PSLS Presents – Tameem Antoniades, Co-Founder and Chief Design Ninja of Ninja Theory

June 14, 2010 Written by Ray Conley

Every gamer worldwide should be quite familiar with the UK-based developer Ninja Theory. They slashed their way to the console market with their red-headed, sword-wielding diva in their PS3-exclusive, Heavenly Sword.  Ninja Theory took all the lessons learned from Heavenly Sword and poured their heart into their next hotly anticipated title, Enslaved.  Co-founder and Chief Design Ninja, Tameem Antoniades, took some time from his busy schedule and was very generous to answer a few questions that were on our minds concerning Ninja Theory and Enslaved.

From a creative standpoint, who gets to decide what type of game will be worked on next?

Well so far it’s been me. Our first game Kung Fu Chaos was what we founded the company on. We learned a lot about combat on that game so we wanted to take it to a new level on a next-gen platform and focus on story-telling. Being huge kung fu movie fans, I really liked the idea of making something like Crouching Tiger or Hero. For Enslaved, our art director wanted to tackle science fiction, and I was interested in the idea of developing cooperative gameplay and story around an AI partner. It was only later that I proposed Journey to the West as an inspiration to the team and everyone really liked it.

It’s usually a seed of an idea that grows in an evolutionary manner rather than a scatter-gun approach of ideas.

Since Enslaved has shown such focus on artistic detail in its environment, any chance that we could see Enslaved in 3D?

No plans at all for 3D. No. If we were to do a 3D game, it would have to be designed that way from the start.

We heard that Nitin Sawhney will be working on the music again. What style of music can we expect for Enslaved? Will it be similar to Heavenly Sword?

It follows the themes we set out for the game: mysterious, ominous, tribal, emotional. I didn’t want us to fall into the trap that so much sci-fi does fall into. Namely, going for a really obvious hi-tech soundtrack just because it is set in the future. The music reflects the emotional state of the characters on their journey. As always with Nitin, the music can be hauntingly beautiful.

What was the greatest challenge faced during the development of Enslaved? Did you find any limitations?

Creating a new IP is always very difficult. You have to find the game. To do that, you have to build a mission with just about every element working together well. Doing this is a huge challenge because you don’t have unlimited time and resources. You have to build what you think will work, watch it fail, re-build it, watch it fail again, etc.

Particular challenges include making the combat feel accessible but challenging, making Trip feel part of your team without getting in the way, story-telling in and out of cutscenes, and creating colour in a post-apocalyptic setting (so much harder than slapping brown everywhere!).  Every aspect of the game has had its own challenges. We don’t shy from a good challenge!

Ultimately every creative process is a cycle of: building, failing, learning and repeating. So ironically, the faster you fail, the better the results. This can also take you to dark places during development where cherished ideas have to be let go, or “killing your babies” as we refer to it. Ultimately though, we embraced this work ethic and worked hard to create gameplay, story and action that we could feel proud of. Hopefully, this will elevate it to become more than the sum of its parts.

What lessons were learned from Heavenly Sword? What are some things that you would have done differently?

I could write 10 pages about what we learnt on that project and bore you to death. We learned how to do everything better really.

So will Enslaved be a better game? I really believe it will be because there is so much more variety and depth to the gameplay. Longer? It should feel a lot longer and richer because we have so much more experience and far better tools to play with. But will it reach those deep parts of your soul that no other game will touch, I hear you ask? I sincerely hope so but if not, there’s plenty of brain-teasing gameplay, challenging combat and a large dollop of action to give you that nice warm feeling inside.

PlayStation Lifestyle would like to thank Tameem Antoniades for his time and insightful comments.  We would also like to thank Namco-Bandai and Ninja Chris Belton for making this interview possible. Stay tuned to PSLS for more PlayStation news, reviews and interviews.