Hand in Killer7 Interview with Suda 51

[Note: The following interview was translated from Hand in Killer7, pgs. 90-95. I am working from the scans presented in this video from the LP by supergreatfriend.]


- 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)
[Note: Naoya Ogawa is a professional wrestler; Bull Nakano is a professional wrestler and golfer. Price is a Japanese MMA promotion; Hustle, FMW, and AJW are all various Japanese wrestling promotions.]


- 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?
[Note: The popular image of Hiroshima dialect is that it sounds "rougher" than standard Tokyo Japanese; it's frequently associated with gangster characters in films.]

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.
[* - Note: The wording here, "aiuchi ni natta," suggests that this draw may have been via the old "opponents strike each other at the same time and fall over simultaneously" anime trope. I thought that potential imagery was too notable to ignore.]

- 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!


- 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)


- 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!
We appreciate it!

- ...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!

Goichi Suda
President/director of Grasshopper Entertainment. After attempting many occupations (including undertaking), joined Human Entertainment. Later set out on his own to found Grasshopper Manufacture. Dropped The Silver Case, Flower, Sun, and Rain, and Killer7. Production on his next game is already reaching its climax - and he has recently started a diet.

Translated by R. Capowski, RACapowski@sceneryrecalled.com, 10/21/2017. 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.