The Early Days of Ace Attorney

Sep 12, 2014
2014 Sep 12
Janet Hsu

Hi everyone! This is Janet Hsu, here again with some tales of the early days of Ace Attorney! Ever wonder how this series about a band of lovable lawyers came about? Or if Phoenix was even a lawyer in the earliest drafts? Well, come along with me and wonder no more!

Back in 2010, Mr. Takumi posted some intriguing pictures to his twitter account (@takumi_gt for those of you who are interested and can read Japanese. Due to his writing style, translation sites tend to return absolute gibberish, but you’re always welcome to try… Also, please understand that he will be unable to write or follow you back).

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twitter.com/takumi_gt/status/19624938260…

So, this has nothing to do with Ghost Trick, but… I found some documentation I drew up when I was making the Ace Attorney series. Wow, these sure bring back memories.

twitter.com/takumi_gt/status/19627857735…

With the AA series, I laid out how each episode’s opening and “event cut” illustrations would look by drawing them all myself. This is the storyboard for the Steel Samurai opening that I drew 10 [now 14] years ago.

Wait! Does that say “Episode 2” at the top?!

twitter.com/takumi_gt/status/19628485643…

And this is what an event cut rough looks like. You’re a fab fan if you can recognize where this is from at a glance. Yes, absolutely FAAAAABULOUS!

A most FABULOUS award ceremony!

twitter.com/takumi_gt/status/19629620106…

After I would finish writing all of the dialogue, and as we were putting the game together, I would decide which scenes will get an event cut illustration and draw a rough sketch of them… which was a lot of fun.

Translation: ⑬ Eating the lunchbox
With a soft and moving feel.
A crying Maggey as she eats the weenies, and a happy-looking Maya.
“How is it, Maggey?”
“…It’s delicious…”

twitter.com/takumi_gt/status/19632193185…

Here we have a few of the fabled event cuts from the scrapped version of Episode 1. This first one shows Phoenix being cornered and arrested by the police. Oh, how shocking!

Translation: Phoenix is arrested
Overhead view. Phoenix surrounded by police cars.
The rain effect sprites layered on top.
It’d be nice if we could add police car lights…

twitter.com/takumi_gt/status/19633856122…

Actually, Phoenix was originally supposed to be a private eye.

Translation: Phoenix’s bedroom
Dotted rectangle in the upper left: Evidence window
About the bed: Regular bed or futon?
Magazine by his bed: “Part-Time Jobs News”
Memo: Phoenix on his phone
The evidence window will be open, so please leave some space for it.
The light sources will be his bedside lamp and the light at the tip of his phone’s antenna.
Phoenix after he gets off the phone.

twitter.com/takumi_gt/status/19634940417…

The opening was going to show how, one night, Phoenix found a body at the office of his client, a lawyer, and is arrested on the spot.

Translation: Opening
About the hand: Glove
Memo: Use a sprite background?
Rushing speed lines (against a solid black background)

twitter.com/takumi_gt/status/19636459321…

And then, because the lawyer assigned to his case was kinda useless, Phoenix decided to take up his own defense…!

Translation: Defense Attorney Payne VS Mia
This serves to show Mia and the attorney talking as they stand in a straight line.
Phoenix should look like he’s mediating the defense’s discussion.
The attorney is confused.
※Phoenix is the layman here, so it’s fine if he’s not featured too prominently.

twitter.com/takumi_gt/status/19638738405…

In fact, it looks like even Phoenix’s first meeting with Maya was supposed to be completely different. It really gives you something to think about, huh… Anyway, later!

Translation: Maya’s First Appearance
• Camera POV:
Standing firm in a fighting pose.
She’s nervous because she’s facing a “killer”.
The background is a break room in the courthouse.

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Re-reading these got me thinking, because not only were there some really strange things that didn’t line up with the final version of the game, there was a completely different backstory to Phoenix! And so, I set out on an epic journey down a few flights of stairs to get some answers from the man himself!

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Janet: Otsukare-sama desu 1 , Takumi-san!

Takumi: Oh! Otsukare-sama desu!

Janet: Thanks for taking time out from your extremely busy schedule for this impromptu interview. I really appreciate it.

As you know, “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy” is coming out world-wide this winter, and as I was brainstorming what to write about for this week’s blog, I remembered your tweets from 2010.

Takumi: Tweets from 2010?

Janet: …Well, it was a long time ago…

Takumi: ???

Janet: I-It’s OK if you don’t remember…

Takumi: …Oh, THOSE! Yes!

Janet: I remember reading them and being shocked by how different the original draft of the game’s story was – how Phoenix wasn’t even a lawyer, but a private eye!

Takumi: Yes, AA was originally supposed to be a detective game, so naturally, Phoenix was to be a private eye. But then, one day, I made a startling realization: the gameplay concept I was going for was for players to enjoy finding and taking contradictions apart, but that was hardly related to investigating or detective work at all. In that moment, I had it – I realized that the main setting for the game should be the courtroom.

Janet: That’s quite the jump, but you know, I can’t imagine this series being anything else at this point.

Takumi: I suppose so, but in some ways, it will always be “Surviban: Attorney Detective Naruhodo-kun” 2 in my heart.

Janet: Ha, ha, ha! “Surviban”?! It sounds like some sort of Battle Royale – only in court!

Takumi: We had all sorts of names for the yet unnamed game back then, but as you know, people identify themselves in our company as “Mr./Ms. So-and-so from the XYZ team”, so when push came to shove, we had to decide on something soon after we formed our team.

There was the “Naruhodo-kun” series, like “Naruhodo-kun’s Screaming Trials”, “Naruhodo-kun’s Outrageous Defense”, “Naruhodo-kun’s Grab-What-You-Can-While-You-Can Adventure”, and “Isn’t That Great, Naruhodo-kun?!” The name “Gyakuten Saiban” (“Turnabout Court”/”Turnabout Trials”) was actually in this list, though I don’t know why it didn’t do it for me at the time.

We had some more impactful names like “Surviban”, “Attorney Brothers Three”, “Boogie-Woogie Innocence”, and “Bingo Bengo” 3 , too.

And then there were the more literary ones like “The Beautiful Verdict”, “Amber-Colored Testimonies”, “The Objections in Your Eyes”, and “Let’s Raise Hamsters”.

Janet: Wait. What was that last one…?!

Takumi: When I held my first meeting with all of the team members, there was one person who wanted the main character to be a hamster.

Janet: Please tell me that person was not serious…

Takumi: Actually, Surviban Naruhodo-kun did wind up with a pet hamster.

Janet: I-I see… 

Takumi: We really were a small, seven-person team back then, you know.

Janet: Oh?

Takumi: In fact, the game was in danger of being canceled once because two of our team members decided to leave the company. But with the help of Mr. Inaba and Mr. Mikami, who were the game’s producer and my division leader respectively, we were able to wrangle a Resident Evil team member into helping us part-time.

Janet: Talk about a close call!

Takumi: It was, but I think it taught everyone just how important each person on our team was.

Janet: So what kind of roles did you have on your team?

Takumi: Scenario, character animation, backgrounds, gameplay system graphics, music, sound effects, and programming.

Janet: Wait, that’s seven roles for seven people! That’s as bare-bone as you get!

Takumi: Yes, so you see why the threat of cancellation became a turning point for all of us and how seriously we each regarded our work.

Janet: I want to go back to the story for a second. In the picture of the Episode 3 opening storyboard, I noticed that it’s actually labeled as the opening for Episode 2. Is there a reason for that? I assume this means that at some point you must’ve shuffled some of the story around?

Takumi: I did, actually. In my initial draft, “Turnbabout Sisters” (ep. 2) was supposed to be the very first episode. But because of its length, among other reasons, the team and I decided it was ill-suited to being something to ease the player in, so I wrote a shorter first episode, which became simply “The First Turnabout”, and shifted the other episodes back a slot.

Janet: Was it hard to suddenly have to write something completely new, knowing that you had to keep it short?

Takumi: It was, mostly because of how hard it was to strike a balance on a number of points. In addition to keeping it short, I knew that as it was going to be the first thing people experienced, so I had to set up the world of Ace Attorney and the types of people they’d meet within it properly. The first defendant, Larry Butz, was an especially hard character, and I had to write and re-write him so many times to get him just right.

Initially, he was supposed to be an “average Joe” character – an all-around nice guy that anyone might know in real life. But the main artists on the team, Ms. Suekane and Mr. Iwamoto, quickly raised an objection and told me to give him some oomph.

So, on my next try, Larry became a prickly tough-guy whose defining trait was going to be that he had a habit of saying he’s “gonna kill” everyone. He would start with Phoenix and then move on to Prosecutor Payne and the Judge, and even on to his already dead girlfriend, but at the end of his tirade, he would turn to Mia and say that he would “love to be killed by her”.

Naturally, some of the higher-ups were not so fond of that, so I turned the situation around by turning him around, and he became a character who laments his lot in life by saying “I’m gonna die!!!” or that the situation “is killing me!!!”

Janet: The first turnabout of “The First Turnabout”, as it were? *laugh* Oh! That reminds me – I’ve seen players comment in the past about how they wished that the opening of the first episode wouldn’t show the culprit because it ruins all the fun of figuring out who did it, but I have to assume that you did it on purpose because it’s very reminiscent of the old TV series “Columbo”.

Takumi: You’re right that it was by design. “Columbo”, which I’m a fan of, and others like it are not set up to be whodunit stories, but rather as howcatchems (or “inverted detective stories”), and especially with the first episode of AA, I wanted players to focus on the thrill and excitement of nailing the culprit. It was just that this was the most direct way I could think of doing it.

Janet: Well, thank you for all your time! I know you’ve got to get back to your preparations for the Tokyo Game Show.

Takumi: You’re very welcome. I hope everyone will enjoy what we have to present. 

Janet: I’m sure they will! Good luck and have a safe trip! 

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Unfortunately, that’s all I could get out of Mr. Takumi within the limited time we had, but talk about shocking! All I can say is I didn’t know the project almost got canceled, but thank goodness it didn’t! 

Next time, we’ll jump back to the year 2002 and take a look at the beginnings of “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All”. Apparently, that project started off with a truly impossible request…

Until then! 

Notes:

1 This is a common greeting used in place of “hello” or “good day” in a work setting. It literally translates to “O Hard-Working Tired One”, though obviously, it’s not meant to be taken literally; it just a way of recognizing that the other person has been hard at work.

2 ”Surviban” is a play on words comprised of the English word “survival” and the Japanese word “saiban” (court/trials), while “Naruhodo-kun” is Phoenix’s Japanese name with the endearment suffix “-kun” attached.

3 ”Bingo Bengo” is a fun alliteration comprised of the borrowed English word “bingo” and the Japanese word “bengo” (defense/legal representation). While it may be tempting to imagine our favorite lawyers playing Bingo during a trial, the meaning of “bingo” in this case is “to have answered correctly” or “to have hit the nail on the head”.