Famitsu indie developer interview

This interview was published on pages 24-26 of issue 1314 of Weekly Famitsu magazine, published February 2, 2014 and dated February 20. It was part of a series of special features leading to the Japanese PS4 release. This issue’s feature focused on indie games slated to come out on the system. --O.R.

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Youhei Kataoka

Founded game development company Crispy’s in 2007. Their most famous game is 2012’s Tokyo Jungle. Directed Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day, released January 26.

Takumi Naramura

Leads game development team Nigoro. Their 2006 PC game La Mulana and its remakes received high praise in and out of Japan. A Kickstarter project for a sequel is currently in progress.

Daisuke Amaya

Released freeware game Cave Story in 2004 under the Pixel moniker. A western company ported it to home consoles in 2011, and it became a hit. Currently developing PC and iOS title Gero Blaster.

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- To start with, can you introduce yourselves and tell us about the game you’re most famous for?

Amaya: A long time ago my goal was to get into the games industry, so I went to a specialty game creator school. As I studied how to make games, I realized that I could create the kind of games I want to make by myself, without being employed by a game company. With that in mind, I started working a regular job, and in 2004, after 4 or 5 years of work, I completed Cave Story, a freeware game for the PC.

Kataoka: I played Cave Story when I was in high school.

Amaya: You did?! I distributed the game via a web site called Vector. It had about 200 thousand downloads, and I’m happy that young people like you got something out of it. Later, western fans of the game released a patch that translated the text into English, and it gained popularity abroad. Then, in 2005, a western company called Nicalis ported the game to consoles. Finally, after many hardships, it was released as WiiWare in 2010.

Kataoka: It’s not that strange today, but in 2004 a game inspired by 8-bit consoles was a novel idea. I think Cave Story was a pioneer in being new while maintaining a nostalgic feeling.

Amaya: I have no idea if it had any influence on later indie games, though.

Kataoka: I think it had considerable influence.

- How about you, Naramura-san?

Naramura: I had a mostly similar experience. At first, I just wanted to create a game that would be enjoyed by the small crowd that frequented a small-scale web site, but then La Mulana got translated into English by fans and quickly gained popularity overseas...

Kataoka: So both games sent off some sparks in the west.

Amaya: I was shocked when I saw Cave Story and the popular House of the Dead on the same page in a foreign magazine.

Naramura: La Mulana got a 6 page special feature (laughs).

Kataoka: I heard La Mulana’s sequel Kickstarter project reached 100,000$ in 3 days.

Naramura: We reached half our goal in 3 days, but after that it calmed down quite a bit. It should still be going by the time this interview sees print, so if anyone finds it interesting, please support us. (Too late now, but it did get funded. --O.R.)

- What about you, Kataoka-san?

Kataoka: I made games as a hobby while going through art school in 2005, but at the time there was no such thing as crowd funding or places where you could sell indie games. Back then, I felt strongly that you couldn’t make a living doing games as a hobby, and that you can’t make the kind of games you like at a company until you’re far into your career. That’s when I came across the “Let’s Make Games! 2006” project held by Sony Computer Entertainment to discover new game creators. I saw they were offering money to people who can come up with novel ideas and thought it was my chance. The game SCE challenged me to make was Tokyo Jungle.

- The game’s contents had a strong impact, and it became a hit selling hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide.

Kataoka: Yes. I wasn’t even aware I was on the indies side until last year, when James Mielke, the founder of the BitSummit indie game event, asked me to come and give a talk. That was the first time I thought, “Wait, am I an indies person?”

All: (laugh)

Kataoka: At the time, I thought that indie creators were ones who funded their own games, so I tried to refuse. But then James told me that being indie is all in the spirit. He said being an indie creator means making unique, impactful games based on your own vision and beliefs. Crispy’s ideology has always been developing unconventional games that can surprise and please players, so I finally realized that I may, in fact, be an indie developer too, and decided to go give that talk.

- It’s difficult to define what an indie game is.

Naramura: We never called ourselves an indie company, but when BitSummit categorized us as such we started having the vague feeling that that’s what we are. Lately, the term “indie game” has gotten a lot of attention, and treated as its own genre. Originally, however, it wasn’t a genre but a category based on the development scale and how the game was sold. I’m happy that the variety of packaged games managed to increase so far since then.

Amaya: It’s difficult to develop a game that doesn’t fit with the current trends at a game company, so I think indies’ strength is that they will put out anything they feel strong enough about on the market.

- Indie games had an incredible growth in attention the last couple of years. Why do you think that is?

Naramura: I’d like to know that myself (laughs). Why now? We can probably blame the west.

Katamura: I think a big reason that indie games started receiving a lot of attention was Journey being heavily awarded overseas. A game developed by a small number of people won the same awards as major works with a budget of millions of dollars. That’s when the game industry started taking notice.

Naramura: I saw it myself at GDC 2013, where it seemed like every game nominated for an award was indie. When I got back to Japan I received many interview requests, so I think that’s when Japan’s media started to take notice. I started feeling the increased interest personally since March of last year.

- What are you most looking for in the PS4 as indie developers?

Amaya: It’s going to be easy to make Let’s Play videos with the share functionality. I think it affects game distribution, and I find myself worrying in spite of myself when I watch others playing my game. I get nervous when I see everyone getting stuck at the same spot (laughs).

Naramura: In my case, I use Let’s Play video as a soundtrack while I work. I can find spots in need of improvement by watching a variety of gamers play the game. When we ported La Mulana to consoles, we wrote down the content and the comments attached to Let’s Play videos and used it as a basis to improve the game. I’d like to keep watching those kind of videos, as much as I can. If our games ever get ported to PS4, we’d make sure to use the share functionality.

Kataoka: I think Let’s Play videos were one of the reasons Tokyo Jungle got popular. It’s easy to empathize with the characters and accidents frequently happen, so it was made for this type of video. Still, for much the same reasons as Amaya-san, most of the time I’m too scared to watch them. By the way, PS4 comes preinstalled with software called Playroom. Some western players have been using it to Let’s Play their own lives. They share themselves lying around eating candy, or playing along with their kids, and it all comes streaming into the home screen. I feel there’s a lot of possibility for users finding ways to use the share functionality that the developers never thought about. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see games that use it as a main gameplay linchpin as well.

- Do you mostly play indie games yourselves?

Kataoka: As long as the game is interesting, I don’t care if it’s indie or not.

Naramura: Lately I’ve been busy making our own game, so I haven’t been playing a lot... At most, I’ve been playing friends’ indie games.

Amaya: Games from major publishers are very well made, and one can learn a lot from them. I may make games that I, personally, think are great, but it would be terrible if people just give up on them because I am not able to convey the message I’m trying to send. Therefore, I try to keep being aware of the player’s viewpoint.

- We’re introducing 13 games in this issue’s special feature. Are you interested in any of them?

Naramura: From those 13, Resogun probably interests me the most. It’s a shooting game that takes place on a spherical stage, and you can tell that with a single glance. It’s very interesting to have a first party shooting game on sale along with the new hardware.

Kataoka: I played Flower and Sound Shapes on the PS Vita and they both had a challenging spirit, so I recommend them. From the ones I didn’t yet play, Don’t Starve: Console Edition is interesting. It has a system where the protagonist must hunt before he dies of starvation. I think I’ve heard of something like that before... (laughs).

- It’s just like Tokyo Jungle, isn’t it. (laughs)

Kataoka: The graphics look like moving illustrations. It’s very interesting.

- I see. How about you, Amaya-san?

Amaya: They all look very pretty, but I can’t say anything before I play them. It’s important to get a first-hand feel of a game. From the visual aspect alone, I’m curious what kind of a game Doki-Doki Universe is.

Naramura: Looking at the lineup, the only Japanese game on it is TorqueL. They mostly chose highly rated western games. As a Japanese creator, I’d like to develop games that could fit into such a list. Western developers are very good with graphics. In Limbo, for example, the protagonist and the environment are all drawn in silhouette, which delivers an impactful image while reducing the time spent by artists.

Kataoka: I think the visual aspect is something that’s still insufficient with Japanese indies.

Amaya: I feel we don’t have enough designers.

Naramura: Future indie games will probably be completely ignored if they do a half-assed job in either graphics or gameplay.

- Do you have any other thoughts about the prospects of indie games?

Amaya: Frankly, right now I’m spending all my time developing Gero Blaster, so I can’t see anything else. When it’s completed, I’d like to expand it to other markets. I heard that it’s easy to develop for the PS4 since it’s based on PC technology, so I may just make a port (laughs).

Kataoka: I have no idea what the future holds... What I’m looking forward for with the PS4 is for it to continue putting a spotlight on creators who want to create unusual games and have the ardor to do so.

- So that indie games won’t become just a passing fad.

Naramura: I said so before, but I’m not really sure what the difference is between indie creators and those who are not indie. There’s a difference in price and sale strategies, but personally, I develop games with the confidence that they won’t be inferior to packaged products. I want people who are interested in our game to try out a demo version and see for themselves whether it suits them or not.

Amaya: I want people who are looking for their own kind of game to look in the indie section. Games from large publishers are, to a certain extent, aimed at a wide audience. On the other hand, there are many indie games that are made for a very specific crowd.

Naramura: I’d be lying if I said our game can be played by anyone (laughs). It’s a game that chooses its audience, but I get the feeling that people who like it really get into it.

Kataoka: I think it’s easier to release games with new senses of values now that this framework called “indie games” is here. There’s also a gradual increase in players enjoying such games. I’d like to follow that tailwind and develop more surprising games on the PS4, so look forward to it!

3 Comments
3 Comments
Posted by pocketroid

Hey man, thank you for making the effort of translating this and sharing it with us!

Edited by DannyHibiki

Thanks for translating this. It was a very interesting read. I'd love to see more Japanese indie/doujin games be successful in Japan and the west.

Edited by TheManWithNoPlan

Super cool read. Thanks for sharing.