You started out, when you made Rez, with this core concept of synesthesia. How close have you gotten to achieving synesthesia in any of the games you've released so far?
TM: Original inspiration?
Yeah, your original concept of what synesthesia could mean in the context of a game.
TM: To be honest, in the case of Child of Eden, I had a much more organic, much more physics-based... Everything is moving with the sound and the music, every visual effect reacts by the sounds. I wanted to put much more physics elements into it.
I'm not satisfied yet. [laughs] So maybe in the future. I think we can make, much more, how can I say it... The physics, organic, audiovisual experience. Much more blended, and kind of a fusion. I want to make it, so...
JM: What do you think is holding it back? Is it the technology? It's not there yet?
TM: Technology, and if I can work with the new type of people. All programmers, but they have a sense of the arts and a synesthesia feeling, so maybe it is possible.
Do you think easier development tools that allow people who don't have a technical background to work on games could bring more to it?
TM: I see the future game of synesthesia made by the programmers and coding people, more than artists.
What makes you say that? Why would programmers have a better handle onto it than artists?
TM: Programmers who have the art sense.
People who can travel in both worlds, is what you're saying? People who understand both sides of the equation?
TM: Yeah, yeah.
JM: That's a rare programmer, too. This comes up at Q quite a lot, because the lead programmer on Child of Eden is a programmer who is able to think visually, [Osamu] Kodera-san. That's a rare exception in the programming field, generally speaking. Because most programmers, if we want to communicate something to them, if we say, "We want the end result to look like this," sometimes we'll have to do a proof of concept, we'll have to visualize it, we'll have to do illustrations, we'll have to do some kind of tech demo, sometimes, in order for the programmer to understand, "Oh, that's what you want me to achieve."
But when you get a programmer like Kodera-san, you can just tell him the idea, and he already can visualize it in his mind, and he just goes to work. So that, I think, is what you're really looking for. Those kinds of visually-minded programmers.
Especially with a relatively small company like Q, I would imagine it's very important to be really selective about the people you bring in, and that they understand the vision and the mission of your company. Has that been a challenge? Getting the right people?
TM: Yeah, always. It's a challenge. It's not so easy.
JM: Yeah, for those exact reasons. Trying to find that kind of programmer, who thinks like that -- those are the best programmers. Those are the ones that are hard to find. Because once they do emerge, there are so many game development teams out there, so they're in high demand. So finding those kinds of guys... they're out there. But Japan is not a huge country. Sometimes you have to look overseas to find the right talent.
TM: We need to find a new way to work together. Using the cloud. This is the new style of development. I think so. Definitely, yes.
You said you wanted to bring more storyline into games, along with synesthesia. Child of Eden had the whole story of Lumi, for example. How do you feel about cinematic narrative? Do you think that that is something you want to pursue, and how far do you want to pursue it?
TM: The game is game -- so a fun game doesn't need a story, if the game is fun. But this is old-style. This our challenge, always. Okay, let's combine the new -- combine the puzzle game with some kind of a narrative. This is kind of a really ridiculous thing -- why the puzzle game needs a story. We want to do that all the time -- this is a challenge.
So the first Lumines put the narrative with music, and the music video kind of explained it. We could do that. This is a fresh combination for us, and a new challenge. It's not easy, but we need challenges all the time.
Rez is a very strong experience, stimulation. And we wanted to try another challenge, blending the story into that kind of experience. So finally, if you play the ending of Child of Eden, what do you feel? So all the time, we have that kind of challenge, and we want to go farther. What is the future of games? And people need a story all the time.
JM: But at the same time, we always have to think about the balance of things, because why do people watch movies? Because they want to relax, and they want to see an interesting story -- they want to watch special effects, cool action scenes, whatever. You get emotionally evolved, but it's still kind of a passive entertainment. Why do people play games? Because they actually want to play something.
So just because we can start doing Hollywood-level cinematics, does that mean we should, at all times? Would it be prudent for us to interrupt the game flow of Lumines Electronic Symphony with a 45 minute cutscene in which you can't do anything but watch, and it's unskippable? No, because then we're starting to impose an obnoxious vision on people, so we have to maintain the balance as well.
Like I said, for Lumines, we have a bit of a narrative going on, and a theme, but it's not something that hits you over the head, or it's immediately apparent. But the more you play, maybe you start to feel something. Maybe you feel homesick by the time you get to the end of the Voyage Mode. You start feeling homesick for the beginning.
So then you feel like you've taken some kind of emotional journey and it's a story -- it's almost like reading a book in a way. You read the book, and you imagine it -- versus seeing a movie and having it literally spelled out for you, where you can't even imagine it any other way. Storytelling takes on lots of different forms.
We've definitely seen with music video that you can tell stories and have music at the same time, and you can do it in a way that doesn't involve dialogue, that doesn't involve a full application of movie storytelling technique. Is that something that interests you?
TM: Every piece, we design, in the game. So, for example, Lumines -- every element, every moment has sound effects, visual effects, some video effects, and every piece has a meaning, and this is like a poem. Something full and raw will take, and disappear, and every moment, you get some meaning. This kind of meaning is making a chemistry, that's like pieces of words. It's like a poem. So making something that has chemistry, I love this kind of form.
So some people say, "Oh, Lumines. How amazing is this game? It's not the one I want to play from the beginning to the end." But some people are disappointed.
But people play Lumines. Everybody knows "Oh, that's not just one time -- I want to play many times, and play, play, play, play, play, and then, finally, I feel something, emotionally." And that kind of emotional something changing -- I think the first 10 times, maybe 400 times, and then you can get something. So yeah, I love that -- that kind of feeling.
JM: Yeah there's a take-away. You know you're only a puzzle game, if you want to really dress it down. Seven years later, people are still talking about Shinin' from Lumines 1. They're always saying, "Oh, is Shinin' in Electronic Symphony?" And when we say, "No, it's not," a lot of people are disappointed, because they want to play that. Why do they want to play it? Because they remember it. They walked away from that game with something. So we're trying to create new memories with this, in our own particular way.