Interview: Gravity Rush’s Keiichiro Toyama
posted on 04.14.12 at 04:44 PM EST by (@salromano)
Creative director on inspiration and challenges.

Gravity Rush is an upcoming PlayStation Vita title from Sony Computer Entertainment’s Japan Studio. Directed by the man behind Silent Hill and Siren, it’s a step in a different direction for horror creator Keiichiro Toyama – manipulating gravity in an enlightening new world. We were able to chat with Toyama-san through e-mail, where he told us of the game’s inspirations and challenges.

— How would you describe Gravity Rush in terms of story and gameplay?

Toyama: It’s an action adventure game with unique gravity mechanics. By manipulating the gravity, the player can run on a wall or free-fall in any direction. It is set in an open-world, floating town called Hekseville where the player progresses by completing missions and battling with unidentified monsters. The protagonist of the game is named Kat, who has lost her memory. She runs into a mysterious black cat that gives her the power to shift gravity. Kat is a complete stranger to the townspeople at the beginning, however as she helps to protect people from the threat of monsters using her gravity power, she starts gaining the trust of the city and becomes friends with them.

— Gravity Rush started off as a game called Gravite for PlayStation 3. If the game stayed on the console, what would have been different from the PS Vita version? What could you have seen added? Was it far along before it was moved to PS Vita?

Toyama: Some of the differences would have been the number of objects that can be moved and/or enemy AI. Although there are minor differences, the overall concept and the feelings of the game stayed the same even after we switched to PS Vita. The only thing that we changed was the concept and designs of enemies as we’ve made them slightly simplified for the balancing purpose. We were only testing the core game mechanics of the title when we transferred from PS3 to PS Vita.

— Overall, do you believe the shift to the handheld was best in terms of what you wanted to accomplish with the new IP?

Toyama: I think the overall feeling of the title and the comical expressions in the story match perfectly to the handheld device due to its handy and accessible nature. Additionally, by tilting the system, the player gets the impression of a different world existing beyond the screen. This surreal experience is something only PS Vita could have offered. Ultimately, we accomplished what I originally envisioned in terms of the art style and gameplay, so I feel satisfied.

— Why do you believe so few experimental titles reach western shores? Gravity Rush clearly has a very unique style, all its own, which has unfortunately become less and less abundant, these days.

Toyama: One of the main reasons is budget. The development cost has increased dramatically these days while the economic recession still continues. Consequently, in order to be cost efficient, game developers targeting the worldwide market have become more conscious of the Western standard. The other reason is the expectation for significant technology advances is commonplace in today’s industry. Because of this, it’s become difficult for developers to risk creating extremely unique titles. Moreover, due to the substantial technological advances in expression, different art styles based on the cultural differences have become more obvious. The world trend is to follow the photorealism and master in the field. Japan, on the other hand, has always been good at schematic art style which has become less common. Due to these changes, more Japanese games have become extremely unique, and a number end up just being distributed domestically.

— What was the biggest challenge in sculpting Kat into the character that she has become?

Toyama: I knew from the beginning that a girl would be the protagonist because I wanted users to find her lovable as she struggles to learn the gravity power while she’s not in control of the power. However I wanted to avoid creating a stereotypical heroine. That being said, I avoided a super heroine type and an introverted type seen in other titles. I tried to give her the girl-next-door type of feeling that the player would identify with and befriend, therefore wanting to assist her. Moreover, I thought a girl protagonist would be difficult to be accepted especially in the Western culture. Therefore, I added some elements of Ninja so that she is agile and strong although she’s tiny. Also, because the story ranges from comedy scenes to serious scenes, I made sure she doesn’t look out of place in every situation.

— What were your inspirations behind the art style of the game’s characters and environments?

Toyama: I was strongly inspired by the work of French comic artist Jean Giraud known as “Moebius” when I was a student. He has actually passed away recently and I hope his soul will rest in peace. In terms of characters, I’ve mixed Japanese anime and American graphic novel expressions. The model of this game is based on three factors; 1) the freedom and fun experiences I’ve had playing open world games, 2) French comic visuals, and 3) gravity controlling action. Those elements all mixed in my head and the game’s core model came out.

— What is your favorite feature about Gravity Rush? If you could give it one more thing, what would that be?

Toyama: One of my favorite features that provides a surprise factor is the 2.5D expression seen during the comic book style cutscenes. By tilting the system during the cutscenes, you can change the perspective and view the scenes from different angles. It didn’t make it in the final product, but we were experimenting to animate graphics within the cutscenes. If I had the opportunity in the future, I’d like to try to implement this feature on another project.

— Thank you for your time, Toyama-san.

Gravity Rush is due for PlayStation Vita on June 12 in North America and on June 13 in Europe.

  • Genesis

    Finally! Another great interview from Sal and I thank you for including my questions :)

    • Finalshoryuken

      @Genesis: I agree, it was a great interview! I’m also happy that you used my question! Very informative.

      • Genesis

        @Finalshoryuken: I know! It feels good to read a great interview.

  • FAUNA

    Simply incredible in every way. PS3 PLEASE!

  • rockman29

    Thanks for the interview, Sal. Really interested in this one. I’m sad it didn’t come as a US/EU launch title.

    One suggestion: don’t bundle questions. It’s a classic interviewing mistake. It leads to missing input from the interviewee. Always wait for their response, or imply you want more by waiting for further response to a question.

  • Kobracon

    Aww I wish he got to implement the cutscene thing. It sounds cool. Hopefully he can use it next time.