Unlocking Psyche-Locks – A New Gameplay Mechanic is Born

Nov 07, 2014
2014 Nov 07
Janet Hsu

Howdy, everyone! I hope you all have recovered from your candy comas and/or the confirmation that Klavier is not German, whichever hit you harder (Are those Gavinners fans I see out there with pitchforks? *gulp*). Either way, get ready for another of Mr. Takumi’s AA2 dev blogs! This entry from 2002 is about how he came up with the idea for Psyche-Locks, which takes the phrase “literally keeping secrets under lock and key” to a whole new level.

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Right around the time I finished writing all of the dialogue, I got a call one morning from the game’s producer just as I arrived at work.

When I got to the 12th floor, the producer was just standing there with his back to me in front of one of the giant windows along the wall. He was wearing a leather jacket and a pair of leather boots with a leather wallet in the pocket of his leather pants – it was an entire ensemble made of leather. As he indulged in the rich aroma coming from the cup of coffee in his hand, he flicked two of the venetian blind’s slats apart, and squinted at the light from the morning sun as he took a look outside. His voice rumbled lightly and, as though he were lost in thought, he quietly said, “I want you to add a new gameplay mechanic to the investigation sections…”

Suddenly, I had a vision of the Psyche-Lock system.

The single most important concept behind the series’ gameplay is its simplicity — I strive to keep things simple so that even my mother can have fun while playing these games. That’s why finding and exposing lies is the sole gameplay mechanic that lies at the heart of every Ace Attorney game. If the games were any more complicated than that, I doubt my mother would be able to keep up. In fact, I’m sure of it. Sticking with this core concept, I thought it only appropriate to add a “find the lies” element to the investigation sections, too, after which, it became obvious as to what kind of gameplay mechanic would be needed.

Of course, ideas don’t usually come to me this easily. It really was a miraculous bout of good luck to be struck with inspiration like that. On the other hand, I didn’t want to just rush into the whole thing with a, “Sure. In fact, I have an idea already.” So I slouched down a little, looked down at my feet, lightly bit on my lower lip, and waited a few seconds while I pretended to be lost in thought myself. Then, with a note of uncertainty in my voice, I finally replied, “That’s a tall order… but I’ll try to come up with something. Can you give me three days?”

…But really, the Psyche-Lock system was more or less born of this exchange.

However, while it was relatively easy to formulate the idea itself, it took over a month to actually pull everything together and put the finishing touches on it. The biggest obstacle we, as a team, had to face was “Just how do you visually represent Psyche-Locks?” It was a very difficult question to answer, but I believed that if we could pull it off, the rest of the game’s production would go smoothly. After all, this game was basically an extension of the previous installment.

…But nothing ever goes as planned, do they? In fact, before we could finish making AA2, we were hit with two gigantic dilemmas, which I’ll share more about next time.

Maya: Who’s up for some breakdown discussions!

Phoenix: …I would be, but you know, everything Takushu said basically boils down to: “Having the idea for Psyche-Locks was easy, but actualizing it was hard.”

Maya: Huh, now that you mention it, that’s true.

Phoenix: Honestly, I can’t believe the guy. The only reason this entry looks as long as it does is because he managed to drag that one point out for forever.

Maya: …THAT’S the first thing you pick on? You’re really something else, Nick…

He was wearing a leather jacket and a pair of leather boots with a leather wallet in the pocket of his leather pants – it was an entire ensemble made of leather. As he indulged in the rich aroma coming from the cup of coffee in his hand, he flicked two of the venetian blind’s slats apart, and squinted at the light from the morning sun as he took a look outside. His voice rumbled lightly and, as though he were lost in thought, he quietly said,

Maya: That is one cool producer! Mr. Inaba, is it?

Phoenix: Yeah, I guess…? But he was squinting at the sun while nursing a cup of coffee, right? Sounds more like he was suffering a hangover to me.

Maya: And how would you know!

Phoenix: He was speaking softly and looked a little dazed, right? Those are classic signs of someone who’s still half asleep.

Maya: That can’t be the only explanation… Oh, what about his all-leather attire? Mr. Inaba’s got good taste, don’t you think?

Phoenix: I hear he was stuffing his face with skewer after skewer of grilled chicken skins down at the bar1.

Maya: Nick! You can’t go around starting crazy rumors like that!

Phoenix: Why not? We’re just here as filler.

Maya: Because you’ll give everyone the wrong impression, that’s why! We don’t need people thinking Capcom is full of a bunch of drunkards, you know.

I strive to keep things simple so that even my mother can have fun while playing these games. That’s why finding and exposing lies is the sole gameplay mechanic that lies at the heart of every Ace Attorney game.

Phoenix: Ace Attorney was never meant to be a courtroom game anyway.

Maya: No way!

Phoenix: And I’d say the word “simple” sums up what Takushu wanted for the series pretty well.

Maya: …You’re gonna have to explain yourself, Nick.

Phoenix: Takushu didn’t really want to add a bunch of extra things for the player to focus on, such as “alibis”, “tricks”, or “culprits”, because all they do is complicate things.

Maya: Oh…?

Phoenix: He made the games so that all the player has to figure out is what the contradiction is. That also helped to keep the game’s controls simple.

Maya: But then, why the courtroom setting?

Phoenix: Well, “find the contradiction” detective games had already been done before, so Takushu wanted to make his protagonist a person whose job it is to find and expose contradictions and lies.

Maya: And that’s why he made you a lawyer, huh.

Phoenix: Apparently, Takushu’s heart aches whenever he sees his games get misrepresented in magazines and stuff as something he purposefully made in an attempt to tackle a courtroom setting.

Maya: Melodramatic much? It’s not like it’s THAT big of a deal, sheesh.

“Just how do you visually represent Psyche-Locks?” It was a very difficult question to answer.

Phoenix: Takushu’s initial idea was to have a giant, glass lock spinning in place next to a witness which would shatter when the player presented the correct piece of evidence.

Maya: So it was always going to be a literal lock, huh.

Phoenix: Yeah, but making it really look like glass was actually quite hard. The team really had a lot of trouble with it.

Maya: Really?

Phoenix: And then, after about a week’s worth of work, the team was pretty satisfied with what they had made, so they went and presented it to the producer.

Maya: You mean Mr. Inaba? So what did he think?

Phoenix: “I know it’s just a placeholder, but it’s about time you guys started working on the real deal.”

Maya: Well, that wasn’t very nice.

Phoenix: He didn’t mean to insult the team, but to his eyes, it really did look like a temporary mockup.

Maya: I guess it wasn’t “all that” from a more detached point of view, huh.

Phoenix: Apparently, the lead graphics artist’s fragile, glass heart shattered when he was presented with that feedback though.

Maya: …That’s not funny, Nick.

Phoenix: Takushu says he’ll never forget the look in that artist’s teary eyes that day.

Maya: I’ll bet.

Phoenix: Anyway, I’m sure the whole ordeal is, to this day, a good memory for him.

Maya: “To this day”? Isn’t it a little early to be saying that like it’s ancient history?

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Thank you, Mr. Takumi from 2002! A giant, glass lock sounds like it definitely would’ve been hard to pull off back in the GBA days, but I wonder how it would look if the game had been made today? More things to ponder!

The two gigantic dilemmas Mr. Takumi mentioned at the end of his part of the entry were the popularity of Edgeworth and the GBA cartridge’s memory capacity limit, the consequences of which I covered in last week’s blog.

Join me next week for a look at some of Phoenix’s clients on another segment of “Great People Around Town: Legal Edition!” With some of the people he’s defended, it’s guaranteed to be one heck of a ride…

Until then!

Catch up on previous blog entries here!

1Drinking establishments in Japan typically serve food, and depending on the place, they might serve “ yakitori”, or “pieces of chicken on sticks” as I like to call them. The pieces of said chicken that can end up on a skewer range from breast and thigh meat to heart, skin, and even cartilage. Many of the offal meats are an acquired taste, but a lot of people find them to be quite tasty and even their favorite bits to eat.

Also, in case anyone is wondering, the word Mr. Takumi uses for “bar” in this case is “nomiya” (飲み屋), which is different from an “izakaya” (居酒屋), which is apparently an English word now meaning a “Japanese-style bar that serves food”. The difference in nuance here for a Japanese person is in the variety and quality of the food and drinks available and the size of the two types of establishments. “Nomiya” tend to be smaller, quieter affairs where, like a Western bar, the focus is on the alcohol, and “izakaya” are more restaurant-like and are about eating in addition to drinking and being boisterous.