Interview: Suda51 Talks Theme, Style And Innovation
Grasshopper Manufacture head Goichi "Suda51" Suda enjoys a reputation for creativity that sets him somewhat apart from other designers -- his games are never mammoth blockbusters, and yet titles like Killer7 and No More Heroes have earned acclaim and an enduring seat in gaming culture for their wild unconventionality and distinctive tone.
Here, we catch up with the always-intriguing Suda to discuss both his current projects and his approach to theme in games like No More Heroes -- including a discussion of the lesser-known Michigan -- the fate of that EA/Mikami project, his fashion sense and what he wanted to be as a kid.
Some basic questions first. What's going on with the EA/Mikami game now?
Goichi Suda: It's under development. He's the one working on it.
I also heard a rumor that the original No More Heroes was planned for the Xbox 360 -- is that true?
GS: Yeah, it was a game that I had in mind for the 360 when I first wrote the project document.
Will that ever happen?
GS: Well, as it is now it's fully a Wii title, so the idea of remaking it for another controller... It's just really suited for the platform, as it is now.
So is that a no?
GS: It's not something I'm thinking about, no.
It seems like it'd be a good idea.
GS: Mmmm...I dunno. (laughs)
One thing I thought was funny about No More Heroes is that the main character's motivation is that you're trying to sleep with a girl.
GS: It sure is.
In a lot of games, you rescue a princess, but this is much more direct. Why did you decide to do that?
GS: Well, when you think about the Travis character, he's an extremely up front, in-your-face guy. He acts totally off of his instincts. That's what makes him so susceptible to Sylvia's advances, you could say, so that's why it becomes his goal. He can't say no.
When developing the game, what made you decide to go so direct like this? I think it's a good thing, by the way.
GS: Why he became that sort of character, you mean? Mmm... well, as the title No More Heroes could suggest, I wanted a hero unlike anything seen before -- someone who's more like you and me, someone who sees the world more casually. I wanted to make a hero that could really be an extension of ourselves. That's how he wound up so cool like that.
I ask because there aren't a lot of games that make direct sexual references like that. I wonder why not -- it seems like a very natural human thing to do, but games don't touch upon it much.
GS: That's a good point, and I don't know why either. Maybe it's because there are so many crazy guys in Grasshopper. (laughs) Of course, part of the charm of the game is all the characters that show up in it. Travis isn't the best hero you could think of, but the thing about him is that he thinks he's the best hero in the world.
My impression is maybe that a lot of companies are afraid of addressing any kind of actual sexuality.
GS: Certainly, yeah.
Is that something that's important to you, or did it just happen to come along?
GS: It just sort of came along, I suppose. It's not like we're that good at it ourselves. (laughs) Grasshopper is all about making violent, hard-boiled games; that's our first priority. Maybe that's why.
Do you have many game design ideas that you've thrown away or not been able to implement?
GS: There are aspects that I've had to take out of games in progress, sure. That's especially the case for if you're working on something licensed, because if the licensor demands something, then there's not much you can do. I wouldn't say I've ever completely thrown away any of my own original ideas, though.
I'd like to talk a bit about Michigan. I've heard it's not your favorite game, but...
GS: Did I say that? I didn't really say that, I don't think.
So is it a favorite of yours, then?
GS: Well, everything I've made I like to some extent, and that's especially true for the output of Grasshopper itself. In fact, I'd like to make Michigan again, or something like it. There's a Spanish horror film called REC [Ed note: it was remade in the US as Quarantine], and when I watched it, I realized it was pretty much Michigan, right there. I still have a lot of ideas along those lines, and I'd love to work with Spike sometime to make a new Michigan or a remake.
It seems like the original would be a natural for the Wii, since it was released on the PS2 originally. Maybe you could make a downloadable sequel for the 360 or something.
GS: Yeah. (laughs) I'll be discussing things with [publisher] Spike.
I actually proposed to a US publisher the idea of just releasing the PS2 version in the U.S.
But Sony said it couldn't happen.
GS: Oh, why not? Too violent?
The European guys allowed it to be published, but the U.S. guys said there wasn't enough gameplay. Personally I think the game presents very interesting moral choices. You can watch the newscaster die and it doesn't really matter because you just get another one, or you can save her, or you can just film her panties or something like that. It's really...
GS: Definitely. I think Michigan had a really innovative sort of game concept.
It seemed to me like it was a kind of commentary on voyeurism, like a commentary on the way that we view people on the screen as not really people, necessarily. Like, they don't really exist because they're removed from us. It's just an avatar character, not a real human, and the game was an examination of that concept.
GS: Well, I didn't think that deeply into it. (laughs) It's really an investigative-reporter kind of game.
Honestly, I think that that's kind of what art is about, when you just create something and other people put their own meaning into it. I can see that as a critique of voyeurism, while to you, it's just something you made.
GS: Art? Mmm...
When you created that, did you have any kind of goal in mind, or was it just "I want to create a game with choices" or something?
GS: Certainly, your individual morals play a thematic role in the game. Being able to make these choices that directly affect the future was one of the things we were aiming for, and I thought it turned out to be pretty innovative.
I thought it was particularly interesting that if the reporter dies, you just get another one right away, as though the previous one's existence was not really important.
I noticed that you always dress well. You used to wear D&G; now you've switched to Hysteric Glamour. Do you think it's important as a designer or company head to be an icon or to have a fashion sense?
GS: There's a personal drive to look nice, sure, but I think it's not as important as presenting a positive image to the kids and the young people that look up to those in the game industry, that want to be the game creators of the future. We're in the business of creating dreams, sort of.
Did you want to become this sort of icon when you were younger?
GS: Not at all. (laughs) I wanted to become a sushi chef or an astronaut.
Game designer is close to that.
GS: It sure is. (laughs)