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Contact is the first Nintendo DS title from the unusual Japanese development house Grasshopper Manufacture (Killer 7, Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked), and will be released in the U.S. by noted import publisher Atlus.
As such, this presented a unique opportunity to talk with famed designer and Grasshopper president Goichi Suda, aka Suda51, who took a producer-oriented role for this title, which is described by Atlus' Tomm Hulett as "a rare breed of quirky RPG that attracts a rabid fanbase with its whacked-out story, setting, and characters", including animal-training, item-collecting, monster-hunting, and old-school mini-games.
Takeshi Ogura, a producer for Marvelous Interactive – the game’s Japanese publisher – was also present, adding some surprising insights into the future of both companies. Thus, Gamasutra spoke with these fine gentlemen about innovative sound design, keeping your company culture, and the future of the industry. Other journalists were also present, and asked questions as credited.
Other Journalist: What makes Contact different as an RPG?
Suda51: Well, when you think of traditional Japanese RPGs, you think of fantasy period pieces. Things like dragons and wizards. I think that’s a bit over the top for a lot of people, so we wanted to do something somewhat more based in reality, somewhat more contemporary. There haven’t been a whole lot of RPGs like that, especially in Japan. We’ve tried to create something new here…hopefully you’ll like it. We’ll see.
Gamasutra: Were you able to continue the Grasshopper Manufacture tradition of pushing boundaries of sound design?
S51: Yeah, well, of course the Contact team didn’t just want to create normal game music. We didn’t have some specific motif in mind, necessarily, but we wanted to make music and sound effects that we felt fit the world. We do that with all our titles though.
GS: Any problems with cartridge size, as far as what you wanted to put in for audio?
Suda51: Not with the single player, but over wifi, we had some trouble syncing everything.
OJ: What was the thinking behind the two visual styles, one for the top screen, one for the bottom screen?
Takeshi Ogura: Well, at first mister Ueda, the lead designer, was making this for the GBA. So when it got switched to the DS, we decided to make something more suitable for the platform on the bottom screen. Ueda was a graphic artist before he was a game designer, so he likes to put a certain flourish on things. He really likes Super Famicom-like chunky pixel graphics, so he kept that approach on the top screen. The idea was originally to switch between the two visual styles on the GBA, to show the difference between one area and another, but once the DS came out, the obvious choice was to do both at the same time.
GS: Grasshopper seems to be making more original properties again, after a bunch of licensed properties, or games for other companies. What do you want to communicate with original IP?
S51: So, Contact was developed by Akira Ueda. This was his third game with us – Shining Soul, Shining Soul II, and now Contact. So we knew he wanted to make an original game, so since this was his third effort, and he’d gained a lot more experience, so as a company, we figured he was due.
Naturally at Grasshopper we’d like to make more original games, but you’ve got to make licensed titles sometimes…But yeah, it’s not like we have big plans for original IP, in terms of something we want to communicate. Just to make what we want to make.
GS: So it was like his proving ground?
OJ: What’s the origin behind the name?
TO: Basically, you’re contacting the characters within the world, and the player you control contacts the doctor, and vise-versa. Also, you can contact other players via the WiFi. Is this kind of game unusual in the U.S. or something?
OJ: No, coming from Goichi Suda, I though it would be totally crazy. This seems really normal!
S51: Well, I mean…it’s not really my game, it’s mostly Ueda’s. I think if I’d made it it would’ve been called Killer Contact or something. And anyway, it’s the normal people like me who make crazy games. People who make normal games like Contact are the real crazies. So Akira Ueda is totally nuts.
GS: Do you hire specific people for Grasshopper, to keep the company culture? It seems like your games all have a specific feel.
S51: Hmm, well, at Grasshopper, of course we have titles like programmer, artist, sound designer, et cetera…but it’s a bit more freestyle. Anyone who comes in has to have that sort of image in his head. You’ve got to be a jack of all trades. Not only that, you have to be able to do things independently without being told every minute detail. You’ve got to be able to create your own design, and stick with it.
OJ: What are your thoughts on Wii? Do you have any plans?
S51: The market has felt really stagnant for a while in Japan. But when the DS hit, it made some interesting waves. I feel like the DS was quite good as far as devising new methods of playing games, and I think that Wii will do something similar. I’m hoping we’ll see the creativity of more developers sparked by that. We’re pretty interested in it, so we’re doing something right now with Marvelous and Spike.
TO: Yeah…it’s a surprise! An original game.
GS: Not that Necro game that Spike is making, right?
S51: Oh no, no. Something totally new. So what’s your response to Wii?
GS: Of course FPSes are logical, and I imagine it’ll mostly be a vehicle for Nintendo’s games at first. I think they made it with themselves in mind. There’ll be very good first party games for a while, and third parties will make things for it, but not quite catch up with the curve until later, though when they do, there’ll be some interesting innovations. That’s my take, anyway.
S51: Hmm, yeah. This E3 is a tough one for developers, because we’re all wondering which platform we should go for. If you make a game for Wii, you can’t really port it to PS3 and Xbox 360. It’s hard to make games multiplatform now…
TO: Oh, and surprise number two – there will be a Contact 2 game for a Nintendo platform. Probably.
S51: Yeah, Akira Ueda, starting in January, will form his own company, called Audio Inc. He’ll continue working on Contact 2 under his own company brand. So hopefully everyone will support them too!
GS: And when will we hear more about the first surprise?
S51: Well uh…it was supposed to be ready for E3. Do you really want to know?
S51: Well, me too.
TO: Probably be announced in Japan, late June, early July. Should be a fun game.