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For a Ninja, Itagaki Makes a Pretty Noisy Exit

Tomonobu Itagaki, renowned producer of the “Ninja Gaiden” series and head of Tecmo’s Team Ninja, has resigned effective July 1, 2008 — obviously timing his announcement to coincide with the release of “Ninja Gaiden 2,” Team Ninja’s latest contribution to the action/adventure genre of the video game industry.

Itagaki is currently suing Tecmo for US$1.4 million — the amount he claims he’s owed as a production bonus for “Dead or Alive 4.” His parting of the ways with Tecmo has many Team Ninja fans wondering if the “Ninja Gaiden” and “Dead or Alive” series will continue or simply vanish along with him. The question is, can an individual producer make or break an already popular — even best-selling — series of games?

One Console Per Game, Please

Some gamers might view Itagaki’s departure as good news. He was staunchly opposed to the release of games on multiple next-gen consoles or platforms. “Ninja Gaiden 2” was released only for Xbox 360, so Itagaki’s absence could mean an expansion in production to PlayStation 3 and even Nintendo Wii consoles.

Itagaki expressed regret that he will not be involved in the production of the planned “Dead or Alive 5” or any future “Ninja Gaiden” titles, and I’m sure there are some people who feel the games won’t be the same without him.

However, Team Ninja is not one man. It’s a collaboration of more than 60 people — each playing a vital and necessary role in the production of quality video games. Granted, each team needs a good leader to channel its collective imagination and creativity in useful directions, but to suggest that the loss of Itagaki will drastically downgrade the quality of Tecmo games seems unfair and unreasonable.

Overshadowing Launch

Itagaki is no Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of “Mario”) or even Hironobu Sakaguchi (creator of “Final Fantasy”). The timing of Itagaki’s announcement seems self-serving. On a day that’s supposed to be celebratory, Itagaki evidently wants his financial squabble with Tecmo to overshadow the launch — minimizing the team’s accomplishment of producing a visually impressive and successful sequel to a popular game.

Replacing Itagaki as head producer of Team Ninja could be good for Tecmo. Fresh ideas for the “DOA” and “Ninja Gaiden” series could be just the stimulus the company needs to break away from the pack in the overpopulated action/adventure genre.

I doubt that Itagaki intends to retire from the gaming industry. He no doubt can take his pick among a number of large gaming companies. His reputation for overseeing the development of best-selling games is strong enough to generate interest in funding a brand new Itagaki-produced game.

Who’s Show Is It?

As a gamer, I can’t help but be offended that Itagaki has stolen away press and hype for “Ninja Gaiden 2’s” release. Should all developers get press coverage whenever they get into a disagreement with their employers? Are developers more important to a game than people in the graphics department?

Hopefully not, or gamers will slowly see their favorite game producers acting like celebrities of the gaming world. If that happens, the quality of games will be completely governed by how much companies are willing to pay their lead developers and producers.

As an avid gamer, I want to see the emphasis stay on the video games themselves — not the disagreements of players behind the scenes. I would rather celebrate and congratulate the people who contribute to the making of a good, enjoyable game than focus on who isn’t going to be producing what. After all, a video game is more than the sum of its parts.

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