Col­lected Works

The man be­hind Rez’s VR res­ur­rec­tion re­flects on a jour­ney through games that be­gan in the ar­cades

EDGE - - SECTIONS - BY SI­MON PARKIN

Tet­suya Mizuguchi re­calls a ca­reer of painstak­ing re­search, field trips, and giv­ing higher-ups headaches

MEGA­LOPO­LIS: TOKYO CITY BAT­TLE De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Sega For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1994 SEGA RALLY CHAM­PI­ONSHIP De­vel­oper AM5 Pub­lisher Sega For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1995 MANX TT SU­PER BIKE De­vel­oper AM3 Pub­lisher Sega For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1995 SEGA TOUR­ING CAR CHAM­PI­ONSHIP De­vel­oper AM5 Pub­lisher Sega For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1996 SPACE CHAN­NEL 5, SPACE CHAN­NEL 5: PART 2 De­vel­oper UGA Pub­lisher Sega For­mat Dream­cast, PS2 Re­lease 1999, 2002 REZ De­vel­oper UGA Pub­lisher Sega For­mat Dream­cast, PS2 Re­lease 2001 LUMINES De­vel­oper Q En­ter­tain­ment Pub­lisher Ubisoft For­mat PSP, PS2, PC Re­lease 2004

Grow­ing up in Sap­poro, the cap­i­tal city of Hokkaido, Ja­pan’s north­ern­most is­land, Tet­suya Mizuguchi

dreamed of be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional base­ball player. He spent the ma­jor­ity of his time out­doors, train­ing on the field, till, in the fourth grade, he be­came friends with an­other boy whose par­ents owned a toyshop. Mizuguchi would visit the shop and gawp at the colour­ful Atari videogame boxes that bus­ied the shelves.

Around this time, he and his friend started fre­quent­ing the lo­cal ar­cade. A nascent hobby soon be­came an ob­ses­sion; the pair would be­gin skip­ping classes in or­der to play. “I wasn’t book smart,” he says. “I wanted to have more real life ex­pe­ri­ences; to be­come street smart.” In art, how­ever, Mizuguchi found a sub­ject as com­pelling as the ar­cade. He be­came dili­gent in his stud­ies, earn­ing a place at Ni­hon Univer­sity in Tokyo to study me­dia aes­thet­ics, a pi­o­neer­ing course about the in­ter­sec­tion of art and tech­nol­ogy.

Three decades later, this in­ter­est has de­fined the de­signer’s oeu­vre, which stretches from the lux­u­ri­ous phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of the rac­ing game ar­cade cab­i­nets of his ear­li­est work ( Sega Rally,

Manx TT Su­per Bike) through the in­tri­cate fu­sion of mu­sic and games found in Space

Chan­nel 5, Lumines and the sem­i­nal Rez, which will be given new life later this year as a PlaySta­tion VR ti­tle. Here, he de­scribes his jour­ney to date, and the games that have de­fined his life’s work.

MEGA­LOPO­LIS: TOKYO CITY BAT­TLE De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Sega For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1994

“When I was at univer­sity a friend of mine showed me a copy of The Bit­map Broth­ers’

Xenon 2: Me­gablast on the Amiga. It was like a shock to me, open­ing my eyes to the new pos­si­bil­i­ties within the medium. It was one of those eye-pop­ping mo­ments in my life, when I re­alised a brand-new per­spec­tive on what videogames could be as an art form. It’s worth men­tion­ing be­cause of what came later.

Sega was my first real job out of univer­sity. I had an un­ortho­dox route to work­ing there, to say the least. Even though dur­ing my univer­sity years I was think­ing about games and play­ing them, I still didn’t think the videogame in­dus­try was go­ing to be my pro­fes­sion. One day I vis­ited the ar­cade and saw this huge cabi­net in the cor­ner, an R360. It could ro­tate and the player had to be strapped in with a har­ness. I thought: ‘What the hell is this, and who the hell makes it?’ I saw the name Sega on the side and im­me­di­ately went to their head­quar­ters in Tokyo.

I walked straight up to the re­cep­tion­ist and said to her: ‘I want to work for Sega.’ She pa­tiently ex­plained to me that I needed to go through the proper chan­nels, send in my ap­pli­ca­tion, come in for an in­ter­view and so on. I asked her how I should go about that and, af­ter that, went home and ap­plied. Dur­ing the in­ter­view process I told the in­ter­viewer that the cur­rent games on the mar­ket were not the types of games I wanted to make. They felt dated to me. I wanted to make games with the fu­ture in mind. The in­ter­viewer said to me: ‘You are kind of out there, but we could prob­a­bly use some­one like you in our com­pany. We need some­one with crazy ideas.’ That’s how I got my job at Sega. It was a small com­pany at the time; prob­a­bly fewer than 200 em­ploy­ees. They made me a plan­ner, but my first project was not a game de­vel­op­ment project.

Sega and Namco owned a mini amuse­ment park called Joy­po­lis. It was larger than an ar­cade but smaller than Dis­ney­land. They had an at­trac­tion there called AS-1, a sim­u­la­tor ride in which peo­ple would take part in a futuristic fly­ing-car chase through Tokyo. We han­dled the vi­su­als for the ride, as well as bal­anc­ing the mo­tion of the cabi­net’s hy­draulics. At the same time, in the UK, we were part­ner­ing with a vir­tual re­al­ity com­pany called Vir­tu­al­ity. I worked in the re­search de­part­ment for that project – so things have re­ally come full cir­cle with the forth­com­ing re­lease of Rez In­fi­nite.

Any­way, I was happy be­cause I didn’t want to make the kind of 2D ar­cade games

“SEGA TOLD ME, ‘YOU ARE KIND OF OUT THERE, BUT WE NEED SOME­ONE WITH CRAZY IDEAS’”

that were be­ing worked on at the time. They were so stale and bor­ing to me. I wanted to work on the games of the fu­ture, so th­ese projects suited me well. They kept me busy for quite some time. Then, when re­al­time poly­gon counts be­gan to in­crease for the first time, I knew that 3D game mak­ing was the place I needed to be.

SEGA RALLY CHAM­PI­ONSHIP De­vel­oper AM5 Pub­lisher Sega For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1995

I wanted to make a rally game. The op­por­tu­nity came with the ar­rival of poly­gons. Sud­denly we had tex­tures and we could do so much more in the genre. With tex­tures we could go to the desert, or of­froad – things that hadn’t re­ally been pos­si­ble be­fore. I pitched the game to the ex­ec­u­tives at Sega. They gave me a flat-out ‘no’. They told me that no rally game had ever been any­thing close to a suc­cess. They even said that rally games are jinxed. I was so pas­sion­ate. I had it in my mind as to how it would be de­signed. I begged them to give me a chance. They said: ‘What if it doesn’t work out and we lose money?’ I told them that if it was a fail­ure I would quit the com­pany and they wouldn’t even have to pay me for the work. They told me that was an in­cred­i­bly ir­re­spon­si­ble thing to say. I told them I didn’t care. I had to make this game.

I think it was this pas­sion that, in the end, won them over. They re­lented and my­self and about ten other peo­ple were given a chance to make the game. Now, we were all in our early to mid-20s. None of us had de­signed a game be­fore. None of us had even ex­pe­ri­enced rac­ing be­fore. The ex­ec­u­tives told us that there was no proof or hint of suc­cess here. That’s when I ar­gued that, in or­der to per­fect the ex­pe­ri­ence, Sega should al­low us to carry out some re­search – lo­ca­tion scout­ing and so on. We wanted to fol­low a rally, and in­ter­view the driv­ers, the kind of re­search one might carry out for a movie.

Again, the ex­ec­u­tives were in­cred­u­lous. Trav­el­ling any­where to make a game was un­heard of at the time. They told me that, if the game was a suc­cess, I could take a hol­i­day and do some trav­el­ling. We fought that through as well. I told the ex­ec­u­tives, if the com­pany wouldn’t al­low us to go, we would go on our own dime. At that point, the com­pany said: ‘OK – this one time we’ll al­low you to travel for re­search.’ It was all thanks to us push­ing through, en­cour­ag­ing each other and, even­tu­ally, man­ag­ing to make things hap­pen.

The game was a big suc­cess, as ev­ery­one knows, but my im­me­di­ate boss ar­gued that this was ac­tu­ally down to the re­sis­tance that we’d faced in try­ing to get the project off the ground. He told me that it was all be­cause the ex­ec­u­tives had pushed back, so the team came to­gether and worked harder as a re­sult.

MANX TT SU­PER BIKE

De­vel­oper AM3 Pub­lisher Sega For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1995

SEGA TOUR­ING CAR CHAM­PI­ONSHIP

De­vel­oper AM5 Pub­lisher Sega For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1996

Af­ter the suc­cess of Sega Rally, the com­pany gave me a lit­tle more room to make my next projects. I worked on Sega

Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship, where we got to visit Mercedes, Alfa Romeo, all of th­ese other car man­u­fac­tur­ers. It was amaz­ing.

Sega Rally took about 11 months, which was a pretty short amount of time. Sega wanted us to come up with an idea for what was next and de­liver it much more quickly. For Sega Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship we were only given about five or six months. We had to rush it and hap­haz­ardly put out a game. It wasn’t a huge suc­cess. I learned an im­por­tant les­son there, about en­sur­ing that games are given enough time to fully de­velop. Around that time we started work on

Manx TT Su­per Bike, a mo­tor­bike rac­ing game for the ar­cades. That in­volved some re­search too – all the team got mo­tor­cy­cle li­cences. It was bet­ter in terms of the length we had to work on it – closer to a year – but I learned an­other im­por­tant les­son on the project. You see, I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the game to feel. The lead pro­gram­mer told me that what I wanted to achieve just wasn’t pos­si­ble. There was a lit­tle back and forth over what would be the bet­ter way to go. I ended up re­spect­ing the lead pro­gram­mer’s de­ci­sion. The game shipped but, even now, it doesn’t sit well with me. It wasn’t ex­e­cuted the way I had en­vi­sioned.

The les­son I learned was that, if you have a vi­sion, you need to push through to the end. If you don’t, you ul­ti­mately just make ev­ery­one else un­happy. That ex­pe­ri­ence had a huge af­ter-ef­fect on de­vel­op­ing Space Chan­nel 5 and Rez. It gave me the cer­ti­tude to push through with my vi­sions for those games, even when there was re­sis­tance.

SPACE CHAN­NEL 5, SPACE CHAN­NEL 5: PART 2

De­vel­oper UGA Pub­lisher Sega For­mat Dream­cast, PS2 Re­lease 1999, 2002

The ker­nel of the idea for Space Chan­nel 5 was ac­tu­ally some­one else’s, ini­tially: Takashi Yuda’s. He had an idea to cre­ate a tra­di­tional mu­sic video that rolled as the player tapped the but­tons cor­rectly, in time with the mu­sic. We started think­ing about how we could make it fun and bright and quirky. That’s when all of the lay­ers came to­gether and the idea for what we re­leased was born. For our re­search we watched all of the mu­sic videos that Michael Jack­son put out. We spent so many hours go­ing to mu­si­cals, every­thing from Stomp to Broad­way – ev­ery mu­si­cal we could af­ford tick­ets to! Mu­si­cals were an ideal ref­er­ence ma­te­rial be­cause they merge song and nar­ra­tive. They cre­ate this kind of syn­er­gis­tic spi­ral that keeps the crowd go­ing. We wanted to trans­port the same ex­pe­ri­ence into some­thing in­ter­ac­tive, us­ing a call-and-re­sponse dy­namic. We did so much re­search, and that’s how the el­e­ments that you see in my games were in­jected.

Michael Jack­son was a huge game fan. He came to visit Sega quite of­ten. There was a thread of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween him and us. We sort of got lucky. Dur­ing one of the vis­its we were about a month out of mas­ter­ing Space Chan­nel 5. We

“IF YOU HAVE A VI­SION, PUSH THROUGH TO THE END OR YOU JUST MAKE EV­ERY­ONE ELSE UN­HAPPY”

showed it to him; he said: ‘How can I be a part of the game?’ We were so close to launch and there was just no time to make it hap­pen. The ideal sce­nario for us was to save this for a se­quel. But who is go­ing to say ‘no’ to Michael Jack­son? So, in the end, we went back to him with a plan for a cameo ap­pear­ance. I wasn’t sure if he was go­ing to be OK with what we pro­posed, or if he was go­ing to ask for a larger-scale in­volve­ment. But he was to­tally happy with our idea. He re­ally just wanted to be a part of the project, I think. As soon as we had the ‘yes’, the team worked on it for about two weeks. Such a short amount of time.

I told Michael that I needed vo­cal per­for­mances to put in the game: ‘Hey!’, ‘Chu!’ and all the rest of those ex­cla­ma­tions. He recorded him­self and sent me a tape. The prob­lem was he spoke in­cred­i­bly softly. We put the ef­fects in the game but they felt to­tally wrong be­cause the main char­ac­ter has very high en­ergy lev­els in her vo­cal record­ing. So I had to email him back to ask him if he’d re-record the vo­cals with higher en­ergy! Fi­nally he sent an­other tape. It was bet­ter, but still not quite as high-en­ergy as I’d hoped.

REZ

De­vel­oper UGA Pub­lisher Sega For­mat Dream­cast, PS2 Re­lease 2001

Dur­ing the time that I was work­ing on the rally games I trav­elled a lot. On one of the trips I was led to a Street Pa­rade in Zurich Switzer­land in 1997, with 300,000 peo­ple gath­ered in the city cen­tre for a con­cert. It blew me away. I think it ap­pealed to the art stu­dent in me! The merg­ing of sound and light, and the mean­ing be­hind it all per­fectly synched in my head.

I’d had a num­ber of thoughts brew­ing in my head for years and years. The mar­riage of game and mu­sic, cre­at­ing mu­sic as you shoot down en­e­mies. When the home con­sole tech­nol­ogy caught up, and came to a point where we felt able to bring the idea to life, I knew it was time. I wanted to make a game that could put the player into a trance-like state.

Again, we had to do a lot of re­search be­cause there weren’t re­ally any games like this at the time, or at least, not enough to con­sider it a genre. I took my team club­bing. We also vis­ited Taiko drum­ming fes­ti­vals and watched hours and hours of record­ings of street mu­si­cians. It wasn’t just a case of lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic. We also took no­tice of the shapes and colours, and how we felt as the per­for­mance pro­gressed. Th­ese were all things we wanted to trans­late into our game.

The ba­sic idea was that shoot­ing would pro­duce sounds, which could then synch with the mu­sic. Quan­ti­za­tion was key to en­sure that the sounds play­ers made fell in step with the mu­sic. This would mean any player could play the game ‘in time’, as it were; the rhythms of play would al­ways be synched, and play would feel good. When we first made this work, it felt like magic.

LUMINES

De­vel­oper Q En­ter­tain­ment Pub­lisher Ubi For­mat PSP, PS2, PC Re­lease 2004

You know, I didn’t miss hav­ing my games in ar­cades. They have a very limited au­di­ence, mainly young males. There are so many con­straints to deal with too. You have this short game lim­i­ta­tion, which means that you can’t re­ally give peo­ple proper nar­ra­tive or sto­ries. For me it was a re­lief to move away from those re­straints.

I re­mem­ber when the Sony PSP was an­nounced. I could see it was a strong au­dio­vi­sual de­vice and so I im­me­di­ately started imag­in­ing what kind of game could work well with the hard­ware. I knew that, with the PSP, play­ers would be able to play my game at any time, in any place, so it was a case of fig­ur­ing out what kind of game would work well with that con­text.

I thought about mak­ing a puz­zle game that used mu­sic. It was a new idea, I think, at the time. I put to­gether an in­cred­i­bly small team. This was a very spe­cial project for me. No­body be­lieved in that game. I guess be­cause it was a new kind of game on a new kind of hard­ware. When I came to E3 that year, I showed peo­ple my game. Every­body looked very sorry for me. They said that there was no mar­ket for puz­zle games th­ese days. The told me that there was no mar­ket for mu­sic games, ei­ther. In the end they were proven wrong. Lumines sold well. I had a con­fi­dence in the game and, in the end, it worked out. It proved all those lessons from years ago to be right. If you be­lieve in your vi­sion, and stick by it, things will work out.”

Mega­lopo­lis:Tokyo City Bat­tle helped to set a trend for non-in­ter­ac­tive mo­tion­based ar­cade at­trac­tions that is still in place to­day

Se­gaRal­lyCham­pi­onship was pop­u­lar in its Saturn guise, but it’s at its strong­est in the ar­cade, where it’s one of the high­est earn­ers in his­tory

Nei­ther ManxTTSu­per Bike nor Se­gaTour­ing

CarCham­pi­onship were sat­is­fac­tory to Mizuguchi, for dif­fer­ent rea­sons

Mizuguchi points to the ex­treme amount of re­search that goes into his projects as a fac­tor to help them stand out, and Space Chan­nel5 was born fol­low­ing ex­ten­sive study of mu­si­cal theatre, along with ev­ery one of Michael Jack­son’s mu­sic videos

Rez and Lumines were both risky pro­duc­tions, but Mizuguchi’s dance­mu­sic-fo­cused ex­per­i­ments nts found re­cep­tive au­di­ences es

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