Bend it like Plat­inum

Why the Ja­panese stu­dio be­hind Bay­o­netta is work­ing on a Nick­elodeon li­cence


Why the cre­ator of Bay­o­netta is mak­ing a game for Nick­elodeon

Plat­inumGames stands among the finest stu­dios in the world thanks to its pur­suit of new IP and orig­i­nal ideas, both of which have come to de­fine the stu­dio since its for­ma­tion fol­low­ing the clo­sure of Clover. So why would an out­stand­ing Ja­panese de­vel­oper with a his­tory of carv­ing its own path elect to take on a li­censed game for Nick­elodeon based on an Amer­i­can car­toon?

The Leg­end Of Korra is a pop­u­lar an­i­mated spinoff from Avatar: The Last Air­ben­der, with 52 episodes planned to span over four ‘books’, or sea­sons. While it has been praised for its sub­ver­sive story arc, which ad­dresses the so­ci­etal ills of its fan­tasy world, the main draw is still the ac­tion: the tit­u­lar hero­ine is able to ‘bend’ the el­e­ments of wa­ter, earth, fire and air to un­leash bru­tal at­tacks.

It was this ac­tion that in­spired Ac­tivi­sion to pick up the li­cence from Nick­elodeon, with which it has pre­vi­ously worked on games based on SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and in turn to en­gage Plat­inum to de­velop the game for 360, PC, PS3, PS4 and Xbox One. “We couldn’t think of a bet­ter stu­dio than Plat­inumGames for this project – in terms of ev­ery­thing they do, it was right up their al­ley,” Ac­tivi­sion pro­ducer Robert Con­key says.

When the tie-up was an­nounced, Plat­inum fans and game jour­nal­ists alike were sent scur­ry­ing for Wikipedia, having never heard of the TV se­ries – but the staff at Plat­inum were in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. “The Leg­end Of Korra hasn’t been shown in Ja­pan, so I didn’t know it,” Plat­inum pro­ducer Atsushi Kurooka ad­mits. “Ac­tivi­sion sent us some video, and I thought the qual­ity was amaz­ing. Also, the di­rec­tion Ac­tivi­sion wanted to take, with smooth ac­tion and kung-fu at­tacks, seemed like a good fit for us.”

Even so, Korra is an out­lier for Plat­inum. The clos­est the stu­dio has pre­vi­ously come to a li­censed game is its res­cue job on Metal Gear Ris­ing: Re­vengeance, and its key names’ fo­cus is ab­sorbed on Bay­o­netta 2 for Wii U and Xbox One exclusive Scale­bound. Kurooka and direc­tor Eiro Shi­ra­hama, mean­while, are rel­a­tive un­knowns. With a back­ground in pro­gram­ming that in­cludes a stint at SNK sub­sidiary Nazca on the Metal Slug team, Kurooka joined Plat­inum in 2012 as as­sis­tant pro­ducer on The Won­der­ful 101, while Shi­ra­hama is a Cap­com alum­nus who worked on Plat­inum’s MadWorld and An­ar­chy Reigns as de­signer and lead de­signer re­spec­tively.

Still, Plat­inum’s rep­u­ta­tion is hard-won, and Korra’s ac­tion seems fast and fluid, fo­cused on a mix of martial arts and ranged magic. It’s all as you’d ex­pect, de­spite a novel way of work­ing for the stu­dio. “The ap­proach is com­pletely dif­fer­ent than mak­ing an orig­i­nal game, be­cause we have to reg­u­larly check in with the li­cence holder for ap­proval as we go,” Kurooka says. “But the up­side is that the char­ac­ter and en­emy de­sign had all been done for us, so the bur­den of art de­sign was greatly re­duced.”

The team size and length of the devel­op­ment cy­cle re­main se­cret, but Con­key says the project was started last year for re­lease by the end of 2014 – tight, but not un­rea­son­able for a bud­get down­load ti­tle with a short play time.

“There’s also an ex­treme mode, which has the crazi­ness you’ve come to ex­pect from Plat­inum”

“We’ve cus­tomised el­e­ments from the show with great care so that they suit be­ing in a game,” Kurooka says. “It’s a down­load­able ti­tle be­ing sold at just $15, but I be­lieve it of­fers much more value than you’d ex­pect at that price. I think it will ap­peal not only to fans of Korra, but to Plat­inum fans, too.”

Those de­mo­graph­ics couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. Plat­inum is cel­e­brated for its pun­ish­ing-yet-re­ward­ing com­bat, but with the li­cence comes a story-fo­cused fan­base that won’t nec­es­sar­ily be ex­pect­ing much of a chal­lenge.

An easy set­ting will ad­dress this and, as Con­key says, “There is also a nor­mal mode, which is de­signed for play­ers who are de­cently versed in ac­tion, and then there’s also an Ex­treme mode, which has the crazi­ness that you’ve come to ex­pect from a Plat­inum game.”

But this isn’t just a Plat­inum game – Nick­elodeon is closely in­volved, as are the show’s writ­ers. And while the show draws in­spi­ra­tion from Ja­panese an­ime,

Korra marks the first game to be born out­side the stu­dio’s home na­tion. Se­ries fans should have a treat in store, but far more in­trigu­ing is how the col­lab­o­ra­tion will af­fect the out­put of a stu­dio that has always played by its own rules.

Ac­tivi­sion pro­ducer Robert Con­key says Plat­inum’s gift for strong fe­male lead char­ac­ters is one ben­e­fit of work­ing with the Osaka stu­dio

TheLe­gendOfKorra is li­censed from a TV se­ries lauded for its an­i­ma­tion as well as its sto­ry­lines

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