A "Ninja" From Sony

Heavenly Swords, Nina Kristensen, Co-founder of Ninja Theory SCEA

According to Wikipedia, a ninja was a highly skilled operator in the history of Japan, specially trained in the art and science of assassination, espionage, guerilla warfare, covert killing, and combative martial arts.

Nina Kristensen is the co-founder of "Ninja Theory," and is also the chief development ninja for "Heavenly Sword." I had a chance to chat with her and I tried to see how many questions I could ask before she used any of her ninja techniques on me.

I hope I can survive.

Gamecore (GC): Congrats on the game, that launched on Sept. 12, 2007 Nina. Can you tell me your feelings, as the launch day came and went?

Nina Kristensen (NK): It feels completely surreal! A bunch of my rather excitable friends called me the other night saying they'd just seen the ad for "Heavenly Sword" on TV -- it's amazing and slightly terrifying when something you've spent so much of your life on is suddenly in the public eye.

GC: Surreal, would be one of the ways I would feel, too, if a game I'd been working on was about to be come part of a gamer's library.

Now, I know it is a bit early to say, but do you see a second, and even a third, game?

NK: Nothing on this front has been announced as yet, but when we first came up with the concept of "Heavenly Sword" we did write it as a trilogy -- and "Ninja Theory" would certainly be keen to see that through! Guess we'll have to see ...

GC: Well let's hope that "Ninja Theory" does see that through.

Can you see Nariko as the next Lara Croft for the PS3?

NK: It's one of those things that as a developer you always dream of and aspire to and at Ninja Theory we set out with that goal very much in the forefront of our minds. I think Nariko is in with a good shot to become a true icon. She's a strong and believable character who has been well received, to date, by men and women alike (which is something that I must admit I'm terribly proud of). Ultimately it is down to the public to decide, so we're waiting on tenterhooks for the wider audience's reaction.

GC: I think you hit the nail on the head, to see what the audience's think of Nariko, but I think she may be poised to become and icon like Lara Croft, or be the next Lara. I know I would be proud of that, if I created a character like Nariko.

And so far Nina has not needed to use any of her ninja skills on me. I am still surviving.

Now you know there has been a lot of chatter about who would win in a fight between Nariko and Kratos. Who do you think would win and why?

NK: Oh, that would be a battle to behold -- my money has to be on Nariko! Like all men, Kratos would be particularly vulnerable to Nariko's swathe of...erm...groin orientated moves ;)

GC: I guess, I can only agree with you there. I gotta tell you Nina, Nariko had me with her long fiery red hair.

So what were you doing before you become the co-founder of "Ninja Theory"?

NK: I was working at Sony as an art manager. I'd been in the games industry for three or four years before deciding to get together with the other co-founders to form our own company.

For me getting into games is something that I would have to term "a happy accident." I moved to London from Australia about 10 years ago shortly after finishing university, where I studied industrial design. I was having an awful lot of fun in London but it also transpires that London is really, really expensive when you're traveling on the Aussie dollar! After a couple of months I urgently needed a job and the first interview I attended was at a games developer in Cambridge.

I hadn't considered games as a career. In Australia at that time there wasn't much of an industry so it came as a surprise to me that the skills, particularly my knowledge of 3D art packages, that I'd learnt at university were applicable to an industry I didn't really know existed.

Even more surprising to me was that I could actually be paid to make art. I instantly fell in love with the industry and have never looked back!

GC: Wow Nina that is "a happy accident." I have to say congrats on that accident; some times you just never know what will happen in life. So Sony at the time did not know there was a ninja in there camp.

So, I have to ask, what system introduced you to the gaming world?

NK: The Commodore 64! My dad bought it as soon as it came out and seemed to be able to source an endless supply of games for it.

Now that is old school. I can tell you my first system was the ColecoVision. Ah, to be that young again. Oh, well.

GC: So what games did you play in your childhood that you needed to beat?

NK: I played all sorts of games, mostly platformers and puzzle games, but my favorite was a game called "Cops & Robbers," which was this isometric game where you were a robber and had to infiltrate a huge building and steal jewels. I think I beat that game at least three times! It had some of the best characters that I'd seen, gosh, going on 25 years ago?

GC: Wow, I know I play a lot of games but never that one. I guess you got one on me. Nina 1, GC 0 ...

What games are you playing these days?

NK: Ha. I simply haven't had time to play anything in the last few months (unless you count the occasional love affair I'm continuing to have with "Loco Roco"!) but I'm really looking forward to "Assassin's Creed"!

GC: I have not played "Loco Roco" in a while. But hold on. Did you just say "You're looking forward for 'Assassin's Creed' "? Interesting ... OK, stop the presses ... Anyone over at Ubisoft, can we get Nina a copy? Please remember, she is a ninja ...

I figured I'd end this with a thought provoking question. Where do you see the future of gaming going?

NK: I think the future's pretty damn exciting! We're going to see big games like "Heavenly Sword" get better and better, and at the same time with PSN and XBLA, smaller and niche games are going to become more and more viable. As online become increasingly prevalent, that arena will become ever more lavish and varied. I think there are real opportunities in all of those spaces, and we can look forward to a wonderfully diverse and rich gaming landscape.

GC: You have hit the bull's eye on that one. The future of the gaming world is bright. Developers and publishers are starting to take advantage of both XBLA and PSN, and with that I think we have covered everything.

I'm glad I can leave this interview with just a scratch from a ninja. Now I can brag to the Gamecore crew that a ninja put a scratch on me but did not take me out. Thank you for your time Nina. It was a pleasure chatting with you and, again, congrats on your game's launch.
  • Alberto Araya