Originally posted on 6 March 2016
Source: page 144-147

Ryu Encyclopaedia

Portraits of the Creators, Episode 8: Maiko Hagiwara/Koji Yoshida

The people who have spent 10 years tirelessly creating substories

Character creation/lead designer
Maiko Hagiwara

Has been part of the team as a designer since the first Ryu ga Gotoku. She creates many of the characters who appear in the games. On Ryu ga Gotoku Of The End, she served as leader of the character team. Since then, she has managed the creation process and character design. She joined the company at the same time as Mr. Yoshida.

Director/assistant scriptwriter/lead planner
Koji Yoshida

Joined the team for Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan. As a member of the scenario team, he is involved in many projects. In recent years, he has been in charge of things such as hostess clubs and substories. On Ryu ga Gotoku 0 he served as the main planner, and on Ryu ga Gotoku Kiwami he served as director

Creating substories with a focus on impact

Koji Yoshida (below, Yoshida): I first participated in development on the series with Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan, focusing mainly on substories with cutscenes, and this is the time that I remember first of all. In the middle of trying to come up with ideas, Nagoshi suddenly said, "I want an image like a cow flying through the sky." Not only that, but a Holstein. There's no way a Western breed would have been in Japan back then, but he wanted that kind of impact. I thought that I could manage something if I made up a story that would make you think of what are today known as UFOs and so I came up with something, which I was then made to rewrite again... By repeating this process, I managed to force it into the shape of a story. We do it the same way today, too.

Maiko Hagiwara (below, Hagiwara): Substories are generally divided into categories such as ones to give the characters a backbone, some that are silly, or some that focus on getting a visual impact, and we often choose one of these that will act as a hook. At the story screening stage we narrow down the details, and it seems like it's the ones with short, catchy titles that tend to get picked up more often. Ones that left an impression on me were things like Ryu ga Gotoku 2's "American Baseball". Even though it says "American", it uses the Japanese word for baseball (laughs).

Yoshida: This is something that could be said of all of the substories, but unlike the main story there's a strong feeling that they're a gamble based on one story. We start off with about 100 candidates for each game, but a lot of them end up getting buried. In that sense, also, I think that their catchiness is important.

Hagiwara: Though it does cause trouble for me as a member of the character team when we have stories about characters with unique body types, such as sumo, or things about animals. We have regulations - rules governing creation - for the stage and characters. We have fixed street widths and character sizes so that the battle actions don't get messed up, but the more special characters there are, the more special attention they require. In some cases, we might have to prepare several different sizes for a character, or a disguised version of them. Doing all of this work properly is a huge task, so we confer with the programmers and motion designers and try out a bunch of ways to get around it.

Yoshida: On Ryu ga Gotoku, we often end up dealing with unique towns, so we're prone to putting in characters with unique occupations or backgrounds. With each game, all of the planners get together and come up with ideas for substories, so the staff's traits tend to influence their content. For example, the battle team's idea was, "Kiryu is given a strange medicine and the battle controls are messed up," taking an approach oriented towards the controls during battle.

Hagiwara: The staff's personalities are definitely brought out in these kinds of areas. Just by reading the scenario I can say, "Ah, I think I know who wrote this." Things like with the hostesses, where one of the girls will seem like Yoshida. When I'm doing playtesting, even though I'm hitting on a woman it feels like I'm hitting on Yoshida, which is kind of a mixed emotion (laughs).

Yoshida: Just to clear up any misunderstandings - I'm in charge of the hostess club stories, but that doesn't mean that I enjoy hostess clubs or anything. We all create images using TV shows, movies and books, sometimes collecting data, and frantically write them down.

Hagiwara: For Ryu ga Gotoku 5, we had a member of staff who was an idol fan working on mini games like the handshake events, but precisely because they were so knowledgeable it ended up becoming too deep, so we had to make extensive alterations. I think it's a really hard job to take your passion for something you like and translate it properly into something fun.

Yoshida: In my case, in order to bring even a little bit of reality to the mix, I use casual private conversations with acquaintances who actually work at hostess clubs as reference - things like stories to do with the clubs, what they talk about, and their characters. If I didn't, they would just end up being convenient characters portrayed from the male standpoint. However, it's often the case that the most realistic characters are the ones who get the poorest reception from the players. I think it's because there's no dreaminess to them.

Frequent appearances by the staff!?

Yoshida: Many of the substories are created once the main scenario has begun to take shape, so the schedule is very tight. The staff themselves will often do motion capture and have their voices recorded. Which roles have you done again?

Hagiwara: It wasn't a substory, but I had my face captured for Kenzan - I'm the senior who's bullying Haruka when she joins the place called Tsuruya. There are two prostitutes in the scene, both of whom are members of staff as well (laughs). Also, again on Kenzan, I'm the voice who reads out the cards.

Yoshida: In Ryu ga Gotoku 3, I was the guy who skipped out on paying his bill. At first he's hefty, and he gradually slims down as he runs away, with me supposedly being him when he gets thin.

Hagiwara: Oh, I remember (laughs). We ourselves often don't know where the characters based on us are going to show up, though. A lot of the time, the person in charge of creating the scene will pull a face from the database, think "this is the one!" and use that data in creating the character.

Yoshida: When I play it, sometimes an aggressive-faced head of sales will pop up out of nowhere and shock me (laughs).

Hagiwara: It's not like this is what we're aiming for, of course; we just use the data that matches up with the character.

Yoshida: The trainers' voices are often done by the staff, too, for schedule reasons. Orihara from the battle team does Komaki's voice, and director Hosokawa does Amon's voice, which I think some fans will already know.

Hagiwara: When we were first creating the original pilot version of Ryu ga Gotoku to get approval from the company, we just had the staff provide the voices. I'm pretty sure that Orihara was Futoshi Shimano. His performance was really good, so, since we had no time to be doing casting, we decided to have Orihara be Komaki. I don't think even he anticipated that he would keep appearing throughout the series.

Yoshida: Though these days, Orihara is called to voice recordings for the pachinko slots as Komaki's voice actor (laughs).

An incident from debugging that only the developers know about

Yoshida: Debugging the substories can be quite a lot of work. For example, when you play Akiyama's final hostess club event in RGG5, there's a scene where he flirts with a hostess in front of Dyna Chair. If you haven't cleared other substories, though, there's a voice trainer called Yamaura standing around in front of the building. When these two situations combine, Akiyama ends up staring dead at Yamaura while he's flirting. So, for this time only, we made it so that Yamaura has her gaze averted from Akiyama.

Hagiwara: The higher the number of substories climbs, the more we have to meddle with. To give you an example, we have to adjust the timing with which an event triggers or the place where it occurs so it doesn't conflict with anything else.

Yoshida: The scene with Yamaura is a special case. I think that the slightest of gestures can create more of an atmosphere. I doubt that any of the players actually noticed, though (laughs).

Hagiwara: The Ryu ga Gotoku series has a huge amount of content, which makes it difficult to debug, but it's fun. We struggled particularly with Ryu ga Gotoku because we were inexperienced, but it was enjoyable. In the middle of the night, you would hear the echo of "5-2, odd!" throughout the place (laughs).

Yoshida: With regards to the data for the score of 9-2 "odd" for chohan, I set this to play automatically so that I could find the bug when an error occurred in the audio during a cutscene. I was doing my checks all night long. I would hear things like, "I'm going to protect her with my life... 5-2 odd!" It was a bug, so whereas you'd normally be sad, it made me laugh.

Hagiwara: In terms of video, in the scene where the Florist picks up the phone, when he lifted the receiver the entire phone would stick to his hand and he'd put the whole thing to his ear. Also, there was an error with the design data for the water in the town fountain, which meant that passers-by would gradually spring forth from it, and the image was scary enough to make you cry (laughs).

Yoshida: We were also tormented by the size of the characters' hands.

Hagiwara: The resolution was low back in the time of the PlayStation 2, so it was difficult to see the characters' actions, particularly during battle. As a result, in order to make it look like the punches were connecting, we made the hands larger. In other scenes, though, they would really stand out. In scenes where he drinks alcohol, the glass ended up looking about the size of a sake cup. We had no choice but to make the glass match his hand, but this time, when he brought it up to his face, it looked the size of a beer mug.

Yoshida: This issue kept up until relatively recently, so we would have to do things like modify it using cuts or make a different size of glass for each scene every time.

Hagiwara: Also, there are substories like ones where Kiryu tries out being a producer where he has a bold change of outfit, so we often have to deal with unique things like this. Sometimes we have to make sure that Kiryu isn't dressed too smartly, even working on things that more than 90% of the players won't even notice (laughs). But when I see the finished scene, I'm glad that we were so particular.

Yoshida: Each of the staff has their own point of fixation that no one else knows about. Mine is the "conversation about a resident" in Of The End. I actually put in tricks like if you listen to their entire conversation in order, the fate of the resident in question changes. It's not a substory, though.

Hagiwara: That's the kind of thing that only the person who put it together would know about (laughs).

Yoshida: The town's residents start off in a panic, but as you continue the conversation they will tell you things like, "My friend suddenly vanished," or, "They got hurt and were carried away." If you see all of them, you get a sort of good ending. But if you miss a conversation somewhere, the friend turns into a zombie and is put down. I don't think this setup was even mentioned in the guidebook, so I hope that anyone reading this book tries it out.

Fights between the planners and designers during development

Hagiwara: I think this is the fate of something that turns into a series, but effectively using the data for a character you've created once is surprisingly difficult. On top of this, people die at an alarming rate in every game (laughs). We'll often get orders like, "Use that character you made for 3..." but even trivial things like their palms, the position of their shoulders and hips, wrinkles in their suit and things like that evolve from game to game, so we can't just take that data and carry it over to the new game. The team constantly aims to create the highest picture quality in the series, so we prioritise an increase in quality over effective utilisation of our assets. It's efficient, but also inefficient. But even though it's hard work, if we didn't do it then the games would cease to evolve, so each time we make new versions of even the regular characters.

Yoshida: Spinoffs are totally created from the ground up, and even in the games set in the modern day we do things like change the clothes that people around town wear depending on the region.

Hagiwara: For example, even the high school girls' fashion in RGG5 has its differences. The Tokyo one is standard, but the uniforms in Kansai have slightly longer skirts. In Fukuoka they're stylish, but wear lots of layers. Things like that.

Yoshida: The suits of the yakuza who appear in battles with people from the towns are quite different, too.

Hagiwara: It's difficult to represent the differences of a town using only one character, but by creating tens, hundreds of them, I think we're able to represent the overall atmosphere of the town.

Yoshida: This is what makes it so hard just to make the towns' residents, but still the planners give us even more crazy orders for substories. This leads to another kind of battle amongst the developers.

Hagiwara: The Ryu ga Gotoku team refers to characters who appear a lot as "generic models". There are things like generic women and generic yakuza. But sometimes, the planners will say something like, "This scene uses a generic pregnant woman." Naturally, we don't have a generic model for a pregnant woman. "Generic" is becoming a magic word (laughs).

Yoshida: We do have a generic tiger, though. By the way, what do you think is the hardest thing for the character team to make?

Hagiwara: It has to be the homeless people. We've been making them for 10 years now since the first game, but they're tricky. Their hair, beards and clothes are just complicated, and they're all too unique. There are several types of homeless people in the game, but some of them have to be generic background characters who just walk around town. Despite this, in an attempt to make them look like homeless people I will do things like have them wear flannel shirts on top of flannel shirts, or wear multiple pairs of socks, making sure that they dress in a way that makes sense.

Yoshida: In each game, whenever I see a homeless person I always think, "What a good job."

Hagiwara: But to be honest, they are fun to make. It's a fight between how to remove their individuality whilst also making them look the part (laughs). There was a time on the first Ryu ga Gotoku in particular where I just researched the homeless.

Yoshida: All of the homeless people inside Purgatory are different, right?

Hagiwara: They are. Thinking about it now, that was a job well done. Looking back on the Ryu ga Gotoku series once more, each of the games seems to have the strong affection of its creators condensed into it.