Tomonobu Itagaki (板垣 伴信 Itagaki Tomonobu?, born April 1, 1967 in Tokyo) is a Japanese video game designer, best known for creating the Dead or Alive series and also reviving the Ninja Gaiden franchise in 2004. Joining Tecmo in 1992, Itagaki produced two video game franchises that were commercial successes and earned him several promotions; he headed Tecmo's development team, Team Ninja, and sat on the executive board. He left the company after 16 years of service, filing a lawsuit against it for withholding bonus pay. His new team at Valhalla Game Studios, comprising other Team Ninja members, is working on a new game, Devil's Third.
Tomonobu Itagaki joined Tecmo in 1992 as a graphics programmer, and initially worked on the Super Famicom version of the American football video game, Super Tecmo Bowl. His career breakthrough came in 1996 with his first Dead or Alive game, a game based on Sega Model 2 hardware (Virtua Fighter) created in response to Tecmo management's request. He was mentored by Yoshiaki Inose (of Solomon's Key's, Bomb Jack's, Rygar's and the Nintendo Entertainment System Ninja Gaiden's fame) and Akihiko Shimoji (of Tecmo Bowl's fame) in his early years at Tecmo, and was impressed by them to include fun as a necessary component in his projects.
His rise through the company had been steady since then. He was appointed as the head of the third creative department in April 2001. He then assumed the post of Team Ninja Leader in July 2001. Tecmo appointed him as an Executive Officer in June, 2004. He later assumed the position of General Manager of the high-end production department in February, 2006. His Executive Officer position was however taken away in August the same year, due to his involvement in a sexual harassment scandal.
The release of Dead or Alive 2 had greatly increased the series popularity, as well as Itagaki's. He had sought to create fighting games with details he felt were lacking in other games. In the later iterations, Itagaki has built the story of the games around themes of family - Kasumi and Ayane in Dead or Alive 3, and Helena in Dead or Alive 4. To date, the series has gone through four iterations with various enhanced editions. A fifth iteration has also been made in his absence.
In the Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball series, Itagaki brought together the girls of Dead or Alive onto an island. The player is to foster good relationship between the girls to create a harmonious winning beach volleyball duo. In the second iteration of the series, the focus is shifted by expanding the number of activities the player can have the girls take part in. He explains the core of the game as a paradise where the player can watch the girls they 'love' enjoy simple activities.
Ninja Gaiden was Itagaki's effort to develop a game centered on violent gameplay, with super ninja Ryu Hayabusa as the protagonist. Capitalizing on the brand name of the earlier NES series, Itagaki developed a critically acclaimed action-adventure game for the Xbox which also had an international online tournament held for it. He continued work on it to release Ninja Gaiden Black as the opus of his Ninja Gaiden work. He continued the series on the Nintendo DS with Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, partly due to a promise made to his daughter. At the same time, he brought the series' next chapter onto the Xbox 360 as Ninja Gaiden II.
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.
On June 2, 2008, just before the release of Ninja Gaiden II for the Xbox 360, 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 disingenuousstatements" made in front of Itagaki's colleagues. 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.
- Due to a radio commercial insulting Dead or Alive when he was the series director, Itagaki holds a very harsh grudge against Namco's Tekken series. Ironically, Ivan's Japanese voice actor is also the current voice of Heihachi Mishima, one of Tekken's flagship characters