Famitsu has published an interview with Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) series creator Takumi Shuu to commemorate the upcoming trilogy pack to be released for the PS4, Switch, Xbox One and PC.
— ファミ通.com (@famitsu) 2019年2月12日
The interviewer begins with commenting on how the Japanese title, Gyakuten Saiban (“Comeback Trial”) is a good one, and Takumi says that he was not the one to come up with it. The series started with the title “Surviban”, which he compares to Monty Python in how upon first hearing it it seems to be nonsensical, but takes root over time. It was derived from “survival” and “saiban” (“trial” in Japanese) but everyone else around him said it was too nonsensical.
They ended up gathering the team around a whiteboard, and the highest-ranking person there had him write “Gyakuten Saiban” on it, and that was when the title was decided on. Though he was not fully convinced on the title at first, once it was released many people liked it, and he says that how it had a title of four kanji during a time when the trend was to have titles in katakana or English helped in making it stand out. He mentions that he was also told to change the name of the protagonist, Naruhodo (synonymous with “I see” in Japanese), but managed to get it left as it was.
When asked if the series was always planned to start on the Gameboy Advance, Takumi says that it was initially planned for the Gameboy, as the GBA had not yet been released when the project started. Information on the GBA came in before they started development, however, and when they saw the LCD screen the team decided that they would like to make the game on it.
The project started with Takumi writing the proposal in the summer of 2000. After having worked on Dino Crisis and Dino Crisis 2, Takumi’s superior gave him half a year to work on whatever he wanted, and he took this to be his first and last chance to make a mystery game. Takumi says that he entered video games with the intent of making mystery games, and that he originally wanted to work at a publishing company so as to be able to work with mystery novels, but for better or for worse did not manage to get hired at one.
The idea to make it a game starring a lawyer came in early on, but while Takumi was still writing the proposal his superior called him on the phone to say that it would be a bad idea to have a game about lawyers as it would be hard to understand. The promise was that he could do whatever he wanted, however, and so he proceeded with the idea.
Takumi first met with his team after the summer holiday period ended, and it consisted of seven members, most of whom had less than three years of experience, as the project also had the objective of giving newer members experience. Takumi, on his sixth year since joining the company, was the most experienced member on the team, and designer Iwamoto Tatsurou was also still new at the time.
The seven members consisted of one planner (Takumi), two designers, two programmers, and one person each for sound effects and music. As he was the only planner, Takumi ended up handling the scenario and direction alone as well, which he says suited him and became the basis for how they would handle future titles. Though they were initially given half a year, they ended up spending ten months, from September to June, working on the game, and looking back at it now he is amazed that they managed to get it done in such little time.
The interviewer points out how seven members was less than the norm even back then, and Takumi says that this was because the section at the time was testing out development lines consisting of small numbers of younger members. In comparison, the recent Dai Gyakuten Saiban games had teams of around 30 members excluding support staff. Takumi still thinks however that the initial six months they were given was far too little.
Takumi says that a lot of the style of the series was determined by hardware limitations. For example, illustrations in the game were done in 256 colours, but they realised that if everything was in colour it might use up too much space and not fit onto the cartridge, and so they made evidence photographs and flashbacks in monochrome, which was only 16 colours, and took up a quarter of the space.
As director, Takumi oversaw everything, including the art and music. His work on the scenario had him writing the story’s text, creating guides for the gameplay, setting the timing for lines to be displayed, setting characters’ animations to match the text, and setting the timing for the sound effects, music, and screen effects like flashes and camera shake to be played. The programmers made a tool that would make it easy for him to set the timings on these things early on in development, and they worked this way up to the third game.
When asked if he ever considered getting more members on the team or passing the series on to someone else after it got popular, Takumi says that he never thought of it. The team’s size remained mostly unchanged up to the third game, only getting a few more people on graphics and programming, but they never thought of getting more planners.
Gyakuten Saiban was the first time Takumi would write a game scenario on his own and he had no idea what to do, and so using his passion for the mystery genre, he first came up with the tricks, but he soon realised when writing the second chapter that he had not thought about the story at all. When working on the third chapter, he was stunned by how bad his own writing was upon reading it, and restarted from scratch. From then on, he started preparing a plot before writing.