Hand in Killer7 Interviews with Suda 51 & Grasshopper Manufacture
[Note: The following interviews were translated from Hand in Killer7, pgs. 68-77, 80-87, and 90-95. I am working from the scans presented in this video from the LP by supergreatfriend.]
Hifumi Kono, director of Clock Tower and Steel Battalion
Eisin Sasaki, designer
Akihiko Ishizaka, art director & background model designer
Goichi Suda, director
WITH MR. SUDA, IT'S ALWAYS CHAOS!
- What was your first impression of killer7?
Hifumi Kono: I was just shocked. This was very different compared to the games Mr. Suda had made before, you see. Whether you're making a "game-like game" because you like games, or you like games but are going ahead and making "a game that turns its back on games" - well, I think it depends upon the person, but in the case of Mr. Suda, it's so far been the latter! In other words, I think he's been racking his brain on how to break down this fixed concept we have of games that's gotten calcified. But here, he hasn't turned his back on games; he's instead looking over his shoulder, so it was unexpected! With killer7, it's like, he used the B button (cancel button) this time! (laughs) He refined the systems to a degree I didn't expect, but I also feel he was hung up on the idea of Garcian's corpse retrieval. I'm hesitant at the idea of including that sort of Wizardry-like system in this day and age. But it's interesting to venture into that territory and involve an additional step in the process of reviving a character.
In a column on the official site, it was suggested that I referred Mr. Suda to Capcom, but that actually wasn't the case. I talked about how "I have someone who's like a mentor to me, and that's Goichi Suda," but ultimately, it was Mr. Mikami who played Mr. Suda's games and thought, "I'd like to make a game with this person," and killer7 was what was got off the ground as a result. Mr. Mikami and Mr. Suda, they have different approaches to creating a game, but I thought those different approaches would mesh. Plus, due to their positions in the game industry - or, rather, due to their pessimism toward the gaming industry, I think they're close together in their mindsets - thinking about how to improve things.
During the time that killer7 was getting started, I had many conversations with Mr. Suda, but the framework for the basic story structure and such were solidly in place from the very early stages! However, since this game was going to be released from Capcom, I thought that people would be playing this who weren't familiar with Suda's past games, so I said, "I think it would be a good idea to explain about 80% of the game's mysteries by the end"! ...But it ended up being the exact opposite. (laughs) 80% still a mystery and just 20% explained. Mr. Suda, maybe you heard me wrong? (laughs) But creating a work that digested those hazy stories that lie within ourselves was the important thing, and revealing everything within the game itself would've just ended up in nonsense!
- What do you think of killer7's worldview and Goichi Suda's creative style?
It's something that came naturally from Mr. Suda, so I think it's good, you know? He's not putting on a front; he created this from the heart, and so that's why you get those graphics and those characters, I think. I can't stand people who put on subculture affectations or these pretty college girls who try so hard to be Ms. Weirdo - that sort of stuff turns me off. But with killer7, it's the fabric of the game! When they play Suda's games, people say that it's like they were influenced by this movie or this book, but I think that while you certainly can sense those influences in crucial parts, it's not like you can explain those things just by that. It wouldn't really mean much if you spoke solely through that. With Mr. Suda, it's always chaos! So it's like it's no wonder the game contents also end up as chaos, right? On the other hand, however, it's not like you should necessarily take a deeper reading into things; it's just fine, isn't it, to simply relax and play with an attitude of "this is kinda interesting; I'm having fun"?
In the days when we were both still part of Human, Mr. Suda would talk to me about how "pro wrestling is like this, right?" and how, in his mind, "pro wrestling goes beyond the ring; you're putting your entire way of life on display." It struck me that Mr. Suda's attitude toward gamemaking might be influenced by his own take on pro wrestling. I feel like they have a common denominator, you know?
On a note related to that attitude, Mr. Suda is a person who can just naturally embrace "negative emotions"! For example, when I talk with him at times when my job is going well, he'll say something like, "Hifumi-chan, it looks like things are going well for you. Uhhh - you make me sick." (laughs) So with killer7 and it coming together so well, I said, "Well, Mr. Suda, killer7 is fun - it makes me sick!" (laughs) It's important that we have that sort of relationship where we can joke with each other good-naturedly like that, and I think that creators should be the type of people who, if they come in contact with a good work, they really grit their teeth. Plus, people who can embrace negative emotions understand the energy behind them and so are capable of infusing that into their work. Even more, normally, creators try to hide it, put this thin veil over it, but in Mr. Suda's case, he puts it out there in a fairly raw state, you know? (laughs) You don't see that sort of seething creator much in this day and age, so I think he's a rare breed - old-school. But, just wait, Mr. Suda - next time, it'll be your turn to grit your teeth!
The producer of this game, killer7, a man named Shinji Mikami, is, I feel, very good at grasping the true nature of things.
At that point, one of the issues about which Mr. Mikami and some of the staff were in slight disagreement was the "auto-aim." In the traditional RE series, when enemies were present and you readied your gun, the hero would turn toward the enemy. I think that is the correct approach. There's an enemy present, and you have your gun readied; that's the first action you take when you want to attack the enemy, and it's different from just having the gun out. Therefore, it's good idea in that situation to facilitate firing. Since this system had traditionally been in Resident Evil, it was probably only natural to feel that it was a staple of the series and should of course be in the game. However, that auto-aim function had in fact not been implemented.
Broadly speaking, when the perspective was changed, Resident Evil 4 changed from a traditional "exploration" game to a "shooting" game. Therefore, I feel that this decision was correct. Particularly in the uproar in the development of a series, it's only natural to lose this sort of objectivity.
So, what about killer7? As you know, it is also a shooting game. The Heaven Smiles, the enemies, have these tumorous weak points will can fell the enemy in a single hit if shot. Therefore, the player inevitably ends up aiming for those points when firing.
[Note: Sakurai is, naturally, referring to the Japanese version of the game, where the Critical Lock-on skill is automatically activated at the start for every character in Normal (or "Kantou"/"Daring Battle") Mode.]
Does this suit the killer7 worldview? From a straightforward perspective, it doesn't. If you're going, "hey, check out this hard-boiled game," "check out this cool atmosphere," you're not making child's play, so it's tough to avoid saying: you could at least make them aim the gun themselves!
But I think we should take a step back. Why did Mr. Mikami hire Mr. Suda in the first place? With a product like killer7, what appeals to the customers; for what are they paying? That much is completely clear: they want to enjoy a world created by Goichi Suda.
I think that perhaps the majority of the praise and excitement for killer7 are for its worldview, its script, and its atmosphere that really put the screws to the player. They're not for the battles with the enemies. Perhaps it is an understanding of that very fact that led to a policy of not emphasizing such things as combat. Perhaps this demonstrates a real understanding of the true nature of things.
You can see parts in killer7's game system where things feel patched up, like something was done after the fact. This could be due to some fine-tuning of Mr. Suda's systems on Mr. Mikami's part. I imagine that perhaps it was the type of project where various specifications changed from the planning stages.
But naturally, I imagine that the idea that "adventure games don't sell" was also included in Mr. Mikami's parameters, and that's quite a difficult problem. In any case, I appreciate that this product is finally on the shelves.
I GET THIS COMFORTABLE SHOCK, AS IF MY TWO-BIT PERSPECTIVE ON THE WORLD IS BEING UPENDED
- What was your first impression of killer7?
It was just like: I didn't know whether to run away or fall in love! It was this intense, uncompromising work - a world that could come into existence only through this script, these visuals, this sound. That sense of a "total package" came through in a dazzling manner for me - it makes me jealous.
- What if you had been writing the script, Mr. Takumi...?
PERSONA TURNS AGAINST PERSONA in: THE SMITH SERIAL MURDER CASE! A traitor in the syndicate!? Who commissioned the assassination of the killer7?! What was the past incident that ties together the eight personalities and robbed Harman of his ability to walk?! When not a single soul remains, the astonishing truth is finally unleashed into the dark! And, when Kun Lan eats, which hand does he use?! ...Sorry. Wild Turkey's whispering nonsense in my ear.
- Give me a message for Goichi Suda!
I'm personally speaking from the standpoint of writing the scripts for the Ace Attorney mystery games. What I always feel is that Mr. Suda and I maybe write from opposite standpoints. When I'm writing a script, how to get the player to "understand" it all is foremost on my mind. Put badly, I'm "forcing" the truth on the player. However, with Suda, it's different. He may give clues, but interpretation is everything and is left up to the individual player. This approach is easy to criticize - like, "Hey; did something get left out here?" - but that might not be the case. It's because he's entrusting everything to the imagination of us players...because he's trying to tell a complete story with our cooperation - that's why it seems "incomplete." Maybe he's actually the pinnacle of "user-friendliness"...but, then again, maybe not. (laughs) In any case, when I play a Suda game, I get this comfortable shock, as if my two-bit perspective on the world is being upended. I'd be overjoyed if I continued to receive this shock in the future.
IN MY MIND, KILLER7 WAS A BREAKTHROUGH PIECE OF WORK FOR ME
- How did you come in contact with killer7?
I happened to see a help wanted ad for Grasshopper Manufacture (GHM) in a magazine. It was in my neighborhood, so I went ahead and sent an e-mail. I got a reply from Mr. Suda, and I went to see him in person. It seems he saw my personal website and called me in.
At first, I created demo reels for GHM - videos that introduced the company, "we make these types of games," that sort of thing. Those got some recognition, and I made the killer7 trailer. Later, I made promo material and images for puzzle-solving events, stuff like that. The very first thing I made was the tape recorder that appears in "Smile"; that was okayed, and orders kept coming in after that - like "OK, the next thing is this and that." The TV screen in Harman's room and stuff was also like that. Once I was recognized by Mr. Suda, he let me do lots of stuff! But there was also this tension - "there's no turning back now; I have to keep the quality up."
- What did you reference in your design work?
The design of the Soul Shells was created from crabs, fish bones, and spiral shells. For gadgets, I've done stuff in the past in both Eastern and Western styles! So I was considering creating something that was in neither vein, and I suddenly thought, "The ocean!" - and so I made them in that shape. I made them like they were these bullets infused with spiritual energy, but I read the characters in the name as "tamashii dan." When I showed it to Mr. Suda, he said, let's make it "tamatama" [an alternate reading of the composite characters that's a homophone for "testicles"], and I was impressed: "wow, I really am dealing with a pro." I also did location scouting here and there, and showed up at traditional art exhibits and stuff - traditional beauty has this power that just endures. Going to the same space as those works, it was like I was soaking up the ambient quantum particles of the beauty there right into my veins. (Laughs)
- Mr. Suzuki, what is killer7 to you?
It's something different from my TV and ad work. Like, with an ad for drinking water, the product has to be shown, right? But that's not the case with a game. On the contrary: the image of Dan with his gun readied, the anime scenes, the images I created - everything from start to finish is the product. That made me happy! Even with looking at an ad I made, the customer's paying money for the product I'm advertising, not anything I made. But with a game, the things I created are included in the product, you see. In that sense, in my mind, killer7 was a breakthrough piece of work for me. And I felt that, of course, was because I had a supporter like Mr. Suda.
KAEDE WAS A STARK-NAKED WOMAN IN NOTHING BUT A COAT.
- How did you come in contact with killer7?
Takumi Miyake: It wasn't anything dramatic; I was just introduced through an acquaintance! It was still really in its very early stages; there weren't many people working on it at the time. I worked on character design for the project. The overall graphical direction itself was in place! There was a feeling it was going to be something like Mike Mignola (U.S comics artist of Hellboy etc.), with the shadows played up. But the character designs etc. weren't clearly established; those took shape through discussions with Mr. Suda.
- What was your focus in the design work?
The direction of the game I could envision to an extent once I was shown the original documents. Before I started the actual work, I had drawn image boards and whatnot, and there were visual continuity sheets that I had drawn for a presentation to Capcom, and so that also set the stage. I myself am fond of hard-boiled worlds, so I think this went relatively smoothly. But, of course, it was basically fumbling and finding my way as I went, you know? I learned the direction in which Mr. Suda wanted to take the characters about when I delivered the final product. Mr. Suda, his reactions are muted - even when I turned in art, he didn't comment much on the things he didn't really like. However, when he liked something, his eyes would light up, you know? (laughs) It's just - there were no clear "no"s. I was given free reign with the job.
- Can you give us some details on the creation of each character?
Dan, he was used just as he appeared in the rough sketches. Con, too - I drew him just off-the-cuff, and he got in. Kevin, at the stage where the battle system hadn't been decided yet, I just put a knife in his hand. (laughs) Mask and Coyote were created to fulfill requests from Mr. Suda; Harman, too, I just touched up some visuals prepared by Grasshopper. Garcian didn't take much time to finish, either. The one who was really tough was Kaede. I usually draw cool big-sister types, but Mr. Suda isn't really into that, so I was worried about what accents to add. I make an effort as much as I can to get the backbone of a character across in a single illustration...
She ended up in that outfit to get across the idea of "how was she killed...?". When I first drew her, Kaede was a stark-naked woman in nothing but a coat. I did it based on Mr. Suda's ideas, but while I was drawing her in that vein, I started to grow fond of that idea, too! There was an ethical issue with that visual, so it ultimately got shelved, but I somehow understood the direction for the character, so this led to the "bloodsplattered dress" design. I also drew Kun Lan. At first, I drew him like where one hand was reptilian and his right hand was a left hand, but that ultimately didn't work. He has expensive taste in clothing. He's a celebrity, after all. (laughs)
- Who's your favorite character?
I like Dan, of course. If I had to answer, "would you cheer for a heel or babyface?", I'm the type who will cheer for the heel, hands down. (laughs) That roughness is part of his charm, you know? So I'm not really moved by a character like Garcian, who's ultimately a babyface. Plus, Dan is a character I drew at a rather early stage, so he kind of served as a bellwether of the job for me. So he made a strong impression on me in that way, too.
- Mr. Miyake, what is killer7 to you?
Long ago, there was an era where Shonen Jump was focused on rom-com manga! Then Fist of the North Star arrived on the scene, and it took off. I've thought that gaming also needs something with that kind of impact and shock. killer7 packed that kind of impact. When we've thought about what a game should be, there's this subconscious idea that it should be "something everyone, from kids to adults, can enjoy." But we might not be in that era anymore. In this environment, I think a game like killer7 that stakes out a distinct perspective is important. Don't the types of games you make also color your image as a developer? Developing a game with originality like killer7, even if you want to, isn't really feasible, I think - but that's why, looking from the outside in (as a person who's participating in development only partially), I'm so jealous that they're doing it. I want them to continue making games in this style.
Animation Director and Character Designer for "Cloudman"
IT WAS REALLY CRUCIAL FOR EACH CHARACTER TO BLEND NATURALLY INTO THIS OUTRAGEOUS STORY - FOR ME TO REALLY BRING THEM TO LIFE
[Note: This particular interview contains two Telephone-like layers of potential unreliability: the translation of Hibon's words into Japanese, and my translation of the Japanese (back?) into English. Hibon is perhaps the only interviewee who might ever read this document, so my apologies if it reflects his original words imperfectly.]
- How did you come in contact with killer7?
Ben Hibon: I received an inivitation from Digital Frontier to create movies for a game title Mr. Suda was planning and producing - it all started there. Mr. Mikami was on the project as a producer, and I was familiar with his past work. At the start, I was shown killer7 concept art, character designs, and images of the game in motion in real time, and I gradually got an understanding of the game's worldview and whatnot, and I came to realize what a wonderful project this would be for me.
- When you read the script to "Cloudman," how did you feel at first?
Hibon: It was crazy! Just incredible! Really insane! The one-of-a-kind characters and turns the story took just hooked me right away. The composition of the cutscenes and the developments in the script were really original and unusual. Ulmeyda, the main character of "Cloudman," had so many facets to his character showcased by a clever script, and you discovered so many different faces to him, and it just sucked me in. You think he's so calm and collected and has such self-control, and he all of a sudden just lets loose and transforms into the stage's final boss, you know? What more could you want from one character?! (laughs) Plus, to be given the privilege of designing characters in this wonderful, bizarre world...it really was a wonderful process!
- What were your foremost concerns during production?
The thing I was looking forward to most in this animation project was working with the extremely long conversations. I didn't have any experience at all until then with anything similar, so for me, from a technical standpoint, it was rather a challenge worth taking. My concern was making sure all the characters' unique personalities were communicated through their movements and manner of speaking. It took a considerable amount of time to bring their movements to life in just the right way. Particularly for the lip syncing, I tried to get it as close to perfect as possible - really fixated on detail. It was really crucial for each character to blend naturally into this outrageous story - for me to really bring them to life. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the ultimate visual design took shape and solidified around the image of the characters' voices I had already gotten at the very start of production. I think they filled an extremely crucial role in production.
The design and direction were the same way; I think I found my own way, a new way of working that was completely different from what I'd done before, and I was able to enjoy it. For example, the photos of the sky used with the sky that appears in-game succeeded in producing this unearthly contrast between the real sky and the designed background. The biggest issue was that the player character could never be visible in any shot. That was actually the biggest challenge in drawing the continuity sheets for the animation. That was because with every line, the shot ended up having to be from a fixed angle. I had to think about how to show events from a number of angles, and in ways where you couldn't see the player, and that took a lot of work.
The last scene was extremely interesting to actually produce. Particularly since Ulmeyda's the true star of the game script. It really shows off his multifaceted character to the player from a variety of perspectives. The scene where he's confessing that he's been infected by the Heaven Smiles as he transforms - to me, that was the showstopper of "Cloudman," so I calculated everything based on how this one theatrical moment could be brought to life perfectly, to be as dramatic as possible. Therefore, I crafted that crucial scene from a deliberately long series of takes. Then, after that, you're immediately just swept up in the action, and the story heads to its climax...that's how it went.
- What's your personal take on the story of "Cloudman"?
Hibon: Hmmm...that's a very difficult question! I think the story of "Cloudman" embodies popular faith, or rather conflict, in modern society. Ulmeyda as a character, he's complicated, you know? He's a modern evangelist who tries to get his message out through terrorism. Personally, I take "Cloudman" to be the adventure of one unconventional man who tried to make changes through obtaining total control. Unfortunately, Ulmeyda realizes his own shortcomings in the story's endgame and ultimately meets death. Still, the development where the Clemence character carries on his message is sheer idealism. --The idea that, no matter what, a successor will always appear to carry on and bring a faint hope to the next generation really comes through in the animation.
- Ben, what is killer7 to you?
Hibon: killer7...should I say it's just a heap of creative elements and ideas from a variety of genres in one project, mixed together in a good way? It's just like Harman Smith having multiple personalities, you know? I think it's completely hopeless to try to categorize killer7 as a single work in a single genre. I think that's what makes the game so wonderful - I mean, that's what makes it so fresh to everyone, and shocking, and just utterly thrilling all at once, you know? Working on killer7 was a truly stimulating experience - to the point where it shocked even me.
Translation: Naomi Ikoma
I PAID PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO TRANSLATING ACCURATELY, WITHOUT LOSING THE MEANING OF THE EXPRESSIONS OR WORDS
- What were your priorities in translating to English?
Shinsaku Ohara: I read Mr. Suda's script and absolutely adored it - the lines, the phrasing, the content itself. However, the lines from the cast used a great many abstract, vague expressions. Some lines had double, even triple meanings. English is clear and straightforward, and it generally disdains unclear words and expressions, so I paid particular attention to translating accurately, without losing the meaning of the expressions or words.
- Were there any lines that made a particular impression on you?
Ohara: Benjamin Keane's final words on "how to hit on women." The subtitles say "As for how to hit on women——", but the line he's actually saying is "Women are all the same."* It's the type of line a middle-aged man fed up with life would say, and I thought it would leave an impression, so I got permission from Mr. Suda to put it in.
- Which lines gave you the most trouble in translating to English?
Ohara: The bit in the conversation in Restaurant Fukushima between Fukushima and Harman about "drawing pictures," simply translated to English. That would have sounded really childish, though, so I racked my brain a bit trying to find an appropriate expression. Ultimately, I translated it as "architect," a word that generally refers to a builder or designer of structures but which also refers to a key figure, a planner, a pioneer.
- How do you think the game will be received overseas?
Ohara: When it comes to America, players are surprisingly resistant to new things. Therefore, to be blunt, I don't think killer7 is going to appeal to many players there. However, I don't think there's ever been a game like killer7 before. Its approach upends the very foundations of how we think about video games, and there's so much about the production that holds players' attention in a number of senses. I think its spirit of challenge will be highly-valued - how it transcends existing paradigms about games!
- Mr. Oohara, what is killer7 to you?
Ohara: This might be overstating things, but I think it's a journey to finding one's true self - finding the meaning of life. I think there are many people who lead their whole lives without ever discovering either. It might be an exaggeration, but I think that for humanity, how society views you is the only way to know your own worth. If your attitude toward others changes, the impression you make on them will change as well. I think the multiple personalities of killer7 are like that. Simply put, killer7 might very well be a tale of self-discovery. I feel that Garcian taught me that coming to know your true self is a truly terrifying experience.
Director of the PS2 Port
DUE TO TIME LIMITATIONS, THERE CAME A POINT WHERE WE JUST HAD TO SAY, "THAT'S ALL WE CAN DO," AND THAT WAS REGRETTABLE
- What are your thoughts now that development for the PS2 version is over?
Hideki Kato: Frankly, it was a difficult delivery. (laughs) We got started really, really early - PS2 development started when the GameCube production was ending* - but there were revisions to the GameCube version, so the PS2 version had to be revised, too, and the production ended up being rough going. But going to see it lined up on the store shelves after release, and seeing the "sold out" signs - that made me happy.
- What was your biggest concern during the PS2 version's development?
Kato: The major challenge was the degree to which we could reproduce the GameCube's unique look. The graphics use the GameCube's specific internal effects in numerous places, but the PS2's effects in that arena are limited. So how to approximate that look was the issue. The characters were what we concentrated on most during development. The characters, of course, are the focal point for your empathy, so if they look different than on the GameCube, the game ends up being different in that respect! So it was crucial for us to we match the original image as much as possible. We also worked hard on the fight with Akiba and Kurahashi, making adjustments to the attack timing and hit detection etc.
- What about the difference in load times between platforms?
Kato: It's because of the differences in hardware specs.
- Give me a message for Goichi Suda!
Kato: This game is an isekai that only Mr. Suda could create. Plus, I think that working together with Capcom enabled him to produce someting brand-new, that's unlike anything Mr. Suda's created before. I myself was affected in many ways...for better and for worse. (laughs) In any case, it was a game unlike any other.
I THINK IT GOT TO LEAVE ITS NAME NOT IN THE SALES RECORDS, BUT IN THE HISTORY BOOKS
- What are your personal thoughts on killer7?
Hiroyuki Kobayashi: I can shoot straight in this book, so to be frank...I didn't think it would sell, and of course it didn't, but I can't say I wasn't disappointed. (laughs bitterly) It's a very idiosyncratic game, fiercely individualistic, and that didn't translate into sales. But I had confidence in the quality of the product. And a not-inconsiderable number of people reacted to that quality! It was held in high esteem within Capcom, and its assessment outside...the response was positive from media and those in the industry. Therefore, I think it got to leave its name not in the sales records, but in the history books.
- What were your duties as producer of killer7?
Kobayashi: My foremost duty was to make sure we were able to do what Mr. Suda wanted to do whenever feasible. In creating the so-called "game" part, I weighed in on a number of issues in a manner that deferred to Mikami's viewpoint. On the other hand, the script, production, and characters, I all left up to Mr. Suda. We got a lot of "boy, that's typical for him" ideas from Mr. Suda. Ideas that wouldn't have come from anyone else, I don't think.
At times, he had some really out there ideas. For example, there was an effect where the screen cracked like glass when you took damage, but that made it difficult to see. It's already a game for masochists. (laughs) So I had to say "let's forget about this" three times before I finally got him to drop it. laughs) killer7 was a learning experience for me as a creator. Before, I had a rather formal approach to game creation, but from Mr. Suda's example, I have a renewed appreciation for the idea that it's okay to make games more my way, in a way that's fun for me. That's how, in Mr. Suda's case, his vision of "I want to use these anime cutscenes for these scenes" came through loud and clear. Therefore, the game also was a learning experience for me in terms of how and where those anime cutscenes were used. I was able to put that to use in the game Sengoku Basara, with which I was involved.
- Mr. Kobayashi, what is killer7 to you?
Kobayashi: It's a game that's entirely original from what came before, and I suppose there won't be another like it again - in terms of its content or in the time it took to create. That's why I'd like people not to let this game pass them by, and if it resonates with them, I'd like them to recommend this game to others. With movies and books, if you enjoy them, you recommend them, right - "this is good"? I think killer7 is the type of game that makes you want to recommend it to people - so, by all means, do so!
Art Director/Background Model Designer
A quiet craftsman, this defensive midfielder for Grasshopper survived the PC Engine era. Faced with a demanding schedule with his back to the wall, he stayed strong and held the front line, and his distinguished service behind the scenes was what brought killer7 to fruition. He saw killer7 through to the very, very end - even through adjustments and revisions for the overseas release. Beneath his impassive demeanor lies a tough guy with a core of steel.
I KNEW WE'D BE PUSHING IT, BUT THE ONLY THING I COULD SAY WAS "WE'VE JUST GOT TO GET THIS DONE"
- Tell us about your connection to killer7.
Akihiko Ishizaka: The design concepts for killer7 started coming from Suda right about when Flower, Sun, and Rain wrapped up. It all started there. At the very beginning of development, we were brainstorming and whatnot together about the content of the game as we were working on other projects, but once we got a clear idea of the foundation, I became somewhat hands-off and left things to the other staff members. About half a year later, however, when it was time for the game to go gold, the stages still weren't ready at all. I thought, "this is bad," and so then I ended up getting deeply involved in the project.
So given those circumstances, my first job was to create the stages. They're the backbone of a game, so you've just got to be constantly creating & destroying until they're in good shape. Then, once the stages are finished and you place the enemies in, you've got to do it all over again if the game isn't fun once you try to play it! The Celtic Building that appears in "Angel," I had to remake that about three times. Ultimately, it comes down to whether the game's fun or not. It's inevitable that you're going to have to redo stuff to make it fun - and you can't complain about that process; you've got to take it as a given, is my opinion. There was also a stage I made that didn't make it into the game (the Hawking Tower). That was a letdown, of course, but what can you do.
[Note: The Hawking Tower ("Hookin Tawaa") is the location of the scenario described in the Hand in Killer7 CG comic shown in this video, starting at 7:54. The comic is described in the book as a depiction of a prototype for the "Encounter" scenario and a beta-version prototype of killer7 itself. In the comic, Garcian receives news that Horizon, a start-up firm run by Curtis, is amassing an army of Heaven Smiles. He and Mills head to Horizon's headquarters, at the former site of a giant shopping mall. The action moves to the Hawking Tower (apparently part of Horizon's headquarters - there are employees present), where Curtis and Dan have a showdown on the top floor. I don't know if in talking about the Hawking Tower level being scrapped, Ishizaka is referring to the prototype being replaced with the in-game version of "Encounter" or if the tower was repurposed for another scenario that was eventually cut.
I also had the job of managing the outsourced staff. Like I said just before, we were going through a process of creating and destroying, creating and destroying, and stress levels among the staff build up when that happens! I was used to it, but we had a lot of younger staff members, and I think it was a big shock for them when we had to do retakes. Anyhow, we didn't have time, so I knew we'd be pushing it, but the only thing I could say was "we've just got to get this done"... This type of development process is tough if you aren't sufficiently attached to the title. Usually, you can see the shape of the overall thing to some extent, but even when we couldn't, we had to go ahead and envision it ourselves.
- What are your personal thoughts on killer7?
I'm personally inured to situations where I'm just thrown into a workplace and handed a tight schedule - it happened a lot when I was with Human. On the contrary: the only titles where I was firmly involved from the very start were The Silver Case and Flower, Sun, and Rain, so here, it was like I was finally getting another taste of that old familiar carnage. (laughs)
It was horrible, but there was also a joy in it. I'm basically a "nuts & bolts" man - I create the interface components, the background stuff that isn't part of the scenery. This time, though, the programmers were using elements that are usually taken for granted in unexpected ways, and it was fun to see the screens in motion.
For the time being, I've been put in the position of art direction, but the moving text and what not was Suda's work and stuff. He has lots of ideas, and they surprise me every time. Of course, he also has these impossible ideas that we couldn't do no matter what, but... (laughs)
- Give me one complaint about Goichi Suda!
I'm known as "Mr. Ishi" around the company, but Suda's getting into the habit now, too! Always adding "Mr. Ishi, Mr. Ishi" to everything. And now in killer7, there's this "Ishizaka Land"... When I first heard the name, I said: "Huh?! That's a joke, right?", but I was told, "no, we're actually going with it," and was that a shock! There's even this whole secret backstory to it they're making up behind my back... When I meet with people from outside the company, I occasionally hear stuff like, "you're a real character, aren't you?!", but that's not true! (laughs) I just want an eventual break from being a public laughingstock. I'm honest and upfront about this, but what I say is just taken as mere grumbling - like, "there you go again, Mr. Ishi~". (laughs bitterly)
- Mr. Ishizaka, what is killer7 to you?
It was a battle, naturally. A battle with the schedule, a battle of human relations, a battle with the clients, a battle with Suda...and after many battles, we finally arrived at this point. I hope our players enjoy the spoils.
Main Programmer/Battle Programmer
The unsung playmaker behind killer7's development. He managed the programmers and was a driving force behind the development workspace. Despite his spacey manner of speaking, he has a distinctive attention for detail in his work. An eyewitness to all of Suda's creations, he is the man who best understands the Grasshopper ideology and Goichi Suda's creative style.
IT FEELS LIKE I'M MORE OF A "PROGRAM PRODUCER" THAN A MAIN PROGRAMMER
Give us your personal thoughts on killer7.
Satoshi Kawakami: Wellll, it was tough creating seven people. Changing personalities and stuff took a lot of time and effort. I wonder how much easier it would've been if it had just been Killer1? The "press A (or circle) to move" format was decided from the early stages. When the project started up, I asked Suda, "How exactly are we moving forward?", and two days later... Suda came to my place and blurted out: "I've decided one thing! ...We're pressing A to move." (laughs) Then he announced: "And we're never changing that." Well, of course, I was against it at first. When I asked, "How are we supposed to get a handle on this?", he said: "It's a racing game. Think of the A button as the accelerator and the B button as the brake!". He also explained a lot else to me, and sooner or later, I'd get the idea - or rather, he'd fool me into thinking I did. (laughs)
What aspect of the project gave you the most trouble, Mr. Kawakami?
From the programming side, it was important for me to understand the nature of the enemy characters. Zombies, for example, have a logic to them that's easy to understand: they find a human and slooowly move toward them - because they have rules, to an extent. But Suda said, "don't make them zombies." He also said, "don't make them human, either." I had to think of them as special creatures, but there was a great deal of trial and error involved with that.
Then one day, Suda suddenly started drawing. It was a Heaven Smile that he was showing me, and he said, "See? When their eyes are wide open like that, doesn't it look like they're laughing?". They were originally called "Hell" - and they looked like they were smiling, so the "Smile" was added for "Hell Smiles." Then that was turned on its head, and they became Heaven Smiles.
As for the bosses' atttack patterns, those were the products of the entire team of programmers - we were told that as long as we were faithful to the concepts Suda showed us initially, it didn't matter what we did. For example, with Ayame, we were allowed to do anything, so long as she was "usually hidden in darkness and appeared when the light shone on her." We were told by planning that "we've only got a running motion, do something with that," so we just said, well, let's have her running around, then. (laughs) That's how it went.
What stood out programwise?
I have just one thing I want to talk about: the special effects for the Heaven Smiles. Their bodies, they're all wavy at the edges. At first, the Heaven Smiles were transparent, and that waviness was the only clue that they were present. Over half the rendering load was spent on this effect, and programming it was just completely awful! I really poured my blood, sweat, and tears into it.
However, people began talking about how "it would be better if you saw less of the Heaven Smiles," and a lot of people had the opinion that the hazy effect was unnecessary. The effect ended up becoming less and less apparent. So I got mad, and I secretly deleted the effect. But no one even noticed... So I got even madder! (laughs) Finally, I was asked to make the effect so that it wasn't that noticeable, and enough of the effect remains where it's like you can see it just a little. As the programmer, I'm naturally desperate to draw your attention to it! (laughs) So please check it out!
What was your role in the project, Mr. Kawakami?
I was given the title of "Main Programmer," but I feel that strongly implies that I was supervising the other programmers! In short, my job is to sort out what Suda says and communicate it to the programmers. It feels like I'm more of a "program producer" than a main programmer. ...But when it comes to Suda, it sometimes takes me a whole half a year before I finally figure out what he's talking about! (laughs) I'd go to so much trouble to create something, and then he suddenly tells me, "that effect, you know we have to get rid of it!", but when I'd ask him, "why are we getting rid of it?", he'd just say, "you'll know." I wouldn't have a choice, so I'd delete it, but after some time had passed and I went back to check that part again, it'd be an improvement. He has a good nose on him that way - he has a good gut instinct on the stuff that matters, I think.
Give me one complaint about Goichi Suda!
He's basically a casual gamer. (laughs) Even when I had him try to do the counter-attacks in killer7, it went like: "When you see the flash of light, press the button." "...I can't do it!" "Do it now!" "...I can't do it!" "Now!" "......I CAN'T DO IT! Fix this!" Don't blame the game design for your own shortcomings, please. (laughs)
Sound Director/Score Composition
This sonic artist always delivers high-quality compositions. A deadly-accurate cross machine, he serves as the game's rhythm section, his work spinning its tale. He composes with Grasshopper's distinctive style in mind and has a keen talent for creating bold, assured scores. A man who loves sound, he built killer7's soundtrack on the concept of "fun."
IN CULINARY TERMS, THE MUSIC TO THE VINCULUM GATE IS CURRY!
- What was your first priority in this project?
Masafumi Takada: The first thing that concerned me soundwise wasn't the content of the game itself - the action and whatnot - but whether or not the characters would be speaking. If it were a voiceless game like The Silver Case, then, of course, there's a lot the music would have to express, but if there are voices, then the music can't be at the forefront. So this game was a case of the latter. The compositions were created by myself and (Jun) Fukuda. I did the main composing, but he handled tracks like "Tecks Mecks," from Intercity. All in all, counting the short bits, we created 150 tracks in total.
- How does the actual work process go?
The tracks are created, then they're actually paired with the screens, and I have Suda listen and say whether he approves - that's the basic process. Or there's a request from Suda at the start to "have the track sound like this." In killer7, I ultimately went for a rich variety of content. When I put it all together, I wanted people to think: "Is all of this really in one game?". I packed it with a variety of tracks: rock, techno, jazz. The Silver Case and Flower, Sun, and Rain both had a distinctive core to their respective track selections, but for each scene in killer7, I chose a track where I thought, "wouldn't it be interesting if this played here!"
- What direction did you take with the sound?
At first, I thought about making all the tracks ambient. There are traces of this in "Angel." When we could see the overall shape [of the game], I ended up having to include some auditory climaxes, so I decided to make poppy tracks like the music at the Vinculum Gate ("Rave On"). (laughs) That track caters to very uncomplicated tastes, doesn't it? In culinary terms, it's curry! If you have an assortment of more subtly-flavored dishes, dishes that are delicately seasoned, and you plop down curry, people think, "well, of course the curry's gonna taste good!" - that's what ended up happening. The other, more nuanced compositions are being upstaged by the curry! I mean, I'm glad the curry's getting eaten up, but I have somewhat mixed feelings.
The final track, "Reenact," was the result of a request from Suda to use the track "Grasshopper" from Ride (an English band that was popular in the early '90s). But that wasn't really possible, so I tried to create a track that was kind of close to it. Man, that track just came out in a burst of energy - just banging on the guitar. I get these very specific instructions, but I also get these sloppy instructions like, "give it an overall avant-garde sound." (laughs) But later, when there'd be a sense that I was out of ideas for compositions, a door would end up opening - Suda would bring in a huge bunch of these CDs he got God knows where for their jackets and be like, "here, listen to these."
- Which track would you most like our readers to listen to?
In "Sunset," there's the scene where Fukushima is shot, right? I'd like for the readers to listen to the tracks around that event, including the music leading up to and following that scene. Up until the point where he's shot, there's this gradual uplift...it's a little cliched, but it has a minimalist feel, and I tried to use a kind of interesting chord progression. It plays only once, though, so you have to pay attention when you listen. (laughs)
- Give me one complaint about Goichi Suda!
He's late for the meetings we have in the studio! One time way back, he kept me waiting three hours! You gradually get to thinking, "Maybe I was mistaken..." (laughs) I wish he'd be a little more aware of that.
If I may praise my own colleagues, however, I have no complaints about the job itself. With The Silver Case, with Flower, Sun, and Rain, and with killer7, there were lots of compositions that never would have happened without the game. Given the twists and turns involved, my collaborations with Suda are interesting, and I really put my heart and soul into them.
- Mr. Takada, what is killer7 to you?
killer7 has a heavy story, but personally: in many ways, such as with the bits with Susie, it's a game that makes you laugh. I'd like for players to play it in a carefree manner, not taking it so seriously. Think of it as an adventure. (laughs) Also, as for the soundtrack, there are cases where the arrangement is somewhat different from the music in-game, so keep that in mind as you listen.
Assistant Director/Battle Plan
This shadow striker facilitates collaboration between various departments; his talents are sometimes called upon outside the workplace. At Grasshopper, Toshihiro Fujikawa plays the role of "greasing the gears." When those gears are set in motion - there you find Fujikawa, the boy wonder.
THERE WERE TIMES WHEN WE WOULD GO TO SHOOT, AND WE DIDN'T EVEN HAVE ANY SCRIPT
- What are your personal thoughts on killer7?
Toshihiro Fujikawa: There were release delays, and even when the Japanese version was finished, we had to start work on the overseas version, so there's a feeling of "it's finally over...that took so long...". I'm really relieved now, all things considered.
- What was your biggest worry during development?
This game incorporated motion capture, and I did a lot of work on-site at the motion capture studio. It was a tough job, all in all. We were able to shoot the character movements right at the very start, but the problem was in the character cutscenes (polygonal movie scenes). It was nice that we were able to go to Capcom in Osaka for the capture work! It was nice - but like on the day of shooting, it wouldn't have been determined what we would be shooting...things like that would happen. Every time the production did an about-face, we had to head back to Osaka for reshoots, and then sometimes in the end we'd be told that the content we shot wouldn't even be used...it makes you sick to your stomach. I mean, really. There were times where we would go to shoot, and we didn't even have any script. On those days, I'd get instructions from Suda over the phone in the morning at the hotel, instructions to "shoot like this," and then we'd deal with shooting - it was like that. The actors would flip out, and the Canadian staff who came along would suddenly announce that they didn't understand Japanese "at alllll" and hang around playing dumb. The assistant producer at Capcom didn't find it funny, and when we'd go back, the designers would have some snide remarks for us. I got rid of my stress by buying a ton of shokugan food toys.
- What were you most proud of on this job?
Most of it was just odd jobs (laughs), but I did handle the placement of the enemy characters. I tried to make the game as easy to play as possible, but sometimes I placed the enemies just to be mean - I'd like to really get through to the players. killer7 is different from the games I've made previously - the game itself is of a different scope - so I think for many players, this was the first time they've been exposed to one of our games. So it makes me quite happy to be able to let these people know that games like this exist and brighten their day.
Give me one complaint about Goichi Suda!
Mr. Suda, he hates air conditioning. I can't turn on the air conditioners when Mr. Suda is nearby. Because I had a desk on the same floor as him during development, I was just so hot. It made me less productive, so it was an unexpectedly important issue! After development on killer7 was over, I moved to another floor, so I've been able to enjoy more comfortable temperatures recently... But the other day, there was a seat reassignment, so I've ended up near Mr. Suda again. (laughs) Please let me put the air conditioning on!
System Programmer/Event Programmer
This fantasista system programmer had a bird's-eye view of the struggle of killer7. Beneath his quiet demeanor lies an evident passion for the worlds into which he flings himself. Has a machine-gun style of talking: once he gets going, it's tough to get him to stop. Excels at work he enjoys. A pillar of Grasshopper's technical prowess.
WITH OUR CREATIVE PROCESS, IT'S NOT AS IF THE PROJECT SPECIFICATIONS ARE SET IN STONE RIGHT FROM THE START
- What is your role at Grasshopper Manufacture, Mr. Watanabe?
Kazuhisa Watanabe: I'm more often asked whether or not something is possible programwise more than I am about game content. Even for killer7, I had conversations with Suda at the start of development like, "We want to do this with the background, is it possible?". Those conversations laid the foundation for the game's current graphics.
- What were the highlights of the game, programwise?
We ended up using a Nintendo Gamecube development tool called sysdolphin for the 3D models, but we couldn't get it to do what we wanted with killer7 as-is; it took a lot of effort and ingenuity to get it working for our purposes. At first, there were plans to use self-shadowing, but it wasn't practical given issues with the processing load and the rendering, so we didn't implement it. For the primary rendering processing, we added processing that produced gradation effects in the backgrounds.
- What were your concerns during the project, Mr. Watanabe?
With our creative process, it's not as if the project specifications are set in stone right from the start! You "create as you create" - in other words, it's not uncommon for what you're currently doing to suddenly go completely in the other direction during development. I personally leave some "blank space" as I work to allow me to make adjustments in response to various requests from the client and changes in circumstances. In short, it's a defensive perimeter in case a table gets flipped along the way. (laughs) Therefore, at first, you have to confirm that "if I do this, I won't be able to do anything else; is that gonna be OK?" - and you can't set things in motion right away. There's also the feeling that you have to recheck the "is that gonna be OK?" part before you start to work. (laughs)
- What are your personal feelings on killer7?
I feel like killer7 come across as different from Grasshopper's previous games, but I think it's fundamentally of a piece with them. I just feel like it would've been better if the development period had been a little shorter. I think with original games, there's sometimes a process of creating and destroying and creating again, but it's good to have an efficient way of sharing an engine... But I think that in a sea of samey games, we were able to create something that was distinctively ours. In the future, I'd like to continue creating games that really speak in some way to the players and stay in their hearts.
- Give me one complaint about Goichi Suda!
I guess it would have to be...the flurry of changes in the game design specifications. (laughs) Because even if you draw that defensive perimeter, there are situations where you're just not going to be able to cope. Even if you show what you've done and are told "yeah, that looks good; OK", about one week later, you'll be told, "sorry! We got bored of that, so you need to change it" - that "if we got sick of it in one week, that's proof that the players are going to be sick of it even sooner"... The players haven't even gotten their hands on the game, so don't talk to me about them being "sick of it"! (laughs)
PUSHING PRESSURE POINTS
- Now that the game's made it safely to market, what are your thoughts?
Goichi Suda: First, I'm thrilled that we made it to market in the first place. Second, I'm thrilled with the responses to the game itself, whether those responses are "it's fun" or "it's crap." It's tough when there's no response to your work. A bit of time elapsed between when the masters were complete and the game's release, so that makes the responses even more of a thrill for me, to be honest. Each and every voice and opinion is new and fresh to my ears.
- Was the response what you expected?
I had intended to create this project with no particular audience in mind, but the impression of the game as "for a particular audience" is fairly widespread. I myself was aiming for "a game that everyone could play," so I was a little shocked. However, those words carry a variety of meanings. They encompass reasons such as "the game's sensibilities didn't agree with me" or "the characters weren't to my liking," of course, but thinking further, I feel they also reflect the position video games have in Japan's entertainment industry! First, games are expensive, aren't they? They're not available at a price where you can just go ahead and buy them like that without any input from advance reviews, but on the other hand, you can't rent them, either. [Note: Renting games in Japan has been effectively banned since the Famicom era by the Japanese Copyright Act.] I can't see an answer to the issue of used games, either, from a rights perspective. Therefore, in the case of killer7, if you recommend it to others, you're asking them to shoulder a responsibility of over 7,000 yen. That's not something you can take lightly, so that prevents you from approaching a great number of people. So that might tie into the "for a particular audience" charge. There's a question moving forward of what sort of games I should create for this kind of market. I gave this issue renewed thought during this project, and in that sense as well, it really means something that we were able to get this game on the shelves. I'm also hearing about customers for whom this was their first time playing a Grasshopper game and how they went on to buy The Silver Case and Flower, Sun and Rain because they liked killer7, and that makes me extremely happy.
- You said that you created this game for a wider audience, but you still included some challenging aspects in it, didn't you?
I couldn't have just simply made something for a mass-market audience; you absolutely need new ideas, and while the nature of those ideas will change with every game, my attitude is that I never want to leave them out.
- When it came to incorporating those "new ideas" into this game, was there anything on which you hesitated?
Basically, no. However, Mr. [Shinji] Mikami and I were very much concerned about the movement controls. Considering how we wanted to have a larger audience playing the game, there were naturally opinions that we should choose a control system that involved free movement, and while there were times when our hearts wavered, we of course remained steadfast and held true to our original concept. If you ask why we chose that control system, it's because it's an input system that allows players who like text-based games to play, too. I am, grandiosely speaking, close to fanatical about reaching out to this audience. We might have sacrificed a lot, but Mr. Mikami understood my feelings on this issue.
- What about the difficulty level? This is the first time in one of your games we've been able to choose the difficulty level, isn't it?
That was determined from the very start, but not because this was a Capcom title. It was because it was thought there are definitely going to be some people playing who aren't good at action games. But adjusting the difficulty levels was tough for us... We had no prior experience in this area, so do we adjust the game data? Do we provide multiple character movement patterns? We were coming from a position of absolute ignorance. Ultimately, the difficulty in the commercial release went way down. I think the initial version was pretty hard! I had Mr. Mikami play it, and I was told, "At this rate, no one will finish this!". (puffing up chest) I mean, I'm really great at action games! So I end up making these super-difficult games when I try to tune them to my own skill level, I'm told...
- Mr. [Satoshi] Kawakami, the main programmer, said that "Mr. Suda is just a casual gamer," though...
What!? What're you talking about, Kawakami!! That's just because Kawakami hasn't seen my true power! In our days at Human, in the planning department, I was the absolute best at both Tekken and Virtua Fighter. I was #1, and Hifumi-chan [Hifumi Kouno] was #2. Oh, I get it! Long ago, in our Twilight Syndrome days, it took over an hour to burn a ROM. We all played Virtua Fighter during that time, and my Nina was the strongest...
- Nina? I thought it was Sarah or something...
That's right, Sarah! So, I'd just murder Kawakami and that Indian-type character he was playing. So he resents that! I mean, even Super Mario Bros. 2 on the Disk System is a piece of cake for me! And also Out of This World... (Here, Suda reels off his history of playing fighting & action games for 10 minutes.)
- Anyhow, your point is that you adjusted the difficulty according to your own sensibilities and ended up making it hard.
That's right! So I was taken aback! Kawakami and I, we thought that just having Deadly mode would be fine, but we were told the game wouldn't reach a wide audience in that case. I'm an old-school gamer, at heart. I'm not a creator from the new era! And that's huge - a question of life or death! We all missed the Playstation boom, everyone at Grasshopper, so what would you expect from us? Mr. Mikami taught me a lot, but to be honest, the gap between current-era sensibilities and my own just completely floored me!
- On the other hand, there were also opinions that it was too simple and that "the action didn't feel necessary."
I face a dilemma there. We envisioned adventure outweighing action in Normal mode and action outweighing adventure in Deadly mode. I once proposed to Mr. Mikami, "why don't we name the modes 'action-adventure game' and 'adventure-action game?', but that was shot down. (laughs) However, action is at the heart of killer7, so that complicates our perspective. Since the killer7 project is also aimed at the overseas market, there's the problem that if we cut down on the action, we wouldn't come close to making enough sales - you've got one package for the three markets of North America, Europe, and Japan. Given this consideration, when we were brainstorming and planning out the system we would use, how to combine the action and the adventure became a long-term development problem. However, the overseas version wasn't difficult enough at all, so Mr. Mikami and I secretly discussed the matter and fixed the difficulty. Mr. Kobayashi [one of the producers] found out, and he was mad at us afterward, but...
- In any case, you're saying that you made killer7 with the intention of having lots of people play it, of course?
killer7 has a reputation for being hardcore rather than mass-market, doesn't it? But, you know, in my mind, killer7 is a thoroughly mass-market product. It's not hardcore, not at all. If I were trying to appeal to a hardcore audience, the game would be something completely different. It just doesn't make sense to me at all.
- You can't really express those strong tastes you hold so deeply if they turn off the mass market audience, can you? Isn't that stressful for you?
...Ummm, frankly, I don't know! I guess I don't really have an intuitive grasp of the line between the mass market and the hardcore. However, no matter what the circumstances, I want to start by taking the player to another world that's out of the ordinary - just like with a realistic fantasy world or RPG world! The kind of game where it's, forget the divisions of "mass-market" or "hardcore," let's just go as far as we can, c'mon!
- Mention has been made during coverage that the particular "pressure points" that you find entertaining are different from others' tastes.
Then I wouldn't reach a mass audience, would I!? (laughs) ...Well, it's not like I don't get it, but still. I mean, I'm aware of the "it's always got to be fun" point! Ummmm, actually, maybe I'm not, I guess? But, it might just be how I'm wired, that maybe my pressure points are messed up? Like, they're the type of pressure points where it hurts when you press 'em, but they're effective - I don't really know. (laughs)
- To change the subject, there's a theory that killer7 was influenced by Kill Bill...?
What? Kill Bill? Are you serious?
- I think it's due to elements like the anime interludes and the extreme sensibilities.
......Seriously?! They're saying that?! We've been using anime segments since The Silver Case, and they're asking which came first!... I like movies, of course, but I don't hold games in such contempt that I would just blindly mimic them... But it was that way with Moonlight Syndrome, too. At the time, people were saying it was influenced by Evangelion, and in the face of the overwhelming media presence of a work with such a wide sphere of cultural influence, it doesn't even matter if you deny or refute those charges, I suppose. I have no media influence, and I can't vie on the same stage with those other creators, so I wish I had a means of defending myself here.
- Are you yourself thinking of expanding into other media, Mr. Suda?
If I'm hired to do so, I'll do it, whether it's novels or manga or movies. However, video games are, ultimately, my home. Even if I were to venture into other media, it would be to bring potential players to gaming. It's like when Naoya Ogawa appears at Pride to drum up business for Hustle. (laughs) Or maybe Bull Nakano appearing in FMW to attract business to AJW... (laughs)
HIROSHIMA DIALECT, SUNDANCE, AND A GIANT KUN LAN
- So now, I'd like to ask about specific game content. What kind of story was killer7 originally?
It was a story that followed Harman from younger days onward. His lover from his university days...her name was Susan, and she was killed. Harman becomes an assassin to find her killer, but eventually, he encounters the Smith Syndicate case, and he develops Multifoliate Personality Disorder. So that was the basis for the plot. Kun Lan also appears throughout, up to when Harman becomes an old man. He never ages or physically changes, though - and he is always Harman's neighbor. To break it down, the events from the past to the present were divided into a four-layer plot construction, and the past incident with Susan and the present battle with Kun Lan would be progressing concurrently.
- So how did this change?
There were practical issues, such as with our schedule and resources, and we ended up having to cut and change things. Even with a story depicting just the battle with Kun Lan, which was the "surface" plot in the previous scenario, the game came to a considerable length. We thought about the total package, then extracted only the important parts and brushed them up. For example, the episodes that went into detail on the members of the killer7 had no bearing on the main parts of the story. There wasn't any need to give them lines, either, so the narrative just focused basically on Harman and Garcian. ...Though I really wanted to get into the relationship between Curtis and Dan. (laughs) But if we did that for every member, it definitely wouldn't fit into one game! Actually, "Alter Ego" was also originally a much richer, larger scenario, and I wanted to include an episode about Coyote & stuff, too, but, well... With this game, I really learned the limits of the action-adventure genre. Because if it were a text-based game, I could just go on and on with writing.
- In the previous version of the plot, Coyote talked a lot in Hiroshima dialect, didn't he?
That he did! The other characters also talked a lot. (looks in the distance) It really is unfortunate, with Coyote. He died in the Kaku Building! He had this just super-cool death, and the motion capture was great. After that, he was replaced by Kevin and stuff. Yeah...it's a shame.
- There were once also plans for the infamous Sundance (the character from The Silver Case and Flower, Sun, and Rain) to make an appearance, I hear.
The intention was for Sundance to be appearing continuously throughout the game. Harman would repeatedly go back to the past, and the trigger for that would be Sundance. He would show up here and there throughout the stages, and he would guide Harman to the past. He also played another vital supporting role. I wouldn't get into, however, whether he's the same Sundance from my previous games.
- Is there a connection between killer7 and your previous games?
There are cameo appearances. However, there are copyright issues involved, so I created them so that if you asked me if there were a direct connection between the games, I'd say "no." In my head, I'm creating them in one big world, but the individual settings of the stories are completely different, so it's not like these stories can be told in the same timeline.
- What were the episodes that were cut?
There was one were a giant Kun Lan showed up with an army and attacked Seattle. Then, Mask transformed into a fully-armed (giant-sized) version of himself, with missile launchers and everything, and ultimately fought to a draw* with Kun Lan's army... I really wanted to include that episode, too.
- By the way, Mr. Suda, you always seem to get pro wrestling content somewhere in your games - that's becoming a hallmark of your work. Like, this time, you have a character in that vein named Mask show up.
I thought, I just had to include somewhere in the game a character in a mask double-wielding grenade launchers! So while I was thinking up the design for this character, he somewhere along the line evolved into a pro wrestler, a leading-man type.
- Is this a constant bad habit of yours?
No, it's a good habit!
BEHIND THE PLOT
- I'd like to talk about the plot. Looking back at the entire game, which scenarios were the most difficult to create?
"Encounter" and "Smile"! "Encounter" was extremely difficult, because I had to conplete the story in the present day. Originally, it featured a dual plot structure, since the story is closely tied to events that happened in the past. I really had to put a lot on Travis's shoulders so that the player could follow it, but it was still tough... For "Smile," we meet a character in the hotel named "Harman Smith," and there's a scene where he makes a speech to Garcian, right? His lines there serve to sum up the overall story and bring everything together, so I was waiting for the right time to write them - because then, the killer7 in my mind would be over. So, I had to drop them only once the stage was properly set in the game. The difficulty in creating the scenario was in how I had to choose the right time to create it. For some reason, I felt like, "I don't want to write this!", and it lasted right up until just before the voice recording. It's difficult to explain what I mean...
- The first scenario, "Angel," it has the task of introducing the story, doesn't it?
Yes, it does. It's a prologue, or rather, it's the part that explains the core of the game itself.
- The angel with the anime face, what is she?
A passing fancy of Kun Lan. The faces she has on her back are of Kun Lan. In other words, Kun Lan had transformed into the angel. It's Kun Lan's unique take on an American joke - a throwaway gag to make Harman laugh! But a joke from someone who's close to a god is going to be sinister in nature - hence, the angel.
- Next, with "Sunset," the story is set in motion in earnest.
Here, I wanted to depict a Japan that fights to be strong, pitiably destroys itself, and is reborn from its ashes! In a sense, Japan is at its limit - and that's why I entrusted Matsuken with the task of representing the fighting Japanese.
- I'm jumping ahead here, but in "Lion," you gave the player a choice as to whether Japan counterattacks, or if the counterattack fails. This is the first time multiple endings have appeared in a Suda game.
The game was going to be sold in the three major markets [Japan, North America, and Europe], so I thought that the details of how the plot developed were probably even more important than the plot's conclusion. Since the conclusion comes last, it didn't matter which way the details went.
- What's the point of Kun Lan's appearance in "Sunset"?
Matsuken is a the symbol of a nation, of a new Japan. Kun is a symbol of terrorism, and Harman is the will of the United States. It's meant to illustrate the sword of terrorism being offered to a nation.
- Andrei Ulmeyda from "Cloudman" also turns into a Heaven Smile; was that also the work of Kun Lan?
No, in Ulmeyda's case, he turned into a Heaven Smile of his own accord. As a revolutionary who had transcended the realm of the human, he wanted to end his life on his own terms by becoming a Heaven Smile. Ulmeyda is a man who can feel alive only when he takes a gun he knows is going to fire, points it at himself, and triumphantly pulls the trigger.
- Personally, this scenario really stuck with me. The last scene is Ulmeyda entrusting the next generation to Clemence, then fading away, right? I got the idea that perhaps this was an expression of how you were beginning to come to terms with passing the torch yourself...though I might be reading too much into it.
(flatly) Ahhh, that's not what I meant. I didn't make it to be that deep at all! The "live fast and dangerously" part certainly applies to me, though. (laughs) But I'm not thinking about a successor or anything. If I had to say, I'd venture that's it's important for me to keep on working. I'm the type of person who, if my successor appeared, I'd crush 'im. (laughs)
- So you'd say you're more like Curtis in "Encounter"?
Maybe! In any case, though, both Curtis and Ulmeyda are characters from my own mind, and so of course there's a part of me in both of them - "that emotion" or "that sensibility," I suppose.
- In your mind, what kind of character is Curtis?
The killer7 are assassins with superhuman powers. Curtis, on the other hand, is the most capable assassin in the human realm - that's the general idea. So, I wanted to create this contrast of human vs. superhuman and depict the killer7 as in possession of overwhelming power.
- "Alter Ego" was another unique scenario.
I wanted to make a completely ridiculous scenario. Our assassins walking around a beautiful paradise beneath a clear blue sky... Texas was like that, too, but the killer7 are all basically indoor types, so that environment would be all the more suffocating for them. I thought that it'd be a shame if I didn't force them outside or something into the fresh air. The staff was also always cooped up in the office without any breaks, so I had the fatherly idea that if they made a stage with nice scenery or something, it might serve as a distraction. (laughs)
- Speaking of the Handsome Men, do you like sentai shows or something, Mr. Suda?
I like tokusatsu as much as anyone, but my favorite is the Jumborg series. The designs are just terrific! Recently, they made Ultraman Tiga and Kamen Rider Ryuki, but in the original Ultraman series... (After this, Mr. Suda talks about his beloved tokusatsu for 20 minutes.) So in other words, in "Alter Ego," I wanted to put on a fixed match. (laughs) I was obsessed at the time with chaban farcical skits.
- I was still surprised by that ending.
There's a hidden backstory behind that where it's actually Kun Lan playing a video game - playing and laughing it up in front of the TV. The game is themed on Street Fighter II, right? (laughs) "Alter Ego" is all throughout a Capcom tribute. The SF2 content was initially in the puzzles. All the locks around the stage required entering SF2 commands. Illustrations of characters doing Dragon Punches and Hadoukens and Sonic Booms were drawn near the entrances, and you had to enter the commands correctly to progress. This was rejected because you had to know the button inputs for the SF2 special moves beforehand, and it'd be hard to give out hints. In the production materials, Trevor is a big Capcom fan, and he's wearing a SF2 shirt - and there's SF2 gameplay content in the city of Dominica. The final game is also a SF2 knockoff. (laughs)
ON A JOURNEY
- Now we come to the mysterious "Smile." How should we look at this story?
"Smile" is a tale that takes place between deaths. The interpretation of death is as you see. If you sort everything out chronologically, you can connect the dots with how the story develops - the classic introduction, development, twist, and conclusion - but the weight of the facts and the weight of the truth, as imparted by the weight of death, are completely different. In this world in which we live, it's the truth that's rare to reach. I mean... I wanted to make a story out of the "mundane" events of life that can happen every day. The story of "Smile" might be the epitome of that.
With everything in killer7, my concept was to "go with my instincts!". Just like in our company's name, "Manufacture," we create games that could be said to be hand-crafted originals in every respect - the control system, the text, the game systems, the graphics, the sound - and the storytelling is no different. In this world, this realm, facts can be fabricated by human hands, but we can arrive at the truth only through our insight and drive, and that is the origin of what we call stories - that's my conclusion. The fact is, a story created by committee and tailored to consumer preferences was never on the table for killer7.
- Then, what is the connection between Garcian, Harman, and Kun Lan?
Basically, Kun and Harman are embodiments of the confrontation between terrorism and the state. The threat that confronts all of us currently living, here in reality - how is its origin connected to these two, and where are these two headed in the future? Running in parallel with the story that traces our way back into the depths of Garcie's mind, we have entwined the story of the relationship between these two, which reflects the external world itself, our modern age, and that intersection is how the contamination known as multifoliate personality occurred - that's the connection.
- Ummmm, I don't get it.
Hmmm...well, to put it simply, Harman is one of the personalities inside Garcie. In other words, Garcie is the main character. Also, Harman's special power is to manifest the dead, right? Therefore, the bit about Garcie serving Harman is merely a hook.
- I see!
Well, that might be a lie.
- What!? Oh, come on!!
The chronology in this book is pretty straightforward and covers the basic facts. However, whether or not it is the truth should be viewed with suspicion. Once you've beaten the game, the real killer7 begins, and if the players connect it to their everyday lives, they'll arrive at the truth. Just like terrorism, the tale of killer7 is a neverending battle.
- Finally, Mr. Suda, what sort of game is killer7 to you?
To me, game "development" - "kaihatsu" in Japanese - can be defined by breaking it down into the first part, "kai," which stands for "kaitaku," or "breaking new ground," and the second part, "hatsu," which stands for "hatsumei," or "invention." In its creation, killer7 was able to remain true to the full meaning of "development," and that's thanks to the guardianship of Mr. Mikami's production work both up front and behind the scenes. We've been laying our foundation for game development at Grasshopper ever since The Silver Case, and with killer7, we were able to reach our peak - with our production style as well. And that's all been thanks to the incredible talent of our staff. I make media appearances standing up here by my lonesome as the public face of our company, but ever since our days at Human, the trio of [Akihiko] Ishizaka, [Satoshi] Kawakami, and [Masafumi] Takada has been standing strong behind me in support, and it's because of them that I'm able to stand out here as front man. That's why we were able to attempt a title like killer7.
This is a game with a strange magnetism to it - even if the creators do say so themselves! It hasn't reached its full potential with the greater public at all, but I have a hunch that just like The Silver Case, this is a game that will be championed by the players and media. Also, I look at the game itself as a big turning point for both myself and the company (Grasshopper Manufacture). The game getting a release overseas was also a momentous occasion for us. We think of all our fans all over the world looking forward to our next game, and it gives us on the staff a sense of fulfillment, and fuels the growth of our company. Expanding our horizons gets us closer to our ultimate goal of creating games on a continuing basis, so there's not a single down side here.
I think I still have a long, continuing journey ahead of me as a game developer, but to compare it to The Lord of the Rings, I think I'm right about the point where Frodo meets Aragorn! (laughs) I feel like I'm finally on my way.
- I see. Well, thank you for giving us so much of your time!
- ...Um, one last question. Do you have a sequel in mind?
(flatly) No way. This took two years; I'm tired out!
- Gotcha! Thank you very much for the interview!
[Note: The following feature was translated from Hand in Killer7 pg. 53.]
BONUS: EXPLODE YOUR LIFE WITH YOUR HEAVEN SMILE HOROSCOPE!!
Here's a change of pace: let's make some predictions about our personalities and future! With a smile! Whether you want to or not! We've matched the 12 zodiac signs to the 12 types of Heaven Smiles they best suited, then ranked them. What kind of smile do YOU have? Find out in this thrilling feature! But its credibility is less than ZERO - so don't take it personally. Think of it as a palate cleanser!
3/21-4/19: Bombhead Smile
09: Backward SmileWORK: ♠♠
At No. 9 is the Backward Smile, the Smile for Virgo. Caught in a tight spot? Feeling cornered? Then bide your time, wait for just the right moment - and unleash a backhand blow! Time it right, and this sort of sneak attack can win you surprising results! Give it a try - you've got nothing to lose! You might even pull off an upset! Your lucky item is aurichalcum.
05: Laser SmileWORK: ♠
At No. 5 is the Laser Smile, the Smile for Taurus. Throw that special someone one of your smouldering looks! They might ignore you; they might be repulsed; or you might be blown away - the possibilities are endless! But be sure to watch that wandering eye of yours! Your lucky item is moss.
01: Heaven's SmileWORK: ♠♠♠
#1 is the Heaven's Smile, the Smile for Capricorn. Every little thing in life, you do with a smile on your face! Hold on to your dreams, and explosive results are sure to follow! Then be as dust on the wind, and travel the world. Stupendous sights are surely in your future! Your lucky item is an awl.
10: Galactic Tomahawk SmileWORK: ♠
#10 is the Galactic Tomahawk Smile, the Smile for Libra. Spot an opportunity? Then don't hesitate - throw yourself at it like a missile! Beware, though - there might be an ABM out there with your name on it! Your lucky item is a Geiger counter.
06: Rolling SmileWORK: ♠♠♠
At #6, we have the Rolling Smile, the Smile for Gemini. Take the time to streeeetch your body - look around and get the lay of the land! You might expand your horizons! Watch out, though: don't overextend yourself. Get carried away, and you might come to a bad end. Or throw up! Your lucky item is a plastic bag.
02: Camellia SmileWORK: ♠♠♠
No. 2 is the Camellia Smile, the Smile for Aquarius. Your luck in love has skyrocketed! Put the tsuba [saliva] in "tsubaki" [camellia]: spit in the face of the opposite sex, and you'll win instant results...not!* YEAH! In short: when it comes to love, you can't hesitate - the important thing is to act! Your lucky item is mica.
11: Spiral SmileWORK: ♠
#11 is the Spiral Smile, the Smile for Scorpio. Grown apart from that special someone? Track them down and throw a warm glance their way - act like you remember them! It might bring back fond memories and spark conversation, or it may dredge up past history best left forgotten. Who knows! Your lucky item is a broken music box.
07: Timer SmileWORK: ♠♠
For #7, we have the Timer Smile, the Smile for Cancer. Feeling tied down by deadlines and time commitments? Act on impulse for once - and visit the beach! Sit on the sands, hug your knees, and take a good, long look at your life. You might just discover a whole new you! But don't say we didn't warn you! Your lucky item is a clock.
03: Micro SmileWORK: ♠♠
#3 is the Micro Smile, the Smile for Pisces. Take care of your health, and you'll start out every day long & strong! Micro or macro - size doesn't matter when sheer spunk shoots out your every pore! It all comes down to your health! Your lucky item is turmeric.
12: Protector SmileWORK: ♠♠
#12 is the Protector Smile, the Smile for Sagittarius. The world is filled with danger! So hide in your room, shut yourself away from society - guard yourself like grim death from being hurt!! A life of loneliness awaits! Your lucky item is a finger puppet.
08: Giant SmileWORK: ♠
At #8 is the Giant Smile, the Smile for Leo! Watch yourself - stay focused! Or your attitude, your debts, your trivial misunderstandings with friends, your vague anxieties over the future, the unspoken pressure you feel from those around you - all of it! - just might blow up to gigantic proportions! It's important to keep yourself in perspective. Your lucky item is a bobbin case.
04: Bombhead SmileWORK: ♠♠♠
At #4 is the Bombhead Smile, the Smile for Aries. Change your hairstyle, and your luck just might take a turn for the better. We recommend a reverse mohawk - shave the center of your head! You're sure to turn heads at school or work and become an instant sensation! Your lucky item is a wooden sword.
[Note: The following feature was translated from Hand in Killer7 pg. 88.]
BONUS: ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK PICK-UP REVIEW
A review of select tracks from the killer7 soundtrack (61 tracks total) that made me say: "hey, now." The tracks chosen ultimately reflect the author's personal preferences, so keep that in mind as you read. These soundtrack gems bring the world of killer7 into sharper focus.
02: A Fierce Good Fight
05: Shoot Speed
07: Election Plot
09: Russian Roulette
11: Department of Defence
14: 3rd Foundation
17: When the May Rain Comes
23: Island Edge
26: Oh My Julia NotHeartbreak. The previous track, "Errand Boy," pumps up the energy that cascades directly into this track. The effect is gasoline splashed on the flames of the heart.
28: Angel's Despair
01: Rave On
03: Emigrant Song
12: Tecks Mecks
15: White Sugar
20: Elegant Petal
23: Heroic Deeds
24: Heroic Verse
28: Ministry of Education
[Bonus Soundtrack Trivia: The theme that plays during the fight with Ayame Blackburn is titled "Sweet Blue Flag." If you're a fan of older-style crosswords, you know that "flag" is frequently cited as a synonym for "iris," as the word features into the common name of many iris species. "Ayame" means "iris" in Japanese. This is from where all the talk of the "flower that bloomed at ISZK Land" comes.]
Translated by R. Capowski, RACapowski@sceneryrecalled.com, 10/21/2017 (updated w/ pg. 74-77 interviews, 10/17/2021). killer7 is property of Capcom and Grasshopper Manufacture; this translation is not sanctioned by either party. It is not affiliated with the translations of other sections of Hand in Killer7 issued by Deltahead Translations.
The names for the two difficulty modes in Japanese are "Daring Battle" and "Deadly Battle," by the way.