Q&A

Masaya Mat­suura

EDGE - - THE MAKING OF... -

What was the most stress­ful time for you and the team dur­ing the devel­op­ment of

Our of­fice was in Me­guro at the time. There were a few dif­fi­cult crunch times, but even in those mo­ments, the at­mos­phere among the team was fine. Ev­ery­one was able to ex­ert his or her cre­ativ­ity. It didn’t re­ally feel like work – and I mean that in a good way. Luck­ily, I’m the type of per­son­al­ity that, once the project is com­pleted, I just con­ve­niently for­get any stress in­volved.

What did you hope play­ers would take away from the game when they com­pleted it?

Through­out the project, my hope was that, through Vib-Rib­bon, play­ers would be able to dis­cover a new way to en­joy mu­sic. That’s the driv­ing mo­ti­va­tion be­hind all of my games.

Con­sid­er­ing you were ex­per­i­ment­ing with new tech­nol­ogy to make did any­thing hap­pen dur­ing the game’s cre­ation that you hadn’t an­tic­i­pated?

Dur­ing the game, there will be times when a fast [ob­sta­cle] piece will over­take a slow piece. This was orig­i­nally a bug, but be­cause it was cool, we left it in.

Would you con­sider do­ing an­other

game?

Rather than a se­quel, first I would want to make some­thing that takes ad­van­tage of the In­ter­net. How­ever, be­cause mu­sic web tech­nol­ogy is con­stantly evolv­ing, it’s dif­fi­cult to know where to aim for.

The game sold around 100,000 copies in its week of re­lease in Ja­pan (“Un­like with PaRappa The Rap­per, with Vib-Rib­bon there were some hard­core fans right from the be­gin­ning”). But sales soon dropped off, and while the game was well re­ceived in Europe, it was never re­leased in North Amer­ica. For Mat­suura, th­ese fig­ures don’t equate to a com­mer­cial fail­ure; rather, he views the game’s com­par­a­tively mod­est suc­cess as ap­pro­pri­ate for the game’s untested and niche ap­proach, and some­thing that should be cel­e­brated in its own way.

“Vib-Rib­bon was never re­ally a big hit in Ja­pan,” Mat­suura says. “But I won­der if that mat­ters, re­ally? This cul­ture of al­ways feel­ing the need to make huge suc­cesses in the videogame in­dus­try re­minds me of the mu­sic in­dus­try in the ’80s and ’90s -- at least in Ja­pan, any­way. I feel that mind­set can be danger­ous. Back then, many of my col­leagues in the mu­sic in­dus­try would say that we needed to sup­port smaller artists who were able to sell records in the tens-of-thou­sands range… But in re­al­ity, that didn’t hap­pen; all of the fo­cus went on the block­buster artists. Look at what be­came of the mu­sic in­dus­try as a re­sult. So in that sense, I think Vib-Rib­bon was re­ceived in a very healthy fash­ion.”

De­spite its throw­back aes­thetic, Vib-Rib­bon was re­leased ahead of its time. The emer­gence of MP3s and, more re­cently, mu­sic stream­ing ser­vices has made it far eas­ier for game de­vel­op­ers to con­vert dig­i­tal mu­sic into dig­i­tal lev­els, as ev­i­denced by the pop­u­lar­ity of games such as Taito’s Groove Coaster in Ja­pan. “Of course, I would like to go back to Vib-Rib­bon to­day and in­cor­po­rate ser­vices like Spo­tify into the game,” Mat­suura says. But the designer also be­lieves that it was the PlaySta­tion hard­ware’s unique re­stric­tions that were re­spon­si­ble for the idea in the first place, the kind of con­di­tions that are less likely to oc­cur again to­day.

“In videogames, just when you think you’ve got the hard­ware all fig­ured, some­thing new al­ways comes out,” he says. “For us, it was the PlaySta­tion 2. Think­ing about it now, there were still so many things that we could have done with the orig­i­nal PlaySta­tion. You could say that it’s im­pos­si­ble to un­cover ev­ery­thing that is truly pos­si­ble with a con­sole. By the time you fig­ure out most of what can be done, some new hard­ware is just hit­ting the mar­ket. In a sense, the sub­se­quent con­soles spoiled things. Cer­tainly once PlaySta­tion 2 came out, it be­came all about man-hours and as­sign­ing peo­ple cor­rectly; the process of game cre­ation grad­u­ally be­came more and more stag­nant as a re­sult.”

Vib-Rib­bon her­alded a tem­po­rary new di­rec­tion for NanaOn-Sha. Three pseudo-se­quels fol­lowed: gen­er­a­tive Won­derSwan riff Rhyme Rider Keror­i­can, the ec­cen­tric Mo­jib-Rib­bon, which com­bined vocoder-strained rap mu­sic with cal­lig­ra­phy, and Vib-Rip­ple, which used dig­i­tal images loaded into the game to gen­er­ate lev­els. “I don’t think any game-maker can truly know how their cre­ation will turn out,” Mat­suura says. “That time re­vealed this truth to me: in videogames, you never know ex­actly what a game will be­come un­til you begin to make it. Any­one who claims oth­er­wise is just pre­tend­ing.”

Founder, NanaOn-Sha

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