Akihiro Hino, founder of Level-5 and the main creative mine behind well-known Japanese games like Professor Layton, Inazuma Eleven and the two most recent non-online Dragon Quest titles, is not exactly the sort of developer who kicks off a project with a plan set in stone beforehand.
"I never stick to the project document when we're making games," he told Famitsu magazine, "which usually attracts a lot of ire from people around me. But I think you need to put in the elements that gamers think are fun, regardless of whether that showed up in the spec sheet. That won't necessarily be what you think it is at first, after all; you'll realize later on that 'oh, it'd be a lot more fun if it were like this'. If you don't work that way, I don't think you can create great entertainment. I hate working strictly by the spec sheet."
That philosophy has seen Hino and Level-5 through 15 years of game production, starting with Dark Cloud on the PS2 and continuing on with the Studio Ghibli collaboration Ni no Kuni earlier this year. Now his company's pursuing a couple of new paths, including a new drive into smartphone titles.
"The way I think about games doesn't change with smartphone development," Hino commented, "but the theory behind how games are made is completely different. With console games... For example, if you're making some kind of epic RPG, then it could take three minutes just to travel from town to the next dungeon. If you made a smartphone game that played by console rules, it simply wouldn't work, because you need to give smartphone gamers a complete and meaningful experience in those three minutes. That's why we're trying to have Wonder Flick, which we're working on now, be a game that reflects the environment you play it in."
Wonder Flick, announced earlier this year at the Level-5 Vision event, is a truly multiplatform RPG: Service on iOS and Android begins this month in Japan, but the game will also hit the Wii U, PS Vita, PS3, PS4 and Xbox One in 2014. With it, Hino and crew are aiming to connect all these disparate platforms and create a unified classic-RPG world, a concept Level-5 calls Uniplay.
"When I listened to the pitches for how hardware manufacturers conceptualized the current console generation," Hino told Famitsu, "I thought that consoles needed to find a way to exist alongside smartphones to survive. We're not in an age where it's just 'I like games, so I have a console' or 'I like playing outside, so I have a portable'. You're playing console games, and you're also playing smartphone games in a whole different environment. When you think about it that way, the question becomes: If you really enjoy a smartphone game, get lost in the world and feel real emotions from it, then why throw that all away once you're back in your living room? That's what we're attempting with Wonder Flick; we're trying to provide a different but enjoyable play experience on consoles and smartphones."
But what about the future? Does Level-5 plan to fully exercise the capabilities of the PS4 and Xbox One into the future? "This isn't something we're making ourselves yet," Hino replied, "but I think the ultimate point that games have yet to reach is virtual reality. The ultimate game, I think, lets you really enjoy things in a virtual world that you couldn't in real life. And if you look at the sort of titles getting announced now, wouldn't you say we're at the point where you can simulate the real world pretty well in a virtual reality? I think we're at the point where we'll see games that give you the same experiences in real life, like somebody in the monitor you can chat with, and I'd like to make a game like that. Games are fun, after all, because they let you do things that are impossible in real life. Maybe this won't happen until we're a few more years into the next hardware cycle, but four or five years down the line, I think we might see games like that."