Given his involvement in games like Killer7 and No More Heroes, people often assume director SUDA51 to be a very strange man indeed. They expect a dark and twisted Lynchian gore-fiend. They expect an overly-serious, high-brow arty type. They expect an bizarre, unholy, avant garde weird-monger with torrents of quirk pouring out of his ears. What they do not expect is a good-humoured Japanese man happily pottering around a videogame shop picking up a few PS2 games, but that's exactly what we found when we met him.
A grin, a hearty handshake, and it was time to talk to him and sound director Takada Masafumi about the ballsiest Wii game of the year.
GamesRadar: Aside from just making a new action game for the Wii, what was your personal aim with No More Heroes?
SUDA51: The game has been released in Japan and I've been getting a lot of feedback from the gamers who've bought it, and I've got a lot of confidence that the control system works and that people are happy with the gameplay. So I'm very proud of all of that.
GamesRadar: The motion control is really well balanced in the game. There's enough to make the player feel more involved but not so much that it distracts from the actual gameplay. Was that the plan all along, or were you tempted to put more motion control in at any point?
SUDA51: When we started developing the game there were no other titles available for the Wii, so we didn't have any examples of how other people were working with the system's motion controls. But after a year the games were released and I saw a lot of games that were just about shaking the controller. But I'm always looking to do things that other game companies haven't done. And I'd talked to [Marvelous Interactive president] Wada-san, who'd had the same idea as me, which was that if they keep shaking the controller all the time players are going to get tired. So I wanted to keep an element of motion control, but have another way of using it and combine it with traditional controls.
GamesRadar: Were you worried about putting out a quite adult action game on a format where a lot of the software is controller-waggling, family-oriented party material? Or did you see that as an advantage?
SUDA51: I only think of advantages. Game creators have been used to making games with the classic style of controls, but it was such a new experience making something different for the Wii, and I expected a lot of game creators to just use the new element of shaking the controller. And a lot of gamers are used to the classic controls so I wanted to have both types, because the combination works really well. I think future action games will work really well on the Wii.
GamesRadar: You said a while back that the highest form of art is the existence of videogames. Could you clarify what you mean by that and tell us how artistically strong you think games are as a medium?
Suda51: I think there are two types of director in the games industry. One is the more commercial type, one is the more artistic. And you have to have both, because if someone's just directing as a business with no element of the artistic, there's no good game in there. Gamers are expecting the new ideas, and they get those from the more artistic directors. I think that I'm 50/50, but I don't know if that's a good thing or not.
GamesRadar: There's been some debate in the west this year over whether games are an art form or just an entertainment medium. Why do you think there's so much resistance to the concept in certain areas?
SUDA51: There are still a lot of games out there that are similar and that look very similar. Gamers expect something new, and new artistic elements, so these games fail them and they get disappointed. And the medium of videogames is failed. Gaming needs new ideas and new concepts. It needs to be always improving. That's what I think is very important.
I'm playing different types of games all the time, but I always forget which games I've actually played, because they look the same and the content is always the same. For expanding the industry it's important that gamers keep buying games, and there's a lot of marketing behind these games so they think the demand is always high. That's why they make them. That sort of thing's important for keeping the industry expanding, but there are other types of creators who need to be creating other types of games.
Big Screen, Main Screen
GamesRadar: Travis is a really refreshing videogame protagonist in that he is in no way a traditional hero, but at the same time he's definitely not the clichéd scowling videogame anti-hero either. What sort of thought process went into creating him?
SUDA51: [Laughs] The idea just came up when I was having a shit in the bathroom. I was really into Jackass and I got thinking about Johnny Knoxville. He acts really crazy and dirty but he also seems cool at the same time. And I also got thinking about Japanese otaku-type characters, and about how it would be cool to combine one of them with a Johnny Knoxville-type personality.
GamesRadar: And that's why you save your game with Travis on the toilet.
SUDA51: [Laughs] That's why! And also in a lot of action games the weapons are always guns. I wanted to change that and do something different, and I thought the katana was a really cool alternative
GamesRadar: No More Heroes is packed with punk rock spirit. It seems to disrespect and subvert all kinds of action game and movie conventions. Was that a deliberate rebellion against stale game design, or did you just do it because it you found it funny?
SUDA51: When I was young I was always listening to UK music, and when describing what sort of games Grasshopper produce, I always say "punk games". I always want to use the punk spirit in making games. Punk artists were always rebelling against something and they wanted to create a new sound, and that's the sort of spirit I want to bring to videogames. I'm rebellious against the market and I think people need someone like that.
GamesRadar: You've always said you're very inspired by music when designing. Aside from the overall spirit running through the game, were there any particular musical influences that affected specific parts of No More Heroes?
SUDA51: The title comes from a Stranglers record, so I got a lot of ideas inspired by that. And this fictional city of Santa Destroy is actually based upon San Diego and California, so there's a hip hip group from there that I took inspiration from. I can't remember the name of them. I gave those songs to Takada-san to listen to and said "Please make a sound inspired by these two".
Takada Masafumi: When I heard the songs for the first time, I didn't really remember the songs, but I remembered the atmosphere from San Diego. The blue skies. The ground below. I wanted to create melodies between those influences.
GamesRadar: You're known best in the west for two very violent games, No More Heroes a slick modern action game and the Killer7 more stylistic. How do you approach violence in your games? Do you see it just as a gameplay mechanic, or as an artistic or storytelling tool as well?
SUDA51: [Laughs] Good question. In No More Heroes, the story actually came up first and I designed the game afterwards. The story led the design of the game. When I was making Killer7, I was wanted to design a game mechanic that was very different to other games, and that idea came up. The story and the characters came afterwards to cater to the game design.
GamesRadar: What's your opinion on the trouble gaming has come in for recently, with people criticising it for being too violent or accusing it of being dangerous?
SUDA51: It's a really dangerous situation that a lot of creators cannot make what they want to make in a game because of these restrictions. Some creators have had to adjust what they wanted to design for the ratings system. When I make a game I don't want to think about it. The most important thing is that my ideas come instinctively. But if the industry is not allowed to that then we have a very very dangerous situation, because people have to change the work they want to do.
GameRadar: So you think that artistic freedom is more important than anything else?
SUDA51: Yes, it's very important.
GamesRadar: What was the thinking behind toning down the gore in the Japanese and UK versions of No More Heroes?
SUDA51: I actually like both versions. People might think that the US version is better, but there's no difference in quality. I used a new type of effect in the Japanese version, and when people have played it they've actually felt more refreshed than when playing the American version because the coins are coming out right away and the speed of the gameplay is actually faster.
We're not allowed to display any packaging if the game is Z-rated in Japan. I decided before I started making this game that I wanted more people to get a chance to play it, and Grasshopper and Marvelous Interactive Inc. made the decision together to make the change.
GamesRadar: To round off, what are you most proud of in No More Heroes, and what does it give gamers that they can't get anywhere else?
SUDA51: When the you play as Travis, you'll feel like you are him. The characters really come right up to you and feel close to you. That's what makes it different to anything else.