Koji "IGA" Igarashi had been getting a lot of Facebook messages from fans. When his longtime employer, Konami, localized Scribblenauts
in Japan, there'd be a few: "Scribblenauts
is cool, but why don't you make a 2D Castlevania
The Facebook posts for his birthday: "Happy birthday -- please make a 2D Castlevania
"It's probably because I was not able to make a good 3D Castlevania
," he says demurely, through a translator.
The last time I spoke to IGA was E3 2010, when Konami was about to release multiplayer Castlevania
endeavor Harmony of Despair
. Amid the noise and volume of the event's crowded consumer show floor, I was able to have a kind of conversation you learn to recognize with veteran game creators: The kind when you know they have to talk about a game they know their fans won't like.
Things are different when I meet IGA today. He's just announced that he's leaving Konami
to start his own independent studio, where he'll be able to go back to trying to make the kinds of games fans have been sending him increasingly urgent messages about. The signature Indiana Jones-style hat he always wore to events, a nod to the vampire hunters of his Castlevania
games, is missing.
"I'm really 100 percent just getting started with this right now, so it's not even a 'company' yet," IGA says. His proposed organization doesn't have a name -- one idea they had was already taken by a Dutch company, so it's time to go back to brainstorming.
"We don't know what we want to make yet. I have a lot of regrets and hard feelings about 3D games, and everyone has been asking me for 2D games. And I want to make an action game... so I'm able to think about it clearly now."
These days we're used to hearing about how established game designers exit the traditional infrastructure to strike out independently. It's shifted from necessity -- let's say your studio closes, what then? -- to desirable opportunity. That experienced game makers are increasingly able to establish themselves outside of familiar, risk averse environments is one of the major trends sustaining the game industry.
"For the longest time, when I was working at Konami, I was protected by my company. They took care of me. Now I'm kind of anxious."
It's easy to forget that's not the case in Japan, where lifetime employment is part of the culture. Striking out on one's own is a significant creative and professional risk. But the Japanese industry and companies like Konami are now increasingly focused on social games, a significant contrast with the kind of thing IGA's fans have been asking him for.
"For the longest time, when I was working at Konami, I was protected by my company," he says. "They took care of me. Now I'm kind of anxious, as can be expected, about currently being on my own and 100 percent independent and all that. But now, instead of the company protecting me, I have my fans protecting me, and I can talk directly with them, and treat them with respect and love."
"Sure, there are some concerns about whether someone can strike out and make it," he says. "But if you take some hints on how even Hollywood has evolved over time, you see there have always been 'core fans' of movies. The bigger the company is, the more they're bound by having to make a certain type of movie, while smaller studios are able to make movies that speak to their core audience, and those fans have continued to exist over time. Being in a smaller company lets you give people more of what they want."
"That said, you can be in a thousand-person organization and still worry about what the economy will mean for you in the future," he says.
I have to say I'm privately thrilled for him, being one of those fans. But things like "Symphony of the Night
has always really struck me because I find the motif of returning to your own estranged father's house to stop him really fascinating, that all the details of the game world are just your father's house" or "It's really amazing how Alucard is choosing his human side, essentially, in this game that has a completely-optional lethal confessional booth" or "the thing with the chairs" -- are hard to express through an interpreter.
I can't really say that the game's been such a part of my life that I bought it on every platform where it exists, and that "I have old Castlevania
at my house" is basically the best pick-up line there is ("this interview is going in a weird direction," comments the translator when I try), or how in the early days of my relationship my boyfriend tried to impress me by learning SotN
and writing about it.
"The last couple years I haven't been able to do what I really wanted to do."
In a hotel suite the creator and I are sitting only a short distance apart, and I'm here to talk about his feelings, not mine. He is tall, wears all black, and his long dark hair is pulled back. You can kind of tell he's into vampires.
"It's a bit of an emotional rollercoaster," IGA says. "There are no guarantees for the future, and so my leaving the company could not work out, and I could be left without a leg to stand on. That being said, the last couple years I haven't been able to do what I really wanted to do, anyway."
"That magic, the excitement of being able to create again, the chains have come off, and now I'll have the opportunity," he adds. "No one knows what will happen in the future. You never know until you take the jump."