Grandia – 1998 Developer Interviews

Grandia – 1998 Developer Interviews

These interviews all appeared in Sega Saturn Magazine in 1998. They make a nice companion read to the Grandia interviews I translated last year here. This time around, composer Noriyuki Iwadare and the character animators are interviewed in addition to main creators Hidenobu Takahashi and Takeshi Miyaji. The conversation mostly focuses on the animation and character design process.

Takeshi Miyaji – Director
Hidenobu Takahashi – Art Director

Miyaji: When we started planning to make an RPG, the first thought that came to us was that, in most RPGs, the character is nothing but a cursor for the player. The cursor may cry, and the cursor may laugh, but it’s ultimately just a cursor. We wanted to make an RPG that had a more “live” feel, with more theatrical and dramatic characters.

That was our starting point for Grandia. In previous RPGs, even ones with a lot of sidequests and extra content, I think the empathy one feels for the characters is still pretty low. Those games couldn’t even really evoke a simple feeling like “I really love this character!” Obviously those RPGs have been influenced by mechanics and systems of the past, but on a human interest level, they didn’t convey much at all….

Takahashi: Yeah, and in many instances, you can’t even name the characters yourself. I think another way to look at it is, how much personality can you imbue your characters with? The thing I like the least in earlier RPGs is the way the dialogue works for NPCs. Everything feels too tailored to the fact that you’re the hero. For Grandia, then, we put a special emphasis on designing the character encounters, making sure the NPCs all had strong individual personalities of their own. So the first time you talk to them, you might not understand them, or they might try to take you for a ride. (laughs)

Takeshi Miyaji (L) and Hidenobu Takahashi (R).

Miyaji: The process by which you get allies in RPGs usually boils down to a single sentence worth of justification: I call it the “Let’s fight together!” policy. But our hero in Grandia has no such pre-scripted behavior; he’s just a young boy who likes adventure.

Takahashi: Right. In Grandia, the goal isn’t “let’s fight together!”. For characters who join you, it’s a meeting of individual personalities—”Let’s walk together.” And if the characters don’t get along, they won’t travel with you.

Character Design

Takahashi: The number of animation patterns for each character sprite was really crazy. The normal process for such work is to have animators draw the movement patterns, then scan the results and color and finish them on the computer. But since the Grandia development has taken so long (2 years), as we went along, the designs changed, and the sprite artists had to make extra revisions and checks at the end.

Miyaji: The big problem is that for most actions, we had to create sprite patterns for 8 different directions. Even for something simple like climbing a rope: it had to be drawn from all sides.

Takahashi: It was about twice the amount of work you’d do in a traditional anime production.

Take a walking animation for instance. In the simplest example, just walking along a one-dimensional horizontal plane, everything is fine until you have to turn. Then the feet have to line up, and now you have to consider two dimensions, and make sure everything aligns. That’s the main thing.

Also, unlike in anime, where you only see a portion of animation once, in our game you’re going to see that same walking animation over and over, so it has to look good!

Grandia is often overshadowed by FFVII when people remember “big games” of this era. This single animation sheet details just the shield usage…!

Miyaji: Yeah, half-assed animation is not allowed—which means it was a ton of work. We worked with very talented artists, and even then there’d often be some little detail that was off, and an idea might require 10 re-takes! It would drive anyone insane. You might expect this volume of work to take about 3 months, but 2 years have passed, and we’re still not done. (laughs)

World Design

Takahashi: The story begins in a thriving city in the height of the industrial revolution, during an age of steam technology. You could call it “steampunk”, but there’s no dark overtones—everyone is working cheerfully, despite the grumbling you might hear at your local watering hole. In Grandia we wanted to depict the adventures of a young boy as he roams around this kind of lively city.

Miyaji: It’s an adventure. Our prime focus was bringing to life the world of this young boy, the protagonist. To that end, the visuals are divided in two: theatrically staged scenes using the in-game engine, and CG movies.

Takahashi: Those scenes are the base of the game, but since they’re in 3D, it allowed us a lot of freedom in changing the camera perspective. We could do things like crane/helicopter shots, really using a lot of cinematic camera techniques.

Miyaji: Yeah, the opening demo is chock full of those tricks. The editing is also done completely in a cinematic style. It’s actually pretty similar to an on-set tokusatsu filming. And for the show-stopping scenes, I think players will find the CG very exciting. If you’re going to have characters adventuring around the world, those big scenes have got to look flashy. I think previous RPGs have tried to do this, but they’ve mostly ended up pretty sterile, visually speaking. So we spent a lot of time getting that action-adventure feel right for Grandia.

Post-Release Interview

—First, let me say congratulations on finishing the Grandia development. It’s been a full 4 years, hasn’t it? During that time, did the story change much from your initial conception of it?

Miyaji: No, the basic thread of the story didn’t change at all.

—That makes sense, given the firm vision you had for Grandia. But it’s still amazing that you were able to carry and see that vision through consistently to the end. That has to take a lot of willpower!

Miyaji: Yeah, it did. I’m definitely tired. Whereas Gungriffon took place in this post-apocalyptic environment, with Grandia we wanted it to express our idea that this world is the bright and cheerful world we’d like to see in the 21st century. It was just as difficult as Gungriffon to create, but in a different way.

—Perhaps its because of the nice tempo of the dialogue, or the happy prologue, but Grandia has this peaceful, serene feeling. What was your image for the final climax, then, which is different in tone?

Miyaji: With the climax of the latter half of the game, it wasn’t really a question of making it light or dark per se. Rather, we simply wanted the events to suck the player in completely. But the very light, cheerful intro to the game is there to give a big payoff for the latter half.

—That would explain why the first disc has such a laid-back, carefree pacing to it.

Miyaji: We basically refrained from having too much tension during disc 1. Which means, of course, that the second disc would need to have everything ramp up in a big way. We were very insistent on maintaining that structure though, as it was the very structure of the drama we were trying to create.

In order to create a more realistic, “living” world for Grandia, concept art was created even for minor NPCs.

—I see.

Miyaji: There’s probably a lot of people now who have beat the game, but yeah, I hope players experience that high tension at the end, starting from around the underground ruins area. It’s like, yeah, now this is a real adventure! Things suddenly get turned up to 10, and all these revelations about the world start pouring in. Anyway, it’s best experienced as a player. It marks the real start of the adventure… before that part, the game was more like a “tale” than an “adventure”, you know? So we held back in the first half.

—Going back to the story, everyone at our office was crying when Justin parted from Lilly, and the scene with Sue, too.

Miyaji: Didn’t you get the feeling that something was going to happen to Sue?

—A little, maybe. I felt some kind of premonition. I thought it was touching how she left the party all her experience though.

Miyaji: Yeah, that was something we had thought of before, of leaving some kind of XP item for the player in an event like that.

—One of our writers who played through Grandia wasn’t aware there would be an item like that. So when Gadwin joined the party, for instance, he thought “oh, this guy probably won’t stick around…” and he never used his magic once… (laughs)

Miyaji: Hah, that’s awful. Poor Gadwin!

—I understand some people only use the standard attacks when they play, and don’t ever bother leveling up magic at all, actually.

Miyaji: That would probably make things very difficult later on.

—By the way, on the demo disc there’s a movie cutscene where Justin, Feena, and Sue have just reached the top of the world wall and are looking out on the horizon… I thought we’d see that in the finished game.

Miyaji: That scene got dropped, unfortunately, due to some structuring issues with the plot. I liked the movie a lot, but it ended up not fitting in right with the events.

—I also love how the names of common items change depending on what area you’re in. It makes sense, with different peoples living there and all.

Miyaji: And the cultures are different, too.

—Where do you get the ideas for all those weird characters, items, and monsters?

Miyaji: Our staff comes up with them in fits of manic inspiration, which probably accounts for their mysterious attraction!

—Were the characters based on anybody in real life?

Miyaji: No, not especially.

—Finally, please tell our readers one thing you really want them to experience in Grandia.

Miyaji: Well, there are really a lot of different things… well, OK, here’s something. It might be a little abstract, but the staff really put their hearts and souls into Grandia, and those are the parts I want people to see when they play. I don’t think there’s ever been a made with this much heart, you know? The staff broke off a piece of their own souls to imbue the game with.

The Grandia 2D animation team. Top (L-R): Masahiko Koyama; Motomitsu Kashihara; Mitsuru Hashimoto; Meiko Wada. Bottom (L-R): Takayuki Hiramatsu; Kazuya Suzuki; Shingo Hayakawa.

Character Designers Interview

Meiko Wada
Character: Justin

The opening demo offers the best view of Justin’s charming personality, but it was exceedingly difficult to translate all his many facial expressions (laughing, crying, etc) into an 8×8 space of pixels. I also created so many different animation patterns that I started to wonder what in the world they’d be used for. Of the other characters I worked on, I also like Gantz. I like the pose he makes that looks like he’s standing there blocking your way. It’s my hope that players can feel the handmade quality of the art in Grandia, whether that be the way the characters were made, or the handdrawn textured look of the backgrounds.

Motomitsu Kashihara
Character: Sue and Pai

These characters are kind of like mascots for Grandia, so I really wracked my brain trying to make them cute and find the right actions and poses for them. They’re very expressive in the opening demo, so that made it harder for me. I also did the serpentine monsters. For them I changed my drawing style, and tried to emphasize a scaly look for them—even I think they came out really well. The characters in Grandia all give some response if you touch or interact with them; we want them to feel like living, breathing characters rather than mere cursors on a screen. I’ll be very happy if players see that.

Mitsuru Hashimoto
Character: Feena

I put a special amount of effort into the animation of Feena when she collapses in battle. Some people are really going to like it! I tried to make her battle animations really awesome. Her sprite was so small and the design so detailed, that it meant the outline of her character was very complex to draw, and I was often unsure of what element to prioritize in her design. Overall, I decided to emphasize her silhouette and a sense of volume. I also put a ton of effort into that squid that appears in the opening demo, all the way down to its little spines on its tentacle. Please look at it with charitable eyes. (laughs)

Masahiko Koyama
Character: Gadwin

The video images we had as concept art for each character included almost none of the lines needed for animation references. This meant that, in order to make quality sprite art that could compete with what the concept artist drew, we had to go on an all-out drawing binge, creating who-knows-how-many thousands of different original details for every character. And regardless, we had wanted there to be lots of those details: the detailed lines of a piece of armor, or the reverse side of a loincloth, etc. The effort brought me to tears on many occasions, though.

I worked on the dragon enemies too, which I drew with only 14 colors! I knew Grandia would be seen by many as one of the new “polygon” games, and that gave me all the more incentive to try creating “living and breathing” pixel art.

The 2D character design team strike a pose.

Shingo Hayakawa
Character: Guido

Guido looks like a bunny, so I tried to capture essence by giving his overall design a feeling of roundness and softness. At first I drew his ears way too long, and when I rotated the sprite it looked unnatural, so I made some changes from the original concept art there and drew it my own way. I believe he went through two total revisions before I got something I liked. Compared to the other characters, Guido has a lot more comedic scenes, so I worked with the animators on making sure he had the appropriate “softness”, and I actually contributed some of the animation cels for Guido.

My favorite character, by the way, is Cactus Man! The guitar slung on his shoulder, those sunglasses, and his hibiscus hat… what an amazing enemy!

Takayuki Hiramatsu
Character: Rapp

You might not realize it at first glance, but Rapp is a ninja! In the very beginning when we were asked what character we’d like to work on, I raised my hand right away and chose him. (laughs) I’m something of a sengoku era nut, so I jumped at the chance to work on a ninja character. At the initial concept art stage (of the polygon version of the character), Rapp was drawn with more delicate lines, so converting him to pixel art and giving him the right sense of width/breadth there was difficult. I also did the pixel art for Leen. I don’t usually draw female characters though, so it took all my energy…

Kazuya Suzuki
Character: Milda

I’ve always loved big, powerful characters. But the instructions they gave me for Milda were very difficult to reconcile: “make her strong, but not rippling with muscles, more of a solid-body look, and also a little sexy.” When you work on something for 3 years, it’s only natural that your style changes (and mine did too), but as the Grandia development went on, the concept art remained stuck in an earlier style, which was a little out of date by the end of the project… consequently, most of what I drew for Milda was based on my own intuitions. The polygon character also feels a little stiff and robotic, but I think the laboriously hand-drawn pixel art will move more naturally. I want people to feel like it’s a real, living character!

Grandia composer, Noriyuki Iwadare.
Grandia – 1998 Composer Interview

with Noriyuki Iwadare

—What image did you have in your mind when you composed the main theme of Grandia?

Iwadare: It’s actually the same feeling you get from the image in the liner notes, that shows the party standing at the end of the known world, and looking down on the lost world that spreads out before them. It was that sense of excitement and anticipation: “what adventures are waiting out there…?” Game Arts actually auditioned about 20 composers, and I was selected from them.

—The music of Grandia is especially rich in variety; was this part of your master plan?

Iwadare: Yeah, I wanted the music to impart the local flavor/culture of each region. I listened to various folk music CDs, and my composition process was sort of, to take “native” style songs and add my own melodies on top. But that accounts for why each region sounds very different—because I think if you compose everything fully yourself from the ground up, everything will eventually start to sound the same.

—I thought it was cool how the music gets more lively and exciting as you reach the climax of certain scenes. Like that scene at the End of the World, for instance.

Iwadare: Those things, like gradually increasing the tempo as you ascend the wall in that scene, were all thanks to the ADX sound system. That specific trick was shown to me by the sound team, and was one of the ideas they had for the music before I even joined the project. Using the ADX system for sound creation, we were able to achieve things that had never been done before.

—It was really different composing with ADX, then?

Iwadare: Using ADX meant we no longer had to worry about the number of voices (different tracks/sounds) in a song. And dialogue and vocal lines could be added in too.

In contrast, the CD-DA format had limits to the number of songs, and there was always a pause whenever songs re-looped. The ADX system allowed us to compress the song data, and looping songs was seamless.

Not having to worry about such things, it gave me much more freedom in my own conceptions, and was a huge stimulus to my creativity and ambitions: I could use an orchestra, live recorded music, etc.

—What was the biggest challenge you faced in composing Grandia?

Iwadare: The biggest hurdle was actually coming up with a theme for the very first town, Parm. It took a lot of trial and error to find something. The image of Parm is an English city circa the Industrial Revolution, so I thought maybe bagpipes would work? And since that’s not too far from the land of the Celts, I mixed in some accordion too. I also figured, being the industrial revolution era, people would probably expect to hear some mechanical / industrial sounds. Finally, once I had the basic shape of the Parm theme in hand, the other themes came very quickly. But everything began with Parm.

—And for players, it’s definitely a place that you spend a lot of time walking around.

Iwadare: Right, and it’s the very first song you hear, too. For the New Parm theme, that’s on the new continent, so I chose an American style. Or maybe it’s more Mexican sounding—I did use latin rhythms. For Ganbo, I used Asian and Polynesian rythms, while my image for Cafu was North Africa. Then for the final area, Laine, I went for something Russian.

—That’s a veritable trip around the world. (laughs) What about Alent?

Iwadare: Alent, well… (laughs) it’s basically Sutaashia from Battleship Yamato. (laughs)

Grandia OST by Noriyuki Iwadare

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