Layton's Creator On Real-World Puzzle Solving And His Love Of Sherlock
Professor Layton’s adventure has broken into the real world.
If you’re not aware, the promotion for the latest Layton game, Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katreille and the Millionaire’s Conspiracy is a puzzle-solving journey that’s broken beyond the bounds of its 3DS roots and is now something you can experience in a web browser. But that new experience at Layton.World is just part of the plan for Level-5 president & CEO Akihiro Hino. In a recent interview with the man behind the successful series of puzzling adventures that currently stretches across six mainline games (with a seventh on the way), we talked about how his team creates its original conundrums and the recent expansion into new ways to experience the series.
Layton’s Mystery Journey is set to launch on 3DS sometime later this year, but surprisingly the mobile version is coming out worldwide on July 20. This latest game also switches up the protagonists trading in the familiar professor for someone claiming to be his daughter. But we’ll go into that in the interview below.
GameSpot: What drove the decision to bring Layton to smartphones?
Akihiro Hino: Of course, Layton has always been a continuous series on the 3DS. But for me as a user, I’m always in a taxi, on the go, and I like to play on my smartphone. Solving mysteries on the smartphone is really fun for me; that’s what I wanted to do. I know that there’s going to be a lot of people out there that want to do this kind of mystery solving, so that’s why we decided to go for smartphones.
Is it going to be on iOS and Android?
Yeah, for both.
My favorite thing about the Layton series is how it marries these quirky, fun stories with engaging puzzle elements. How do you go about deciding the best puzzle to create for each part of the story? It never feels random; it doesn’t feel like I’m just talking to somebody and then suddenly there’s a random puzzle that doesn’t fit.
So what we do first is make the story. And then once we’ve made the overall story, we create puzzles that fit into that story. And then once we’ve created the puzzles and added them in, if they don’t match, we go back and re-create those puzzles to make sure everything fits correctly.
We have about ten-plus people who go into a kind-of bunker, into a little room over something like a weekend. They come up with all the puzzles because the puzzles are the key to the game, and we want to make sure that we have the right ones. We really make sure that we focus on making great puzzles for the game.
Outside of the puzzles, I think one of the things that Layton does best is to create an almost movie-like world. I remember playing the first Layton and feeling surprised that it wasn’t something directly from a film.
When we were creating the very first Layton, there wasn’t a DS game where there was an actual anime story inside a game, so I wanted to make the first one. I wanted to be an innovator. And when you make something new, it’s got to have a lot of impact. That’s why we decided to make sure that we made a movie-quality anime within the game.
Did you have a hand in creating the actual Layton movies as well? Or do you ever think about taking the games that you’ve already made and creating a movie out of them?
Yeah, I did help with the creation of the movie. And I get a lot of questions asking when we’re going to make a movie or a TV animated series. I’m definitely looking into all that and trying to figure out a new way to bring the Layton world to the public.
Or even giving people access to those older games. Consoles keep changing, like Layton going over to mobile. Nintendo has had a big push with Switch. Do you think about giving access in some way to the previous Layton games to a wider audience through smartphone or Switch?
With Layton’s Mystery Journey on smartphone, we’re getting that know-how, the knowledge of how to move it onto the smartphone platform. And we are actually looking into trying to bring past projects onto maybe a smartphone, maybe even a new console, like Switch. But nothing is really decided yet. We’re looking into that right now.
Going back to the story, I feel like there’s always a mix between the fantastical aspects of Layton’s life and a more scientific, Sherlock Holmes-like grounding in reality. Where do you draw the line between the realistic and the kind of surreal worlds of Layton?
I wouldn’t say I try to bring the real world into the Layton series too much, but it is set in London. So I look up things like when the telephone was invented and things like that, just to get an age range. But I want to create this fantasy London where all of the good things of London are within it. It’s not the real London, but I want a miraculous London.
For Layton’s Mystery Journey, what drove the decision to switch the protagonist from Layton to Katrielle?
In the Layton stories, he solves mysteries to tackle a bigger mystery. That was the core of the story, and that’s the Layton series’ defining characteristic. But I felt like for this seventh one, by switching to his daughter, we’re able to create a more everyday kind of mystery that people might actually run across. And then it’s a young, vibrant atmosphere, which we thought would bring in a more interesting, new story for all the fans out there. And this is a little bit of a secret, but Layton will probably appear a little bit in these series too. [laughs]
Is Katrielle really his daughter? There has been a romance angle in the previous games, but did Layton end up getting married?
So the whole question of whether or not she’s really his daughter, that’s also part of the mystery of the Layton series. Just keep playing and you’ll find out a little bit more about the history behind that.
Thinking about Layton’s previous adventures, some of the crossovers have been very interesting. How did a character like Phoenix Wright end up in a Layton game?
Phoenix Wright has a close relationship with Capcom. So in order to bring about that idea of “impact” that I mentioned earlier, we thought it would be a good crossover. And it was also a way to bring an interesting plot to both fans communities. For that collaboration, Capcom was primarily in the driver’s seat, so a little bit more of the creative leaderships goes towards the Capcom side, but it was something I enjoyed creating too.
Do you have a dream collaboration or a dream team that you’d like to work with on another crossover-type game?
Sherlock Holmes. I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.
Have you seen the BBC Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch?
Yeah. I like it because the characters are very edgy. I like their characteristics.
There hasn’t been a live-action version of Professor Layton yet, right?
Do you think Benedict Cumberbatch would make a good Professor Layton?
[Laughs] I’m always thinking about those entertainment opportunities. I think he’d be a great fit, he’d be a lot of fun. And who doesn’t like Benedict Cumberbatch?
With this new series with Katrielle. It’s broken up into 12 stories and each of the chapter titles is from a movie. And it’s based off of those kind of Sherlock movie themes. It’s going to be really interesting because it’s got that entertainment vibe in there too. So I’m sure the fans will pick up on it.
Katrielle’s going to go out and solve mysteries within the town. It’s like everyday-life mysteries that people might encounter. So closer to what Sherlock Holmes was doing. You walk up and people will say, “Oh, there’s a dead body.”
To me, Sherlock Holmes’ focus is more on, not the murderers, but everyday life. Times when people might get lost and you have to find them. Or maybe they’ve lost something. He’s focusing on those kind of everyday mysteries, and not as much on the dead body part.
One of the mysteries that you discover in the game is a wealthy man that’s missing his cat. So Katrielle needs to go and find this cat–they look all over the place, but they can’t find the cat. The cat might be in a very peculiar place, and that’s part of the mystery. Or, at least, one of the chapters of the mystery.
The ending, the climax of that story is very interesting, so please play and hopefully you enjoy it.
This isn’t about the game, but when I think of Layton, I think escape games. And there’s been big a boom in escape games here in California. Does that kind of idea intrigue you as well? Expanding the idea of Layton, not just the video games, but to the physical world and like these escape games.
Actually, we’re working with the puzzle company SCRAP to bring Layton into the real world by making kind of a large-scale escape room. It going to run for three months across the web on layton.world.
It’s a large-scale mystery, and people worldwide will need to help each other out. You can use Google Translate and things like that. For example, for some puzzles, someone in London, Tokyo, and LA will need to work together or they won’t be able to solve the mystery. That’s what we’re trying to do right now.
And if you solve the mystery, there is incentive within the game of Layton. So maybe you’ll get extra content. I’d suggest trying it out!