil, then I also wanted to try using this technology to make a world that was glistening and beautiful. That feeling was at the root of Okami.

It’s always easy for me to get too wrapped up in my own world and tastes when creating a game, but for Okami, I consciously reigned that tendency in. This is our first original game at Clover Studio, and I want everyone who plays it to become Clover fans. That was the spirit in which I made Okami. And I hope that, to some extent, I’ve wiped away the image people have of me as “oh, that guy who makes those Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe games.” (laughs)

Inaba: Watch out: now they’ll start calling you “that guy who makes Okami games.” (laughs)

The Characters of Okami

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Atsushi Inaba, producer.

Kamiya: I think the fact that we chose an animal for the protagonist really helped us out for the event scenes. With human characters we can present human characteristics, but I think what animals can express, as animals, is more interesting.

Inaba: “What is this animal thinking?” —and strangely, the fact that we can’t show that in dialogue makes it all the more interesting.

Kamiya: There are some points in the game when you receive some shocking news, and your traveler Issun is taken aback, but Amaterasu just has this spaced out or half-asleep expression on her face. I was like, is she ok? (laughs)

Actually, the Issun character wasn’t part of our original plans for the game. He came about from staff discussions we had during the development. In the course of our conversations we came to the question of what character would be good for a navigation/guide role. Our answer was “someone tiny, no bigger than a flea, foul-mouthed and lecherous!” We then quickly came up with his first scene, and some dialogue (which we improvised there on the spot), and he was in. Writing the dialogue between Amaterasu and Issun was incredibly fun.

The designer who was responsible for the villagers was young and full of energy, so that’s why the villagers came out the way they did. (laughs) We thought at first that they’d be more humble and simple, like characters from “Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi.” His design for Mr. Orange was “an old man who wears a kagamimochi on his head and a shimenawa around his neck; he loves the sacred tree Konohana so much he would give his life for it.” After that, the other designs gradually drifted more and more in that more playful direction. Then we started trying to add little jokes to all the characters, which all escalated into dialogue, visuals, and animations to match that mood. For example, they’d be all bouncy when they were happy, or have a rain cloud hanging overhead when they were sad…

Inaba: One thing that cracked me up was the really stylish Buddhist priestess, Rao. Even though she’s drawn in a Japanese style her bust is so huge, even Issun gets excited! (laughs) Also, she’s not an important character really, but I like the old orange woman. There’s something soothing about her presence. She exudes good energy.

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Some of Inaba and Kamiya’s favorites: Mr. and Mrs. Orange and Rao.

Enjoying Okami

Kamiya: Although Amaterasu is on this grand quest to save the world, in order to do that she must run around and help these all villagers out with their little problems. As you progress through the game big events unfold, but I think it’s a waste if players just rush through the game, as they’ll miss a lot. I want them to enjoy it slowly.

Inaba: Yeah, there’s a simple fun in just using the celestial brush. Cutting the grass and eating the food, harassing the villagers… there’s lots of different things to take your time and enjoy.

Kamiya: Almost everything in the game gives a response if you use the Power Slash on it. Early in the development you could slash the torii gates too, but we took that out because it was like, “should a goddess really be doing that?” In any event, the designers really went all out with the Power Slash, and there’s lots that I’m discovering for the first time myself. It’s fun.

It’s difficult to sum up Okami’s gameplay in one word. For example, you could meander around and eat things, gathering items and fishing at your leisure. And when you felt like it, you could take on the dungeons. That actually sounds like a pretty fun way to play, come to think of it!

Inaba: In Okami you can experience a very complete, unified world. The strong action component makes it an active game, but we’ve also prepared a diverse array of things and characters to capture the player’s imagination; I hope you enjoy discovering it all.

Clover Studios – 2004 Developer Interview

with Atsushi Inaba

When creators create something new, something they personally want to create, it isn’t always financially successful. If you’re a big company like Capcom, you can just absorb the loss with a different game. But that wasn’t the case for us: we knew when we established Clover that we would always have to take responsibility for our own work, but in turn, we’d always be free to create new, novel games. That was our founding idea.

Okami

Early prototype footage of Okami
showing the initial realistic style.

Of the three titles we’re working on, Okami is the one that is completely new and probably comes closest to conveying the Clover Studio ideal of always undertaking new challenges. The initial inspiration for Okami was visual/graphical. After the GameCube development of Viewtiful Joe was complete, I asked Hideki Kamiya what he wanted to make, and he answered “I want to depict natural beauty in a very realistic way.” The development proceeded along those lines in the beginning, but one day a designer was just playing around and drew a Japanese-style Amaterasu—and with that, we abandoned the realistic style.

We couldn’t think of another game that had tried to convey that Japanese aesthetic in a serious way, and it also looked like it would be a fun challenge to render that visual style in 3D polygons.

For Okami, a key moment came when we developed a prototype where you could freely move the sumi-e brush around in a 3D space. Once we saw that, a conviction arose in us: “this is going be good.” The real challenge, of course, was taking that mechanic and turning it into a game. On the other hand, since we felt this was going to be a success, we had the wind in our sails: all we needed to do was push hard and finish it!

As for genres, since you can bite enemies and use special attacks, there’s a lot of action. However, the way you meet and connect with people is more like an adventure game. But the order in which you clear the areas is like a strategy game, and developing Amaterasu’s abilities is like an RPG. As you can see, it’s a rich mix of genres. There’s a lot to do in Okami: it’s got breadth, but also depth. That’s because we didn’t develop it with one single gimmick in mind. It’s a big, epic game with a lot of work from many different people behind it. Please look forward to it!

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Hideki Kamiya, director of
Okami and Viewtiful Joe.

Viewtiful Joe 2

After the first Viewtiful Joe, there were ideas the staff didn’t get to implement, and ideas they wanted to develop further. I don’t know whether the gameplay from Viewtiful Joe can be made more interesting and fun in a sequel, or whether the game itself will be a homerun or a strikeout, but it was something we wanted to do, to stay true to our principle of always taking on new challenges. Viewtiful Joe 2 has about 1.5x the content of the first game, and it isn’t just bonus fluff; there’s more puzzles to be solved, and more enemies to fight.

We developed Viewtiful Joe 2 for the PS2 and GameCube because we wanted to ensure the maximum number of people had a chance to play it. Of course, that meant we needed to release the first Viewtiful Joe on the GameCube too, or the sequel probably wouldn’t sell very well. Like Okami, Viewtiful Joe’s strengths are directly tied to its visuals. By using the VFX Power, you’re able to create your own cool, movie-like visual scenes.

As for Dante, we had a talk about adding him, and two days later someone went and made a model of him on their own. It was someone from the Okami team, who wasn’t even related to this project. (laughs) After that we to create his big gun, and of course it wouldn’t be Dante without his sword. Creating the very specific animations for him was really difficult. But thanks to those efforts, players can now experience the game in a whole new way.

I’m personally very excited to see what Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya will develop in an environment like Clover Studios. I can’t wait to see! Mikami has been developing his own games from scrap since Resident Evil, you know, and I hope he will continue to challenge himself with new projects at Clover. “It’s a Clover game, of course it’s going to be good!” —to everyone reading, that is the reputation I hope we can create for you.