For their first issue of 2018, the Year of the Dog, Famitsu held two conversations with two trios of developers who were born in other Years of the Dog, 1970 and 1982. Here’s a full translation of Team 1970’s talk, with Fumito Ueda, Masahiro Sakurai, and Hideki Kamiya. Read on to hear them discuss their earliest experiences with video games, their ambitions for 2018, and how long they plan to keep making games.
Note: Do not repost the full translation. Please use the first five lines, link to this translation, and credit Source Gaming. The following is a selection from Famitsu. This translation is for fan use only, and may not accurately reflect the opinions of Masahiro Sakurai, Fumito Ueda, or Hideki Kamiya. Translated by Brando. Thanks to Crane for helping, and PushDustIn, Mystic, and MasterOfBear for comments.
Special New Year’s Project:
Year of the Dog Tripartite Discussion
Team 1970: Hideki Kamiya, Fumito Ueda, Masahiro Sakurai
Originally published in Famitsu on January 11, 2018
PROFILE: HIDEKI KAMIYA
Born December 19, 1970, in Nagano Prefecture, Matsumoto City. Graduated from university in 1994 and began working at Capcom as a game designer. Made his directorial debut with Resident Evil 2, and went on to create games like Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and Okami. Currently with Platinum Games, where he’s worked on titles like Bayonetta and The Wonderful 101.
PROFILE: FUMITO UEDA
Born April 19, 1970, in Hyogo Prefecture, Tatsuno City. While studying 3D computer graphics on his own after graduating college, he worked as a 3DCG animator and started at Warp in 1995. After that, he moved to Sony Computer Entertainment (now Sony Interactive Entertainment) where he directed ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian.
PROFILE: MASAHIRO SAKURAI
Born August 3, 1970, in Tokyo, Musashimurayama City. Entered HAL Laboratory in 1990, creating the project plan for Kirby’s Dream Land at the age of 19. Since then, he’s worked on the Kirby series, the Super Smash Bros. series, Kid Icarus: Uprising, and other titles. Currently at Sora.
The Common Experience of “Classic Games”
—For this feature, we’ve gathered three figures, each born in the year 1970, to speak with us today. Thank you for coming.
Ueda: In this industry, wouldn’t it be harder to find game designers who weren’t born in the 1970s?
Sakurai: Mr. Ueda, you started out working at Warp, right? The founder of that company, Mr. Kenji Eno (known for the ‘D’ series. Passed away in 2013), was also born the same year as us. There are others too, like Mr. Tetsuya Nomura from Square Enix, so even if you’re just naming creators born in the 1970s, it’s kind of interesting. I think it was a period of substantial growth for gaming, so much so that you’d think everyone in that generation played games as a kid. There are a ton of series that first came out back then and are still around today, aren’t there? During our boyhood years, we were caught in a whirlpool of innovative new IP that kept coming out, title after title, and I believe that greatly altered our paths in life.
Kamiya: In the games Konami was making for the NES back in those days, the cartridges came with a special chip installed onboard that would supplement the abilities of the main console. That let them do things like animate large characters, and they had excellent sound quality. Even that small bit of forward progress felt like a dream at the time.
Ueda: I was extremely charmed by the games themselves during that era, though computer technology was also making progress at the same time, so I felt a lot of surprise while also having fun.
Sakurai: That’s right. We were front and center for the groundbreaking titles of the 1980s, and even then, the level of expression in games had already improved by leaps and bounds. I remember genuinely thinking, “At this rate, games of the future are going to be mind-blowing.”
Kamiya: When they contacted me for this 1970 three-way talk, I thought, “Not Mr. Yoko, but me?” Because right now, Nier: Automata is pretty hot (laughs). Mr. Yoko Taro was also born in 1970.
Sakurai: Sometimes I get the opportunity to talk to other people from the same generation, and a lot of the time, one way or another, we end up talking about the latest new releases. However, when I meet up with someone like Mr. Kamiya, all of a sudden we’re like old friends reminiscing about the golden days of retro games (laughs). Oh right, you call them “classic” games.
Kamiya: Sorry, I got you using my own personal terminology. And on top of that, all we ever talk about are the old masterpieces (laughs).
Ueda: Mr. Kamiya, I knew that you like games from the “classic” era, but I wanted to ask you about something. Those games that you fell in love with, and their elements that made a strong impression on you—how do you compromise between expressing those in your own games, and still making a commercially viable product?
Kamiya: Let’s see… Games I liked from that era were all really hard, but in my own games, we divide things into different difficulty levels so that it’s up to the player. We prepare a mode for modern players that’s easy to enjoy, and for Normal mode, we tune it so that it feels good to me.
Ueda: What about in terms of visuals? Our generation experienced the charm of graphics done with pixels and sprites, right? But, in your games, you don’t really use classic visuals like that. Lately, there are even some newer games that use pixelated graphics…
Kamiya: Yeah, that’s true. If somebody asked me if I’d want to make an 8-bit or 16-bit style game, like from back in those days, the answer would be no.
Sakurai: They’re just something you play for fun.
Ueda: Ahh, I see. It’s more like you want to take the feeling those game designers aimed for, the “fun of classic games” itself, and try to recreate that in your own games.
Kamiya: That’s exactly right. I hold the passion of those days very close to my heart. That period where game designers experimented with different ideas, from the 8-bit era to the 16 bit era… I guess you could probably say before Playstation? Anyway, I want to reproduce the burning enthusiasm that games of that era had. I feel like the magic of games that I fell in love with got a bit weaker as soon as games’ visuals moved to 3D and polygons.
Sakurai: But Mr. Kamiya, all of your games have used polygons.
Kamiya: You’re right. It’s a real shame (laughs).
The “Magic” of Games
—Mr. Kamiya, what do you mean by the “magic” that you felt?
Kamiya: When you played a game like Star Fox on the Super Nintendo, in the early days of polygon graphics, you could feel that the machine was really putting in effort, and that had a certain charm to it. But nowadays, the machines aren’t working hard at all, are they?
Ueda: What? They aren’t?
Sakurai: No way, I definitely think they’re still working hard (laughs).
Ueda: Oh? Though, Mr. Kamiya, you didn’t start out as a programmer, did you?
Kamiya: That’s correct. That’s why on the contrary, every time I looked at a game, I thought, “How in the world did they make this?” That’s probably the reason why being able to take a peek at developers’ tricks and techniques has always felt so enchanting to me.
Sakurai: True, but there’s something I’d like to state clearly right now. Both now and in the past, the abilities of game consoles are just specifications, which can only do shockingly simple things. Games can bring the player into many different worlds, but that’s only due to many different people working hard to create that illusion. In the end, once you take a look behind the curtain, it’s very hollow—like seeing all the stage backdrops lined up.
Ueda: Out of the three of us, you’re the only one who’s been making games since the days of the NES, right Mr. Sakurai?
Sakurai: That’s correct. I was around 19 when I wrote the project proposal for Kirby’s Dream Land and made my debut.
Ueda: I joined the industry in 1995, when I was 25.
Kamiya: I started close to the same time as Mr. Ueda, in 1994. Which means, there’s about a 5 year gap between your career and ours.
Sakurai: I started in 1990, when the NES was still in active use.
Ueda: Back in 1990, I was still on the player’s side of the screen. At the time, I never even dreamed that I would end up making my own games someday.
Sakurai: When I joined HAL Laboratory, it was right at the time they were developing titles planned for the release of the Super Nintendo. Around just after I started, I saw some sort of development hardware for it, and that really got my heart racing.
Kamiya: A Super Nintendo dev kit!? Around that time, I was still in my first year of university. I was living in Hachioji [when the Super Nintendo came out], and I still remember going to the Sogo** in front of the station in the pouring rain to pick up the one I’d reserved (laughs).
**Translator’s Note: Sogo is a Japanese department store chain.
The First Game You Played
—What was the first game you ever played?
Ueda: I never really played arcade games, so I started to get hooked on gaming via home consoles. By the way, since my parents ran a business out of their home, we actually had a Space Invaders arcade cabinet in our house, as part of the shop.
Sakurai: Whaaat!? That’s amazing.
Kamiya: That’s the house of my dreams! (Laughs)
Ueda: But to tell you the truth… I only played it one time. Of course, it was my first time playing, so I got a really low score, but people made fun of me… That became a bit of a traumatic experience**.
**TN: Ueda spoke about this and other formative experiences of his in a recent interview, translated here.
Sakurai: That’s just awful. I’ve actually made it a personal rule of mine to always use the utmost consideration with someone who’s playing games for the first time. This is a slight digression, but during the golden age of fighting games, I pushed my youth to its limits and did stuff like winning 50 matches in a row on Street Fighter II Dash**.
**TN: Several versions of Street Fighter II were released for arcades. This one’s name in the West was Street Fighter II: Champion Edition.
Ueda: What character did you use?
Sakurai: I mainly played Guile. Though, I later stopped going to arcades to challenge people at fighting games. I wrote about the reason why in a column a long time ago, but, I once sat down at a King of Fighters ‘95 machine to play against someone. I landed jumping heavy punches, uppercuts, Hien Shippuus and Zanretsukens**, defeating my opponent with ease, and when I happened to peek at who was playing on the other side of the cabinet, I saw a girl…
**TN: These refer to special moves used by practitioners of the Kyokugenryu style of Karate in the King of Fighters universe. Hien Shippuu Kyaku (飛燕疾風脚) is a multihit air kicking attack, and Zanretsuken (暫裂拳) is a series of rapid-fire jabs.
Ueda: A little girl?
Sakurai: It was a girl there with her boyfriend. I thought, “Ahh, I really screwed up.” In this happy place, I just showed her how harsh games can be. What was I to do? After she lost, her boyfriend took her place, but… well, he was weak. After that, I vowed to always check my opponent first whenever barging into someone’s game at the arcade** (laughs).
**TN: You can hear more of this story in the column Sakurai mentioned, translated here.
Kamiya: If it was me in that situation, that would’ve filled me with a rush of excitement. I would have completely destroyed them—they wouldn’t have even gotten near me (laughs).
Sakurai: That’s terrible (laughs).
Kamiya: I guess if I think about it, when I went out with my parents to a department store or a hotel, they had arcades there, and one of those arcade games was probably the first thing I ever played.
Ueda: Yeah, before Space Invaders, there were tennis games, like Pong lookalikes and Breakout clones, and a lot of similar games that were relatively simple.
Sakurai: I’ve said before that my own first experience was one of those block-breaking games that you controlled by holding the paddle and rotating it**, but what amazed me was the “directness” of that sensation. While playing, I felt like I was connected to the game.
**TN: Sakurai literally says “hold and rotate the paddle” (パドルをつまんで回して) but looking at the machine, I think it’s more accurate to say that the game was controlled by a dial, which you rotated to move the onscreen paddle.
Kamiya: For me it’s like, talking about video games, I had this childish idea that the sole purpose of a TV was for watching shows that were broadcast to it. That’s why, when I plugged in the cable for a game console and out came these sounds and images to have fun with, it was a really magical feeling for me at the time. This is different from what Mr. Sakurai was talking about, but if I had to put it into words, I’d say that the “magic” of games is probably the fact that they respond to you. You’re not just passively taking it in, you’re actually controlling things and the game is reacting to what you do.
—The magic of games, is that something you try to keep in mind even now, as a creator?
Ueda: Mr. Kamiya, you were saying earlier that you don’t feel the same magic from modern 3D games. Because I played games during the same period as you, I also felt a certain magic in them. Certainly, that’s a motivating factor for producing things and working on video games, but I also wonder if it’s alright to want modern players to appreciate that magic.
Sakurai: Personally, I think that it’s not so much about appreciating one of those magical games as it is, but, if a piece of work strikes a chord with people nowadays and makes them feel something else apart from that magic, then that should be just fine. Your games like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus [have done this], and to a degree, they’ve already become models for games of their era, haven’t they?
Ueda: Thank you very much… But, there are some ways in which I think games today have become different from those which enchanted us growing up. I worry if it’s okay for us to directly point stuff out to young players, like, “This is wonderful.” Our generation could enjoy games, even including the parts where we had to grit our teeth, say “Let’s do this!”, and face the struggles of the game head-on. But, I also understand that because difficulty levels and barriers to entry have been lowered, more people than before are now able to play games. That’s the result of games progressing alongside technology, which we talked about at the very beginning. But children today, their generation has had smartphones on hand ever since they were born. When they play games, they probably aren’t interested in the evolution of technology the same way we were, right? I’ve thought about this before, and it’s what I’m worrying about now.
How long will you keep making games?
—If there’s anything you would like to ask each other, then please go ahead.
Kamiya: One thing I’m interested in hearing from other creators of my generation is, as directors, how long will you keep making games?
Sakurai: …Well for me, every time I always think, “This might be the last one.” If it’s a request from a client then I’ll consider it, but I do wonder, “Is it alright if I’m not the director?” It might be good to take on more of a consulting role.
Ueda: I’m the same way, I don’t feel like I absolutely have to be a game director no matter what. It’s only recently that I’ve started to consciously think of myself as a game designer.
Ueda: Because, my favorite part of production is attaching animations to things. I’ve always enjoyed turning script directions and motions into something beautiful, and making the player feel like the characters are really alive.
Sakurai: I think Mr. Kamiya and I are definitely the type to skip over a lot of that stuff and put more importance on the gameplay itself. For example, things like, “This attack has to connect within 15 frames.”
Kamiya: Certainly, my attention is more directed towards those kinds of elements. I think you’re especially like that, Mr. Sakurai.
Ueda: I started my career doing CG animation, so in order to make the games that I wanted to play, I had no choice but to assume the role of game director or game designer… That was the thought I had in the beginning. While continuing to make games through many ups and downs, I got to thinking that I might not do another job besides game designer. It seemed like I’d finally opened my eyes to that—I thought that if I’m not in a position where I can make the things I want to make, then I really wouldn’t be able to make something that will satisfy me. But honestly, it’s when I’m adding in animations that I feel an extremely strong sense of fulfillment.
Going Past the Deadline!?
—I guess as creators, everyone gets that feeling of fulfillment from a different place, huh?
Sakurai: Looking at your style, Mr. Ueda, it is the animations and the atmosphere that take center stage, so I feel like I get it now, listening to what you just said. What about you, Mr. Kamiya?
Kamiya: Well, when I think about what my area of expertise is, in the end I really can’t think of any job I’m fit for outside of being a director. Since, I also want to make everything in the game fit with what I have in mind. Basically, I joined the game industry with the vague feeling of, “Playing games is fun, so I bet making games is fun too,” but actually it’s pretty much hell, isn’t it?
Sakurai: Absolutely (laughs).
Kamiya: Dealing with hardware and scheduling issues are just as bad, but once you set foot in this industry, you also begin to see situations where things just can’t happen due to various circumstances**.
**TN: The original Japanese here is 大人の事情 (literally “adult matters” or “grown-up reasons”), and is sometimes used in situations where someone’s hands are tied due to business or legal issues.
Sakurai: That does happen a lot. Things like content limitations and age restrictions are especially problematic. Maybe you want to make it so the player can split enemies right in two, because that would be more fun, but sometimes it’s just not possible.
Kamiya: It was only after I became a director that I learned how stressful it is for the thing you want to make to be restrained and reshaped, mainly by external factors. And also, how insanely stressful the final development deadline can be. That’s really left a mark on my soul. Once you start listing things you want to fix and adjust, there’s no end to them, but every time the final deadline arrives and you can’t change any data or parameters anymore, that anxiety is no joke.
Sakurai: I know the feeling.
Kamiya: In a way it’s like, the doors to your shelter slam shut right before your eyes. The day after development finishes, it’s always like the last scene of Ashita no Joe**, where he’s just burned out from despair. Even though I poured my heart and soul into making this game, I can’t even care anymore.
**TN: A 1968 boxing manga, later adapted into an anime series and a movie. Very popular in Japan. (The final scene)
Sakurai: Right. The last deadline never goes smoothly.
Ueda: It’s like, I don’t even want to see the thing anymore. Really. Even if I’m with my family, I’ll say, “Please, stop playing it in front of me.”
Kamiya: I understand that (laughs).
Ueda: Every time you watch someone play, seeing the spots you wanted to change but couldn’t hits pretty hard. It’s not good for your mental health (laughs).
Kamiya: Mr. Sakurai, do you play your games after they’re released?
Sakurai: Yes, I’ll play them. I’ll enjoy battling in Smash, since it’s fundamentally fun to play. Also in my case, I’m very thankful that some of the games I made a long time ago were included in the Mini NES and the Mini SNES, so I go back and revisit those now and then. And because of that, each time I try playing them… I do get a little irritated after all (laughs). For example, when I look at Kirby’s Adventure, which is from when I was around 21, even now I’ll think, “Ahhh, I wanted to do this thing back then!”
Ueda: When that much time has passed, aren’t you able to look at those spots with a little bit cooler head?
Sakurai: Nope, I never ever forget. Down to the smallest details.
(Everyone bursts out laughing)
—Do you keep up with what the younger generations of game creators are doing?
Sakurai: We three are part of the same generation, but the games we’re creating are completely different, aren’t they? There might be parts of your game that you’re worried about, but at the end of the day it’s your work, so regardless of age or generation, it’ll have a sense of surprise and fun precisely because it’s coming into contact with players of different sensibilities. As far as play goes, age doesn’t matter, and I try to experience all different kinds of games as much as possible.
Kamiya: Yeah, age probably has nothing to do with it. If you look through a gaming magazine like Famitsu, you’ll see that there’s a wide variety of games being made. It’s always impressive to see all the amazing creators with different ideas out there working on their games. They’re really something. That’s why, if I had a message to give to the younger generation, it would be this: It’s good if the final deadline makes you suffer (laughs).
Ueda: So you’re saying that they should see the finish line as a source of stress (laughs).
Kamiya: I think I’d be really glad if they got a taste of the same despair as me (laughs). “Please don’t make me ship it nowwww!” Don’t you want the younger generation to have that kind of enthusiasm? Struggling to complete it until the very last second—that’s the passion on the floor of a game studio.
Sakurai: Well, I’d probably say something like, “Let’s all have fun” (laughs). If possible, I do want them to experience staying up all night before the final deadline, though.
Ueda: But even though they’re creators from a junior generation, I might think of them as rivals. Since although we’re different ages, we’re all still doing this for the enjoyment of the players, so we’ve got that in common.
Kamiya: Though, I’ve really got a lot on my own plate, since there’s no guarantee that my next game will be a success…
Ueda: Yes, success is never a sure thing.
Sakurai: For me… it’s less about how my own games do, and more like I’m happy if the numerous other games being made become even more enjoyable. This industry of gaming took a lot of work to build, so we should point that industry forward, and keep things fun. My games take years to make, and in the end, each is just a single product, so they don’t have that big of an influence. So more than that, I want the whole gaming industry to get excited and have a good time.
Men of the Year
—Please tell us your aspirations as men of the year**.
**TN: The original Japanese is 年男 (literally “year man”), which refers to a man born in a year with the same Chinese zodiac sign as the current year.
Sakurai: My aspirations as a man of the year… I don’t really have any (laughs). Because in the end, the goals I have for what I’m working on right now, they’re not related to what day or year it is.
Ueda: I also don’t have any ambitions like that at all, but I would like to announce my next project or my next title as soon as possible. Though, I don’t know if that will happen during 2018 or not.
Sakurai: Even just saying that you might reveal information about your next project, that’s terrific.
Ueda: Also, I’m getting older, so I want to keep working on things while taking care of my health (laughs).
Sakurai: Mr. Kamiya, I’ve heard you’re on a diet now? Limiting carbs works well, you know.
Kamiya: But, white rice is so good.
Sakurai: Yeah I know (laughs).
Kamiya: Well if we’re on the topic of health, I’d like to try a little bit harder to stick to my diet. As for games, like Mr. Sakurai said before, years are nothing but a measure of time. Regarding what I’m working on, I can’t reveal any details yet, but we did announce a new entry in a series I’ve worked on before, Bayonetta 3, so this year I’d like to really make everyone think, “Man, this guy sure does make some games” (laughs).
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