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Tomonobu Itagaki (板垣 伴信 Itagaki Tomonobu) is a Japanese video game designer who created the Dead or Alive fighting games, and the Ninja Gaiden 3D titles. Joining Tecmo in 1992, Itagaki produced the two video game franchises, that turned out to be commercial successes and earned him several promotions.
He became the head of Tecmo's development team Team Ninja in 2001, and sat on the executive board. He left the company in 2008, after 16 years of service, filing a lawsuit against Tecmo for withholding bonus pay. The issue later settled out of court, and he currently heads a new team at Valhalla Game Studios, comprising of other Team Ninja members.
He is renowned in the industry for wearing ‘rock star’ attire, such as jackets and sunglasses, and for making frank comments, negative and positive, on other developers and video games.
Born in 1967, Tomonobu Itagaki graduated from Waseda University Senior High School in Tokyo on March 1985. Following that, he entered Waseda University, and graduated from its School of Law on March 1992.
He is married, and has a daughter, born in 1997, whom he has mentioned to be one of the primary influences on his projects, and his constant gaming partner in games like the Halo series.
In his office, Itagaki has a set of katana his father made for him, which he tends to take out to show to his visitors. As he wishes to stop people from reading his expressions during gambling-type games, he is always seen wearing sunglasses, a habit that has become his trademark in the video game community.
Itagaki joined Tecmo in 1992 as a graphics programmer, and initially worked on the Super Famicom version of Tecmo Bowl, an American football video game. He was mentored by Yoshiaki Inose - the creator of the original Ninja Gaiden series - and Akihiko Shimoji - the creator of the Tecmo Bowl series - in his early years at Tecmo, and was impressed by them to include fun as a necessary component in his projects.
The start of Dead or AliveEdit
His career breakthrough came in 1996 with the first Dead or Alive - a game based on Virtua Fighter, and created in response to Tecmo management's request. The game was a succsess, and Itagaki's rise through the company had been steady since then.
In 1999, the release of Dead or Alive 2 had greatly increased the series popularity, as well as Itagaki's. He was appointed as the head of the third creative department in April 2001, and later assumed the post of Team Ninja Leader in July 2001. He had sought to create fighting games with details he felt were lacking in other games. In the later iterations, Itagaki had built the story of the games around themes of family, such as the relationship between Kasumi and Ayane, and Helena Douglas' love for her mother. Even Ryu Hayabusa’s connections with his clan in the Ninja Gaiden series can be considered familial.
Following the release of Dead or Alive 3 and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, Tecmo also appointed him as an Executive Officer in June, 2004, and General Manager of the high-end production department in February, 2006. However, his Executive Officer position was taken away in August the same year, due to his involvement in a sexual harassment scandal.
Sexual Harassment AllegationsEdit
On November 7, 2006, various gaming sites reported that an unnamed, female, former Tecmo employee had filed a sexual harassment suit against Itagaki, claiming that Itagaki had made several unwanted sexual advances on her since September 2003.
While Itagaki admitted to kissing her, he claimed that whatever had gone between them had been consensual. Tecmo's ensuing investigation reached the conclusion that "the allegations in question were a result of the former employee's desire to vent frustration over her own personal affair, and not indicative of sexual harassment." Tecmo had also demoted Itagaki, and the accuser for their mingling of "personal affairs with their corporate responsibilities". Meanwhile, the court has found Itagaki innocent of the charges
On June 2, 2008, just before the release of Ninja Gaiden II, Itagaki announced that he was resigning from Tecmo and was suing the company for withholding a bonus promised for his previous works. He was also suing Tecmo's president, Yoshimi Yasuda for damages based on "unreasonable and disingenuous statements" made in front of Itagaki's colleagues.
In an interview, Itagaki said this about his reason for leaving Tecmo:
- "Before the start of development on DEAD OR ALIVE 4, Tecmo Co., Ltd. had agreed to pay a completion bonus to me for the Xbox 360 title, which I produced. However, when the time came for the actual payment, Tecmo Co., Ltd. went against its previous agreement and refused payment. President Yoshimi Yasuda chose not only to violate this agreement, but also turned defiant, telling me if you are dissatisfied with the decision not to pay the bonuses, either quit the company or sue it. In addition, he made demeaning remarks about me to my subordinates and colleagues, causing me significant emotional distress and worsening my personal relationships and work environment. Thus, I have no choice but to resign from Tecmo Co., Ltd."
On March, 2010 Itagaki revealed that the matter had been settled out of court.
In an interview with 1up.com, Itagaki has revealed that he is working on a project with former members of Team Ninja under a new studio, Valhalla Game Studios. The title in question, Devil's Third, was revealed shortly before E3 2010.
- Dead or Alive (1996) - Producer & Director
- Dead or Alive++ (1998) - Chief Director (as Tom. Itagaki)
- Dead or Alive 2 (1999) - Producer & Director
- Dead or Alive 3 (2001) - Producer & Director
- Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball (2003) - Producer & Director
- Dead or Alive Ultimate (2004) - Producer & Director
- Dead or Alive 4 (2005) - Producer and Director
- Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 (2006) - Chief Designer and Software Architect
- Itagaki has mentioned that the reason for the development of Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword was for his daughter to enjoy the series on Nintendo DS.
- Itagaki claims to be one of the very few in the Japanese video game industry to establish communications with the Western world. He suggests other Japanese developers should do like-wise and be aware of the gaming tastes outside of Japan, so as to be able to reverse the Japanese gaming industry slump of 2005.
- The Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball games are just meant for simple fun, and to fulfill a 'love' for the female characters, letting the player nurture and watch the girls partaking in simple joys. Even though he admits to there being sexual content in the game, Itagaki refused to create scenarios which he felt were vulgar for his 'daughters', a term he uses to call the female characters.
- Itagaki has consistently given harsh opinions on Namco's Tekken games, mainly due to his grudge against the company for its insulting radio commercial on his Dead or Alive game. He has stated he never forgets an insult to his family, and will retaliate with "nuclear missiles more than 100 times for that".