Developer Afterthoughts: Heavenly Sword Interview

With Heavenly Sword now out on store shelves (well, sorta), PSU thought it would be great to get some comments from one of the game’s developers and afterthoughts on their feelings about the game and how it’s being accepted by the public.

Our interview was done with Nina Kristensen, Co-founder of Ninja Theory and Chief Development Ninja for Heavenly Sword. Nina has been in the gaming industry for almost 12 years and her work (along with many others) has helped Heavenly Sword to become one of the the best PS3 titles available to date.

PSU: After working on the project for more than 4 years, how do you feel about finally finishing the game and getting it out to store shelves?

It feels completely surreal! A bunch of my rather excitable friends called me last night saying they’d just seen the ad for Heavenly Sword on TV – it’s amazing and slightly terrifying when something you’ve spent so much of your life on is suddenly in the public eye.

PSU: We’ve read that Heavenly Sword is a trilogy and now that the first title is shipping soon, have you already started pre-production on the next game in the series or is the team moving in a new direction with a new franchise?

We haven’t announced what we’re doing next but we’ll certainly keep you posted…

It has been confirmed that Heavenly Sword will be supporting PlayStation Home. What items, trophies, and additional content are planned and will they be available the day Home launches?

We have not announced anything at this time. We’ll keep you posted…

What are your thoughts on some of the harsh early reviews? IGN has given Heavenly Sword a 7/10 and Edge a 6/10? Would you agree with their critiques and what does Ninja Theory have planned to perhaps improve in the next title?

I think a 6 is harsh but you can’t take it too personally. The team’s put an enormous effort into Heavenly Sword and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to achieve this time around. We’ll certainly be looking at the criticisms as well as feedback generally for our next games. There’s always room for improvement and we already have some cool ideas about where we want to take combat next to make it even more engaging and dramatic.

PSU: Was there anything you wanted in the game but time constraints or budget kept out? Could we see any of this perhaps in future downloads as additional content? (Perhaps an unlockable bikini costume for Nariko…haha)

We would have loved to do downloadable content but when we sat down and thought hard about where our efforts should go, it became very clear very quickly that we should put all our focus into the single player offline experience and make that as good as we possibly could.

What was the most difficult aspect of development of Heavenly Sword?

We faced a lot of challenges, new platform, new caliber of cinematics, new combat systems – new just about everything! One area that was more challenging than expected was actually the art pipeline. For example, to get the level of fidelity into the characters we wanted, we needed to learn new techniques and software. We hired extensively out of film and television seeking people with skills that hadn’t traditionally been used in games. We worked closely with Weta Digital (famed for their incredible work on Lord of the Rings, King Kong & many others) to understand their techniques for believable facial animation and translate that into realtime.

PSU: What part of the game are you most happy with?

For me it’s the combat. I’m quite a selfish games player and mostly want to feel powerful and cool at every opportunity 😉 In Heavenly Sword, when you pull off a particularly good move, you get to see what you’re doing in considerable detail via "cool cams" which pan around to show off the move often with some slo-mo and other effects. I’ve been known to demand "did you see that!?! Did you see what I just did??" to the long suffering guy who sits next to me at work.

PSU: Has Ninja Theory shared their technology used in Heavenly Sword with other developers? If so, what types of things have been shared?

Mostly we share ideas; we’re pretty open about what we do and how we do it and most developers are happy to respond in kind. I think the days of keeping techniques secret are largely gone. We all benefit from sharing and it pushes development as a whole forward much more rapidly than if we all had to think up everything from scratch.

PSU: Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d also point out that where we can, we buy high end technology. For example, we use Havok in Heavenly Sword for our physics. Sure, we could write our own physics system but that wouldn’t make sense. There are goodness knows how many man-years invested in developing Havok and since it’s a good system that does what we want it to do, we can deploy our team to other areas which are unique to the game.

We’d like to thank Ninja Theory for answering all of our questions and we look forward to their next exciting game. Stay tuned to PSU.com for our review on Heavenly Sword.