For the first time since his essential Parappa the Rapper, NanaOn-Sha's Masaya Matsuura has reunited with artist Rodney Greenblat for Major Minor's Majestic March, which launches March 31 on Wii.
Its sunny, cartoonish animal characters and whimsical themes are familiar, but the brass marching band theme represents an entirely new direction for Matsuura, who was fascinated by his introduction to marching band music relatively recently.
On having decided that his next title would be on the Wii platform, Matsuura considered the Wii remote's resemblance to a band baton.
"I told my basic idea to my important friends in the States," Matsuura recalls, speaking to Gamasutra at the Game Developers Conference. "Some of them introduced to me to current brass band music in the States. So I was watching YouTube video, and I was very impressed with watching these things."
Juxtaposing Wii remote-as-baton with what was to him an entirely new kind of music "completely changed my basic ideas," said Matsuura.
The result casts the player as bandleader Major Minor, who's inherited a baton possessed with the spirit of his ancestor. It's given him the power to recruit parade-watchers as musicians who will join him on his march.
"The most important and difficult part was thinking about how we use the Wii Remote for this game," says Matsuura. "Waving the baton by using the Wii remote... maybe it's easy to understand what kind of thing is requited for this game. But if we do only that, that will be just controlling the tempo. So that would not be game enough."
"So I started to think about other things instead of keeping tempo. So we decided on waving the Wii remote and scouting animals, by casting some magic to give them an instrument. So these two actions combine together so this game system is complete."
The player must manage the varying tempos of the different band members in order to keep them in sync and satisfied. Gameplay requires both rhythm skills and group management, but the input method is simple.
This simplicity, plus the colorful art of Rodney Greenblat results in what Matsuura hopes will be an all-ages appeal. "Many people who had a chance to play Parappa in the '90s -- maybe some of them got the chance to find a boyfriend or girlfriend. And maybe some of them married and some of them have kids," he says.
"So this kind of family, if they'd love to play a new game with Major Minor, that would be an ideal case for this."
But at the same time, the game's dual elements -- keeping tempo and casting magic -- allow for increasing difficulty levels, Matsuura says. "According to the player’s level and skill, this game will adapt to various players advantage," he explains.
How much of a rhythm game should be challenge, and how much should be simply the experience of interacting with music? "I have no simple answer," says Matsuura. "Maybe I am a very enthusiastic person, to communicate with instruments -- nonliving things. But understand the relationships between humans and instruments... humans have the chance to feel a bigger, deeper something."
"But I always think about the how the gameplay appeals exactly to myself playing with musical instruments -- the same kind of feeling comes out from the regular plastic controllers," Matsuura says, suggesting that the important thing about music games is the translation of experience.
"I always think about similar things with activities like typing the PC keyboard," he says. Matsuura says he's tried several different keyboards -- even experimenting with a child's keyboard with oversized keys -- to interact with the sounds.
The big music games today favor technical simulation over simple interactivity, but Matsuura is known for a different approach. When asked about his role in the changing genre, he said: "Young people can be very ambitious to be great musicians. I was one of them. But still, I couldn't do the good musical activities without having enough experiences. But fortunately, I had many good examples."
"I had a chance to keep learning from them. So maybe I could spend my power to be like that," he says. "After I started to make Parappa, I had lost my good example -- because no one made music games. So I have to be a good example for others."
"This was a very big and brand new mission to me -- especially after the release of Parappa in the States, I got many reactions from the users, or game creators or media people, and still it keeps going," he says. "I have to be a good example for younger ones."
Matsuura says he's surprised that the Guitar Hero and Rock Band boom didn't come sooner. "I thought maybe a year or two [after Parappa], maybe some American or European developer will make a music-based game. I don't know why, but no one appeared for a long time."
"So for me, Guitar Hero and Rock Band... I really wanted to get that kind of case in in the States and Europe. Of course, the success is much bigger than myself," he adds.
"So, I really want to say to them to be a leader for others. Because I really want to make the music-based game broader."
"We have to think about the real ideal music expression," he says. "I really want to find a new way of listening and playing, and maybe watching and interacting with music."
In some ways, says Matsuura, the genre's been successful -- but he says the band simulation genre is only a narrow section of a possible spectrum of music and game marriages. "I think we have a much broader undiscovered area of the music-based game, so I have to discover something in this area to let everyone know that we have the big potential."
Of course, Matsuura's commonly asked if among the new discoveries, beloved Parappa might make a return. "We are pretty open," he says. "We have discussed sometimes about that. And maybe... but currently we are not making the new Parappa game. If Major Minor pushes the market to remember Parappa, that kind of influence makes him appear again!"