Nioh Notes: Team Ninja Details Lessons Learned From Development

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Nioh Notes: Team Ninja Details Lessons Learned From Development

Today at Game Developers Conference, I gave a presentation discussing the challenges and lessons learned in reintroducing a classic samurai genre to a modern action audience. In my opinion, this would be a tough proposition for any developer.

Target and Approach

Team Ninja was chosen to take over development of Nioh in 2011. By 2014, we had decided to take Nioh in a direction that was different from the original plan and we therefore restarted development.

The first thing I did was to redefine the target audience and a new approach for Nioh. I felt that Team Ninja should not attempt to make a user-friendly action game targeting a wide consumer base, but take an approach that played to the strengths of Team Ninja and develop a quality action game with intense difficulty and challenge, targeting hardcore gamers.

In Nioh, the main protagonist is a sword-wielding samurai, a character and a genre which we know a thing or two about. But our newfound conviction to this approach was not suddenly born from our arrogance or recent achievements.

Rather, the experience of our past failures was the guiding force behind this position. You see, I was the also the director in charge of Ninja Gaiden 3 and Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, two projects where I learned very difficult and valuable lessons.

And based on those experiences, I reminded myself from the beginning of Nioh’s development that I should never compromise our core audience and the integrity of our work.

Nioh on PS4

The Demo Process

Developers have to continuously juggle a lot of elements under various constraints, such as budgets, technical issues, and so forth. I think that all developers get to a point where they feel anxious about whether their concepts and direction meet players’ expectations.

So, we decided to reshape the development process by communicating directly with our target audience through game demos. The demos were released several times in the mid-to-late term development where feedback could be utilized; they became a development tool to validate our approach, rather than a promotional tactic for the marketing campaigns.

One thing we learned through this process was the difference between play styles in the East versus the West. Many players in the West were quite positive about the demo, but that was not the case in Japan and Asia.

We realized that this disparity was caused by the cultural differences in how people perceive difficulty and the contrasting ways players navigated through the alpha and beta demos. Interestingly, there were some common opinions — a lack of tutorial elements and desire to improve user performance — that were echoed in both regions.

The realism and authenticity of the samurai armor, as well as the environment design, were overwhelmingly well received in the West. I suppose this is because people here view this world as an exotic setting.

Nioh, PS4

Our Experience with the Demo Process

Gathering information about the players’ experience was not an easy task, since the players who provided their opinions and filled out the official questionnaire were inevitably few in number.

So we also had to obtain information proactively. Through social sites and bulletin boards, we were able to discover positive and negative feedback, which was very useful due to the candid nature of peoples’ opinions in a very “colorful” manner.

The first problem we encountered after researching feedback was that many members of our team became too influenced and affected by the opinions of the players. Some of the team wanted to make the changes in certain ways because players said they wanted it.

For example, there were a measurable amount of opinions asking us to remove the Ki Pulse system. It was ultimately rejected, because we wanted to design tactical battles as a samurai and how players can negotiate their constraints in this game.

Another popular opinion was to create an open-world system. This was also rejected, as we wanted to shorten the load time after death, as well as raise the frequency and density of the battles (it also would have cost a lot of money).

On the other hand, we adopted the feedback regarding the behavior of the camera lock-on feature, because we increased the level of difficulty and wanted to allow the players to control their techniques and focus on their opponents more effectively.

Ultimately, I tried to remind everyone that we are the developers who are creating this game. And by attempting to consider all of those opinions we were not arriving at solid solutions, but rather creating more questions. It was easy to determine whether to incorporate opinions about technical issues or to disregard discernible negative feedback. But it was difficult to make our decisions on subjective elements such as the difficulty settings.

Nioh, PS4

Every time I felt lost, I tried to remind myself of the games’ principal concept of “masocore,” and its target audience — core gamers. To communicate with our fans who played the demo and demonstrate our commitment to them, we regularly disclosed the improvements we planned to make based on survey results.

So that was a small window into our journey with Nioh and the interactive communication we established with our potential fans. I hope this provided you with a better understanding of our creative process and how it ultimately shaped this game.

This user-engagement provided us with an opportunity to reaffirm our direction and gain the confidence to steer boldly forward with our game. As an exercise that was designed to learn more about our fans and gain valuable feedback from them, we ultimately learned a lot about ourselves in the process.

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  • Really interesting to read about the development process. As someone who played all previous Ninja Gaiden games, the Nioh alpha and betas, as well as the full game now, I will say that Nioh was everything I wanted it to be. Thank you and the team responsible for it and congratulations on the bold approach to development. It must not be easy to restart a project after years of work, but you did it and it paid off in the end. Can’t wait for the Nioh DLCs and future projects from the team, be it more Ninja Gaiden, more Nioh or a new IP in the action genre.

  • I also played the alpha and beta, and I did the feedback survey. I loved the game from the first minute in the alpha. The Revenant concept is completely unique. I fought a couple in the alpha.

    Since unlock on Feb 6th, Nioh is all I’ve played. I love the gameplay, the graphics (on my Pro), the story, the armor and most of all, the weapons. Maxed out sword and spear, working on dual swords which are aggressively, violently fun.

    I appreciate the explanation on why this is mission-based and not open world. Makes sense. My only negatives are:

    1). C’mon, it’s completely cheap that crows knock you off a thin, thin ledge to your death;
    2). Your implementation of co-op in the final game is the the only real flaw in this great game. Two friends should be able to explore, fight, learn, die and laugh together, rather than requiring one player to already have beaten the mission. For stranger co-op, it’s fine to have that requirement. But for password play, we should be allowed that freedom.

    Nioh has sold beyond expectations for this type and your success is well-deserved. Thank you for making this a PS4 exclusive.

    • If you’re hit into a ledge you actually have a chance to recover by rolling on. Blocking also works and you can hear them a mile away. This game is very lenient about ledges since you can’t walk off of one through attack animations

      I like forcing at least one of the players to have beaten it but that’s just me.

    • I agree about the co-op. I pre-ordered the game entirely on the prospect of being able to co-op it blind with my girlfriend, as it was possible to play that way in the beta. I was so disappointed to find out they had changed it and that blind co-op was no longer possible in the final game. I haven’t played past the first mission now as I’m just hoping they will revert co-op back in a patch sometime. Co-op makes the game ten times more enjoyable for me, so I’d rather just wait and hope.

      I’m posting this mainly because the initial noise about the co-op change seems to have quieted down, and I’d still like it to be in the thoughts of the developers. To any who like it the way it is, or don’t see the big deal, well, the change back would not stop you playing the way you currently do, it would just give options to those of us who aren’t happy with it currently.

  • Amazingnly awesome game and devs. Go TEAM NINJA!!!!! Thank you for this experience. I hope you get the funds for sequels for both Nioh and Ninja Gaiden. I wasn’t aware of Nioh until a few weeks before the last beta. So I was pleasantly surprised to read that it was a Team Ninja-game. I only tried the beta for 1hour. Tops. I immediately know that I was going to get this game at launch and didn’t want to spoil anything, so I reluctantly didn’t play again, until I had the disk. Bla bla bla… Thank you for this game. Love it.

  • I forgot to say that I really like that you have to complete a lvl on your own first, before you can invite a friend for easy mode. Great of you for sticking with it, and keeping the game as hardcore as intended.

    • So it is more hardcore for having someone coop with you who already beat that mission? You DO NOT have to beat a mission alone first in order to summon someone. You NEED to beat the mission if you want to be summoned to help someone. There is nothing hardcore about this decision. If anything, they made it less hardcore now since you CAN’T coop totally blind since the guy getting summoned already beat the mission and knows where to go.

  • Thanks for making this game. I have yet to buy this though.
    But speaking about Team Ninja…
    When are you guys going to do a compilation of the Ninja Gaiden series?
    I’d like to see one that has:
    1. Ninja Gaiden Sigma
    2. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2
    3. Ninja Gaiden 3 Razer’s Edge
    4. Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (the NES/SNES games)

    The modern ones should be updated with 1080p, 60 fps, more oppai bounce, more blood & violence, Japanese voice option, etc.

  • bravo NINJA.

  • Interesting read, Mr. Fumihiko Yasuda. Congrats on the final result.

    Please remaster the NInja Gaiden Sigma+ games for PS4. Bring back the interceptor move, and the original puzzles, costumes, and enemy waves for the original NG which were lost in NG Sigma. Thank you.

  • Just wanted to chime in to say that I haven’t been this addicted to a game in a very long time. 200+ hours in, all missions and side missions completed, and I still want to play more.

    So glad you guys took this game on and went this direction with it. Absolutely fantastic!

  • The final game is quite a lot easier than the alpha and betas. I look forward to the next patch though. Overall, very happy with the game. It will for sure be one of my favorites this generation. I still hope for a new Ninja Gaiden but regardless, I’m happy to see Team Ninja back.

  • The Ki system is definitely part of what makes the game great. And the pulse system definitely helps make it feel more action oriented at times.

    While not having an open world worked in this game it has been a major detractor for me. In Souls games I can get lost just wandering around and enjoying the game. With Nioh I often myself being taken out of the game once a mission is complete and I break down, soul forge, refashion, forge, buy items from the blacksmith. So personally I would love to see an open, connected, well developed world if a sequel were to be made.

    End of the day Team Ninja made the right choice and created a fantastic title. While I’ll likely continue playing Nioh for a while I do hope and look forward to another entry or timeline into the series.

  • I love the mechanics but something overlooked is the actual story and its cinematics! Some of the scenes are just breathtaking. Here’s a cliffnotes version of it, and this is just about 30% of the game with no spoilers:

  • That is a very interesting approach. And I think more companies should follow this tactic of using demo as user feedback gathering for improvement in development stage rather than just marketing near launch.
    I got my copy this week and looking forward to start playing it.

  • Awesome great game! I am addicted!!! Thanks for making it the way it is!!!

  • MP_is_for_Chumps

    Here is some more feedback for you Yasuda-san:

    – At the end of this year, re-releaese NiOh with all dlc with some new bonus items created specially (such as making new npc’s playable, new exclusive skins, and perhaps with playable guest characters from DOA and Ninja Gaiden).

    – call it: NIOH – COLLECTORS GAME OF THE YEAR EDITION, and put the physical disc inside a beautiful glossy Steelbook.

    – you can also include a nice small booklet of the official art (such as character designs) and also have a message with the teams thoughts and excitement when developing NiOh.

  • Nioh is excellent. I love it.

    But “masocore” is the stupidest effing thing I’ve ever heard gamers try to make happen. Stop trying to make “masocore” happen! Soulslike is an appropriate moniker for these types of games. Nioh is clearly the love child of the Ninja Gaiden series and the Demon’s Souls/Bloodborne series of games. And it works beautifully.

  • its getting old to spend money on something you cant finish because of bad workmanship then ignore it and hope the next ones okay by the same so called team .. team dropped the ball and didn’t pick it up I’m sure now that vitas as good as a ps4 add on and three is considered so called retired they think they don’t have to worry about it they sure did not bat an eye before and had fun laughing at the bank at this point ill likely never buy another team ninja game what they did to the last three installments of ninja gaiden and never did fix them UGHH the last straw forget about it took a great franchise and damaged it
    with mistakes and defects they could have worked out maybe that was there plan kill off ninja gaidan ..

  • “I should never compromise our core audience and the integrity of our work”…y’all really did learn lessons.Especially knowing that you was also the director of Ninja Gaiden 3 and Yaiba…2 terrible games.Luckily you guys fixed the game with Razor’s Edge but Yaiba has no fix lol.

    Loved Nioh on alpha.Buying it in the future.

    • Ninja Gaiden & Yaiba NG Z FTW!!!!! Woot! Fkng love them crazy af games!! Nioh fkgn great n crazy af too so… Thk u so much Team Ninja!!! *bows

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