Earlier this year, longtime Konami employee and Silent Hill composer and producer Akira Yamaoka left the company -- and popped up at Grasshopper Manufacture, the upstart Japanese developer headed by iconoclast Suda Goichi, he of the golden sneakers and playful moniker SUDA 51.
This interview was conducted after the long-awaited reveal of the studio's project for EA Partners, Shadows of the Damned. When the publisher showed off the game for the first time, it also revealed that Yamaoka, whose soundtracks for Silent Hill have long been beloved by fans of the series and game music connoisseurs, would be providing Shadows of the Damned's tunes, too.
In this interview, Yamaoka speaks of a Japanese game industry in flux. While Grasshopper has lofty claims of wanting to become the number one studio in the world, it is untested and in a process of expansion right now -- and bringing in key talent like Yamaoka is a big part of transforming it into a powerhouse.
In the bigger picture, the Japanese industry's transition to the current generation has proven complicated, and Yamaoka weighs in on that issue, too.
You first entered Grasshopper as a producer, but now you've been asked to do the soundtrack for Shadows of the Damned.
Akira Yamaoka: [That made me] very happy. Before, I was working at Konami -- I wanted do go in a different style, working and making things at Grasshopper.
A different style?
AY: A different style. That was something I wanted to do. Now I'm very much enjoying my work.
So did you go to Grasshopper to work on Shadows of the Damned?
AY: Not exactly. There wasn't a particular game under discussion in the beginning. When Suda approached me, he was talking about how he wanted me to join and help his company become the number one developer in the world. So I decided to join him at the company -- not just because of Damned, but because of everything they have going at the moment.
Do you think GHM can become number one?
AY: Well, not yet, but in the future. I think our collective goal is to attain a number one position in about five years.
What's your strategy?
AY: Oh, we have many ideas. We'd like to become number one as quickly as we can.
It's often said that Japan game developers' technological skills lag behind their American counterparts. Do you have a plan for dealing with that problem?
AY: I do think that the younger developers in the industry need more education -- technical education, I mean. Grasshopper has a wide variety of people from foreign countries in addition to Japanese staff, and working together with them, I think it's possible for us to achieve things more easily.
Japan's game culture seems to involve a lot of casual titles and gal-games these days; these titles don't have much presence in America. Do you have an interest in Japan-made games these days?
AY: It's about half-and-half. Damned is a wholly new style of game, and I think it'll appeal to a group of users who are neither fully casual nor fully hardcore. Perhaps not everyone, though -- I mean, hardcore gamers are different from anime fans or people who play sports games -- but I'm hoping people who aren't in one of these categories will be interested in buying it.