A SCROLL issue 10 Extra
Many an Internet commenter has a problem with video game journalism, though that problem often boils down to disliking a review score. Granted, it does have real problems, but I’d rather watch that mess unfold from the sidelines. Rather, the part of game coverage that bugs me the most is the interview piece. What should be some of the most valuable types of articles about the business are often presented with all the glamour of a flattened McDonald’s cheeseburger. Sometimes this isn’t the media’s fault—the press did not invent the press junket—but even interviews a notch above the usual PR drive-by will get an awful treatments: Unedited, first-person questions that take line after line to get to the point; comments from the subject about how learned the interviewer is, and the most worthless thing you could ever print in any interview: “Thank you for your time.” Interview as conversation is wonderful, but come on, even My Dinner With Andre had an editor.
Generally, I prefer interviews written as actual stories, where the human element comes through instead of just being a wall of question-and-response text. On the other hand, I know there's people who want the drier Q-and-A style, I think mostly because there's information to be gleaned beyond who the subject is. It works fine depending on the context say, a more technical topic and assuming it's edited to minimize the B.S. mentioned above, you're still fulfilled. And to be honest, sometimes I would rather just read that format for those reasons. So, it's not always clear-cut, especially when talking to video game creators.
With all that in mind, I present the transcript of my interview with Kaz Ayabe, founder of Millennium Kitchen and creator of Boku no Natsuyasumi (My Summer Vacation). In SCROLL issue 10, it was rewritten as a profile piece; here, it’s in the original Q-and-A format. But as I tried my best at the time to make it more conversational, even I couldn’t drop some of the B.S. in this final product, including parts of myself (especially right at the beginning), and asking about some things that would require some knowledge of the individual games—so I hope you read the magazine. Again, not always clear-cut. However, you will find some information about Ayabe’s life and his work that didn’t make its way to the feature, and I didn’t want to keep it from you—because you may prefer it this way, and because I have the power do it anyway.
I first found Boku no Natsuyasumi in 2000. It was in a free anime magazine called Tokyopop, and they had a game section, and they had a little article in their game section for Boku no Natsuyasumi, and I saw the pictures and thought oh, this looks great; this is right up my alley, because it's pretty and it looks very scenic, and it reminds me of home. So I think maybe we have something in common there.
Ayabe: Where were you born?
Northwest Washington state, a little north of Seattle.
I'm from Hokkaido, as you know, so we're both from the north. There probably is some similarity.
I like to think so. (Laughs) What was growing up in Hokkaido like? What was your family like?
My family was five people, three children, and I was the youngest. My father, because of his job, got moved a lot within Hokkaido, so I moved three times during my childhood, and I got to live in three different cities in Hokkaido.
What kind of job was that?
My father had a job selling bulldozers and those kinds of construction machines.
My dad liked to buy them.
Oh, is that right? (Laughs)
As a child, how creative were you? What was the main path that led you to games?
I grew up in a place with a lot of nature around me, so of course I did go outside and play, but I did enjoy playing inside the house. And what I would do is, with a white piece of paper, start drawing a map of an imaginary town. So first I would draw the border line for the beach, and then a street, and then a port almost like it was SimCity. And at first, the town would be small enough for 10 people to live in, but then I would just keep drawing and drawing and drawing and evolve this town into a city that 500,000 people could live in. I would do that every month. And then after I grew up and started creating games, I was like, this is very similar to what I used to do during my childhood. So even today, when I start creating a game, I start by drawing a map.
Are those maps the same as what you find in the Bokunatsu game manuals?
Yes, those are the maps, but I also create a literal map of the town, so if you were to hypothetically zoom out from that map, it becomes the actual, whole town. And also, when I draw the houses, I draw them in a way to show how the pillars go, like an architectural drawing, so it's detailed to that point. And the 3D animators will put my map on the floor and start modeling the buildings that go inside the games.
That's really impressive.
(Ayabe proceeds to pull out a binder of background graphics drawings from Bokunatsu 2.) So I would draw this the trees and stuff I would draw later on, but I would draw this map, and would color in, like, this part of the grass (gestures) is where the characters could walk, but not this part, and where the other objects should go. And then the 3D team place the 3D models over my drawings, and I redraw that to keep that hand-drawn touch. Then I decide where to place the camera, and then I pass that all on to the artists that paint the background.
And this all started from the boyhood drawings.
Very impressive, and it's nice to see how it evolved into this.
And when I saw SimCity coming out, I thought "darn, I should be the person creating this!"
That's no surprise.
Whenever I go to parks like Disneyland, I often feel like, "Ah, if it was me, I would make this way."
Was your boyhood dream perhaps to be a city planner?
It's more like I grew up and realized what I wanted to do. I always liked drawing stuff and also animation, so after I grew up, I moved to Tokyo and went to an animation school. So during that time I forgot I was even into that kind of stuff.
I asked that first because you were a programmer in the Famicom era, so I also wanted to know how that started. Were you also into computers as a kid?
Actually, I wasn't so into PCs my friend had one, so I would play with theirs now and then. But I was interested in creating electronics, so in high school I created my own synthesizer. So it was stuff like creating gadgets that I was into.
Compared to the rest of your family, were you more creative in those ways; drawing, electronics, everything?
Usually the youngest siblings are like that.
(Laughs) When I was in the later years of elementary school, I would start making the town maps in 3D, like with paper and plastic. So I was always creative, but once I hit high school I was creating animation.
You went from animation school to programming, then?
That's right. After graduating, I went looking for jobs, and applied for positions at animation companies. I had a few offers, and one of the companies is now pretty well-known, but a lot of them didn't have great conditions, like they paid poorly. That one company wasn't so famous back then, and they said they were creating a movie at the time but wouldn't be able to pay me until they finished making it.
Then I found a company that made arcade games that was really close to my school, and I heard one of my friends got an offer from them. That gave me the idea that maybe I don't have to be stuck with animation companies as long as I could draw stuff, then I wouldn't mind what kind of company it was. So that opened up my path, and I decided to enter the game company. (Laughs)
And that was NMK?
Yes. I first joined them as a graphic artist, but then I was asked to try programming, so I started messing around with it. And after a month, I was already able to program I could make the ending credits rolls in the games. Up to that point I hardly ever touched a keyboard, but since I learned so fast, I kind of ended up becoming a programmer. (Laughs)
What was the first game you worked on at NMK?
Psychic 5, the arcade game that Jaleco put out.
Do you remember all the games you worked on? I know you also worked on Esper Boukentai, the Famicom version of Psychic 5.
I'm not confident I could name them all correctly, but I can say I worked on around 10 titles.
But you mostly worked on video games, because I know NMK also made mechanical arcade games.
How long were you at NMK, and then what was the inspiration to start your own company?
Well, I was at a company called K-Idea for like five years after NMK.
Was that also a game company?
Yes, it was also a developer. Jungle Wars was one of their games.
I imagine they were mostly a subcontractor.
It was a company that did design planning. It was owned by a man named Hajime Kimura, who had a Famicom and Super Famicom game column in Shonen Jump he was called Kimu-kou [Emperor Kimu], and he was pretty famous. So, he had been working really closely with Yuji Horii, and he established that company. And after I worked at K-Idea for five years, I established Millennium Kitchen.
And is that when you fully realized the game industry was all right to stay in? (Laughs)
To be honest, I still feel like, "Is it OK to stay in this industry?" (Laughs) Of course, creating games is a tough job, but at the same time it's also really fun. But at the back of my head, I wonder if there's something more good, more fun out there.
In starting the company, was your thought like, "Maybe I can finally work on animation myself, and do the other creative things I always wanted to do, but with games?"
The inspiration to start the company was that I had been thinking of the game design for Boku no Natsuyasumi for a while, and I really wanted to create it. When I was at NMK, I was mainly programming, and when I was at K-Idea, I was doing game design and in charge of project management. So I was thinking if I established my own studio, well, my own role would increase, so I'd probably have to do a lot, but I was thinking I really wanted to create the game.
Boku no Natsuyasumi was the first game I ever wrote a scenario for, and I wasn't even thinking of actually writing it, but I was talking to Sony, they were like, "you're writing the scenario, right?" (Laughs)
But since then, you've written a lot. Not just the games, but there was the storybook from the second game [Kurotoshiro-kun], and the text in the Bokunatsu art book. Were you a writer at all before that?
Not in the least! (Laughs) I have to go back to talking about my childhood to explain this, but when I was in the second year of high school, during my summer vacation, my animation friends and I were creating a pretty big animation project. We were working on it every day and every night. And after summer, my school had this event, and we wanted to show the animation we were working on, but it was too big of a project and we couldn't finish it in time.
But even up to now, I feel like when I'm creating a game, it's like my high school days are still continuing, and I always felt like I was working and trying hard, but never quite getting a perfect score. So with the writing, it's not that I hated writing, but I didn't especially like it I tried to do it, and I was able to, and because of that, I started doing it more.
Deadlines always help.
That's right. (Laughs)
What was really the beginning of the idea to make this nostalgia-based adventure game?
I was thinking that I wanted to create a game that simulates the real world, so I was trying to find a good subject for that. But back then I was super busy with work, and when I was always clogged with work, I would remember this hill that was at my relatives' house that I visited during my childhood summer vacations. So I kept coming back to that scene, and wondering why I kept thinking about it, and then thought, OK, maybe I could make a game that replicates your summer vacation.
From what I gather, you were the same age as Boku was in the game.
Were there any other big inspirations aside from that? A movie or a book, perhaps?
There was another inspiration I was thinking about the design for this game around summer 1997, and during that time I was really into techno and house music. And I would love going to rave parties, almost every week, and bring a tent to the mountains and spend time in nature. That was probably the other inspiration for me, and when you're at those parties in the middle of the mountains or at the beachside, you kind of feel like you are becoming a caveman. You don't have all that artificial stuff near you, so you kind of become like your pure self. That's another concept that I was really attracted to.
(Pointing at a stack of CD storage bins) Is there some techno in there?
(Laughs) Yeah, that's right. (Ayabe pulls out one of the drawers from the bins and procures some of the albums.)
Is it all yours?
Yes indeed. (Continues thumbing through CDs) I have like 1,500 vinyls at home. (Laughs)
Wow. Do you have a favorite artist?
Yes, I love Ryuichi Sakamoto, he's a great Japanese artist.
I remember you mentioning YMO a lot on Twitter.
And outside Japan, though they're not too active nowadays, The Future Sound of London.
I wish I could see the vinyls. (Laughs)
Yeah, they're at home, and my kids have been drawing on the jackets. (Laughs)
In getting the game made, was Sony always the option, or were you going to other publishers to get it green-lit?
We had been thinking of who would be the best company to bring the concept to, but Sony was the first publisher we went and talked to with a real concept document. I brought the concept to Sony and said "Mineko Ueda is really wanting to do this." Then on the same day, I contacted Ueda's office and said "Sony is really wanting to do this with you." (Laughs) Then they both said OK to the concept that same day, so it wasn't that big of a lie, but...
Did you know Ueda before that?
Nope, I didn't. I was trying to get her phone number, and at the time there was Lion, who makes all kinds of soap and detergent, and she had made the characters that appear on their products and on TV, and she was very popular because of that. So what I did was call the Lion PR people randomly and asked for her number, and they just gave it to me.
So, I was explaining the concept to Sony, and after 15 or 20 minutes the Sony producer was like "OK, let's do it." And I didn't know this until 10 years after the fact, but I was the third person to bring a game concept about summer vacation to this Sony producer. So he was like, ‘If this many people are thinking about this kind of concept, then it should be good, so let's do it.' Of course, the concept was good enough, but I also had that luck of being the third person to present.
Did you ever find out who the other two were?
I heard that Shoji Masuda, who created Ore no Shikabane o Koete Yuke, was one of them.
Well, that was good for you, since that became another famous Sony game.
Yeah, true. Of course, I didn't know Masuda had brought in the same concept at the time, because if I did, I wouldn't have brought in mine. (Laughs)
When development finally got started, what were you and Millennium Kitchen actually responsible for? I suppose the scenario and mapping out the areas; creating the world?
Everything outside of programming and sound-related stuff was under Millennium Kitchen's responsibility.
Then what was Contrail? Their logo was also on the first game, and some other Sony titles.
Contrail was the producers. They were basically a division of Sony, back when they were making their divisions into separate companies, but they didn't have that many opinions. As a matter of fact, maybe they could have given us a few more notes, but the only one they had was "maybe you don't want to make it too much in the countryside. You might want to have highways in the game, too." And that's the reason we had a highway in the game. And that's basically the only feedback they had.
And so since then, all of our games have highways in them.
I do like the highways, actually, so I guess it was a good note. But it sounds like you were pretty much left alone.
Yes. Originally we were trying to release the game in summer 1999, but weren't able to make it on time. So we got another year, basically. Because of that, I had a lot of time to work on the event scripting, and where to place the sounds and stuff, so there's probably no files in the game that I haven't touched.
Yeah, I knew about the delay, and I always thought it was because it was just better to release it in June the next year, because wasn't it originally going to come out in fall 1999?
Originally we were aiming for July or August 1999, and when we were creating the prototype, the producer came and asked us to put in a fishing minigame. But we told him that if we did that, we won't be able to meet the schedule, but the producer was like, "Well, because it's a summer vacation game, that doesn't mean it has to come out in summer, so don't worry about it." Then we started making the fishing portion, and halfway through the producer came back and said, "actually, you guys have to meet the summer deadline." So we tried to meet the deadline, but were kind of late, so it was announced with a fall release date. But then Sony PR was like, "No, you're not going to release a summer vacation game in the fall." (Laughs) So that's why they decided to delay the game for a whole year.
Was that producer really that adamant about the fishing?
Well, we were originally going to have the fishing in the game, but not the prototype, and the producer was pushing to have it in the prototype. So we had to restructure things, and that took extra time.
Were you happy, then, to finally have it released at the start of summer instead of fall?
Yes, very happy. (Laughs) And I was able to have those three or four extra months to adjust the game, which was really really good for it. It's a pretty unique title there weren't games like this during that time, so it was a game that really needed careful tuning.
I know the real locations the other games were based on, but what was the setting of Bokunatsu 1 based on?
Ah, just a minute. (Ayabe gets up to pull out another artifact, this one a photo album full of pictures of the location that inspired Bokunatsu 1.)
I may have given away the pictures that are really identical to the game, but basically, the place the game is based on is Tsukiyono. A lot of people think it's the Tsukiyono in Gunma prefecture, but it's actually the Tsukiyono in Yamanashi prefecture, and that's where these are pictures are from. We also went to the Chichibu area in Saitama to take pictures. To prove that it was the Yamanashi Tsukiyono, there's a photo of a bus stop there in the back of the manual.
(Showing photo of people with sound equipment) These people are the sound staff from Sony, who went into the mountains to collect the sound effects for the game.
I see those kinds of pictures when reading about the making of Gran Turismo games.
They are actually the Gran Turismo people. (Laughs) They're both no longer at Sony and working at freelancers.
(Showing photos of various cloud formations) These are pictures that I took from the office, and we have several hundred pictures of clouds as reference material. Some people from other companies will get in touch with me and ask if we have any good cloud pictures, because they know we have a lot of that material. It's really difficult to find a good-shaped cloud, so Sony used the same cloud on the cover of Bokunatsu 1 for Everybody's Golf 3.
I really enjoyed going into the mountains and collecting sounds, but when you go really deep into the mountains, there's almost no sound at all. We tried to get sounds of butterflies and bees flying, but those sounds were just too small and detailed to be able to put them in the game.
(Continues looking through photos) During my summer vacations I would go home to Hokkaido and take pictures of home. And during the work day I'll take pictures, and that all becomes my library of reference material. So it's kind of an interesting job, because the line between "on" and "off" time is kind of blurred.
What is it like making a "summer" game all through the year?
When you start hearing the sounds in development, it changes the atmosphere into summer, so I feel like inside this office, it's always summer.
Do you put cicadas in the office?
(Laughs) We used to have stag beetles here, but they got into fights a lot, so they died pretty fast. Usually when you're debugging, you kind of get sick of the sound because you're playing it over and over again, but with our games, I don't really feel like that. Around May or June, sometimes I can't tell if the cicada noise is coming from outside or if it's from the game. (Laughs) I'd also hear a furin [paper bell] sound and would be like, "ah, somebody has a furin," but then I realize no, it's from the game.
It's good that you can feel that was about your own creative projects. I have my one nerdy question about the game, though: I was wondering why the text boxes in the series were changed from white to black after Bokunatsu Portable.
Originally, we had the white background with the black letters because I wanted it look like it was written on a piece of paper. But we were making Bokunatsu 3 and already decided to change the colors, and we realized it was easier to read, and because of that we decided to go with that starting with the PSP game. Also, I like dark areas in my games, so to make the night scenes in the games look good, it was better to have a black text box.
Lastly, I wanted to get the real story, in English, about the "August 32nd" bug. You've explained it on Twitter, but it's so silly that I think it's worth getting the English version.
To be honest, this is something I don't want to talk too much about, but I don't want people to misunderstand what it is, so that's the reason I talk about it. But first of all, I want to make it super clear to everyone that it wasn't on purpose. However, even though you fall into the "August 32nd" zone, even if you fall in there, it doesn't break the main game. Of course, I was super surprised when I heard about it, but I was also at the same time kind of impressed. "Wow, it's not breaking the game even though it's a bug."
Of course, it may not be allowed for me to think like this, but I did feel a tiny bit of pride it's not a "good" bug, but a cool bug. I found out about it a year or two after the game was released, so my first reaction was just super surprised about it.
Millennium Kitchen as a company really cares about the quality of its games, so we do our bug checking really thoroughly. You could probably tell that the Bokunatsu series is one with very few bugs compared to other games that are out there, but maybe it was a trick from the gods to have this bug. The program house that programmed the game is really talented and is a really high-quality team, so it's not their fault at all.
Right, just a freak occurrence.
And now it's been fixed in the PSP version.
It was fixed on PSP, but they never fixed it in the original version, so if you're able to get that, the bug will still be in there.
But it's something you can look back at and laugh, basically.
Was a sequel always the idea? Was it planned during making the first game, or after?
At first we didn't have any plans of making a sequel. As a matter of fact, I was thinking we weren't supposed to make a sequel. But, while I was making Bokunatsu 1, I had feelings like "I want to do this, I want to do that," and because of that, we decided to create a sequel. And that's how I felt after every game, so that's how we kept going with sequels.
If you felt you weren't supposed to make a sequel, that leads me to wonder if that's why you continued to set the game in 1975, and make Boku look the same, with the same age, and sort of make the series like parallel universes.
When we were looking for materials to create the sequels, we always ended up landing on the ‘70s as the best time frame. But for Bokunatsu 4, we moved the time to the ‘80s, because the ‘70s no longer became the nostalgic era for people, as it was too far away now, and people don't have as many memories from then.
Mm-hm. We're always looking for materials from that "good time" era to put in our games, but we always ended up in that area of time. That was the same process with Attack of the Friday Monsters!.
Well then, how did you settle on setting Bokunatsu 2 in Izu compared to Tsukiyono?
I went to the east side of Izu a lot to go fishing. I don't drive, so I was looking for a good place to go where I could get back home by train the same day, so the east of Izu happened to be that place. And I went to this town called Futo, and Futo has a fishing port, with a lot of kids swimming in the port, which is a very unusual scene, because the port is where the ships come in. And when a ship arrived, there's a very rough announcement telling the kids to get the hell out of the port so the ship can come in. That was very interesting to me, and I wanted to capture that kind of scene, so that's why we went with Izu.
I remember that Futo was the first time I knew the place where one of the games was based on. I was like, "I'm going there someday."
I would have done it for this magazine, but the timing wasn't right.
I have photos from there, too. (Ayabe takes another photo album from the shelf, this one full of pictures of Futo, some directly used in the Bokunatsu 2 opening credits.)
I went and took these pictures, then came back and started making the game with them in mind, then when I finished the game, I went to this location again, and the scale felt totally different it was like three times bigger than I remembered it. That was an interesting experience for me. I also could never find a lady playing a guitar, so that was a little disappointing. (Laughs)
This has me wondering if you had any photos that were modeled after Yasuko's house.
I don't have one in pictures I had different reference materials, and after that I came up with an original design, which was Yasuko's house. By the way, there's a famous actress in Japan called Yasuko Tomita, and so she's the inspiration for Yasuko. (Laughs) And Yasuko's sister Hikari is based on another famous actress, Hikari Ishida. I never told this to anybody else in the media because I just remembered it now, so you're the first person hearing this. (Laughs)
To talk more about the setting, you used the game's "house," the Akaneya inn, and there were many more characters brought in compared to the first game. Did you anticipate having to write for so many characters?
Yes, as a matter of fact, I wanted a location where a lot of people would gather, so that's how I came up with the inn as the idea.
Do you think that helped Boku's character development more?
Compared to Bokunatsu 1, I feel like Boku got dragged along into other people's stories, so as a game, I feel that the attraction of the atmosphere of the game increased, but the freedom of Boku's character was kind of restrained.
Ever since this sequel, it seemed like you were keeping the spirits of past characters around. The first game's cousins were two girls, then two boys in the second game, but also keeping two girls around as the neighbors. Was that also originally intended?
It was intended, and I do think about how the characters are laid out, and by changing those "layouts," I think about how the game can change or be more fun in "this" way. However, while I intended to change the girls into boys in the sequel, somehow the girls who became the neighbors ended up more of a focus in the scenario, which was not the original intention.
Do you think it's easier to write girls?
It's probably easier to write girl characters, but my real intention is that I want to write more energetic characters. Yet somehow, when I'm writing the scenario, I end up writing more of the quiet characters or the character that has a hidden side of them. And so, in Bokunatsu 2, the neighbor girls had their shaded side, so their stories showed more. I can't get it to work in the way I intend. (Laughs)
Well, the boys were certainly energetic.
This was the first game in the series to use fully realtime graphics in the swimming section. Was that a challenge?
Yes, it was a big challenge, and programming-wise, it was a high requirement. We had to first think about how you show underwater in 3D, and that's already a huge challenge. So there were days where the graphics team would be painting a dawn scene, and they would think they screwed up the colors, but I actually liked it, so three days later they would come back with a scene with new colors and I would say "No no no, bring it back to the old color!" So it was a huge challenge, and we were going back and forth to complete it. But I feel we were able to create some great scenes, and I like the swimming in 2 the best compared to 3 and 4.
I can agree with that. I enjoyed finding the little cove and the other hidden spots. In general, as a game, 2 is my favorite, but for sentimental reasons, I like 1 the best.
That might be the same for me, too. This is something I realized after finishing the game, but I wasn't intending to make Bokunatsu 1 such a sentimental game. However, it turned out that way. I was thinking of the reason why, then I realized that I grew up in Hokkaido, up north, and summer in Hokkaido is really short in the middle of August it's already too cold to even go to the beach. So when summer starts, I always feel a little sentimental, because it's going to end soon.
I'll only talk about Bokura no Kazoku briefly, but it's part of your work, and it was a big departure from Bokunatsu, so how did that all come about?
Personally, I don't feel like the concept itself was a big departure from Bokunatsu. The big difference is that it's not the countryside; it's located in the city. But the reason why I created it is kind of the same as Bokunatsu 1 and how that was my based on my summer vacation experience. But right as I was finishing up that game, I had my first child. That's when I started experiencing how to bring up a kid, so Bokura no Kazoku is actually like a story of my wife and I raising our child, and I was thinking of how interesting it is. That was the inspiration.
Also, when I was 40, I looked back at my life and I realized that I came to where I was so quickly. I had my childhood, grew up, and the next thing I knew I was 40. I was feeling that life is so short, and I wanted to express that with this game living your life in fast-forward. So, people would play it and ask me why it was so short, and I was kind of frustrated that they didn't get what I was trying to express.
Were you proud of it?
Yes, however, I did find things that I wanted to change or tweak afterwards, so if I have a chance, I would love to do that.
Do you think you should've made it a more proper adventure game like Bokunatsu?
Yes, I do. (Laughs)
The gap between Bokunatsu 2 and 3 was a few years because of the development of Bokura no Kazoku, but at that point, were you actually still wanting to make a new Bokunatsu?
At first, I wasn't planning to do 3, but then I thought, oh, wait a minute, I never made one based on my hometown. At the same time, I was very curious about PlayStation 3, and I wanted to create something for it. So I accepted the offer to make a sequel.
So Sony approached first.
Yeah. While I was thinking of making that game based on my hometown, Sony came and was talking about PlayStation 3 and what they were making, and wanted us to make something, so we accepted.
Bokunatsu 3 was released in the first year of the PS3's life; the other two were released some time after their systems were. Was it a greater challenge to finish the game just because it was closer to the system launch?
We started development when the development kits weren't even ready, so it was pretty challenging. Just to be able to show something on the screen was a huge challenge, and we also had to create some assets on our own, so that was very difficult. But on PS3 supports widescreen, so I really wanted to create the Hokkaido scenery in widescreen.
So, you didn't really have the idea to make a Bokunatsu in Hokkaido until 3 came along.
It wasn't that I didn't think about it at all, but I was thinking that if I was going to feature Hokkaido, maybe a winter vacation game would be more fitting. (Laughs) So in Bokunatsu 3, we planted seeds of settings that we could use in a winter vacation version.
I know fans, including me, always thought that it would be neat if you made a "Boku no Fuyuyasumi [Winter Vacation]."
(Laughs) If we make a winter vacation game, it wouldn't be a "Boku no Fuyuyasumi," but "Watashi no Fuyuyasumi;" a girl version. I have thought of a scenario with Midori, the female cousin in Bokunatsu 3, being the main character.
That would be great. I hope you can make it. Maybe be like Square Enix and call it "Boku no Natsuyasumi 3-2."
All right. (Laughs)
By setting it in Hokkaido, did you also want to do your home proud?
I wanted to, and actually I wanted to create it very realistically, and include more realistic personalities, but I may have been too realistic with it. So I have that "uncompleted" feeling. Another thing is that Hokkaido is a very wide land without that many obstacles, so when you're describing that kind of place, I feel like instead of the approach in the Bokunatsu series, which is hand-drawn, a 3D realtime approach with a first-person view might be a better match. When I played Red Dead Redemption, I wished the staff who made that could make something along those lines. (Laughs)
Yeah, that's a good open-world game with nice natural environments. I also like the Elder Scrolls games a lot for that reason.
I see, yeah.
What was it like laying out all the areas in Bokunatsu 3? A farm seems obvious for Hokkaido, but at the same time, the Bokunatsu games all have bits of one another, like a little beach, or some farm animals, or a little forest, but maybe the middle of Hokkaido doesn't have all that variety.
Actually, I thought I did make some nice variation in the areas, but after finishing development, I felt it was necessary to have given the game more areas. And the reason why I didn't have an ocean area in this one is that I wanted to make it something different from 2. I wasn't feeling like this when I was creating it, but I feel like I might have created a realistic Hokkaido, because it is kind of like that.
Do you think the PSP was the best place to go for the series in Bokunatsu 4, or was it just a decision made from the experience of making 3?
Yes, because of that experience, we thought that going to PSP was the right decision. When we released Bokunatsu 3 when you look at the PS3 market now, it's successful, but when we released it, the hardware was not selling too well, so the sales of the game weren't great either. But PSP was selling a lot here, so the market was big, and our development team is not that big, so I was thinking that the PSP hardware was fitting for us. And we like to take care of the very fine details, so to do that, PSP seemed like the perfect hardware.
It's too bad 3 didn't sell that well, because ironically I think most foreigners were introduced to the series that way, because of no region restrictions.
With Bokunatsu 4, because it was the ‘80s, it was cool to see a real video game in that world. But why Qix? Was it your favorite?
(Laughs) In the ‘80s it was common to have arcade games in front of little shops, so I was thinking we had to have a game in there. And so the whole team was giving out suggestions, and we had a whole list of games we were considering. Then Taito, who made Qix, was the one company where the boundary was so low. They were like, "Oh, OK, fine, sure, why don't you do that? And we'll take care of the porting!" That was before receiving anybody else's responses, and I was also a fan of Qix, so we went ahead and decided to put in Qix.
If this wasn't a Sony game, would you have put in a Famicom?
I was originally thinking of having an arcade game, so I wasn't thinking of the Famicom. However, after you brought it up, I'm thinking that is actually a good idea; I might have wanted to do that. (Laughs)
Like in Shenmue, which has the Sega Saturn you can play.
What were your favorite games around that time, anyway?
I started creating games in ‘86, but before that I was mainly playing arcade games. So Xevious was one of them, and Qix was one of my favorites I liked shooting games a lot. In 1986, Dragon Quest was released, so that's when I started playing the Famicom, and kind of shifted to console games instead of arcade games.
You and the rest of Japan.
Bokunatsu 4 doesn't have a lot of melodrama to it, and the colors are brighter, and there's a bit of romance would calling it one of the happier games in the series be a good way to put it?
Yeah, that's a really good way to put it. I felt like 3 didn't feel too much like a "Japan summer," and so I wanted to create a game that feels more and more like that, and happier and brighter. And so I picked the Setonai Sea, which has a very bright image of the ocean.
I was wondering what the idea behind the energy meter was.
To be honest, I wasn't sure if it was going to be a plus or a minus to the game. Up till this sequel, you could go out and do whatever as much as you wanted without eating lunch, but I was thinking what would happen if I add a function where you have to eat something otherwise you'll feel sick, because it's summer and it's hot out. It was kind of like an experiment for me; to add a function where you actually have to try hard to obtain something to eat and continue the game. In the end, I just decided to put it in. Also, by doing that, the reason for having money in the game becomes "real."
Did you get any feedback on that from the producers or anybody?
Probably not. (Laughs) They really have no hands on us. This might be exaggerating a bit, but throughout the whole series, the only thing we were told is to add a highway to Bokunatsu 1. After completion of the games, there were times the promotion division came to us and said "the location should have been this place," and it was like, OK, why are you bringing that up now? It might be a good thing or a bad thing, but yeah, Sony is really hands-off with us.
How did this project begin? I presume you were approached by Level-5.
I had been thinking of creating this game, and then I shared the idea on Twitter, and the reception was really good. In the Guild 02 series, there's another game called The Starship Damrey, and in February 2012, the people who created that title approached us and asked if we wanted to be part of Guild 02. So that's how it happened. When they approached us, we thought it might be cool to do that winter vacation game (Laughs). So I was originally thinking of submitting the concept for "Watashi no Fuyuyasumi," however, I heard from someone else that Hino-san from Level-5 wanted bizarre or outrageous concepts, so I thought OK, "The Kaiju That Come Out on Friday" is unusual, so that might be a good concept.
There are a few similarities to Bokunatsu, so I wonder if some elements were intended for a sequel, like the setting or some of the characters.
Maybe not a sequel, but a spin-off.
Bokunatsu 1 had some parts that were a bit fantastical, like the wolf spirit, and in this game, with the giant monsters, it seems like a mix between the fantasy and the reality of the Bokunatsu games. Do you want to explore more fantasy in games?
Yes, I do feel like I want to explore the fantasy part more, but the fantasy that's "right next" to reality. That's the kind of thing that interests me a lot.
The Bokunatsu games naturally feel very Japanese, and with the kaiju in this game it's rooted in Japanese culture moreso. Do you feel like you're making representative work?
I didn't really feel like that, but a lot of creators around me have told me that I am making representative work of Japan.
How does it feel being among the Guild series creators? Being "chosen" for that, and being considered good and creative enough?
Of course I was really happy to be approached for this project, but my honest feeling is that while I want to continue being a game creator, personally, I'm not interested in being in the media or getting my name out there too much. But then again, if I become famous and a lot of people know my name, that might bring more freedom for us in creating games, because they might be funded more or give us more opportunity. So it's like a balance, and I'm not sure what is best. But for this interview, I'm not saying "don't put me in the media;" I'm happy you approached me and I want to cooperate. (Laughs)
That's OK, this isn't big media anyway.
(Laughs) There's a lot of creators in Japan that feel a bit frustrated towards the media. They feel like, great, you can talk about the big titles, but there's also great titles that aren't as big that you guys don't talk about.
Yeah, that's a big issue in America now, too, especially with more independent games coming out. Speaking of America, how does it feel to finally have a game coming out overseas?
It is our first time creating an overseas version, so it's exciting as a developer to see how that process works. But as a creator, I'm feeling a little scared about how it's going to be received by people.
Was there ever any hint that a Bokunatsu game would be localized?
It wasn't that it never came up in conversation, but it just never happened in the end.
I dreamed about it, but I felt like "Oh, it's too Japanese, maybe people won't get it." So that's why I'm extra glad now.
With the Guild 02 series, the budget is decided, the schedule is decided really limited, so it's scary to try to release something within those limits.
I had this feeling that the Bokunatsu games try to appeal to adults and kids, because you have this nostalgic story, and then you have the bug collecting and such. Did that audience targeting become more important as the sequels went on?
Actually, when we created Bokunatsu 1, it was totally towards the adult market; people in their thirties. But when I was checking out the reviews of people playing, I realized that a lot of kids were playing the game, too. I was still continuing to target the games towards adults, but to make them at an easier level that kids could still be able to play. At that time, people who were playing it were saying that Sony were wanting to make more games for the adult audience, but the truth is, it wasn't Sony's strategy, it was just us creating what we wanted to create.
How did you feel seeing similar games come out, like Inaka Kurashi and Houkago Shonen? They didn't do as well, but I was still wondering what your feeling was.
People mimicking the way we express things is fine, but mimicking the time setting and the target audience I feel isn't so cool. After Inaka Kurashi was released, I had the opportunity to work with the producer, and I got to talk with him. When people came up to him and asked if he was inspired by Bokunatsu, he just said "yes" because he's too tired to explain the whole story he had in mind. But the actual story is that he wasn't inspired by Bokunatsu; he came up with that story from a totally different angle, and that turned out to be Inaka Kurashi.
But the biggest feeling I have is that when I see a title that looks similar to the Bokunatsu series, I feel like, "Why didn't you let us make this game?" (Laughs) I would've made it better.
Yeah, you should've made all of them.
We talked earlier about our favorite Bokunatsu games, but do you have one you think people should play first? One that may best represent what you wanted to accomplish?
If it's the first time you're playing the game, and you want to play the series, then Bokunatsu Portable is what I want people to play.
I tell people to play Portable 2. (Laughs)
Yeah, if you play Portable 1, then play Portable 2. (Laughs)
OK, I'll tell people Ayabe said that.
I was wondering what other game creators do you admire?
Of course, I have people I admire, but I want to keep it a secret. (Laughs)
How about someone who you may think of as a rival?
He might get mad if he hears this, but Mr. [Akari] Uchida, producer of Love Plus. (Laughs) I know him personally, and he's also been a programmer, so I see a similarity in the two of us. He probably won't be mad, but he'll be surprised. (Laughs)
Among the people I know, he's the one that gives the most detailed feedback about the Bokunatsu series. He likes it a lot, so he would ask things like, "Why was the grass in that pond shaped the way it was?" Very detailed and sharp questions. The games that we create are very different, but the directions we're headed are very similar.
The big question is, what's next? Might there be more Bokunatsu games, or something new entirely?
There is something related to the Bokunatsu series that I really want to create, so that's one thing. Also, by creating Attack of the Friday Monsters!, I was able to see a new direction, so I want to proceed in that direction as well.
Is it too soon for a Bokunatsu game set in 1995?
Oh, that's a very good question... (Laughs)
Because at least then you could put a PlayStation 1 in it.
Right... PS1 emulation was difficult, but now it's easier to do, so that's something to consider. If I could do that, the game I'd want to include is Ridge Racer, because in the programming house we worked with, the producer of Ridge Racer worked there. Also, if it's a Sony-related game, then Jumping Flash!
Yeah, I love that one too.
I loved all the PS1 titles that were out around that time; the real unique ones. Bokunatsu was supposed to be one of those unique titles, but it ended up becoming a series.
Also, is it too late to have Bokunatsu 3 again; a portable version of that?
Uh-oh. (Laughs) At this point, we don't have any plans in making it, but personally I want to create a portable version of 3. Maybe, perhaps, I'm not sure, but there may be something like that in my office that people could play... (Laughs) But for now, we don't have plans.
One more crazy question: How about an all-realtime Bokunatsu for PlayStation 4?
That's actually something I want to do in the future, however, I don't want to do that without practicing, so I feel like I want a "practice" title. If I could come up with a plan for a good practice title like that, then I would do it.
You have written a lot, yet you never thought of yourself as a writer. But do you like writing enough now that you could ever move away from games and focus on that?
I feel I'm really good at writing conversational scenarios, but I don't feel confident that I'm able to express something just through writing. If someone approaches me, then maybe I might try something like that, but I don't feel like I want to go out there and do that.
I can't talk too much about this, but I wrote a script for a movie, and the company has already completed it, but I don't know if it's going to come out or not. But after doing that, I felt confident in expressing something through writing a scenario for a movie or something else visual. So maybe it's a possibility.
But for now it's still games.
Yes it is.