[Shadows of the Damned director Massimo Guarini speaks about the studio's new global synthesis of creativity and technology, why his personal vision fits better with a Japanese studio, and what we can expect from Grasshopper Manufacture in the future.]
While Grasshopper Manufacture came to prominence thanks in large part to an unfettered creativity generally perceived to be very Japanese, the truth of the matter is that CEO Goichi Suda has always been incredibly influenced by Western culture. Still, the studio had almost exclusively employed Japanese developers, and worked with Japanese publishers -- but times have changed.
As the studio expands to support multiple projects, Suda has moved into the role of executive director or creative producer on many of its projects -- leaving the day-to-day management of teams in the hands of others, like Massimo Guarini, the director of Shadows of the Damned. its game for EA -- released this week.
The game, published by EA and launching this week, marks the emergence of international talents at the studio, and is also Grasshopper's debut using Western-developed technology, Unreal Engine 3. In this interview, Guarini, who worked for Ubisoft in the West, speaks about this global synthesis of creativity and technology, why his personal vision fits better with a Japanese studio, and what we can expect from Grasshopper Manufacture in the future.
You came to Grasshopper having had a background working at Ubisoft. What did you bring to a Japanese development studio that made it appealing for them?
Massimo Guarini: Well, I think, basically, passion. I mean, I've been working for a long time in Ubisoft. In the Western industry I've been always very passionately interested in Japanese culture, and especially the Japanese game industry, so as soon as I had an opportunity I jumped in.
And I would say from a creative point of view, my vision and my style, is very much more in sync, I would say, with the Japanese way of dealing with contents and creating new contents. So for me despite all of the challenges about working and living in Japan, it was kind of a natural passage, and I'm still very much thrilled about this.
Were you able to influence the style of production in any way? Or did Grasshopper have production sorted out in a way that you could more just come in and concentrate on creative?
MG: Fortunately, I had an opportunity to influence quite a bit of the game at Grasshopper because... Grasshopper is changing internally and it's growing as a company. That means Suda-san cannot follow personally all the projects; his role is now one of the executive director of most of the projects, and he's also president of the company. And that means he needs to rely on directors in order to follow multiple projects.
So I'm very much thankful to him for giving me this opportunity to be in control, actually, about the project. Obviously still he's the executive director on the project, so he's still checking and gives feedback on all the things, but I had pretty much freedom to give influence to the game. And we also share taste and style, so we had this kind of luck to be very much in sync, I would say.
Do you have any examples?
MG: Definitely being surreal and grotesque. It comes really natural for Suda-san to come up with jokes, or visual situations, that literally lets you say, "WTF!?" And that's also something I pretty much enjoy and like. And when I brought up, you know, the Evil Dead series and Sam Raimi in general as an influence for this kind of game and for this kind of style that we're going to go with a horror, it was totally in for that. So that's the kind of taste that we kind of share.
When Suda said it was "Sid & Nancy in hell," that made me smile. But do you think that's apt?
MG: No, I mean that's honestly what he thinks and I believe it's true. (laughs) I mean, we can go on forever about inspirations, examples from movies and things because we really, really took a lot of inspirations from other things -- not just video games. So I believe you're going to find a homage to movies from the '70s, from the '80s, from the '90s in every single chapter of the game.
A lot of people accuse video games of taking too much from cinema, but it's usually a very narrow strip of cinema that ends up influencing games.
MG: Yeah, I think so. From a canonical point of view, we're not taking influence from movies plainly, like other games are doing. We're creators and developers which are not kids anymore. So our background is one of like 35 to 40 years old people, right? And we have a huge background of movies and cinema, and we just blend it, mix it. We just come out up with a melting pot; it's not just like taking the single bits. And that makes possible to add a flavor to the game, rather than just like barely come up with the very same situation of the movie. That's what I mean.
It's like the difference when you take artistic influence versus using something as a template.
MG: Absolutely, same difference. Although, I have to be honest, there's a couple of situations in the game where I have personally the fun –- I really wanted to do it, I really wanted to take a specific bit of a movie and represent it in game form just to make the fans happy and just to make people smile and laugh. But I'll leave it to you to find it out, but it's pretty much obvious, I think.
Interactively, or in terms of cutscenes?
Yeah, interactively? That has to be challenging.
MG: It is. It's blended to gameplay and that homage is like three seconds, four seconds long, but it's very passionate. So that was really fun and challenging to do.