Getting to Know Suda 51 affiliate recently had the chance to sit down and chat with the creator of Killer 7 and No More Heroes, Goichi Suda. Below, you’ll find N-Europe Features Editor Mark Cullinane’s account of his conversation with “Suda 51.”

The location was Nintendo’s Wii flat in central London. The man was Goichi Suda, famed Japanese video game producer. And this interviewer was anxiously awaiting the chance to meet the man responsible for some of gaming’s most startling productions.
Yes, Suda 51, as he is better known (the moniker comes from his first and surname respectively meaning ‘5’ and ‘1’) is certainly a rising star, particularly in the eyes of Nintendo gamers, whose consoles have been graced with his most recent work, in the shape of Killer7 for the GameCube and Contact on DS.

It’s appropriate then, that the Marvelous Interactive offshoot publisher Rising Star Games has embraced the challenge of publishing in Europe the fruits of Grasshopper Inc., Suda 51’s studio.

Goichi Suda is probably the closest that the mainstream games development scene has to a maverick. In his first game development gig after his previous life as an undertaker (yes, it’s all true), as a scenario writer for Human’s Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special, he had the main protagonist startlingly commit suicide upon completion of the game. His recent DS project, Contact, successfully broke down the ‘fourth wall’ between the player and the game in a wholly unique way. And his penchant for pushing back the boundaries of violence reached its apex with his gruesome and terrifically weird Killer7.

Charming,irresistable,and a pleasure to all who meet him. Goichi Suda isn’t bad either.

No More Heroes tells the story of The oddly named Travis Touchdown, an anime fan living in the fictional city of Santa Destroy, who suddenly finds himself in an assassins organisation. Armed with the beam katana, controlled via the Wii Remote, his job is to scale the rankings of this organisation by taking on and defeating a variety of weird and wonderful assassins. In other words, probably not one for the Touch Generations set.

First impressions were excellent. Suda-san is an instantly likeable, affable interviewee. When he’s not gleefully cracking a joke he usually had a mischievous half-smile playing across his lips. This contrasts with his attentive, fixed stare when he’s answering a question, even though his Japanese needs to be translated by Naoka, Grasshopper’s P.R person.
So, where does Suda 51 get his ideas from? His answer should give hope to aspiring game designers everywhere.

“Usually I get new ideas when I’m in the bathroom taking a sh*t. This time it was the same thing”

Learning that No More Heroes has its genesis in the bottom of a toilet bowl doesn’t give me great confidence in the quality of the finished product, but I suppose we’ll have to keep an open mind.

“Either the toilet or the bathroom” he added. Ah, well now it all makes perfect sense. Suda 51’s love affair with all things lavatory doesn’t end there- I was told that one day previously he conducted his press photo shoots while sitting on the toilet, and in No More Heroes itself, main protagonist Travis sits on the toilet in order to save the game. Not to mention the special NMH-themed toilet paper I was given on the way out.

As a game designer who prides himself on unique ideas, both in terms of story and presentational style, I wondered does Suda 51 get frustrated working with the limited graphics hardware offered by Wii?

“Programmers are having a hard time making games for Wii; there are a limited number of things that we can do.”

But why then did he decide to put this game out on the Wii at all? Why not the Xbox or PS3? “I’m really satisfied with making a game for the Wii wonder that too!” he jokingly declares. “Actually, Wii is a good match for this game, that’s why. I’m really satisfied with making a game for the Wii, because of the beam katana controls which could never have been done the way they are now on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox360.”

Next, I decided to play hardball. Whilst staring at No More Heroes being played by Takada-san, chief sound designer on the game my eyes were drawn to Travis’ main weapon, the beam katana. Naturally, I couldn’t help but wonder if Suda 51 had just nicked the idea from Star Wars- the thing even sounds like a lightsabre. I asked him did George Lucas want a quick word over this apparent theft of intellectual property. Guffawing with laughter, he told me that he was unsure if he could answer that question.

“In Japan there is an animation called Gundam. The Gundam use a similar weapon aswell. So the idea comes not only from Star Wars but from Gundam and other series aswell.”
He goes on to list a number of other influences, including Robocop. Wisely, I drop the issue, as Suda-san seems ready to talk about anime for the whole interview.

The beam katana itself makes use of the Wii Remote in order to deliver special attacks, but is a long way away from the 1:1 motion that Nintendo fans dream of one day seeing in a Wii title. Suda-san’s take on integrating Wii controls into the game makes for interesting reading.
“At the very beginning when we started making the game I wanted to use the Wii Remote for riding the motorbike, holding the controller sideways like the handles of a motorbike. We tried it but it didn’t work really well. The controller works best when it’s used only for the fatal blow”. If people are constantly using the motion-sensing of the controller they’ll get tired of it. Using it sparingly makes it feel more refreshing.”

Used sparingly it may be, but when it is used, the beam katana can do a hell of a lot of damage. No More Heroes is a no-holds-barred, gruesomely violent game. I recall Suda 51’s reported claim in a previous interview that he wanted to make No More Heroes even more violent than Manhunt 2. I put it to Suda 51 that in the wake of the Manhunt 2 hoopla and subsequent censoring, did he rethink things?

The mere mention of Manhunt raises a characteristic chuckle. But he is quick to tell me that that it wasn’t made as a serious comment. “It was a joke!” he tells me, deadpan. “A lot of people took it seriously, but it was never meant to be taken that way”. Yet, did the Manhunt 2 banning have a powerful impact on the game in any case? After all, it has been reported that Grasshopper censored the game, removing blood and changing the death animations for the Japanese and European versions. Suda 51 told me that this is indeed the case, though it was done for rather different reasons than we might expect. It was a calculated decision taken to tailor the game to the cultural tastes of the audiences the game would sell to, as well as bearing in mind the different rating systems that exist in each region.

Click play on the embedded media player to hear his thoughts on this topic.

If the voices sound like chipmunks, access the audio file directly here (mp3 format)

Given that Nintendo’s reputation for working with third-party studios isn’t always stellar, I asked Suda-san for his thoughts on working with Nintendo, especially given that he was working within the mature game space. While he wouldn’t be drawn on committing to another Wii game, he reiterated to me a message that he has repeatedly made in other media interviews- that he appreciates Nintendo’s support. “I feel strongly that Nintendo of Japan, Europe and America too support this kind of game very well. Nintendo games aren’t these type of games. They are very supportive, though they can’t create these kind of games themselves.”

And what of Project S, his top-secret collaboration with Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima?

“You’ll have to ask Konami about that!” was his wholly expected response.

A quick tap on the shoulder lets me know that my interview was to be cruelly cut short, and that I had only time for one more question. Better be a good one!

I decided to ask Suda’s opinions on the state of the Japanese games industry, whether casual titles were killing the hardcore market or not, and what he felt was the explanation for poor sales of Zelda on Wii aswell as his own No More Heroes. He argues that the current crop of ‘casual gamers’ will be more willing to play this kind of game in the future.

Once again, click play on the player below to hear Suda’s response.

If the voices sound like chipmunks, access the audio file directly here (mp3 format)

Most interesting, I think, is his analogy of the Japanese games industry to the UK music industry. He believes that the current popularity of casual experiences is not sustainable:
“The music industry in the UK is similar to the games industry in Japan. There used to be real guitar sounds, more natural sounds were most popular. Then techno and house music came out and real guitar sounds ‘fell down’ but now people are getting tired of these sounds and they are coming back to real sounds. I think the games industry is the same thing. When they were playing hardcore games before, and they’ve switched to the casual games now, but they’ll get tired of these and come back to the real hardcore games.”

My brief experience with the game has undoubtedly piqued my interest in No More Heroes. While it retains, and even improves upon the highly stylised charm of Killer7, the free-roaming gameplay and increased accessibility could see it appeal to a much wider audience than his last murder-fest. And in a release schedule overflowing with brief, colourful, casual experiences, No More Heroes has no difficulty in standing out from the crowd.

Presentation-wise, it’s pure Grasshopper, pure Suda in execution- from the trademark visual style to the over the top voice acting to the obtuse otaku cultural references to the frequently ridiculous character names. And with Suda 51 stating that he wanted to continue Travis’ story, it gives us hope that there will be more heroes after all- though no confirmation of any kind was offered.

What Suda 51 did reconfirm is the plan to publish his studios DS port of his PS2 title Flower, Sun, Rain on DS. When queried, the Rising Star reps on hand told me that yes, it was coming to Europe, and very tentatively hinted that Q4 this year might be a ballpark release period for the game. Either way, it’s pleasing to know that we can look forward to another slice of Suda 51 weirdness around the end of the year. The already-announced remakes of Suda 51’s Silver Case text adventures for the PSOne and mobile phones will see release in Japan this Spring, but Rising Star wouldn’t confirm if they were coming to Europe at any point.
Better news on the Harvest Moon front though- during my visit I was told that European gamers can look forward to not one but three new entries in the endearingly rustic series. A second (and by all accounts, vastly improved) iteration of the series is coming to European DS consoles this Spring, backed up by an extensive Nintendo-led advertising campaign. Next up is the GameCube to Wii conversion of Harvest Moon: Magical Melody, the well-received GameCube follow up to Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, which never made it out here the first time around. The real ace in the hole however could be Rune Factory, the intriguing Pokémon/Harvest Moon hybrid that has went down a treat in Japan and the U.S. That one should be hitting in early Summer, if Rising Star’s ever-changing release dates are to be believed. (hint: they’re not)

At least we do know that No More Heroes is coming out on the 29th of February here in Europe. Look forward to it. I know I am.

Thanks to Mike Wilson at N-E, Dan at Bastion, Luke and Sarah at Rising Star, and of course Goichi Suda, Takada Masafumi and Naoko Mori at Grasshopper Manufacture.