Earlier this year, Gamasutra spoke to Capcom's Minae Matsukawa, producer of the cult-popular Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series for DS. In her six years with the company, Matsukawa's past Capcom projects began with Breath of Fire V, and also include the Magical Quest series, the Street Fighter games, and the Darkstalkers game for PSP.
Matsukawa discussed being a female game developer in Japan, even more a rarity than in the U.S., and how the Phoenix Wright games found equal success on two very different shores.
Have you always been a producer?
I started off as an assistant or associate producer, and then once I got to Vampire Chronicle -- Darkstalkers for PSP -- that's when I became a full-fledged producer.
What is it like from your experience, being a female game developer in Japan? There aren't very many.
Yes, you're very right. I'm the only female producer at Capcom, and I personally don't know any other female producers in Japan. There's a lot of very difficult game positions in game development, but producer is one of the hardest, so I don't really understand why I decided to become a producer myself.
Why did you decide to, and why in games?
Actually, before I started at Capcom, I was working on different concepts for games for mobile phones. When I was just working on that on my own, just to get into that -- it was a fledgling industry back then -- I decided to apply at Capcom, and they ended up putting me in as producer.
Were you with a company at the time, or was that on your own?
I worked at a security company... I worked at Nintendo, and in the IT and online game distribution department. That's when I started to get into trying to do mobile phone games and applied at Capcom.
What made you decide to get into games?
I've been around different jobs. Some were in just a regular office, and [also] security... It was kind of boring and mundane, so I wanted to give another try at what I really like to do, which is games. That's where that came from.
Why do you think there aren't more female developers in Japan?
Are there many in America?
Not as many as males, but a lot more females in development in America than in Japan.
I'm not really sure if I should say this, but maybe it's because at least in Japan, as far as the imagination process...mentally and physically, women hadn't grown up thinking of having careers until retirement. You have that, and just the business of making games is sort of tough, with long hours -- even longer than regular companies. And also men think more about games on console than on handhelds. That's how it's been for a long time. It's a very tough job. Even looking at that, if you look at our sales and marketing, there are lots of women on that side. So they seem to be getting somewhere on that side over there.
That's always true in America as well. There's a lot more females on the marketing and PR side. I wonder if the Wii and the DS might not actually inspire more women to think that they could actually have that as a career -- obviously the market is much more skewing that way.
I started getting into games about ten years ago, and there weren't a lot of girls playing games back then. It was mainly the boys. I was kind of a rare case. Like you said with the DS and the Wii, maybe ten or fifteen or twenty years from now, we'll start to see more women game creators that have been inspired by the things Nintendo is doing.
I hope so. There are only a few female game creators you can point to in Japan. There's Rieko Kodama at Sega, and some other people at Sega on the Feel the Magic team, and some people at Koei. But other than that, there's very few. I mean like designers and artists.
I think there are starting to be more women in game creation -- not producing. For example, for Ace Attorney 4, one of the three character designers is female, and we have a lot of female background artists. Overall in Capcom, there are a lot of women game designers and artists.
I think there should be more, because we need to get other perspectives and experiences. Were you at all surprised by the success of the game in the U.S.? It seems to have kind of revitalized the adventure game genre here.
It's not really an adventure game, but I'm very glad to give people like you and the reviewers and the fans who love the game... it makes me inspired to keep making the game as good as it can be. It's very good to hear, that support. I don't know if it directly led to the revitalizing of adventure games, but that's great to hear.
If you don't consider it an adventure game, what type of game is it?
In Japan, we're just calling it a courtroom battle game. You're not just reading text, but you're interviewing and questioning witnesses and working with evidence. I don't really see it as a straight adventure game. It's kind of a genre of its own, I guess.
Are there any lawyers on the team?
No, we don't have any lawyers on the team. We just make everything up as we go along. But two years ago when we came to Comic-Con, it was one of the first ones out here we had on display. We didn't know how fans would react. There was a kid, about ten or twelve or so, and he was very interested in the game. He said, "My dad's a lawyer. I think this game will be really cool and I think it's going to sell really well." So that really inspired me to think that maybe there is a chance that people will like it here.
Why is it that the game has always been dual-language in Japan? What is the reasoning there?
Once we localized the first game, the localization team was really proud that we had this very polished product, so instead of just giving it to America, people in Europe, and everywhere else, we wanted to have Japanese people be able to enjoy it and see how fun it is in English. As you probably know, there's lots of people studying English, and we thought maybe Japanese people will play it.
Was that an extra selling point for it?
Very much so.
It was also great for people in the West who wanted to import it early!
Capcom's USA side has to say, "If you can put English in it, don't do it before you give us our game." They kind of yell at me sometimes about that.
But at the same time, when they send out review copies, they send out Japanese boxed copies. So, did you get to work with Inaba and Mikami?
They had the whip going on for the first game. They had some advice and support, because they were the big producers and I was up-and-coming, and they helped me out a lot.
They wrote a lot of the scenario too, right?
Actually, the scenario was written by Shu Takumi for all of the games, including Ace Attorney 4.
How was it working with Inaba and Mikami?
I wasn't very experienced at the time when I was starting. They had already made lots of games. They were always very nice and very kind, and gave lots of advice and suggestions and helped me out.
Was it intimidating at all?
It wasn't really intimidating at all. They're very laid back, and are very nice all the time. When we put Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney on the DS, that was kind of my big break into making bigger games. We were going to add in new content a little bit. Not pressure, so it was an easy step up for me, and I was very glad to get the chance to work on something that became such a big hit with fans.