Persona 3 Reload Developer Interview on UI Development, Concept Screenshots

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Famitsu has conducted a new interview with Persona Team art director Tomohiro Kumagai, director Takuya Yamaguchi and producer Ryota Niitsuma. They discuss the development of Persona 3 Reload, specifically focusing on the user interface (UI) design. They also share several UI mock-ups from earlier in development.

Art Director Kumagai and His Background

This is the first time you’re appearing in Famitsu, isn’t it Kumagai? First, please tell us your career leading up to your involvement with P3R.

Kumagai: I’m the art director for this game. I joined the Persona series as a UI designer starting with Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, and later worked on Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal. When development on P3R began, I volunteered for the role of art director, and was granted the position.

Speaking of volunteering, Yamaguchi also volunteered to be the director.

Yamaguchi: Yes, Kumagai was also in the list of staff I had in mind when I assumed the role of director. So when I heard that he wanted to work on this project, I was fortunate enough to be able to grant it.

Yamaguchi previously mentioned that when the original Persona 3 was released, he experienced it purely as a player. How about you, Kumagai?

Kumagai: At the time I was working for another game developer, and was doing all kinds of design work, including 3D. When I saw Persona 3’s design I thought it was very cool, and I was impressed by the idea that UI could have the power to symbolize a project’s overall theme. That made me decide to develop my own UI design skills, so being involved in this remake is very moving to me.

When the first news of Persona 3 came out, Weekly Famitsu Magazine included a DVD, right? I was captivated by the footage included in there, and that played a part in bringing me to where I am now. So in that sense, I also wanted to personally thank Famitsu.

Wow, so we played a part in creating this opportunity…! At that time video sharing sites were not widespread, so there was a lot of value in DVDs that allowed you to watch footage of games pre-release.

The March 24, 2006 issue of Weekly Famitsu included a special DVD of Persona 3.

Menu Screen and the Main Character

What was your overall goal when designing the UI for P3R?

Kumagai: The original Persona 3 was a turning point for the Persona series, and the UI design played a key role in this. I thought about how to express the charm I felt at that time with current technology, using that as a starting point.

In the game’s reveal trailer, the menu start-up animation was shown, and the UI got immediate attention. The design this time seemed to be based on a sea-like blue color, with the feeling of being underwater. 

Kumagai: Ever since the original version, I’ve been impressed by the beautiful blue color and movement reminiscent of water and bubbles. When I talked to the staff who worked on the original game before starting on P3R, I found out that they had actually created the UI with that image in mind.

If we were to use current technology to further enhance this effect, we would be able to not only make the representation of water more beautiful, but also show the menu screen as something that appears like the reflection of the protagonist’s deep psychological state. Like an image of “sinking into one’s own heart to perceive one’s relationships and information with others.”

I see. From that perspective, the protagonist is expressed as drifting and sinking underwater. This is in contrast to the Persona 5 menus, where the protagonist strikes poses and holds a gun in his Phantom Thief outfit.

Kumagai: Persona 5’s UI had a pop-punk aesthetic, so we used fast movements and gave it an aggressive feeling. In P3R, I imagined combining the beauty of the sea from Port Island and Yakushima in the game, with the protagonist’s “Sea of Souls.” Elements like the shimmer and gradation as if underwater, as well as the sparkle and reflection like glass, were consciously represented.

At the Atlus TGS2023 Media Briefing in September, Niitsuma showed off the System menu UI. The part where the protagonist hangs on the digit ‘9’ was popular. 

Kumagai: The ‘9’ refers to the “System” menu being the 9th item from the top. Speaking of which, why did you decide to show the “System” screen at the presentation?

Niitsuma: Honestly, I wanted to show off all the menu items because they all have a cool style. However at the briefing we were only able to show viewers how to play the game until a certain point in the story, so it was challenging to showcase some elements like characters and personas.

So I figured the “System” menu would be fine, but then I realized that we hadn’t revealed the “Rollback” feature in there, so I introduced this for the first time at the presentation (laughs).

The “System” menu UI. “Rollback” is a new feature like an auto-save, allowing players to instantly go back in-game to a few days ago.

The main character’s movements, gaze and facial expressions seen on the menu are very beautiful. Especially the “Equip” section!

Kumagai: The animation team added movements to the main character on the menu screens, and we worked on the finer details together. I gave orders like, “I want it to be more ephemeral,” or “make it look so beautiful that I can hear Akira Ishida’s (the protagonist’s VA) voice” (laughs).

We paid close attention to not only the 3D model, but also the shading, facial expressions, and the way the hair sways. We adjusted every detail, like “let’s tweak this bunch of hair a bit more…”

Niitsuma: The protagonist on the menu has a 3D model made exclusively for the UI, so there are expressions and gestures that you won’t see in normal game scenes. In a way, the menu might be the place where you see the protagonist at his most expressive.

Did you prepare a 3D model specifically for the UI?

Kumagai: Yes, it’s exclusive. We had a special 3D model made with a large number of animation skeletons and polygons to express detailed facial expressions, the shimmering music player and the feeling of being underwater. We changed the poses and expressions for each menu item to find the best way to show off each element.

The main character on the “Equip” screen, showing off the beautiful gestures and expressions.

As expected, the Persona Team is putting a lot of effort into the UI. For Persona 5, there had been a story that a significant amount of memory was allocate to the UI to make sure the menus were responsive, and P3R’s are also quite fast, right?

Kumagai: The responsive and easy navigation that we built in Persona 5 are also important in this game, so we hope you will be able to enjoy it with ease. The memory capacity of current systems has also increased, so benefits extend beyond the UI.

P3R will also be released on PlayStation 4. Will that be as fast? 

Yamaguchi: I think it will be about the same. The designers and programmers have made the effort to ensure that each version works well.

Niitsuma, you transitioned from another company to Atlus. What did you think of the Persona Team’s attitude towards UI?

Niitsuma: Each project has its own culture, so I can’t really generalize, but I got the impression that the Persona Team’s approach to UI is very unified. It’s quite unusual to spend that much budget and time on UI, but there is a culture that values the UI highly, and everyone working on the project shares that awareness.

In P3R, Kumagai was able to skillfully consolidate the ideas coming from higher level staff, and this kind of flexibility and comprehension is one of the strengths of the Persona Team.

Early Development UI Concepts

This time, we’ve been shown initial UI design proposals for the first time. Looking at these, it’s clear that various directions were considered, right?

Kumagai: Yes, I also wanted to create a UI for P3R that was different from previous series entries, so we started exploring a direction that would fit.

Various professionals from different fields like designers, programmers and planners are involved in UI production. In what order do you create it?

Kumagai: Basically, the planners convey the elements of information they want displayed on the screen. Then the designers proceed with creating images that encompass those elements. So the proposals that showcase silhouettes or depict the protagonist sinking are often made by the designers.

Looking at the design proposals, they also have their own cool look. Did you go through a process of selecting and discarding from them?

Kumagai: Yes, designs that seem good at first glance may turn out to be more difficult or less readable when actually implemented in the game. After narrowing down the choices to an extent, we implemented them to see how they worked in practice. The final result, taking into account not only design aesthetics but also usability and other factors, is how it looks now.

This is a piece prepared at the early stages of planning. It includes illustrations by Azusa Shimada, a member of the art team, with the intent of expressing a strong artistic direction for P3R. These illustrations were pasted into the project proposal.

The Logo Representing a Remake

Looking at the logo for P3R, the original logo remains unchanged, and the design adds the word “Reload” below it. What was the intention behind this?

Kumagai: Initially, we considered redesigning the logo as well. But as the direction of the remake solidified, with the goal of rebuilding graphics, usability, and other aspects without altering the fundamentals of Persona 3, we decided to create a logo that was aligned with that. Niitsuma was quite particular about this.

Niitsuma: If this remake significantly changed the original version, we might have wanted to refresh the logo as well. However, since the core of Persona 3 remains unchanged, we wanted to convey the message that the original logo is preserved.

However, as this is not a typical HD remaster and includes new elements, we also wanted to incorporate the “Reload” text to highlight that. We discussed this with Kumagai and the team, and after creating about 50 design proposals, we reached the final decision on the title logo.

You created 50 designs!

Niitsuma: We didn’t create them all at once; rather, during the planning process, new designs kept evolving. The decision to use a Gothic font for the “Reload” text was a particular point of emphasis. It represents the newly added elements and carries the feeling of both the original version and the remake.

This game is being released simultaneously worldwide, and I imagine there was quite a bit of work involved in the localization. How was it regarding UI design?

Kumagai: Honestly, it was quite challenging (laughs). Because the number of characters varies by language, there were cases where the translation needed to be reconsidered if it protruded too much from the design, or where we had to adjust how the text was placed until we were satisfied. Since the Persona series has a lot of text designed graphically, figuring out how to maintain design aesthetics without disrupting the balance in each language was quite a headache.

You also directed the localization for other language versions in Japan.

Yamaguchi: Yes, especially for the UI, I supervised and made corrections down to a single pixel. Such delicate work is challenging and requires the expertise of Kumagai and the team who created the original design.

Niitsuma: In the modern game industry, there are many games that have simultaneous worldwide releases or include all languages in the original release. P3R supports 13 languages, and the amount of localization and tuning required increases multiplicatively with the number of languages. We were prepared for it in advance, but it turned out to be an even more challenging workload than we expected.

13 languages…!

Yamaguchi: There were challenges for sure, but rest assured, the release date seems to be approaching smoothly (laughs).

Deformation and Reality

The graphics of map areas such as the school, town, and dungeons have significantly improved in this remake. As someone who played the original version many years ago, I feel a sense of nostalgia while also being able to appreciate its legitimate evolution. It’s reassuring.

Yamaguchi: I’m glad you feel that way. In the original version, the characters’ proportions were deformed, so the scale of the maps was adjusted accordingly. However, in P3R, since the characters are represented with more realistic proportions, adjusting the scale isn’t that simple. We needed to find the right balance between deformation and realism while creating the areas, as going too realistic might deviate from the original versions’ atmosphere.

Indeed, it doesn’t have what we might call a photorealistic representation.

Yamaguchi: This applies not only to the field graphics, but also to the overall remake. One of the goals we set for this remake was to reproduce the image everyone has of the original version, and deliver it with a sense of increased resolution. I believe that those who have enjoyed the original version for many years likely have wonderful memories of that experience. Keeping that in mind, we always aimed to not disappoint the expectations from those memories.

In this game, there are new elements to enjoy added to places like the student dorm, which holds many memories from the original version. For example, you can now enter the kitchen and go to the rooftop whenever you like.

Yamaguchi: While the kitchen and rooftop existed in the original version, they weren’t used in everyday events. In this game, we wanted to delve even deeper into the daily life spent with friends in the dorm, so as we added elements like side stories and rooftop gardening, we also developed new areas that we ended up having to.

Many fans are probably looking forward to seeing the individual rooms of their companions.

Yamaguchi: The fun “surveillance camera,” which was introduced in Persona 3 FES, is also present in this game. There are scenes where you can see the characters’ rooms as you progress through the main story and Social Links. Unlike before, when you could only peek through surveillance cameras, there are scenes where you can actually enter the rooms, so please look forward to that.

Additionally, with the new side stories for the members of Strega, have new locations been introduced?

Yamaguchi: I would like you to play the game to see the details, but we have created new locations for them as well. Considering that Strega is a rather otherworldly group, it’s unlikely for them to live in an ordinary apartment, right? (laughs) When adding such details that weren’t depicted in the original version, we had to consider them quite a bit, so it wasn’t a smooth process.

Niitsuma: On the other hand, the image boards for Tartarus were created quite early on. With the characters’ increased proportions, it was anticipated from the beginning that Tartarus would need an appropriate refresh in turn.

Kumagai: In the early stages of development, we created an interpretation of Tartarus as a new image board. We started making the entrance and the early blocks like Thebel and Arqa quite early in the process.

Kumagai, do you have any specific places you would like players to pay attention to?

Kumagai: Personally, I really like how the Tziah block, which players delve into in the latter part of the story, undergoes a significant transformation into a solemn atmosphere.

For details, I’d like players to look at the back alley of the police station in Paulownia Mall. While buying weapons from the police officer in the station is the same as in the original version, I thought it wouldn’t be good to do that transaction in a place visible from the outside (laughs). In this game, we’ve prepared a new back alley for buying and selling.

Yamaguchi: Also, considering the hardware performance for the original version at the time, it was probably not possible to display many character models simultaneously. In this game, places like Paulownia Mall are bustling with many people, creating an atmosphere that is unique to the remake.

I see, it seems that both taking advantage of the current hardware capabilities and elevating the essence of Persona 3 are both being pursued for this remake!

We’ve had some very interesting discussions, once again. Finally, though it’s the usual follow-up, please give a message to those who are looking forward to this game.

Yamaguchi: Tuning the game for worldwide compatibility is almost complete, and now we’re at the stage of waiting for the release date. We’ve carefully crafted the game to meet the expectations of both those playing for the first time and those who enjoyed the original version, so I hope you all look forward to it!

Kumagai: Looking at social media and such, it seems that the redesigned UI and battle presentation in P3R have been positively received, which actually puts my mind at ease (laughs). I’d be delighted if you could pay attention not only to the story of the main characters, but also to the design that creates the world of Persona 3.

Niitsuma: As the release date approaches, I hope to deliver even more trailers and new information that will heighten your expectations. I would be grateful if you continue to keep an eye on us!

Famitsu