The Life And Profession Of Ikumi Nakamura

The Life And Career Of Ikumi Nakamura


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 discuss in regards to the improvement. Nakamura’s thoughts was made up. She needed to be a recreation developer. She needed to work with the individuals she noticed on display. Nakamura’s mother was much less impressed.

“I noticed it, and I informed my Mother, ‘Oh my God, I need to work with them,’” Nakamura tells Recreation Informer through translator. “And my Mother’s like, ‘No, don’t work with them. They’re simply drunk, previous males. Don’t try this!’”

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 inner staff, Clover Studios. That job meant lots to her, personally. Apart from being a fan, Capcom’s video games had been one thing Nakamura bonded over together with her father, which provided a private connection to the work.

Throughout and since, Nakamura’s had a hand in growing a number of cult-favorite video video games, together with Ōkami, Bayonetta, and The Evil Inside sequence, working for Platinum Video games and Tango Gameworks after Capcom. However for almost all of her profession, she was comparatively unknown inside, and positively exterior, the sport business. That’s 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 develop into a social media favourite, befriending outstanding recreation builders reminiscent of Sony Santa Monica’s Cory Barlog.

Nakamura is, roughly, 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. Regardless of 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 certainly one of her first massive American interviews post-Tango – about all the pieces from her love of horror to her once-daily nightmares whereas engaged on Ghostwire, to what she plans to do subsequent.



Rising up, Nakamura’s father saved 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 means he would’ve raised a boy, and the 2 had been each daredevils in their very own methods. The place 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 just a little child, as evidenced by certainly one of Nakamura’s childhood accidents.

“In the future, I fell from the steps and misplaced the decrease a part of my face,” Nakamura says, laughing, explaining she hit the bottom face first. “The pores and skin and the decrease lip acquired dragged. It was virtually like I misplaced my decrease lip. My Mother noticed it and he or she handed out from the shock, so nobody might assist me out at the moment.”

Horror media made the most important influence on Nakamura as a toddler. Nakamura and her father hid this from her mother, who didn’t approve, and so they spent plenty of time watching scary films and taking part in horror and gothic-inspired video games collectively.

It might’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. Rising up, she says she watched horror films daily, reminiscent of American classics like Return of the Dwelling Useless. 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.

On the similar time, as she places it, Japan was in a “golden age” of online game improvement, and Capcom was simply certainly one of many firms spearheading that cost. Nakamura spent plenty of time taking part in video games within the Resident Evil and Satan Could Cry sequence – which, coincidentally, have been directed previously 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. Nevertheless, solely a pair years into her training, her life was turned on its head. Whereas out on his motorbike, her father was in an accident and handed away instantly, sending her life into “complete chaos.” She spent plenty of her formative years appearing reckless, however Nakamura says her father’s loss of life modified her, leaving her centered on defending her household.

“After his loss of life, I completely modified,” she says.

However 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 certain he was nonetheless in a position to play Resident Evil.

“In his coffin, I put a replica of the Resident Evil technique e-book and a PlayStation controller,” she says. “[So] that he might play the sport in one other dimension. However I forgot that Japan is a cremation tradition, so his bones and the controller acquired caught collectively. I checked out it [as] he by no means gave up the sport, even when he was a bone! I used to be impressed.”

Nakamura needed to apply twice, however she joined Capcom in 2004, approaching board its inner 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 step 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 venture was Ōkami. She joined Clover as a 3D atmosphere artist – a job, she says, she was “incompetent” at. Regardless of her lack of expertise, and the truth that some individuals inside the firm weren’t treating her properly, Nakamura utilized herself and tried to study as a lot as attainable on the venture.

“I used to be new, I didn’t know actually tips on how to work, and was consistently informed that I might be fired,” she says. “I used to be pushed round, overloaded with duties and challenges. And so I went round to totally different sections, to ask about ‘tips on how to work higher’ and what I will help with, serving to with something I might, making animations or small phases, or objects.”

On the time, Nakamura describes Capcom as an “old-school” developer, stuffed with conduct that wouldn’t fly in a contemporary office. For instance, it wasn’t unusual to see builders sleeping below their desks to save lots of themselves a commute – one thing offered to the general public on tv in each Japan and the USA. 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. “However then trying again, like, no, that’s completely unsuitable.”

It additionally wasn’t unusual for Capcom administration to let their tempers get the perfect of them, lashing out and yelling at workers or hitting desks and kicking trash cans. “They’d simply sort of hit all the pieces round them,” Nakamura says, including that it confirmed her the sort of firm tradition she doesn’t need to create sooner or later, for which she’s grateful.

“General, it wasn’t efficient,” she says. “Folks do get annoyed, that occurs, however displaying that bodily or verbally, that creates worry within the work atmosphere.”

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


The connection between Capcom and Clover was an acrimonious one, with fixed clashes between administration and Kamiya over Ōkami’s route. In response to Nakamura, her impression was that Capcom noticed Clover as “simply the group of weirdos” and a “completely separate entity.” For instance, she factors to the Wii port of Ōkami, developed by Prepared At Daybreak, which didn’t embody 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 removing 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 immediately concerned in. “We additionally didn’t have the supply to the credit score film itself, so we couldn’t simply use it and take away the Clover brand,” Capcom mentioned.

“I’m certain one thing occurred – politics,” Nakamura says. “Nevertheless it’s not a cool factor to do for the builders who really spent hours and energy to create the sport.”

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

“What would’ve occurred?” Nakamura muses. “As a result of, out of all the businesses I labored with, Capcom is an organization that allowed artists to enter their creative sense within the recreation essentially the most.”

After we level out we anticipated the alternative reply, that Capcom was essentially the most restrictive, Nakamura provides, “Possibly that’s what Japanese individuals who stayed in Japan [and] didn’t take care of different firms abroad, they could say that.”

In fact, 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 Video games.

Platinum Video games

Platinum Video games

Looking back, Nakamura says it’s in all probability for the perfect that her first venture 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 venture, as Nakamura tells it, was to be a number of small “eerie” video games bearing on “taboo topics.” The venture was greenlit, and regardless of her lack of expertise, Nakamura acquired to steer her personal staff. It did not go properly, and the sport’s material ended up being some extent of competition.

“I even went to Nintendo to present a presentation, and so they informed me if Platinum Video games launched this by way of the DS, not that it will likely be the tip of Platinum Video games, however Platinum Video games can have a very, actually dangerous status,” Nakamura says.

Bayonetta idea artwork by Ikumi Nakamura

About one 12 months into improvement, Nakamura’s venture was canceled and he or she was moved to the staff making the primary Bayonetta, a classy motion recreation in-line with director Kamiya’s earlier work on Satan Could Cry. She was an idea artist – even when it was {a partially} self-appointed title. “I needed to graduate from being an environmental artist, so I took the freedom of calling myself an idea artist and began drawing designs,” Nakamura says. “I believe I acted strongly [and felt] that I ought to do what I needed to do even when it was in a corporation.”

On the time, Nakamura was taking part in plenty of video games developed by American studios – particularly Uncharted, Gears of Struggle, and Useless House. This influenced her strategy to recreation design, particularly when it got here to Bayonetta’s person interface. Primarily based on the sport’s feminine focus, she additionally introduced in influences from well-known girls all through historical past, fashioning Bayonetta’s equipment after girls reminiscent of Cleopatra. To intensify the over-the-top facets, Nakamura urged making buildings gigantic and the motion outlandish – all facets that made Bayonetta stand out when it was launched in 2009.

On the similar time, Nakamura started fascinated with tips on how to develop video games that appealed to a world viewers, not only a Japanese one. Her hope was to indicate gamers in different nations how cool Asian cities and tradition had 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. Whereas Microsoft signed on to publish, it nonetheless by no means noticed the sunshine of day. Nakamura says her time with its troubled improvement left her with lasting classes for future tasks.

“What I nonetheless take into consideration is, ‘Was I [successful] in creating what the director needed to do?’” she displays. “The idea wasn’t mounted; it didn’t have a robust imaginative and prescient. What the writer needed, what the director, Kamiya-san, needed, and what the staff needed had been all sort of not trying on the similar route. So, it didn’t have the unity. It was my job to create the unity, and I don’t assume I used to be in a position to present that. In order that’s one thing I felt like I couldn’t do again then. What I discovered is the director has to have a really clear, robust imaginative and prescient from the start.”

By the point 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 improvement, however the one which thrust her into the highlight.

Tango Gameworks

Tango Gameworks

Becoming a member of Tango gave Nakamura an opportunity to do one thing she’d needed to do her complete life: make a survival horror recreation. And it will be one directed by Shinji Mikami, the director of the primary Resident Evil, no much less. Nevertheless it’s sophisticated.

The Evil Inside was Tango’s first official launch and Mikami’s return to survival horror. Nevertheless, 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 hassle. Till later in 2010, when writer Bethesda bought the corporate.

“In comparison with the picture of a typical Western recreation writer, Bethesda might be extra like a typical Japanese writer,” Mikami mentioned on the time. “They don’t pressure artistic individuals to do stuff. They offer that artistic freedom to builders.”

Nakamura tells the story a bit otherwise. “[Mikami] actually needed to create new kinds of video games, not [keep] doing the identical issues he’s completed,” she says. “However individuals on the earth needed him to create – anticipated him to create survival horror.”

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

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

After a while on The Evil Inside 2, launched in 2017, Nakamura started main improvement on what would develop into Ghostwire: Tokyo. Her route 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.

“Keep in mind once we had been speaking about Bayonetta, that I needed individuals from everywhere in the world to consider how cool Asian city cities are?” she asks. “So, I needed to deliver that again. I used to be like, ‘Lastly, I could make a online game that may specific my imaginative and prescient that means.’”

As of this writing, Ghostwire stays unreleased, however Nakamura crammed 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 could be a virus taking individuals out. To fight this, individuals start sporting masks. Nevertheless, in 2021, amid the COVID-19 disaster, Nakamura says she’s glad that iteration of the story isn’t being launched. Nevertheless, she nonetheless speaks proudly of the overall setting, environment, and supernatural route.

Nakamura had the possibility to current Ghostwire to the world for the primary time at E3 2019, the place she acquired 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 he or she says she had hassle together with her traces, so she practiced them time and again whereas pacing round backstage.

Nevertheless, 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.

Nakamura’s presentation turned one of many standout moments of that E3. Whereas debuting Ghostwire, her ardour for the venture endeared individuals to her, and her use of humor to clarify the sport’s atmospheric world was a welcome change of tempo in comparison with the quite a few self-serious shows often filling E3. In a single day, Nakamura turned a sensation, a meme, and in her personal means, a celeb.

Ikumi Nakamura

Ikumi Nakamura behind-the-scenes at E3 2019

“I used to be merely glad about all of the responses, as a result of I used to be actually obsessed with presenting what I used to be obsessed with,” Nakamura says. “And likewise, I’m a giant fan of manga and anime, so I like all these memes. […] And that ended up [leading to] individuals specializing in recreation creators. So, I really feel that was a hit.”

However Nakamura’s time on Ghostwire was about to finish. Ultimately, the stress of developer-publisher politics and the writer having management over the sport affected her negatively. Nakamura started having nightmares about higher-ups inside 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 day by day nightmares.

“The nightmare I had was that after I got here to work, all of the members of the event staff had disappeared,” Nakamura recollects. “Then there was an altar in the midst of the room, and after I seemed on the image, it was of my boss, which was an odd story.”

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

“I used to be a artistic director, so that is actually my child,” she says. “My four-year-old child. So, to let that go – ask any mom to let her child go. It was that gut-ripping.”

Nakamura turned a free agent, however as she tells it, she left with out a lot of a plan. After which one thing surprising occurred. As soon as information of her departure hit the web, she started getting gives from builders worldwide, and he or she befriended a few of the greater names in movie and recreation improvement, 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 all over the world to go to studios, studying from totally different creators.

However there was one surprising twist: Round this time, Nakamura turned pregnant. It made some studio visits troublesome.

“I had by no means needed to have youngsters myself,” Nakamura says. “As a result of I assumed that my youngsters could be a recreation. In actual fact, I turned wholesome and an alien got here into my physique. I flew everywhere in the world and visited many studios whereas being amazed and throwing up from the dangerous results of morning illness. I really feel like I’ve thrown up in each studio. It’s a memorial for me. Don’t fear, I threw up with out making a multitude.”

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. Greater than traditional, the information was picked up by mainstream recreation press shops, cementing Nakamura’s stardom, even when it got here right down to one thing as small as skins. Moreover, Nakamura conceptualized and directed her first music video for the Japanese dance group Dazaifu Mahoroba-shu. She additionally says she’s consulted and completed design work for different video games, however doesn’t elaborate on which as they aren’t out on the time of this writing.

Her Personal Studio

Her Personal Studio

Nakamura is at a brand new stage in life, and he or she’s benefiting from it. On prime 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 variety inside her workforce, and hopes to open different workplaces in nations such because the U.S. and China. All her present staff members, although working from residence, are scattered throughout the globe, she tells us.

Nakamura has additionally develop into a visual feminine Japanese recreation developer. Whereas individuals reminiscent of Mikami and Kamiya are identified by identify and for his or her work, it’s not as frequent 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 chance she plans to waste. She says she plans to place different girls builders within the highlight and spotlight particular person creators when the time comes.

“There’s a feminine creator who is sort of a massive sister to me, who takes care of me,” Nakamura says. “She mentioned to me, ‘I would like you to sit down on the throne sometime, as a result of your success will encourage me and plenty of different feminine builders.’ [At the] time, I didn’t actually perceive what she meant by that. However now I do know what it means.”

“It was purely a coincidence that I used to be identified, I turned considerably well-known,” she says. “Sure, it was a coincidence, however I’m going to make that into a chance and use it to work for me.”

This text initially appeared in Subject 338 of Recreation Informer.

Header picture: Kerri Solaris (@kerrifique)

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