Games

The Life And Career Of Ikumi Nakamura


Introduction

Ikumi Nakamura’s mom didn’t need her to work for Capcom. As she tells it, early in life, Nakamura noticed a characteristic on the making of Resident Evil. In it, the sport’s creators collect at a bar to drink and speak in regards to the growth. Nakamura’s thoughts was made up. She wished to be a recreation developer. She wished to work with the individuals she noticed on display. Nakamura’s mother was much less impressed.

“I saw it, and I told my Mom, ‘Oh my God, I want to work with them,’” Nakamura tells Game Informer by way of translator. “And my Mom’s like, ‘No, don’t work with them. They’re just drunk, old men. Don’t do that!’”

Nakamura didn’t take her mom’s warning to coronary heart.

Nakamura’s first job within the business was at Capcom; she was an artist for its inside workforce, Clover Studios. That job meant rather a lot to her, personally. Aside from being a fan, Capcom’s video games have been one thing Nakamura bonded over together with her father, which supplied a private connection to the work.

During and since, Nakamura’s had a hand in growing a number of cult-favorite video video games, together with Ōkami, Bayonetta, and The Evil Within sequence, working for Platinum Games and Tango Gameworks after Capcom. But for almost all of her profession, she was comparatively unknown inside, and positively outdoors, the sport business. That is till E3 2019, when her presentation for Ghostwire: Tokyo thrust her into online game stardom – thanks in no small half to her outgoing and offbeat persona. Nakamura has since change into a social media favourite, befriending outstanding recreation builders reminiscent of Sony Santa Monica’s Cory Barlog.

Nakamura is, kind of, an in a single day sensation, and since leaving Tango and Ghostwire in September 2019, individuals have questioned what her newly based studio is growing. Despite that, a lot of her story stays unknown – the place she got here from, her profession at Capcom and Platinum, and her experiences at Tango. To treatment this, we reached out to Nakamura, and talked to her for hours – in one in all her first massive American interviews post-Tango – about every little thing from her love of horror to her once-daily nightmares whereas engaged on Ghostwire, to what she plans to do subsequent.

Capcom

Capcom

Growing up, Nakamura’s father stored one secret from her mom: He was bonding with their daughter over a shared love of horror films and video video games.

Nakamura’s father raised her the identical method he would’ve raised a boy, and the 2 have been each daredevils in their very own methods. Where her father rode bikes, Nakamura climbed on the roof of her household’s home and jumped off their staircases. Which, to be honest, is a harmful exercise for a bit of child, as evidenced by one in all Nakamura’s childhood accidents.

“One day, I fell from the stairs and lost the lower part of my face,” Nakamura says, laughing, explaining she hit the bottom face first. “The skin and the lower lip got dragged. It was almost like I lost my lower lip. My Mom saw it and she passed out from the shock, so no one could help me out at that time.”

Horror media made the largest affect on Nakamura as a toddler. Nakamura and her father hid this from her mother, who didn’t approve, they usually spent loads of time watching scary films and enjoying horror and gothic-inspired video games collectively.

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It can’t be overstated how profound an affect horror had on Nakamura; it’s one thing she consistently brings up when speaking about her formative years. Growing up, she says she watched horror films every single day, reminiscent of American classics like Return of the Living Dead. She additionally beloved staples of Japan’s horror growth from the mid-to-late ’90s and 2000s, reminiscent of Pulse (Kairo in Japan), directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

At the identical time, as she places it, Japan was in a “golden age” of online game growth, and Capcom was simply one in all many corporations spearheading that cost. Nakamura spent loads of time enjoying video games within the Resident Evil and Devil May Cry sequence – which, coincidentally, have been directed up to now by Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya, who Nakamura would spend most of her profession working alongside.

Nakamura went to artwork college in Tokyo and later the Amusement Media Academy to check recreation design. However, solely a pair years into her schooling, her life was turned on its head. While out on his bike, her father was in an accident and handed away all of the sudden, sending her life into “total chaos.” She spent loads of her formative years appearing reckless, however Nakamura says her father’s loss of life modified her, leaving her targeted on defending her household.

“After his death, I totally changed,” she says.

But one factor didn’t change: Nakamura’s dream of working at Capcom. If something, her father’s loss of life strengthened her want to hitch the corporate after her education. He beloved Capcom’s video games, and through his funeral Nakamura made positive he was nonetheless in a position to play Resident Evil.

“In his coffin, I put a copy of the Resident Evil strategy book and a PlayStation controller,” she says. “[So] that he could play the game in another dimension. But I forgot that Japan is a cremation culture, so his bones and the controller got stuck together. I looked at it [as] he never gave up the game, even when he was a bone! I was impressed.”

Nakamura needed to apply twice, however she joined Capcom in 2004, approaching board its inside Clover Studio. Initially set as much as develop Viewtiful Joe 2, Clover was a semi-autonomous studio inside Capcom’s Osaka, Japan headquarters, tasked with growing new mental properties. In line with Nakamura’s influences, Mikami and Kamiya labored as administrators for the studio – the previous overseeing 2006’s God Hand and the latter serving to make Viewtiful Joe 2 and Ōkami, launched in 2004 and 2006, respectively.

Nakamura’s first challenge was Ōkami. She joined Clover as a 3D atmosphere artist – a job, she says, she was “incompetent” at. Despite her lack of expertise, and the truth that some individuals throughout the firm weren’t treating her properly, Nakamura utilized herself and tried to be taught as a lot as doable on the challenge.

“I was new, I didn’t know really how to work, and was constantly told that I would be fired,” she says. “I was pushed around, overloaded with tasks and challenges. And so I went around to different sections, to ask about ‘how to work better’ and what I can help with, helping with anything I could, making animations or small stages, or objects.”

At the time, Nakamura describes Capcom as an “old-school” developer, filled with habits that wouldn’t fly in a contemporary office. For instance, it wasn’t unusual to see builders sleeping beneath their desks to avoid wasting themselves a commute – one thing introduced to the general public on tv in each Japan and the United States. When she was a child, Nakamura says that when she noticed that footage it appeared like a dream job. Now that she’s older, not a lot. “[I felt like], ‘Oh my God, that’s what I wanna do,’” she recollects. “But then looking back, like, no, that is totally wrong.”

It additionally wasn’t unusual for Capcom administration to let their tempers get the perfect of them, lashing out and yelling at staff or hitting desks and kicking trash cans. “They would just kind of hit everything around them,” Nakamura says, including that it confirmed her the sort of firm tradition she doesn’t wish to create sooner or later, for which she’s grateful.

“Overall, it wasn’t effective,” she says. “People do get frustrated, that happens, but showing that physically or verbally, that creates fear in the work environment.”

“Now I know what not to do,” Nakamura says.

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Ōkami

The relationship between Capcom and Clover was an acrimonious one, with fixed clashes between administration and Kamiya over Ōkami’s path. According to Nakamura, her impression was that Capcom noticed Clover as “just the group of weirdos” and a “totally separate entity.” As an instance, she factors to the Wii port of Ōkami, developed by Ready At Dawn, which didn’t include the names of the unique builders or the Clover brand within the credit.

In 2008, Capcom issued an announcement in regards to the lacking credit, saying the elimination was as a consequence of a pre-rendered cutscene containing the Clover brand, which the writer didn’t have the authorized proper to make use of in a recreation the studio wasn’t instantly concerned in. “We also didn’t have the source to the credit movie itself, so we couldn’t just use it and remove the Clover logo,” Capcom mentioned.

“I’m sure something happened – politics,” Nakamura says. “But it’s not a cool thing to do for the developers who actually spent hours and effort to create the game.”

Despite the problems, Nakamura isn’t wholly negatively about her time with Capcom. In truth, since Ōkami’s growth wrapped, she’s been open about her desire to make sequels that ship on the unique imaginative and prescient of the primary recreation. As she places it, the sport Capcom launched was “probably one-third” of what Kamiya initially had in thoughts. And now that Nakamura has labored for different builders – particularly ones partnered with publishers primarily based within the States – she admits to questioning whether or not or not she ought to’ve stayed at Capcom.

“What would’ve happened?” Nakamura muses. “Because, out of all the companies I worked with, Capcom is a company that allowed artists to input their artistic sense in the game the most.”

When we level out we anticipated the alternative reply, that Capcom was probably the most restrictive, Nakamura provides, “Maybe that’s what Japanese people who stayed in Japan [and] didn’t deal with other companies overseas, they might say that.”

Of course, Nakamura didn’t keep. When quite a few individuals left Capcom and Clover to discovered their very own studio, Nakamura went with them, beginning her journey at Platinum Games.

Platinum Games

Platinum Games

In retrospect, Nakamura says it’s in all probability for the perfect that her first challenge as director didn’t get made.

Early into her time at Platinum, Nakamura submitted a proposal for a Nintendo DS recreation that caught the attention of Mikami, who came to visit to Platinum as a contract director and exterior board member. The challenge, as Nakamura tells it, was to be a number of small “eerie” video games bearing on “taboo subjects.” The challenge was greenlit, and regardless of her lack of expertise, Nakamura obtained to steer her personal workforce. It did not go properly, and the sport’s material ended up being a degree of competition.

“I even went to Nintendo to give a presentation, and they told me if Platinum Games released this through the DS, not that it will be the end of Platinum Games, but Platinum Games will have a really, really bad reputation,” Nakamura says.

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Bayonetta idea artwork by Ikumi Nakamura

About one 12 months into growth, Nakamura’s challenge was canceled and she or he was moved to the workforce making the primary Bayonetta, a classy motion recreation in-line with director Kamiya’s earlier work on Devil May Cry. She was an idea artist – even when it was {a partially} self-appointed title. “I wanted to graduate from being an environmental artist, so I took the liberty of calling myself a concept artist and started drawing designs,” Nakamura says. “I think I acted strongly [and felt] that I should do what I wanted to do even if it was in an organization.”

At the time, Nakamura was enjoying loads of video games developed by American studios – particularly Uncharted, Gears of War, and Dead Space. This influenced her strategy to recreation design, particularly when it got here to Bayonetta’s consumer interface. Based on the sport’s feminine focus, she additionally introduced in influences from well-known ladies all through historical past, fashioning Bayonetta’s equipment after ladies reminiscent of Cleopatra. To intensify the over-the-top features, Nakamura instructed making buildings gigantic and the motion outlandish – all features that made Bayonetta stand out when it was launched in 2009.

At the identical time, Nakamura started serious about learn how to develop video games that appealed to a worldwide viewers, not only a Japanese one. Her hope was to point out gamers in different nations how cool Asian cities and tradition have been – although her particular imaginative and prescient wouldn’t be closely utilized till later video games.

Following Bayonetta, Nakamura served as artwork director on Platinum’s now-canceled Scalebound. While Microsoft signed on to publish, it nonetheless by no means noticed the sunshine of day. Nakamura says her time with its troubled growth left her with lasting classes for future initiatives.

“What I still think about is, ‘Was I [successful] in creating what the director wanted to do?’” she displays. “The concept wasn’t fixed; it didn’t have a strong vision. What the publisher wanted, what the director, Kamiya-san, wanted, and what the team wanted were all kind of not looking at the same direction. So, it didn’t have the unity. It was my job to create the unity, and I don’t think I was able to provide that. So that’s something I felt like I couldn’t do back then. What I learned is the director has to have a very clear, strong vision from the beginning.”

By the time Scalebound was canceled, Nakamura had already moved on from Platinum. When Mikami based his personal studio, Tango Gameworks, in 2010, Nakamura was a part of the group that joined him, permitting her to maneuver again to her residence metropolis, Tokyo. It was not solely the job she’s held the longest up to now in recreation growth, however the one which thrust her into the highlight.

Tango Gameworks

Tango Gameworks

Joining Tango gave Nakamura an opportunity to do one thing she’d wished to do her total life: make a survival horror recreation. And it might be one directed by Shinji Mikami, the director of the primary Resident Evil, no much less. But it’s difficult.

The Evil Within was Tango’s first official launch and Mikami’s return to survival horror. However, the developer had beforehand experimented with an open-world science-fiction survival recreation known as Noah. As detailed in a 2014 Polygon interview with Mikami, early within the firm’s historical past, Tango hit monetary points. Noah was canceled and Tango was in bother. Until later in 2010, when writer Bethesda bought the corporate.

“Compared to the image of a typical Western game publisher, Bethesda is probably more like a typical Japanese publisher,” Mikami mentioned on the time. “They don’t force creative people to do stuff. They give that creative freedom to developers.”

Nakamura tells the story a bit otherwise. “[Mikami] really wanted to create new types of games, not [keep] doing the same things he’s done,” she says. “But people in the world wanted him to create – expected him to create survival horror.”

The Evil Within’s “Keeper” enemy, designed by Ikumi Nakamura

Nakamura discovered herself on a challenge she had dreamed of constructing with the caveat that, in her thoughts, the director didn’t wish to make it. Rope in Western writer politics – one thing Nakamura as much as that time wasn’t conversant in – and it grew to become a sophisticated challenge. The Evil Within, launched in 2014, was the final challenge Mikami directed, and the developer has since stepped right into a producer position to permit youthful builders to direct video games. Nakamura was a type of builders.

After a while on The Evil Within 2, launched in 2017, Nakamura started main growth on what would change into Ghostwire: Tokyo. Her path was to take a bunch of parts from her love of the occult, supernatural, and concrete legends, and mix them into a recent setting – which on this case, because the identify implies, is Tokyo.

“Remember when we were talking about Bayonetta, that I wanted people from all over the world to think about how cool Asian urban cities are?” she asks. “So, I wanted to bring that back. I was like, ‘Finally, I can make a video game that can express my vision that way.’”

As of this writing, Ghostwire stays unreleased, however Nakamura stuffed us in on some preliminary concepts. Set in 2020, individuals all through the world have began to vanish, leaving these left behind to imagine it is likely to be a virus taking individuals out. To fight this, individuals start carrying masks. However, in 2021, amid the COVID-19 disaster, Nakamura says she’s glad that iteration of the story isn’t being launched. However, she nonetheless speaks proudly of the final setting, environment, and supernatural path.

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Nakamura had the possibility to current Ghostwire to the world for the primary time at E3 2019, the place she obtained on stage throughout Bethesda’s press convention to announce the sport. Understandably, the concept of getting on stage in entrance of hundreds of individuals (to not point out many extra watching dwell) was nerve-wracking. As Nakamura tells it, the quite a few rehearsals over three days didn’t assist. Nakamura isn’t a local English speaker, and she or he says she had bother together with her traces, so she practiced them time and again whereas pacing round backstage.

However, on the final second, Nakamura says the present’s producer informed her to neglect her pre-rehearsed traces and to exit on stage and be herself.

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Nakamura’s presentation grew to become one of many standout moments of that E3. While debuting Ghostwire, her ardour for the challenge endeared individuals to her, and her use of humor to elucidate the sport’s atmospheric world was a welcome change of tempo in comparison with the quite a few self-serious displays normally filling E3. Overnight, Nakamura grew to become a sensation, a meme, and in her personal method, a celeb.

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Ikumi Nakamura

Ikumi Nakamura behind-the-scenes at E3 2019

“I was simply happy about all the responses, because I was really passionate about presenting what I was passionate about,” Nakamura says. “And also, I’m a big fan of manga and anime, so I love all those memes. […] And that ended up [leading to] people focusing on game creators. So, I feel that was a success.”

But Nakamura’s time on Ghostwire was about to finish. Eventually, the stress of developer-publisher politics and the writer having management over the sport affected her negatively. Nakamura started having nightmares about higher-ups throughout the firm. This went on for years, she says, beginning with simply speaking in her sleep round as soon as every week, after which progressing to each day nightmares.

“The nightmare I had was that when I came to work, all the members of the development team had disappeared,” Nakamura recollects. “Then there was an altar in the middle of the room, and when I looked at the picture, it was of my boss, which was a strange story.”

Her well being declined round this time as properly and 4 years into growth on Ghostwire, Nakamura made the choice to depart each the challenge and Tango. Getting to that time wasn’t simple. Nakamura likens Ghostwire to a toddler and herself because the mom. Four years is a very long time to steer a challenge, and strolling away was a troublesome name.

“I was a creative director, so this is literally my baby,” she says. “My four-year-old baby. So, to let that go – ask any mother to let her baby go. It was that gut-ripping.”

Nakamura grew to become a free agent, however as she tells it, she left with out a lot of a plan. And then one thing sudden occurred. Once information of her departure hit the web, she started getting presents from builders worldwide, and she or he befriended a few of the greater names in movie and recreation growth, together with Sony Santa Monica’s Cory Barlog, movie director J.J. Abrams, and Rainbow Six Siege artistic director Leroy Athanassoff. Regaining her well being, Nakamura even traveled world wide to go to studios, studying from completely different creators.

But there was one sudden twist: Around this time, Nakamura grew to become pregnant. It made some studio visits troublesome.

“I had never wanted to have children myself,” Nakamura says. “Because I thought that my children would be a game. In fact, I became healthy and an alien came into my body. I flew all over the world and visited many studios while being amazed and throwing up from the bad effects of morning sickness. I feel like I have thrown up in every studio. It’s a memorial for me. Don’t worry, I threw up without making a mess.”

In March 2021, Nakamura introduced she had designed a brand new set of skins for Rainbow Six Siege, the product of her new relationship with the developer. More than common, the information was picked up by mainstream recreation press retailers, cementing Nakamura’s stardom, even when it got here all the way down to one thing as small as skins. Additionally, Nakamura conceptualized and directed her first music video for the Japanese dance group Dazaifu Mahoroba-shu. She additionally says she’s consulted and finished design work for different video games, however doesn’t elaborate on which as they aren’t out on the time of this writing.

Her Own Studio

Her Own Studio

Nakamura is at a brand new stage in life, and she or he’s profiting from it. On high of her work consulting and designing as a freelancer, she lately introduced she’s opened her personal studio. And whereas the corporate will initially be headquartered in Tokyo, Nakamura says she’s prioritizing range inside her workforce, and hopes to open different workplaces in nations such because the U.S. and China. All her present workforce members, although working from residence, are scattered throughout the globe, she tells us.

Nakamura has additionally change into a visual feminine Japanese recreation developer. While individuals reminiscent of Mikami and Kamiya are recognized by identify and for his or her work, it’s not as widespread for ladies to obtain comparable recognition. Nakamura is in a uncommon spot to encourage others to make comparable impacts on the business, and it’s not a possibility she plans to waste. She says she plans to place different ladies builders within the highlight and spotlight particular person creators when the time comes.

“There is a female creator who is like a big sister to me, who takes care of me,” Nakamura says. “She said to me, ‘I want you to sit on the throne someday, because your success will encourage me and many other female developers.’ [At the] time, I didn’t really understand what she meant by that. But now I know what it means.”

“It was purely a coincidence that I was known, I became somewhat famous,” she says. “Yes, it was a coincidence, but I’m going to make that into an opportunity and use it to work for me.”


This article initially appeared in Issue 338 of Game Informer.

Header picture: Kerri Solaris (@kerrifique)



Read More at www.gameinformer.com

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