Cult Killer 7 game creator Suda51 discussed his history in the business, the concept of emotion in games, and his upcoming Grasshopper Manufacture-designed Wii title No More Heroes at the recent GO3 conference in Australia, and we've added a detailed write-up of the game creator's speech.
"After introducing himself to the GO3 audience, Goichi Suda explained his nickname, 'Suda 51', an explanation which turned out to be quite simple - 'go' is Japanese for the word 'five', and 'ichi' is Japanese for 'one'. He started by telling the story of his time in the game industry, beginning with his employment at the now defunct Human Entertainment, where he produced their famous Fire Professional Wrestling games.
Following his wrestling game success, Suda directed the horror games Twilight Syndrome and Moonlight Syndrome. He told us that he received a lot of criticism for killing the main character at the end of Moonlight Syndrome, but that because of his time at Human, he "ended up with quite a substantial stable group of fans."
Forming Grasshopper Manufacture
The speech then jumped to 1998, when Suda left Human to found his own company, Grasshopper Manufacture, and he began to explain the philosophy behind the company's work. Grasshopper is like a "video game band" he said, with four members: the script writing division, the programming division, the graphic art division and the sound division. "This is like how vocals, guitar, bass and drums form a band, forms a coherent sound," he explained, "this is the game plan that we have in our company."
Grasshopper Manufacture is so named because Suda and his staff want to be a "consolidated manufacturing company", in that all development work on their products would be done within the company, and would follow their three slogans: 'call and response', 'crash and build' and 'let's punk' – slogans Suda would explain later in the address.
Next, Suda showed the audience Grasshopper's first game, a Japan-only text based adventure game for the PS1 called The Silver Case. At the time, Grasshopper was severely financially restrained, as the company only had three employees - "we didn't have enough manpower to make a lot of materials, so we were stuck for a period of time". The situation caused Suda to look at his design from another angle, and he came up with the 'film window engine' where the illustrations were confined to windows on the screen, and "by adopting this new method, we could keep going."
It paid off, and The Silver Case was a small hit. He told us that even though the game is now nine years old, he still gets requests for sequels, requests for which he has finally capitulated, as a remake and sequel will be making their way to the Nintendo DS. To the delight of the crowd, he also confirmed that the game will be translated and released worldwide this time.
On Making Killer 7
After a brief discussion and presentation on his first PS2 game Flower Sun and Rain, Suda moved on to his first worldwide release, and most famous creation to date, the GameCube and PS2 game Killer 7. Suda said that Killer 7 and The Silver Case had a lot of similarities: "The Silver Case, in my mind, experimented with a lot of things, like story, game design, and the structure of gameplay. I wanted to make them as versatile as possible, and I wanted to make Killer 7 as versatile as The Silver Case". The guaranteed international release of Killer 7 also played on his mind: "As The Silver Case was only released in Japan, I wanted to create the same experience in Killer 7."
While by now budget restraints were a (relative) thing of the past, the philosophy of invention continued in Killer 7, particularly in Suda's much discussed re-invention of game controls for the title. "I destroyed the existing controls such as button A is punch, button B is jump and so on, and I reconstructed the whole operationality." Instead of moving with the d-pad or stick, Suda made A the run button, leaving the traditional movement device only as a selector for new actions, or to choose if you go straight or turn right.
"I understood that Killer 7 would be released as something different than anything players had experienced in the past, so I wanted to make it so that people who have never played games would be attracted to it, [as well as] people in the US and Europe who were not familiar with standard operationality, so at the time of release I received a lot of comments about the unfamiliar controls." His experiment was celebrated and reviled in equal measure, but Suda remains circumspect, stating "I guess I did experiment, and whether it was successful or not I tried to challenge something new, and create a new expression."
Other notable aspects of Killer 7 were its visuals and presentation, and as well as its striking cel-shaded visual style, Suda included a variety of multimedia elements in the game to add what he calls 'expressions', including cel animation and photographs. "Game directors have to prove that [cel] animation can work in a game, so that's why I used [cel] animation." Suda sees a continuity between different mediums, and wants to legitimize games by competing with other art on its own stage. He wanted Killer 7 to compete not just with other games, "but with other media such as music - any other artists in the same generation can become our competitors, and we feel that we can fight with those people in the world stage"
He feels that games have just as much right to be taken seriously as other entertainment, and that Killer 7 should be responded to in the same way a film would. "I wanted to create something that people have never experienced before [no matter the medium], and that is the philosophy I had when I created Killer 7. I don't know if it was successful or not, but I believe that a lot of fans received Killer 7 really well."
'Call And Response' Game Design
Next, Suda went on to discuss the processes he goes through to create games, and began by bringing up one of Grasshopper's slogans: 'Call and response'. He said that traditionally a game is created in contract terms – the deal between the developer and the publisher. Suda rejects this idea, and says he tries to create games in a more personal collaboration between a director and a producer.
While he admits that since games are an entertainment medium, he is to some extent reliant on the demands of the market, stating "we try to maximize the audience that would appreciate the game", his tension comes from the balance between entertainment appeal and intellectual challenge, saying, "It's very difficult to liked by a mass audience and still to be very powerful." As a result, Suda has learned to trust the opinions of his producer: "What I believe in is the opinion of producer. I can't accommodate everybody's opinions, but I believe my producer's opinion is representative of the audience that I'm targeting at."
Suda describes his job as "how best I can give an answer to the requirement that the producers have." He said he begins development by creating ideas with his producer ("images, programs, data"), and they work together to come up with ideas that will be both appealing and yet original – which leads to his company's second slogan - 'crash and build'.
"It's also important to have courage to break our ideas" - Suda said he's a very confident director, but that when working on a project, it's usually just a theory of a game he believes in rather than the specific prototype that gets created, a prototype which may not appeal to an audience. When this situation arises, Suda says, "I will destroy it, and build again, so I repeat 'crash and build.' By repetition of that process, I believe that we can create good games - that is my challenge."
It's All About Punk Games
All of this effort is so he can create something appealing yet original, which brought him to the final Grasshopper slogan: 'Let's punk'. "What I mean by 'punk' is to destroy existing ideas and create something new, original." And creating 'punk' games, Suda says, is always a fight. "Before we developed [Killer 7], there was no substance, all I had were ideas in my head".
He said it is hard to motivate his staff on a truly original project because there is nothing to compare it to, and so "my staff have to be made to understand what I'm trying to do, why I'm trying to make something new, why we are going around trying to create, when we can always easily copy something. I have to make them understand the value of creating this new game, so this is my first fight - the fight with my staff."
Suda's second fight is is the marketplace, but unexpectedly he doesn't consider competition with other games to be his main fight. "Games have such a short history, and I feel that other [game makers] are my comrades, that we're together trying to make history." Instead, Suda turns his competitive energy toward other media – music, film and print artists of the same generation. "I'm fighting with them, trying to compete with them, who is going to create the most original art."
Suda's final fight is with himself, stating that as he gets older, it's getting harder to create something really new. "As I said before, my job is to find answers. To create a new game, there aren't any existing answers ... so I have to have inspiration within myself to use it for my own originality, and that is my biggest fight with myself."
Getting Emotional Over Games
Suda's final point was about emotion in games. "I feel emotion is needed in games - without emotion games become very boring." He mentioned he was a fan of movies, but that the immersive nature of games meant that they needed to involve emotions even more than films. He told the audience an anecdote about a friend from his youth, who used to come over to the Suda house and play their Famicom all night.
One morning, he found his friend crying at the sad ending of a Nintendo game where one of the main characters died. "This friend and myself had a long history, but I had never seen him crying, and I was shocked by a person who could cry over a game, and I was amazed that the game can move people this much." At the time he had the dream of being a game designer, but knowing how difficult it was to create a game like that, he didn't think he would ever have an opportunity.
Suda's love of professional wrestling eventually got him his job at Human, but he counted himself lucky, and now feels he has a debt to the industry, saying, "I think it is my role to pay back the industry by creating extremely original games."
He continued: "I have to make products that are completely original, it has to be a work that has never come out anywhere in the world. I feel that there are very few new types of games coming out from Japan, and that's not good for the future generations. I think that there are lots of students here, and I feel for them, because there are no stepping stones for them. We need to create new types of games for the younger generation, and I think that is the role I should be playing as director."
Before showing the latest trailer of his upcoming Wii game No More Heroes, Suda finished with one final plea: "If I didn't have games it would be very sad, and I think that shouldn't happen in my life. So for the future generation, we need to keep the culture of games. I would like to ask the people in Perth that you continue to create games, and that you create punk games!""
[This report from the GO3 conference was published in association with PalGN, one of the largest Australian consumer video game websites, which is attending the Perth, Australia-based conference as a journalistic outlet and media sponsor.]