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
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.”