For over a decade now, Grasshopper Manufacture has been synonymous with the vision of a single developer: Goichi Suda, also known as Suda 51. Grasshopper games like Killer7, No More Heroes and Flower, Sun and Rain have shown Suda's unique vision for games with a distinctly off-kilter sensibility.
But the entire tenor of the company seems set to change through a set of acquisitions and collaborations with some of Japan's biggest development talent, including Devil May Cry designer Shinji Mikami, Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka, Little King's Story director Yoshiro Kimura and Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada.
Wada, who comes to Grasshopper from Marvelous Entertainment and will serve as Grasshopper's COO, will be collaborating with Suda and Mikami on action title Shadows of the Damned, to be published in collaboration with Electronic Arts.
We recently had a chance to talk to Wada about his new role at Grasshopper, his thoughts on the company's direction, and how he sees this influx of new blood changing the company.
Alright, so lets first talk about why you decided to come to Grasshopper in the first place?
Yasuhiro Wada: Because I love Suda-san. [laughs]
Have you known him for a long time?
YW: Of course.
Can you talk a little bit about what your role will be at Grasshopper?
YW: At the moment, I do business development and management to create a new line of development. In the near future, I will try to make my original new IP, but at the moment, I am a business man. [laughs]
When we spoke last time, we were talking about how you wanted to move on from business and be able to do more creation again. Is that in your plan at some point?
YW: Yeah, itís definitely the time for the shift. Marvelous thought about having an internal team, so... itís really different managing the title and managing the development side is really different, I think.
It seems like Grasshopper has absorbed a lot of the people that came from Marvelous.
YW: Not so much. Maybe only three or four people.
Since youíre mostly doing business now, is there any kind of difference in the transition from taking care of Harvest Moon and that kind of thing to Grasshopperís style of game, which is much more aggressive and abrasive?
YW: No. Of course the genre of the game world would be different, but the development process and then the passion for the development is still the same.
Has the kind of game that you want to make changed, or is that still the same? Because when you described it in the past, it sounded still like more of a light, kind of happy sort of game, compared to Grasshopperís style. Do you think you can meet those two things together?
YW: Yeah, still the same. Of course. Weíll definitely have multiple projects, so one project may be a really Grasshopper-style game and then another would be the blend of my style but still be Grasshopper's game.
Some could be completely different and really on the other vector, my style of game. Even in the past, Iíve worked for a game like Harvest Moon but, at the same time, I worked on No More Heroes or Flower, Sun and Rain, with Suda-san as a director and me as a producer.
Now that youíre here, what do you view as your personal mission within the company? And also, do you think that what you want to do, does that change the mission of Grasshopper at all?
YW: That's a difficult but good question. The reason I moved to Grasshopper is because what I wanted to do personally, and what Suda-san wanted to achieve, the goals were the same. Thatís why I decided to move to Grasshopper. Our goals are definitely the same. Grasshopper is definitely the number one developer, definitely going over other games.
I think thatís possible with some changes, but I donít know if those changes could ever happen -- changes in development practice, and also how the company thinks about itself in relation to other developers. There needs to be a more Western development style, with things like prototyping and vertical slices, and also, at the same time, more sharing of information; more openness. I donít know if I see that in the immediate future for Grasshopper, but maybe someday.
YW: Throughout the development of the project, weíve made a lot of mistakes and failures, and so it was definitely a learning experience, but weíve learned through this.
We may not be 100 percent at the moment, but weíre definitely progressing and progress will continue on. The passion and the concept, those things will remain but, at the same time, in order to achieve what we want to do, some things have to be changed, and will.
Are you trying to create a new team within Grasshopper, or create a new team from new members?
YW: Definitely a mix. Iím happy.
Now that youíre outside of Harvest Moon, do you look at it and feel anything about the direction itís going? Itís sort of like your child, now itís growing up without you.
YW: I care a little bit, of course, but just like your child, Iím glad itís growing up to be what it is. 'Bye!' [laughs]
Grasshopper is becoming a more interesting place because itís gathering a lot of people that I have known in the Japanese game industry for awhile, like Yamaoka, like you, or Kimura and Iida. In the past, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, Suda has had his stamp on everything, but now itís got to change, there will be more styles, because there are a lot of strong personalities there now. I wonder how you think it will mix?
YW: I think thatís what Suda-san wants, to create and grow a bigger company. He realizes he canít always be there for every project, so what he wants to do create a game of his own, and also have Yamaoka-sanís game, and Wada-sanís and Kimura-sanís games so we can really grow.
If he just keeps on having stamps for every game, thatís not going to work as a company. He is a creator as well as CEO of a company, so thatís what he wants to do. Of course weíll definitely have to have a brand as a Grasshopper, so weíll have a common image or style in every game, but itíll be different.
Itís neat to watch this kind of thing happening on the large scale with EA and then also on the small scale with something like Digital Reality -- trying all kinds of things. There are these big, AAA projects and also these small projects that may be interesting on their own.
YW: Yeah, we want to grow a portfolio with variety, so weíre not going to just have AAA or big titles but also mix it up with smaller titles.
Because we want to stay as an entertainment company, you canít just go off in one direction. We just might mix up everything in our portfolio. Of course, something may not really be successful, but even so, some can be successful, so weíll be okay overall.
When youíre building this team, what is your main motivation? What kinds of people are you trying to get? What kind of culture are you trying to build?
YW: Itís a difficult question, but I guess I want to have the team focus more on human nature. Weíve been creating a lot of games with destruction, so maybe something to construct? That would be good.