Heavenly Odyssey: A Short Word With Ninja Theory’s Chief Development Ninja

GameAxis: How did Sony enter into the picture when it came to Heavenly Sword?

Nina Kristensen: At the time while we’re under the Just Add Monsters moniker, the PS3 and Xbox 360 weren’t out. It was very hard for publishers to understand what they were looking at; whether it was appropriate for something to be considered “next-gen” or not. We showed it to a lot of publisher, but it was Sony who wounded up digging it. A major contribution to that was because Sony knew what the PS3 was. They were looking at Heavenly Sword and they went “Yeah, that’s what our console should be like.”

It was really hard. If I said that we’ll be doing these amazing things in our game, publishers would go “Well….I don’t know if that’s viable”. There’s really nothing to compare it against at the time.

GAX: Being a professional in the business, creating a new IP is very risky. Heavenly Sword did pretty well for itself. What helped raise it above that stigma?

NK: A lot of the success came from a deep passion from within Ninja Theory. In our desire to form what we have, we manage to form great collaborations. Andy Serkis is certainly a huge example of that, and apart from directing the dramatic scenes, he also hooked us up with people from Weta Workshop and instrumental in casting. And he cared deeply about the game; those collaborations raised the calibre of the game.

And for us going forward, we’ve retained that relationship with Andy. We’ve also kept in contact with composer Nitin Sawhney (The Namesake, Living Goddess). Our foley house is in New York; we found them while we’re working on Heavenly Sword. I think all of these collaborations helped raise the quality of our game, as well as bring them into our industry.

GAX: Looking back, were there any things you wished to change about the game at all?

NK: We know that the game’s not perfect. The game’s never going to be perfect; there’s always something you can do better. If you think you’ve made a perfect thing, you’d probably stop bothering. Obviously, people wanted Heavenly Sword to be longer. I certainly would give the players more, but I wouldn’t want to pad the game out with rubbish. I’d rather have the experience shorter and better. On a personal level, I’d appreciate a short game because I get to finish it. But I appreciate the people’s thoughts on value over money when it comes to the length of a game.

GAX: How about the future of Heavenly Sword’s world and story? Will there be a future for Heavenly Sword after your next project?

NK: The Heavenly Sword IP is still with Sony, so we’re now moving on to new things.

GAX: Let’s move on to Enslaved: Odyssey To The West. Which came first? The cyber-adaptation of Journey To The West or the post apocalyptic world?

NK: Journey To The West came first. Monkey actually first appeared in Kung Fu Chaos. We’ve always loved the character and we grew up with the 70s TV series. Ask anyone in UK or Australia about it, and there’s a huge chance they’ll know what you’re talking about.

I read the actual novel six or seven years ago. Our creative director for the project, Tameem Antoniade, also loved the novel. The story is rich and thick; each character in the book have their own dynamic. It’s playful yet complex at the same time, which makes it all interesting in the long run. The world itself is fantastical yet grounded with some logic. To sum it up, the story’s cool and has fun and deep characters. Tameem decided that Ninja Theory should make a game about this, except set in the future.

GAX: Why pick the game’s “green over metal” art style?

NK: That’s the choice of our visual art director, Alex. He loves color; we all love color. There’s no reason in the world why a post-apocalyptic world should be grey or brown. When you see nature reclaiming buildings and rubble, it’s beautiful in its own way. There’s really no reason not to make it lush.

We always make games with color and beauty. If you think about what would genuinely happen in the very long run, plants and trees would grow back and would be reclaimed by nature. We thought about a possible future where a cataclysm could wipe out the majority of humanity. War, swine flu, or even robots fighting each other to death. The world of Enslaved is dangerous because you’ve got landmines scattered around, and inactive war robots that can be triggered accidentally. At the same time, you’ve got all of this beauty of nature climbing up onto the world.

GAX: Describe the tag-team system of the game, and the dynamics between Monkey and Trip.

NK: Monkey and Trip are interesting because each of them have their strengths and weaknesses. Monkey himself is overtly powerful. He can fight robots and he’s got key pieces of technology like his staff and “cloud” that transport him over otherwise inaccessible pits.

Trip has her own set of skills. She can draw fire away from other enemies and distract them. She can also help upgrade Monkey’s weapons provided that he has the necessary number of orbs collected throughout the game. Being tech-savvy, she can hack enemies to find their weaknesses and hack through doors and open them. The whole dynamic between them is working out who’s going to be doing what in a particular scenario. It makes the game a lot more tactical and collaborative.

GAX: You said during your talk that Ninja Theory’s working on another project alongside the development of Enslaved. Can you give us a hint on what it is?

NK: No, but I can say that since Ninja Theory’s expanded to about a hundred employees, a quarter of that is currently working on that unannounced project.

GAX: Right now, what’s the one game that you play while in-between Enslaved’s development?

NK: Can I pick two (laughs)? So there’s a game on my phone called Gridrunners. It’s awesome. My score’s very high; I’m very good at it. In terms of bigger console games, I’m playing Alan Wake. I’m loving it.

It’s just a really nice and well-presented story; I’m always interested in what’s going on. I want to find out what happens; I think I’m about 80% through the game. It’s got some nice mechanics; I’m not that hardcore with the shooter genre (especially with FPSs), but with Alan Wake, I’m aware of my surroundings more and can see what’s around me. It’s also properly creepy.

GAX: On a final note, what do you wish to say to our readers and forumites about your upcoming game?

NK: Enslaved tells a story about two characters that encounter each other in a difficult situation, and it’s all about how they grow and change through the course of the story. I hope it’s something [GameAxis readers and forum users] will engage with and get swept along with the story and action.

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