Sega’s Masayoshi Kikuchi Talks Demon Tribe And Designing Games For A Cross-Platform Future


Last weekend at the New York Comic Con, longtime Sega game developer and producer Masayoshi Kikuchi helped give away some pretty awesome swag. Specifically, the winners of a Sega trivia contest took home an autographed Dreamcast still safely tucked away in its original packaging, plus a never opened copy of the hard-to-find “Panzer Dragoon Saga.”

Fast-forward a few days and Kikuchi was still in the Big Apple with other members of the Sega team, showing off new and upcoming games at a media event co-hosted by Kabam. Kikuchi’s new project is called “Demon Tribe,” and it’s got a little bit of everything—seriously, as it’s part MOBA, part CCG, part resource sim, and part action-RPG. That’s probably not shocking considering it’s coming from a man with a diverse resume that includes roles as the planner of the “Panzer Dragoon” series, the executive producer of the “Yakuza” games, and the director of “Jet Set Radio.”

What might come as a surprise is that “Demon Tribe” is a mobile game, built specifically for smartphones and tablets. It’s a relatively new challenge for the industry veteran, but one that he seems to be tackling with gusto.

“The first thing that we really took into consideration was how can we create a really exciting, fun experience on a smartphone,” Kikuchi said to GameSided through a translator. “Kind of similar to ‘Kingdom Conquest 2.’ How can we create a really fun experience that’s engaging, not only for iPad and iPhone, but for PC and console as well too?”

For “Demon Tribe,” that means taking some MOBA characteristics and reinterpreting them to fit the play styles and session times typically attributed to mobile gamers.

“The game design was born out of the idea of being able to bring a similar kind of MOBA-style experience to mobile platforms with the consideration that with an actual MOBA game like ‘League of Legends,’ sometimes it takes 30 minutes to an hour to wrap up a battle,” Kikuchi said. “Whereas with this, it’s something you can play bit by bit every day and still feel like you’re getting a lot of progress with it, and you’re experiencing a really cool game.”

The gameplay on display in New York had teams of three players battling against each other and AI spawns and towers (that’s the MOBA aspect), slashing away with some visually impressive attacks (hello action-RPG) and turning into demons that they had previously collected and powered up by fusing them together (the CCG influence). It didn’t look like something that would be out of place on a current gen console.

Yet it was designed from the start for mobile, with all of the form considerations that implies.

“There’s definitely a lot of inherent challenges with a game on a smartphone, specifically on a touchscreen,” Kikuchi said. “It’s one of the most exciting points about being able to do the game, because it’s a new experience. But at the same time it’s also one of the areas where I worry most about it, because of how to create the controls.”

Of course Sega is far from the only company trying to bring a console-quality gaming experience to smartphones and tablets. That idea is a sort of holy grail for a lot of developers, though there are two very different schools of thought on how to go about it. The first is to concentrate solely on mobile devices, attempting to innovate for touch while deepening the gameplay to bring it on par with what console gamers expect, while the second aims to create games that can spread to as many different machines and operating systems as possible.

Kikuchi sounds like he’s in the latter camp. He even suggested that a convergence between the different forms of gaming would benefit developers as well as players.

“It would be great for developing if we arrived at some point where mobile phones could support controllers and vice versa, consoles can support touch panels,” he said. “To bring it to more of a platform agnostic situation would be better.”

So while fans of his previous work would no doubt love it if Kikuchi offered up some tidbits on new console games—even, say, a U.S. release for “Yakuza 5″—they can rest assured that he hasn’t abandoned core gamers. With games like “Demon Tribe,” he’s just trying to engage them in different ways and through different means, something he feels will be increasingly important as gaming continues to evolve in an ever more cross-platform direction.

“It’s very important, because being able to have cross-platform [games] opens up a lot of possibilities for the users,” Kikuchi said. “Moving forward there will be a lot more. Cross-platform games are definitely going to widen, and there will be a lot more of them.”