Keiichiro Toyama, currently the director of Sony Computer Entertainment's Japan Studio, is used to making games out of weird concepts. Gravity Rush, still one of the most original games to come out for the PS Vita, is proof enough of that. That's why, when Famitsu magazine asked him to play through the upcoming download-only PS3 adventure Rain — a game starring an invisible young boy you can only see through the rain falling around him — he could appreciate the pain the developers must have gone through to make the concept work.
"This is something I've thought since the planning phase — it's a neat game, but it must have been a huge pain to make," he said. "The idea of controlling an invisible character is a neat, catchy idea, but making it into a full game, I thought you might run out of things to do with it. The atmosphere plays into it too; for example, I doubt the guy would be blowing enemies away with guns in order to defeat them."
"We were concerned about that as well," replied Rain director Yuki Ikeda. "Development took a convoluted path, and the final product is certainly a little different from what we originally envisioned, but we never really hit a dead end."
"In terms of ideas," added art director Seiichi Terashima, "it was a tough process in a different sort of way. During the initial stages of development, we had a stockpile of ideas at hand so we wouldn't run out of things to do later on. Quantity-wise we had no problems, but with a lot of them, once we inserted them into the game, we realized 'This isn't anything you can actually play.'"
As Ikeda recalls it, it was just at this point — when the team was having trouble turning Rain into something you'd actually want to play — that he asked Toyama for advice.
"I think it was around the time of the PlayStation Awards [in December]," he recalled. "I went out drinking with Toyama and said to him 'We have about this much time left; if you were me, what would you do?' He said to me 'If it were me, I'd stop trying to think of new stuff. Just worry about fine-tuning and testing.' That was eye-opening to me, because I was focused too much on what was going wrong with the project. We all tended to think along the lines of 'Maybe we should put in this feature' or 'We need to add some flash somewhere'. Then we started following Toyama's advice, tuning and testing, getting rid of the rough patches, and gradually making it a more approachable gameplay experience."
"I brought that up probably because I had just finished working on Gravity Rush," said Toyama. "That was the exact same way. I think I had a pretty neat concept, and that even if it wasn't completely polished, it'd still come across well enough. Actually playing it, though, it didn't come across at all at first. I was at the point where I didn't know what I should do, but I wound up just really fine-tuning it to make it easier to play. As we kept that up, one day it started getting praised a lot more. Not gradually, but really suddenly. That's the experience that led to my advice."
What would Toyama have done differently if he was directing Rain? "While playing," he replied, "I was always kind of thinking on the side about what I would have done here or there. The thing is, though, it's hard to mess with this concept very much. Like we discussed, this is a difficult concept to get off the ground. I think it took the right approach to the problem of how to make this into a game, and it's very well-balanced, too. If Rain was a retail-package title, I'd probably do more to characterize the game's cast, but that's another story."
Rain is coming to the PlayStation Network on October 1 in the US. "It's easy to recommend not just to people used to games, but also to those who don't play games very much," Toyama commented. "Personally, due to my work, it's hard for me to allot a large chunk of time to recreation, so this game lets you have this really complete, full package in a relatively short period of time, which I like. It's easy to work into your life, you could say, and I think it's good for busy people."