Famously, you originally started out at Sega, and you worked on Sega Rally, among other games. You have an arcade background, and this really sounds like the continuation of that. Arcade games are games where you play the same game repeatedly, and the play same thing, and you get caught up in it, and you get caught up in that feeling.
Speaking from a game design perspective, are you still carrying that legacy forward in your designs? Because I feel that Rez and Child of Eden are the same way. Like yeah, they're quote-unquote "short" games, but I can't tell you how many times I've played Rez in the last 10 years. It came out on Xbox Live, and I bought it again, and played it again. Even though it's short.
TM: It's the same DNA, all the time. Yeah, my DNA never changed. But it's impossible to bring Child of Eden into the game center, because it's too long for the game center, location-based.
[Ed. note: "game center" is the Japanese term for "arcade."]
But yeah, I can understand what you're saying. Yeah, I got experience with those games. All the time, we're watching the people playing the game by one coin, and three minutes, and watching their reaction. And it's like, "Yeah!" [pumps fist in victory] or it's like, "Ngh!" [mimics someone reacting badly to a defeat]. Like that. That was a really good experience for me. How can we design an emotional current? Feeding the people's tension. Excitement.
Tension and release. Is that something you designed for very deliberately?
JM: We're always talking about cause and effect, so there's a feedback. Call and response.
TM: Call and response, yes. For the last 10 years, I've been focusing on music-based games --music is call and response all the time. They're playing instruments together, all together, and when they're making a group, somebody starts the beat, and they follow the beat, and together become one.
So that kind of process is very organic, but if we watch the detail, everybody doing call and response -- a beat, and somebody hits the response, and reacts with something. If you're making some interactive coding, we need to cut, divide everything.
You mean divide everything into like musical notation, essentially? Or beat structure?
TM: Yeah. And that kind of process, I found, the call and response in the music can merge with the gameplay. The game is also call and response. That's the similarity in music and games. So this game is our style: Rez, Space Channel 5, Lumines, Child of Eden.
JM: For you, it really started with Space Channel 5. Ulala or the Morolians would make the sounds like "Up, up, down, down, chu, chu, chu, chu," and then you'd have to press the appropriate buttons.
But with Rez, and Child of Eden, and Lumines, it's much more subtle than that. When you press a button, you get a sound immediately, so the payoff is there, so you constantly feel involved. With Lumines, every time you rotate the block, there's a sound effect custom-designed per song to accompany that rotation. When the timeline passes and clears blocks, there's a custom sound designed for that. There's been such a focus on that in Q Entertainment that it informs every element of our design now.
Do you think people are thinking musically when they play your games?
TM: Child of Eden and Rez, this is a playing music feeling. Space Channel 5, this is a musical. The player's enjoying the narrative dance, and, I think, the much more wider wave of call and response. It's got a totally different mechanism, essentially.
JM: But is the feeling of player feedback, is the call and response greater in games like Child of Eden because the interaction is very fast?
TM: Yeah, Child of Eden, yeah, that style of game is speed gaming, and so it's like magic. Connecting my hands, my body, connecting to the game itself. If I do this [moves hand] I get sounds. That kind of feeling is very important, to immerse people.
Since the original Lumines came out, I think game culture has changed a lot. There's a lot of different people playing games now. How has that affected your company, and how does that affect the way you approach games?
TM: In these seven years? So many more people playing now?
TM: Like on their iPhones.
Because I know that you know when you made Rez, you threw parties in Tokyo, and as I recall, you were talking about how you wanted to bring in people who understood music and aesthetics to games. Do you see that as an opportunity now?
TM: Yeah, games are expanding. Six, seven years ago we had just a few platforms: PS2 and Nintendo, Xbox, and PSP, DS. That's it. No mobile phone yet -- no smartphones.
And now, so many people are playing mobile phone social games, and free games with unknown people. So no stimulation, but they've enjoying some social connection, and this is also a game. And it's all chaos now. It's chaos.
JM: It's hard to know what the right thing to do is nowadays, because traditional game development is nice and all, but you're seeing companies, the resources they devote to games is so small, but the payoff is potentially so large. A lot of companies want to make 10 games in the time it takes to create one old school game, and any one of those ten games could make 10 times as much as that old school game. Especially for the amount of money invested.
TM: I'm teaching at the university in Japan, and I'm asking the students, "Do you play games?" And even if they're the core gamers, now they're playing social games on a mobile phone. They play both. I think the time to play console games is reducing.
I think that we can say, "Oh, the game industry is expanding." We can say that. It's that many people are getting a kind of cheap variation -- everything is getting cheap. It's like free games, and microtransactions.
People feel all the time, "Oh, we are busy, and I don't have time to play a game anymore like that," and then they want to play the game, so they think, "Okay, I will play a mobile phone game, just five minutes, now." And this is free-to-play, and just 10 percent of people pay the money. And that's a new business structure, and so that's a big change -- a big change.
But all the time we have answered the consumers. So they want to play high resolution games, or high-end games... but if they have a very cheap free game, now, they can play 10 minutes and they will be satisfied. So this is a big dilemma in this industry.
But this not the final form, and this is not the answer yet. This is a transition. But I don't know the future. But all the time, this is a kind of a mirror of human instincts, and wants, and desires.
Well you can cater to your impulses if you play on a phone. It's like eating a candy bar instead of eating dinner, right?
TM: Yeah, right.