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DICE: Mizuguchi Talks Artistry And Commerce In Concert
DICE: Mizuguchi Talks Artistry And Commerce In Concert
February 8, 2008 | By Brandon Sheffield, Leigh Alexander

February 8, 2008 | By Brandon Sheffield, Leigh Alexander
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Q Entertainment designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi, of Rez and Lumines fame, is known for his artistry in game design, and at the 2008 DICE Summit in Las Vegas, he shared influences from his history and how they became profitable ideas.

Games are, after all, commercial products, and Mizuguchi aimed to address the tenuous relationship between art and commerce."

"I had an 18-year history in this industry," began Mizuguchi. "I joined Sega in 1990, and was in the arcade side, with arcade racing games. Then I moved to the consumer side."

Arcades And Music

Mizuguchi recalled playing Pong in Tokyo as a kid. "To me it was amazing," he said. "'Wow, what is this?' Big sounds, but just black and white. I think I was 11 or 12 years old, and a the time I was listening to the Beatles, and I couldn’t understand the English, but I really felt some emotional response from that. So at that time I played Pong and listened to The Beatles. I’m just telling you where I come from!”

When he first saw a 360 degree arcade machine, he was really impressed with it -- and Sega's logo was imprinted on his mind. He learned design in school, and decided to go into games, despite the fact that the game industry at the time was still low-resolution 2D, with beep sounds instead of the music that so attracted him.

“I got a big influence from MTV culture," Mizuguchi said. "When I saw that, I said, 'wow, this is new.' Not just music, not just video, it’s more.”

“All the time, media is changing due to technical improvements. The movie industry added color and sounds, but then somebody added drama too. Then it [grew].”

Driving Sega Rally

According to Mizuguchi, Sega Rally seemed to be the first time a game could feature real cars from the real-world automotive industry. “I went to Toyota, I went to Fiat, and said, 'can we borrow your car?' Toyota said NO! Games were just influenced and imitation before. Things couldn’t really look like what they were. Once I showed them the technology of this game, they said, 'wow.' We could talk to their engineers, and really plan with them."

On the art-versus-commerce dilemma, Mizuguchi said, "I had many inspirations like virtual reality and things like that which I wanted to do, but we had to make money. [Sega Rally] was a huge success. 12,000 arcade units sold, and 1.2 million console versions.”

He showed his Sega Rally car arcade machine, which is on rockers. "This is like total sensorama," Mizuguchi explained. "You feel the vibration, the movement, the sound... but it's very expensive. It was a quarter of a million dollars, and we only made four. But we learned a lot.”

Dealing With The Abstract

Mizuguchi explained the next stage of his thought process surrounding games -- how can we make people have fun? "We have the physical side, and the emotional and mental side. I got the physical side with the arcade games. But then I had a thought. I thought I needed to do something new, so I moved to the console game side, and wanted to make an entertainment type of game."

In his view, arcade racing is more like engineering. Mizuguchi's aim was to make a music-and-game hybrid, inspired by the influence of MTV. Speaking of the synaesthetic, music-driven Rez, "In terms of art versus commerce, this was too artistic, I know. But I had to make it.”

“The reality side, racing, sports games, is fine," he continued. "But we have to struggle with imaginary games too. That was a big thing for me, dealing with the abstract area.”

Mizuguchi explained some of his influences, notably the abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky, who painted to music, and used the word "synaesthesia" in reference to his work. He also showed a drawing of a sensorama machine, with 3D color and smells accompanying.

He continued, “I went to lots of clubs, watched the music, and the lights, and the color. I did this all over the world. You feel the thump-thump of the music and you see people react – why? That’s what I wanted to bring into games.”

A Big Bang?

To Mizuguchi, the vibration, music and color formed a "package of feeling." And with this type of game, "if you have no rhythm, that’s OK, if you aren’t good at shooters, that’s OK. The game was designed to give you this feeling without difficulty."

Q CEO Shuji Utsumi was another positive influence on Mizuguchi, in helping rein him in some. "I can be too artistic," he admitted. "I can’t listen to everything he says, but sometimes he says really good things. With him I started a project called Lumines.” Lumines, Mizuguchi says, was an another attempt to create a game that was musical without requiring musical skill on the part of the player.

His forecast? Many existing elements from both the commercial and the artistic sides of the game industry will converge. "Ads, games, online, music – it’ll become one," he said. "Boom. Big Bang. I think that we’re going into a hybrid.”

He concluded, “What’s the next entertainment form? That’s our inspiration. We’re always learning. It’s like we’re backpacking, still.”


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