When Electronic Arts announced two new developers
signing to the EA Partners program for independent studios, the more surprising one by far was Grasshopper Manufacture, the Japanese team behind Killer7
and No More Heroes
Details about the upcoming game -- in development for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, and Wii -- were sparse. Studio founder Goichi Suda, often known as Suda51, described it only as a "mysterious, very unique, horror-packed action game."
More interestingly still, it is produced by Shinji Mikami, the acclaimed director of games such as Resident Evil
, Resident Evil 4
, and God Hand
; he also produced Suda's own Killer7
and is working on a title with Sega-signed Japanese development studio PlatinumGames.
The deal was brokered by Tetsuya Mizuguchi's studio Q Entertainment (Lumines, Meteos
), and represents Electronic Arts' first major high-profile partnership with a third-party Japanese developer since its venture with Square that ended in 2003.
Following the announcement, Gamasutra sat down with Suda (pictured) and Mikami to discuss the deal, as well as Suda's reflections on game design and producers.
How did you actually end up communicating with EA? It's an unusual situation.
Goichi Suda: I came to EA last June with Mikami-san and other staff to present ideas about this project, and they showed a big interest in the ideas I presented. They totally understood what I wanted to do. That's why this deal happened.
This is the first game you've done on this many platforms. Is that intimidating at all?
GS: When I presented the ideas to the U.S. publisher, I expected that they would require a multiplatform [game] because that's the market. So I prepared to make this happen from the beginning, so there are no worries or concerns. It will turn out well.
Killer7 was published by a Japanese-headquartered publisher; then No More Heroes had a Japanese publisher in Japan and a Western publisher over here; and now you're starting from the beginning with an American publisher. Was that just a natural progression?
GS: Actually, that's how I planned it out. Because if I don't think that way, it will never happen. The situation after shipping Killer7
was totally different -- Mikami-san was the first person who helped me to open up the worldwide market. He's the person that helped me to work with a U.S. publisher directly. If Mikami-san wasn't here, it would never have happened. So I really appreciate Mikami-san and I'm very happy. Mikami, what are you thinking?
Shinji Mikami: I think that the history of the game industry has been changing. Now, if you think about the worldwide market, you have to work with the publishers who are well-known in the worldwide market, and are good at it -- that's what I feel right now.
You've spoken on your punk aesthetic -- you even call Grasshopper a "video game band." This is presumably a higher budget than you usually have, particularly it being multiplatform. Are you worried about the ability to hang onto your punk feel?
GS: Well, for example, the Sex Pistols -- when they came out, they started to perform in very small venues, like civic centers.
In the end, they ended up performing in very large places -- but the style of their performance never changed. I don't think the style of my performance will change now that I'm performing somewhere huge.
A common thread in your games is that your stylistic influence as a designer is extremely apparent, even in your licensed games -- I feel you make your creative intent more forceful than many developers. Do you have any thoughts as to why that attitude doesn't seem to be as common in video games?
GS: I wonder why that is... First of all, I'm very pleased to hear you say that.
SM: [To Suda] You can do it because you're talented.
GS: I don't really understand it myself. Why? Why, Mikami-san?
SM: Your style is not understandable. It's difficult for people to understand.
GS: But then why does it seem that he can understand it?
SM: That's your talent.
GS: Oh, I see. That's how it is, is it?
SM: I think that your style is not accessible -- the reason why he probably feels the direction you want to go is because he understands it completely. But it's a rare case, normally.
Suda-san's scenario and his style -- it's not easy for everyone to understand it. But ever since I've been working with Suda-san since the first draft of his scenario -- the first draft of the scenario is great.
After that, he continues to move forward, and the characters -- they behave in a way that nobody really understands where they go.
You've indicated that you felt like you found a new audience with the Western market -- do you have any idea why gamers in the West connect to your work? It's sort of surprising in a way, because your games are fairly unusual.
GS: Of course, I have a fan base in Japan as well. I'm not sure why, but there are more fans in Europe and the U.S. Since I realized that, it's better to work with the publishers based here. That's why I ended up working with a U.S. publisher.
But do you have any ideas as to why that is?
GS: Before Killer7
, I was making games for the Japanese fans. When I started creating Killer7
, the market was worldwide. My motivation and efforts goes in different directions -- I targeted the market worldwide, not only in Japan.
I'm not sure why it is, but the target market did change to worldwide. But my situation is completely different now, compared to before Killer7
. The feeling, or motivation, maybe made the situation like this.
During GDC 2007, you gave a presentation about the importance of designers having good relationships with their producers -- it seemed different to how the Western designer/producer relationship sometimes is. Can you speak on your partnership with Mr. Mikami?
GS: We've known each other for a while. Mikami-san understands a lot of different things.
SM: I have some parts that I can't do well, in terms of creating games -- the same as Suda-san. There are some parts that, in terms of creating, he's not good at.
Once we work together and collaborate, it helps us -- we each work on the parts we're good at. Now we're collaborating together. Up to this point, we've worked really well [together], and helped each other well.
Mr. Mikami, you were with Capcom for nearly two decades, and now you're working on more of a contractual basis with a few companies. How has your situation as a producer changed?
SM: I always feel very excited to work on something different and new, so I'm very happy about the situation I have now. I have two projects -- one with PlatinumGames, and one with Grasshopper and EA.
When I worked at Capcom, I worked on more than two projects at the same time. Two projects at the same time is actually not as hard as before, so I really appreciate and enjoy what I'm doing right now.