Originally posted on 4 March 2016
Source: page 132-135

Ryu Encyclopaedia

Portraits of the Creators, Episode 7: Takahiro Yamada/Tsuyoshi Tsunoi

The men who have spent 10 years earnestly creating buildings and ashtrays

Object creation/lead designer
Takahiro Yamada

Despite informing Mr. Nagoshi that he "[wanted] to make Sakura Wars" at his final screening (he would later learn what a dangerous flag this would be), he safely joined the company. Later, he was assigned to the Ryu ga Gotoku team, and since then has worked on creating the CG for objects. The creation of games may have turned into his life work, but he also plans to focus his attention in future on finding himself a wife.

Stage creation/lead designer
Tsuyoshi Tsunoi

Has participated in the project since the first Ryu ga Gotoku game. Up until then, he worked on maps and backgrounds for many games, and is an experienced veteran designer. Before working on Ryu ga Gotoku, he was also involved with the Panzer Dragoon series, amongst others. According to Mr. Yokoyama, the chief producer, he is a "craftsman of trees". That said, he also has experience working on towns for games such as Ollie King.

The clownfish incident that sent shockwaves through the office

―First of all, could you tell us what it is you both make for Ryu ga Gotoku, and what is representative of you?

Tsuyoshi Tsunoi (below, Tsunoi): I'm on the stage team, so I create the town. I was previously creating backgrounds other games as well, but since joining the Ryu ga Gotoku team I've spent the whole time making Kamurocho, Sotenbori and the Ryukyu District. Most of these things are buildings or signs - basically, stationary things related to the map.

Takahiro Yamada (below, Yamada): I'm on the object team, which means that I mainly use CG to create things that are basically props. The largest of these are cars, and the smallest are things like food. I'm also in charge of things like the cigarettes and ashtrays that show up in event scenes.

Tsunoi: Aren't you going to talk about the fish?

―By fish, do you mean the ones that show up in the fishing...?

Tsunoi: Yamada actually has a story to do with fish.

Yamada: There's a scene in the intro of Ryu ga Gotoku 3 where Kiryu catches a fish and holds it aloft. The member of staff who was designing it had said to me that they wanted the fish to be red, so I made a clownfish.

―Uh, you mean like the main fish from Finding Nemo?

Tsunoi: That's the one. But it was absolutely huge. It was like he had fished up this huge fish and then bam, it's a huge clownfish!

Yamada: When I was told to use a red fish, a clownfish was what crossed my mind. Of course, when I showed it to them, they scolded me.

Tsunoi: Remembering the old days like this really makes me wonder how 10 years have gone by already. We have to keep to such a tight schedule each time that it feels as if it's just flown by.

Yamada: Yeah. We're so busy working that by the time we're done, the whole year has just vanished.

Tricks that are difficult to notice on the map

―When you look back on the past 10 years, do you have any stories characteristic of yourselves?

Yamada: I think that Tsunoi tends to really just want to make the town detailed.

Tsunoi: For example, if there are buildings there, I end up wanting to make all of them enterable. A map where you can go inside any door that isn't locked is my personal ideal map.

Yamada: I've heard that Kenzan's Gion was particularly amazing?

Tsunoi: After I was done making Gion, I was checking things like the gaps between houses and paths. That's how we decide where the character should and shouldn't be able to go. Back then, I found a path that you could luckily manage to go down. I thought, "Maybe this is interesting on its own?" and just left it in. I suppose that at the time, I didn't want the path to be blocked with an invisible wall or object.

Yamada: But it doesn't seem like he alerted the planning staff to the fact that the path was usable. First of all the map is created, and then later on we decide where substories occur or items are lying. Apparently, though, at the time things were like, "Why are you able to go through here!?"

Tsunoi: But it seems like they managed to later add in a substory about a sumo blocking the way, so I guess it was a good thing that I left it in after all?

―That may be true in the end (laughs).

Tsunoi: Well, it wasn't something I was meant to be doing originally, so if the team were less tolerant we might have ended up fighting about it (laughs). Lately, though, I really have stopped going off and making the maps on my own.

Yamada: But you do still set up minor tricks, don't you?

Tsunoi: Hmm... But you know, I look at things like the internet and surprisingly enough people don't really notice, so it's kind of disappointing. Ryu ga Gotoku 0 in particular was created to be quite detailed, even when compared to the rest of the series.

―What kind of parts, specifically?

Tsunoi: The area around Majima's apartment is very detailed. In the afternoon there's laundry out to dry, but if you go there at night it's been taken inside. Also, there are things like variations of the letterbox where sometimes there are flyers stuffed inside, and sometimes it's empty.

―I never noticed that!

Tsunoi: There are other things, too - for example, times when some shop's doormat is hanging on the bridge's guardrail, or the number of incense sticks stuck in the shrine's burner changing. These are the kinds of minor things I've been setting up since around the time of Kenzan. I remember changing the number of persimmons lying on the veranda in Gion's alleyway.

Yamada: I don't think you'd notice that if you were just playing normally, though.

―The scales have fallen from my eyes. Is this the kind of detailed work you, Mr. Yamada, and the others on the object team do?

Yamada: We often end up saying things like, "I want this!" even at the very end, so the degree of our craftsmanship spans a wide range. In terms of detailed things, take for example things like the watch that appears at the end of Ryu ga Gotoku 0. Quite a way into development, we were suddenly told, "I want you to take the music box inside the watch and make it move in time with the music." It wasn't something that we'd been making to work, so we had to remake it from scratch. But when you actually watch the scene, you can't really tell that it's moving...

―Next time I play it, I'll keep an eye out!

Yamada: Also, and this is a bit of a technical topic, but since Ishin we've made minor changes to the representations of food. The food you see Haruka holding when you sing Hara Peko Biyori at the Singing Pub is my work of art, with each grain of rice rendered individually. When you actually play it for yourself, though, the camera doesn't really get close enough for you to see.

―That seems to happen a lot (laughs).

The effort required to create something realistic

Tsunoi: Oh, that's right - Yamada will sometimes create something strange right down to the most trivial details. He'll make a 100-yen lighter, internal structure and all, using quite a high polygon count (editor's note: the basic structure used when creating CG objects. They are somewhat similar to blocks). That's generally a good thing, though.

Yamada: I do recall being scolded about the 100-yen lighter: "You could just have used a texture for this!"

―From what I've heard so far, it sounds a lot like you're the kind of person who gets scolded often...

Tsunoi: I think it seems that way even to the rest of us, actually (laughs).

Yamada: I don't smoke, so I didn't really know about it, but I've been told, "The tip of the cigarette doesn't keep glowing red when you're not smoking it!" and things like that. Also, at the time of Ryu ga Gotoku 5 Mr. Yokoyama pointed out to me, "The back seat is too low when you look at the taxi from behind! Do it over!" Back then, all of the staff assembled in the middle of the night for an emergency meeting with the person in charge of planning spending all night taking photos of taxis at Kamata Station, and I altered it based on those.

―I did wonder if the cars and things like that had been based on real life things.

Yamada: We have lots of designers who love cars, but they don't always end up being put in charge of creating the vehicles. I think that's also an interesting thing, though. Machines also have things like patents and licences attached to them, so you've got to be good at taking something specific that you can't do and distorting it. It's quite difficult to make the design cool and create a sense of realism on top of fulfilling these conditions.

―So those are the kinds of troubles you face. Do you also go out into town to do research in order to create realism, Mr. Tsunoi?

Tsunoi: I do. If you try to make it on imagination alone then the town often ends up becoming unnatural, so research is imperative. When we were developing Ryu ga Gotoku, I spent quite a lot of time going back and forth from Kabukicho to grasp the atmosphere of a red light district. 10 years ago was a time when we weren't yet into the habit of taking photos with our smartphones the way we do now. Cameras were huge, too. When I would go out with my SLR to take photos to use as reference, I attracted a lot of attention. People would be like, "Hey, mister, what are you up to?" (laughs). Also, when we started making Ryu ga Gotoku 2 I went to gather data in Osaka, but the air was so scary. There were even people who would be lying in the streets in only a pair of underpants.

―I'm sure that was a unique place, even for Osaka... Did it still feel like that 10 years ago?

Tsunoi: These days it's turning into a tourist spot, and swathes of foreign tourists go there. It's been cleaned up quite a bit, but at the time it was terrible. When I was doing my research I would wear something that fitted the atmosphere so as not to stand out, but even then I was out of place.

―That's quite careful preparation.

Tsunoi: I had been threatened beforehand that Osaka was a scary place, so it was sort of like a disguise. Even gathering materials was hard work. I didn't have the courage to take out my camera and shoot, so I would take photos from inside my bag, or make sure that no one was looking my way and then whip it out and snap a photo. The times have changed now, and I can boldly take photos anywhere I like, but that kind of research was enjoyable as well. Even things like that make me feel the series' 10-year history.

The struggle for polygons that continues to this day

―To get back on topic, is it also bad if you use too many polygons in the pursuit of realism?

Tsunoi: It is troubling when you want to use your polygons for backgrounds or the characters, but lots of them are being used up on 100-yen lighters. Something the character team said to me back in the day was, "If we fix the camera behind the character's back then we don't need to use polygons on their front, right? Please use those polygons for the stage."

―There was something like a struggle over the number of usable polygons!?

Tsunoi: That's right. Things like this happened a lot back then. The story I mentioned before about cutting down on the character's polygons didn't work out, though, of course. We always ended up having to chip polygons off from the stage, so the character team wanted to try out the same thing.

Yamada: When the hardware can't keep up with processing, the background is the first to fall victim. After that, the next to be singled out for polygon reduction is the things you see around town. For example, things like beer cases have quite complex shapes. There are some things we make properly, but it ends up being like, "I guess we can just paste a texture for a rectangular box onto this."

Tsunoi: The hardware has evolved compared to how it was back then, but we end up using the abilities so much that it cancels out any leeway, so the struggle for polygons still goes on.

Yamada: Tsunoi has been developing since the Sega Saturn, so he knows of a time when he would be told to create a bird using 10 polygons. He's quite conscious of how much processing the polygons take up.

Tsunoi: For a game, it's important that processing is light and everything runs well. I think, though, that you still have to make it look good. In a way, just trying to create something that looks nice is easy, but even now it's quite tricky, and even with the specs of the PlayStation 4 the processing will still catch up with you if you try to create an all-out image. You have to be economical.

―With what you're saying, I get the feeling that you can actually probably do a lot more, but are holding yourselves back.

Tsunoi: It depends on the capabilities of the hardware and our schedule. If I can afford to disregard those, then I think I could create detailed back alleys and let you go into all of the buildings. It's difficult with the pace of Ryu ga Gotoku where you release a game a year, though. Personally speaking, I really don't like the thing that's common in games where it looks like you can go somewhere, but there are obstacles blocking your way. Of course, it depends on the circumstances of the game, and it may be simpler to have places here and there where you can't go, so I suppose it isn't just a case of the more freedom, the better.

Yamada: Also, despite the fact that you can do more as the hardware's capabilities increase, it also requires you to be more accurate. With things we've glossed over or blurred in the past - for example, words written on business cards and things like that - with the PlayStation 4's specs, now that we create everything it often has to be readable as well. These things have to be created, too.

Tsunoi: That's true. In the future, keeping the posters around town all shiny and new won't be realistic, so I guess we'll end up having to add some dirtiness to them.

―So this is the result of your craftsmanship. Your work must be exhausting.

Tsunoi: But it is fun. Creating Kamurocho means that you get to come up with everything from the posters and signs to the lighting design from scratch. When you think about designing everything from top to bottom, it's a fun job.

Yamada: There's no time, but I enjoy making it, too. Creating objects is sort of like making plastic models. It's hard work, but I think it's a job that's worth doing.