The 12 December 2019 issue of Weekly Famitsu features an interview with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim director/writer/mecha designer George Kamitani, character animator Maenou Kouichi, character designer Hirai Yukiko, and producer Yamamoto Akiyasu to commemorate the game’s Japanese release, in which they discuss how the game was created.
The interview next goes on to discuss the troubled development of 13 Sentinels. Kamitani says that he started off wanting the story to follow the same format as the NHK drama Chuugakusei Nikki which ran from 1962 to 2012, following multiple individual characters and having sequences where they would debate things with each other, but found writing for this format to be very difficult.
Maenou says that when they worked on Muramasa Rebirth for the Playtstation Vita he handled the script while Kamitani handled the story, and they thought things would work out fine with them doing the same here, but they kept running into problems for an entire year without them being able to figure out why, during which Kamitani also had to work on Dragon’s Crown Pro.
Eventually Kamitani got himself involved with the scripting to find out what the problem was, and realised that it was due to how animations and the story were being created separately, resulting in things feeling unnatural when fit together. He cites an example of Miura making a heartfelt apology, where the animation had him frowning with his hands on his hips, which made the apology look insincere.
The solution to this case would be to either make a new pose for Miura, or change the story, and the one to make this decision would in the end be the person in charge of the story. This resulted in Kamitani testing things in the script changing lines when necessary, and requesting new graphics when changing lines alone would not be enough. As the script’s commands was also still in an experimental phase at this point, there were many new and untested ones, meaning that Kamitani participated in debugging as well.
There were initially plans to combine the adventure and simulation parts of the game, with Kamitani saying that he wanted to do things that they could not in Grim Grimoire. He also wanted to have adventure parts timed like Shenmue, where the player would be forced into new sequences through the passage of time, but test players did not like this, saying that having to look for the right answer felt like they were doing debugging.
Maenou gives an example of how the system worked, in which the player would have to wait 30 seconds in a room for another character to enter before being able to progress. This experimenting with the system took place in 2017, and the game eventually adopted a more conventional branching tree format.
The interviewer next asks why the game was divided into three sections. Kamitani says that in the original game design, the battles would take place in between adventure parts, but this was also unpopular with test players, who said that being forced into battles resulted in buildup of stress. Maenou says that they had originally connected the adventure and battle parts in the story as well, but at one point made the decision to separate them.
The RTS part of the game was also troublesome for them, as non-Japanese regions preferred harder difficulty levels while Japan preferred easier ones, something that they had already learned with Grim Grimoire. The inclusion of tower defence elements was to make it easier for Japanese players to get in to the game.
Additionally, when they tried to add animations for the robots into the simulation parts, they ran into the problem of how it turned out that very few of their staff could actually draw robots. Maenou adds that the idea of putting animations in also did not fit with the nature of realtime gameplay.
Kamitani says that prioritising the adventure parts also resulted in story elements limiting the gameplay, and in the end they remade the RTS parts from scratch and adopted the stance of making the RTS freely and adopting elements from it into the adventure part instead.
The archives section of the game is brought up next. Maenou says that while the adventure part was made to reveal the mysteries of the world bit by bit, when actually playing the game they found that they were just being overwhelmed by more and more mysteries as they went on. They thus decided to make the archives to let players go back through what they learned and think about things.
The interviewer remarks on how the timeline in the archives made it easy to follow characters and events chronologically, and Yamamoto says that Atlus made a similar timeline when testing the game, and Maenou and Kamitani said that this timeline helped them out greatly when checking for inconsistencies in the story, and that they called it their “bible”. Kamitani says that they kept making changes which resulted in them finding things like a character meeting Takamiya for the first time twice, and the bible helped them in smoothing things out greatly.
Kamitani says that whichever character the player chooses, only a part of the mysteries are revealed, and they wanted to make it so that the player could progress with any character at any point, but this was extremely difficult. Maenou notes that they also wanted to make it so that the player would have different biases based on the order they played the game in.
The “cloud think” system, in which keywords and items a character can think about are added to a cloud for the player to choose from, is discussed next. Kamitani says that the system was born from them wanting to aggregate traditional adventure game commands like “investigate” and “item” into one place, and that at one point it took on a similar form to the Mana series’ ring commands.
Maenou says that the cloud think is supposed to represent words that the characters has thought of, and they experimented with the interface a lot, with it originally having far more keywords than the final product. Kamitani says that having 20-30 keywords show up on the screen resulted in putting the player through the stress of having to look for the right one even when they knew the correct answer, and so they reduced it to 12-13 at most, with irrelevant words disappearing. They were constantly unsure as to whether they were doing the right thing as there was nothing else to refer to.
The interviewer points out that since the Prologue demo, icons indicating how many keywords need to be used were added to the top-right of the screen, which Kamitani says was added by the programmers when it was pointed out to them that players who did not know what they would have to progress would end up having to do everything one by one.
Also see: Review- 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim