Hand in Killer7 Interviews with Suda 51 & Grasshopper Manufacture
[Note: The following interviews were translated from Hand in Killer7, pgs. 80-87 and 90-95. I am working from the scans presented in this video from the LP by supergreatfriend.]
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 palette 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.
Translated by R. Capowski, RACapowski@sceneryrecalled.com, 10/21/2017 (updated w/ Heaven Smile fortunetelling, 11/27/2019). 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.