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In America, Falcom is probably best known for the Ys series. What are your thoughts about that series and how it has evolved?
TK: Ys is, of course, one of my favorite series as well. When I was in high school, I played Ys I & II on the PC Engine [TurboGrafx-16 in the U.S.] I was shocked at how great of a game it was. For Ys Seven, I produced and directed the title. It's a title that's really strongly connected to me.
In Japan it's very common for people to stop playing games as they grow up and take on jobs and families. In America, people continue to play games longer, it seems. How does that affect the way you think about your audience?
TK: Actually, we have a very strong fan base, and Ys is a very long series. It seems that the fans have kept playing the series. Before we started putting our games out on PSP, the average age of the fans, there were a lot of people in their 30s, and then there were even people in their early 40s.
But after we started releasing our games on PSP, we gained more younger fans. And so the fan base for the PSP games are more like in their mid-20s -- we have our old school fans, and then there was an addition of newer, younger fans with the PSP version.
A lot of PSP games in Japan are very otaku-centric, with moe elements, and it seems you avoid adding that kind of stuff.
TK: Falcom has had a philosophy, right from the beginning, that has been carried on to this day. When we create a game design, the gameplay system has to be interesting, and if the gameplay system is not interesting, the designers get in trouble. There are people within the company who would say, "Okay, let's use the character to attract the audience." Those kinds of game designs would get canned. They would get in trouble.
That's one of our strong, strong philosophies that has been helping us avoid going in the direction of those otaku, moe characters. If the gameplay system is fun and interesting, we value that the most. If the gameplay system is fun, then we probably might not mind adding those things as another factor to the game, but we don't want that to be the main pull of the game.
Especially with the Ys series, we concentrate on how good the action feels, so we create a lot of prototypes in our development process. The first thing we do is have the character walk and run. And so we have prototypes of the character walking and running, and we try the prototype, and if you feel good just walking in the game, and running in the game, then you know that's a go sign for you to move forward. But if it doesn't feel good at that point, then we just go back and recreate the prototype. So that's how we create games.
That's the reason we don't have those elements in our games too much. Yeah, the Kiseki series, it's not like we've totally said "we don't do that" with it. The Kiseki series has some of those factors. But for us, those factors are never going to be the main pull of the game. We always concentrate on the gameplay systems. The main thing is the gameplay system, for us.
How long has the company been pursuing that prototyping-driven development process, and have things changed in recent years at all?
TK: When I entered the company, they were already creating games in that way, so I'm not sure how long that culture has been going on. As far as I know, it's been going on the whole time. When we create games at Falcom, usually you would have the design document and the specs, but the game would never turn out to be the exact way that they planned in the documents. How we create the games is that we create it, and we check it, and then we modify it. It's like we're polishing our game up. That's how we create our games, and that's the way it has been since I entered the company.
That philosophy is considered to be the best way by most developers in the West, but you hear so much about Japanese developers sticking to documents and not being flexible with their designs.
TK: Most of the time, there's the publisher and then there's the developer -- these are different companies. And so because you have a schedule, and because you have a budget, you have to stick to them. That might be the reason a lot of people need to stick to the documents.
In our case, we have the artists, the designers, the programmers, the music composers, scenario writers, the movie creators, and the designers for the packages and everything, and the people who do promotion. We have everybody on board inside the company. Every part of that is the fun part of creating a game. We feel like, "Why hand that out to somebody else when it's the fun part to do?" So we've been taking care of all of that ourselves.
And also by doing that, we would not want to put out something that we're not happy about, or that we're not proud of. So to be able to create something that we're proud of, we feel like we should do it ourselves. So that is probably one of the reasons we are able to do this "polish-up" way of creating games.
The founder of Falcom, Masayuki Kato, has taught me to always put out something that you're totally, 100 percent proud of. And of course, that's a huge challenge to do that. And most of the time it's impossible to put out something that you're 100 percent proud of. But after hearing that from the founder of Falcom, I've always been trying to aim for that 100 percent.
Tell me a bit about Kato.
TK: Falcom was originally the official branch of Apple in Japan, so he's been the guy that was there. And after that he produced Xanadu, Dragon Slayer, and all the big Falcom series.
Is he still involved with the company, or is it more of an advisory role?
TK: He has given me most of the responsibilities now, but every now and then he will come and give me some advice. Those words are usually fall very heavily in my heart, but I carry most of the company responsibilities now. He will come to the office every now and then, and he will say, "If you keep on doing real work, creating good stuff, then it's going to be all right in the end."