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Emotional Poems: Mizuguchi's Expanding Future

February 27, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

When Tetsuya Mizuguchi followed up Space Channel 5 with Rez, he was putting an aesthetic line in the sand. Built around the concept of synesthesia, or a blending of the senses, the game has become influential and stood the test of a decade.

With the PlayStation Vita just launched, his company Q Entertainment has put out a new installment in its puzzle franchise, Lumines. Subtitled Electronic Symphony, it's a journey through decades of electronic music. The carefully-chosen tunes weave a story about the evolution of an artform.

In this interview, Mizuguchi and Electronic Symphony producer James Mielke lay out the creative manifesto of Q Entertainment, and discuss the future of games -- and the possibilities for their expansion into all aspects of life.

The original Lumines was the standout game of the launch of the original PSP, and now here we are again, so it seems like you've come full circle. Can you talk about the inspiration behind bringing out a new one for the launch of the Vita?

Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Lumines is a game we did from the first inspiration of PSP. I heard about the PSP announcement, first. "Oh, this is an interactive Walkman, and we should make a game for the launch of PlayStation Portable, anyway."

I can say that Lumines was a PSP game -- PSP DNA. And we heard about the announcement of PlayStation Vita. "There's no reason we shouldn't make the new Lumines for PS Vita." It's a very simple reason, a very simple reason. [laughs]

James Mielke: And the timing -- we've been bouncing the idea around of bringing Lumines back for a while, but we weren't sure when the time was right, until we heard about the Vita. When Sony first started telling us about that the Vita, was coming we naturally assumed -- like, "Oh, this is probably the best chance to do it."

Because even though Lumines has gone on to many other platforms, like Miz was saying, it was originally inspired and designed for PSP. So it really made sense, it really feels like a series that is supposed to be there with the launch of a Sony handheld.

The first Lumines had an array of music; the second one experimented with some licensed tracks. This seems to be a sonic journey through the history of electronic music. Can you talk about the idea of building a narrative through selection of music, rather than building a narrative through storytelling?

JM: Right. So the game, conceptually -- from when we first decided to do a new Lumines to what ultimately became Electronic Symphony, it went through a few conceptual changes.

But the focus was always going to be around electronic music. What I really wanted to achieve with this game was what I was referring to as "Say Anything moments" -- like the John Cusack, boom box over the head.

So in that movie, when he pulls the boom box out and holds it over his head, that's a pivotal moment in that movie, and they're using Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" to great emotional effect. It's a poignant moment in the film, and there's an emotional impact, and it's wordless. It's just the music that's doing all of that work.

So what I wanted to achieve in the course of this game, is I wanted to make something that meant a little bit more than "just" a puzzle game. I didn't want it to be just a game. I wanted it to be a little bit more emotional.

I wanted to put what I call "Say Anything moments" into the game. And so because of that, we were choosing our music very selectively. I think ultimately Electronic Symphony is a little bit less manipulative than we were originally going for, because we really had set pieces that we were going to put into the game. And we were going to put in some music that just would have really taken people by surprise.

It wasn't purely all electronic music, either. I was talking about putting a Supertramp song in at a key point, where certain things would have happened in the game, but the concept transformed a little bit, so it didn't require us to do stuff like that -- but that was the original inspiration.

I know both of you well enough to know that you both feel very strongly about the power of music to emotionally effect people, so that's something I want to talk about. Have games been an effective medium for the emotional context of music? I know you've tried with Child of Eden and Rez, in particular, to make music effect people emotionally. Have you achieved what you wanted to achieve?

TM: That's a good question. That's a deep question. We listen to music in life, and watch music videos. But if you watch a music video five times in a day, and 10 times you listen to music -- the same music in one day -- that's getting boring. But the game is a really good art form, a really good medium. And if you feel the music interactively, and if you play the game and it feels fun, and you get the music, you not only use but feel the music.

And so our approach is not a timing game all the time. You play the game as a game, and as a result -- as a reward -- it's going to pay off. You get the music. I think that this approach, I think it's very unique, and it's a new way to enjoy music.

Technically, we can do that as the game. So I believe in that kind of power of the game, and the possibility of synesthesia. And it depends on the changing of technology, which is getting high. Ten years ago, we could just start to make synesthesia like Rez, but now we can make much more. We can put much more high resolution and get high synesthesia. I can make some much more rich storylines in Child of Eden.

And also the new Lumines, James Mielke, he made a really good music list, and this is also kind of a journey of music, and so I think, in the end, this game is better than the first Lumines.

JM: Yeah it means a lot to me to hear him say that. I think we won't be able to really say definitively what's the best one until maybe some years have passed, and it's really soaked in.

I think one of the things that we want to do with music is have it really matter. With Electronic Symphony, it's really a celebration of electronic music from the '80s to now. If you look at a typical licensed music scenario, like maybe a skateboarding game, whatever publisher or developer is making it, they'll probably license like 15 to 20 thrash metal tracks, and it's all just background noise.

But for us, our musical selections are much more integral, much more meaningful. We pored over the musical selections that we're putting into this Lumines for at least six months, and we went through a lot of trial and error, a lot of rearrangement, and we wanted to make sure that every song had a real meaning, and a real sense of context in the game. We put a lot of thought into what we're choosing, musically.


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Comments


Jake Shapiro
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I don't know if I buy the argument that people aren't willing to put big time investments into games anymore. Titles like Skyrim are still selling by the millions, aren't they? The argument changes when you're talking about the portable platform, though. The fact that more people have access to portable games through smartphones means more people play these short, passive games, but the market for "hardcore" games on home consoles hasn't diminished.

Saul Gonzalez
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1) AAA hardcore "big" games are becoming more and more about the entrenched incumbents. New IPs are rare, and new genres non-existent. These are the signs of a space in stagnation and decline.

2) With expanding scopes and budgets, is the hardcore console market enough to sustain the AAA industry? I doubt so.

Joshua Darlington
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I really love the idea of EDM based games. I hope Mizuguchi continues in the direction he started with REZ and Children of Eden. EDM is a digital artform so mapping the music parameters (tempo, voice, key/mode, mix, arpeggiation, and etc.) to gameplay can be pushed much further, especially with the Kinect.


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