From Fire Pro Wrestling to It Die, Goichi Suda surveys a career full of audacious ideas
SUPER FIRE PRO WRESTLING SPECIAL
Developer/publisher Human Entertainment Format Super Fami com Release 1994
THE SILVER CASE
Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher ASCII Entertainment (Remaster: Grasshopper Manufacture/NIS America) Format PS one (Remaster: PC, PS4) Release 1999 (Remaster: 2016 (PC), Early 2017 (PS4))
Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Capcom Format Game Cube, PS2 Release 2005
NO MORE HEROES
Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Marvelous Entertainment/Ubisoft/Rising Star Games Format Wii Release 2007
SHADOWS OF THE DAMNED
Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Electronic Arts Format 360, PS3 Release 2011
Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment/Kadokawa Games Format 360, PS3 Release 2012
KILLER IS DEAD
Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Kadokawa Games/Marvelous USA/Deep Silver Format 360, PC, PS3 Release 2013
LET IT DIE
Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Gung Ho Online Entertainment Format PS4 Release TBA
Grasshopper Manufacture’s founder surveys a career packed with audacious ideas
Goichi Suda – better known to most by his pseudonym Suda51 – was working as a graphic designer when he was contacted by Sega to help create some promotional art for AM2’s seminal 1992 arcade hit
Virtua Racing. As he was shown around the office by Yu Suzuki, Suda noticed a lot of staff were of a similar age to him and dressed in casual clothes. “I’d always pictured game-makers wearing lab coats and toiling away, but actually they were just like me,” he says. “It really lowered the hurdle for me to get into the game industry – before then, I had no knowledge or special skills that would have made me consider applying.”
Almost a quarter of a century on, including 18 years as president of Grasshopper Manufacture, his passion for games is undimmed. In fact, as we invite Suda to discuss his defining moments in the game industry, he’s anxious to ensure that we aren’t about to prematurely consign him to the knacker’s yard. “I do want to continue making games in the future,” he says, pointedly, before going on to imagine a dream collaboration. “Dennaton Games!” he nods enthusiastically. “They’re really cool: the Chemical Brothers of the game world.
Hotline Miami is an amazing game. I can’t believe that just two people made it.”
Though he concedes that his managerial duties preclude him from being as hands-on as he’d ideally like, it’s clear he still enjoys the process – though it’s evidently cutting into his playing time. “Recently I’ve been trying to finish [Play Dead’s] Inside, but I’m right in the middle of The Silver Case, so if I’m playing it while everyone’s debugging, that wouldn’t go down well.” He laughs an impish chuckle, one of many as he reflects on a colourful, diverse and occasionally controversial career.
SUPER FIRE PRO WRESTLING SPECIAL
Developer/publisher Human Entertainment Format Super Fami com Release 1994
“For a while I was doing graphic design work, and I had many offers from people at places I was doing this contract work for: ‘Hey, why don’t you come work for us?’ During this time, my wife said to me one day, ‘We didn’t come to Tokyo for you to do this. There’s got to be something more that you want to do with your career.’ And I said, ‘You’re right.’ I opened up a magazine and looked at the classifieds, and saw there were two game companies that were hiring: one was Human Entertainment, the other was Atlus. So I put in two applications. I didn’t even get called back by Atlus, but Human called me back and I got an interview. But for about a month I had not received any contact from them. My wife said, ‘You need to give them a call,’ but I didn’t want to – I thought obviously they had a reason for not contacting me, right? She said, ‘Well, you’ll never know if you don’t call.’ And it turns out that the person who was in charge of dealing with my application had just forgotten. I called them and the guy who answered the phone heard the story and said, ‘OK, wait a minute, let me go check.’ I had actually been putting together a plan for a game, and it was for pro wrestling, because I was really into pro wrestling, and Human had a very famous series at the time called Fire
Pro Wrestling. Coincidentally, the director of that series had just turned in his resignation letter, and they had no one there in the company to replace him. So I’m talking to them on the phone and they had known from my application that I was into pro wrestling. They said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come down for an interview?’ I went in for the first interview, they liked me a lot, and called me back a few days after that for a second interview, where
“IT’S BEEN 20 YEARS, BUT THOSE FEELINGS THAT PEOPLE HAD HAVE STAYED WITH THEM”
I met people higher up in the company. It was all smooth sailing from there, and I got hired. I took over on Super Fire Pro Wrestling
3 Final Bout as director, and I wanted to take the series to another place, now that I’d proven myself. Originally I was told that Super Fire Pro 3 was going to be the last one Human ever made, but because it sold really, really well, they decided to make one more. Now, Fire Pro as a series was something that wrestling fans can really get into and enjoy. It was a simulation game for them. And I felt like in that regard it had always been really well made. So this time I wanted to focus more on the story. I had a narrative that I really wanted to tell, and I thought it would be really interesting, so I consulted with my boss and he said, ‘Yeah, go for it.’ He was a little philosophical, but it was something I really wanted to try to do.
The ending [which sees the game’s protagonist kills himself] got a big response. At the time, there was no Internet, right? Back then, games had a little questionnaire inside the box that you filled in and mailed back. Human got tons of them, big boxes full. Some said things like, ‘Die!’, ‘I want my money back!’, ‘I will never forgive you for this!’, ‘Bitch!’ They were like cursed letters! It was such a negative response. The criticism we got back was immense. But within that, maybe ten or 20 per cent of the people said, ‘That was really cool – thanks.’ During my time in the industry I’ve met lots of people – even now – who come up to me and say, ‘That was my favourite one.’ It’s amazing. Even though it’s been 20 years, those memories and those feelings that people have towards the game have stayed with them.”
THE SILVER CASE
Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher ASCII Entertainment (Remaster: Grasshopper Manufacture/NIS America) Format PS one (Remaster: PC, PS4) Release 1999 (Remaster: 2016 (PC), early 2017 (PS4))
“After I left Human, I tried to get about ten people from there as my core staff at Grasshopper Manufacture. They didn’t all come in at once; it was more gradual – this person, then that person, then this person and so on. We had to quickly think about what our first game should be. We realised that we had about a year, maybe a year and a half to put this thing out. At this point, there were five people within the company. I considered it firstly from a management perspective: what can five people reasonably create within this span of time? I was the director and the scenario writer, I had a couple of graphic artists, a programmer and a planner: that was the core group of five people who made the game. While at Human I made adventure games – you would probably call them visual novels – and so I knew exactly what went into them. For this one, I wanted to do something new, something original within the genre. I figured that writing the story was a large thing – that would essentially be more than half the game. But I wanted the programmers to be more involved with the graphical elements and presentation. I had them create windows that could be arranged and moved within a 4:3 display. So you’ve got windows that move, you have a cursor that comes in and locks onto things, you’ve got things switching around and moving within the background. Doing all this allowed us to give the programmers something more interesting to do, to have control over how the story was being portrayed, and how the game would look. The whole concept of giving the programmers a little bit of that area of control as well as this desire to make something new is what birthed the film window engine. No one had really ever made something like that before.
The original version was made by just five people, and I thought it was pretty good as it was. I thought we’d really accomplished something special there. That said, I began to think about people in the west, who never really got a chance to play this game. And so the original idea for doing a remaster or a remake came about nine years ago. The question, especially around that time, was: is there really a need for this? As you know, visual novels have an incredible amount of text, and so getting that translated properly, in a way that really expressed my vision, was something that really concerned me, and
so it went on the back burner for a while. Then, about two years ago, a company called AGM [Active Gaming Media] approached me and said, ‘We’d like to do a remake of The Silver Case.’ For the translation part, they had three people in the company who were foreigners who had played the game, so they could triplecheck it. They guaranteed me a perfect translation, and that really moved my heart. Also, I noticed that the scene overall has changed: indie games have become more popular, and I’ve noticed that more young people are willing to try games like visual novels, so it seemed to me that now was the right time to do it. I really felt a strong desire to bring The Silver Case to today’s young gamers.”
KILLER 7 Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Capcom Format GameCube, PS2 Release 2005
“The whole thing came completely out of the blue. One day, I just heard from [Shinji] Mikami: ‘I want to meet you.’ Which really surprised me – I mean, Mikami’s a big deal, right? He told me to come to Osaka. So I’m sitting there in the Capcom offices waiting, the door opens and Mikami’s there with these sunglasses on and he just says, ‘I’m Mikami.’ So my first impression was that he’s kind of a scary guy! And then he talked for about one hour – the conversation was onedirectional. A little bit was about games, but most of it was about other things. And the last thing he said was, ‘Let’s make a game together.’ Even before then, Mikami had always praised Human’s games, mainly because the ideas in those games were the kind that you really didn’t get so much from larger companies. Within the group that Mikami controlled, there was a guy named Shu Takumi – you know, the Ace Attorney guy. He was a fan of The Silver Case and Grasshopper, and he went to bat for me to Mikami. This group was called Development Group 4, they had five titles they were supposed to make for GameCube, and he basically said, ‘One of these five is yours, and we’re going to make it together.’
From the beginning, it was decided it would be an action-adventure game. Very early on, we had this idea of the Killer 7, of this person with multiple personalities. That was set pretty much from the very start. The issue was how to build gameplay around that concept. We made this special shader for the graphics, and then we came up with the on-rails movement system, and we built it out piece by piece from there. Originally, it was decided it would be an FPS for certain parts of the game. Because of my experience, I was more focused on the adventure game aspect, but whenever Mikami would play it, he’d say, ‘We need to get this moving, speed things up a bit.’ I feel that Mikami’s biggest contribution was giving this feedback and giving it more of an action-game feeling and a better tempo.
The impact it had, I didn’t expect at all. When we were making the game, all we were thinking about was making the game, thinking, ‘How can we make this as good as possible?’ So it was not really something that I considered in any way, shape or form. Throughout the development, I was protected by Mikami, I was taken under his wing. This guy, the man who created Biohazard – essentially a new genre, a new way to play – and he was giving me absolute freedom to create whatever I wanted! He actually laughed at some of the more shocking scenes; he thought they were hysterical. I assume he took that to the next level and protected me – I never got any pushback from Capcom personally. With that freedom he gave me, I knew I had to give 110 per cent and I knew I had to create something
worthy of having Mikami’s name on it. I worked really, really hard to make sure that I didn’t shame Mikami, that I didn’t produce something that would reflect poorly upon him. I felt that I shouldn’t actually worry about the sales numbers or about what kind of impact it might have. The only thing I could do as a creator was to make the best game I could. And I feel that paid off.
I hear from a lot of people that the game they most want me to remaster is
Killer 7. All the time. So I’d like to do that someday. I’m blindly searching for a way for it to happen. Capcom is pretty co-operative, but because the game was made on GameCube – which is a very special, particular piece of hardware – it’s really hard to bring it to modern consoles. Rather than it being a problem of budget, it’s more a problem of technology. Provided we could find a way to figure out how to get over that technological barrier, then you never know.”
NO MORE HEROES Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Marvelous Entertainment/ Ubisoft/Rising Star Games Format Wii Release 2007
“You can clearly see the influence from Mikami in my games after Killer 7. When we were making it, I would have lots of talks with Mikami, and he would explain various things to me, so I learned a lot about his approach to making an action game, but also how he thought about various aspects of game development in general. Before No More
Heroes, there were two games that came out that I did for Namco Bandai as they were then [ Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked and Blood+: One Night Kiss], and those served as the foundations of what became
No More Heroes. At that point, I felt I had really figured out what I wanted to do in terms of action. I would describe Mikami as my ‘master’ – like I’m a swordsman and he’s the guy who trains me to learn the techniques.
I honestly don’t remember saying I wanted it to be as violent as Manhunt 2. For me, Manhunt 2 was a really dark game, whereas No More Heroes had a pop sensibility to it. It’s a world of violence, but you have that playful element to it – that’s what I was aiming for. I’m not always trying to be outrageous or provocative. When we were first talking to Marvellous and discussed that the game was going to be on the Wii, instantaneously I thought, ‘Well, the Wii Remote looks like a beam katana’. And the second idea came right after the first in a flash of inspiration: ‘OK, then you charge it like this!’ [Mimes shaking action] I thought: gamers all over the world are going to laugh about this – they’re going to love it.
I didn’t mean for the open world to be a joke! What happened is that I had this idea to have a small town that would have an open-world feel to it, and frankly we probably just tried to put in too much in too limited an amount of time. After that, it became seen as a joke, but I wasn’t really aiming for that. By the same token, I feel that the world we created within the game maybe lent itself to becoming a joke.”
SHADOWS OF THE DAMNED Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Electronic Arts Format 360, PS3 Release 2011
“I had this game plan from the very beginning for Shadows Of The Damned, and Mikami jumped in to help me with it. I was lead director, then Massimo [Guarini] came in and took over as director, and the
action parts specifically were fine-tuned by Mikami as the producer. Mikami and I both went out to start pitching the game to people. We got an agent and we went all over the place in America and really put a lot of effort into it. Finally, we went to EA and we gave them essentially a finished game plan. Bear in mind that we had no guns in the game originally, no guns whatsoever. And EA read it, and the first thing they came back with was: ‘You need to put guns in the game.’ Maybe that’s just the reality of a Japanese developer working with a foreign publisher or something, but there were all these communication issues. I don’t know if ‘disappointed’ is the right word to describe how we felt about
Shadows. Both Mr Mikami and I are very proud of the game that we made, but the feeling we both had at the end of it was, ‘Well, this wasn’t quite the game we set out to make, was it?’
The Big Boner was a scenario that I had particular trouble with, mainly because I’d take it back to EA and they’d say, ‘No, no, no.’ There were like five or six rounds of this. An interesting thing within that, though, is that every time I’d write something, Massimo would add even more. The staff were really into it. So the Big Boner and all that kind of stuff came from Massimo more than me. He just kept adding to what was already there, and it just kind of got bigger and bigger!”
LOLLIPOP CHAINSAW Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment/Kadokawa Games Format 360, PS3 Release 2012 KILLER IS DEAD Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Kadokawa Games/Marvelous USA/Deep Silver Format 360, PC, PS3 Release 2013
“Lollipop Chainsaw was a collaborative work. I feel like that game was more or less created by [Grasshopper] staff. My role was more of a producer, and a supervisor for some of the action parts. Warner Bros sent people over to work with us on it, and the Japanese publisher Kadokawa Games sent staff over, so it really was a collaboration between these three different companies. Warner Bros came to us and said, ‘We want James Gunn to be involved with this.’ Grasshopper staff wrote the original scenario, then James took it and did his thing, which came back, and then it came to me and I rewrote some of it. So there was all this back-andforth during the process.
With Killer Is Dead, I knew when we were making it that there was going to be controversy about Gigolo Mode. I thought it might not be a good thing. But Kadokawa Games actually told us to put it in there. They said they wanted it. I know how foreign people are going to react to what we put out there. I wouldn’t say I have regrets, necessarily. However, one thing I’d definitely say is that when Killer
Is Dead was first announced and information started to come out, we had a lot of press meetings and they all wrote that up. Even now, people talk about it! I said it at the time, at PAX, the same thing about Gigolo Mode – I did hear that a lot of people were really negative about it. And that game had a fantastic combat system. It was made by a guy at Grasshopper called Hideyuki Shin, who was the director of the game and he put his heart and soul into it, and… I’m
“THE FIRST THING EA CAME BACK WITH WAS: ‘YOU NEED TO PUT GUNS IN THE GAME’”
starting to get worked up about it, so I’m not going to say much more.
Even though I wasn’t as heavily involved [with the likes of Lollipop
Chainsaw and Killer Is Dead], these games still carry my signature because I always do the planning at the very beginning. The original idea and planning – that’s me. Even with Shadows Of The Damned, I wanted to be the director until the very end. But I’m the president of the company, with all these managerial roles to take care of, and there’s all this paperwork that I have to do. It’s come to the point where I just have to trust the staff I’ve hired and leave it in their hands to create something good. There’s also the issue of having to write scenarios and things like that, which is very time-consuming, and so as things are progressing with certain projects, I have to step away from those and work on other things.
Yes, I would like to be more involved. However, as the company gets bigger, as our budgets increase, I need to be more mindful of all these different factors that come into it. One big one, of course, would be publishers – they always have a say in what’s going to be made. And so because the budgets are bigger and there are all these out-of-control elements, I feel like it’s a matter of course that I have to step away and leave things to the staff and be able to let things go like that. Because I’ve been doing this for 18 years now within this company. Because of the current trajectory of the company, it’s just the way things have to be right now.”
LET IT DIE Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher GungHo Online Entertainment Format PS4 Release TBA
“Probably the biggest change on Let It Die from when it started out as Lily Bergamo is that it’s moved away from being a story-driven game. Because it has asynchronous online play, you really can’t do a story-driven experience with that. Originally, the main character in Lily
Bergamo was supposed to be this person called Tae. Now, in Let It Die, you – the player – are the main character.
I’m executive director on the game, which I guess means I’m sort of looking after everything! Let It Die is a game where everyone’s come together and added their own ideas, and it’s all moved on from there. It’s not the type of game where one person is responsible. Grasshopper is now part of a group owned by GungHo Online Entertainment, so some of those guys are involved in it, too. This time, I’ve had a lot to do with the planning, and there’ll be times when I say, ‘I think we should do it like this,’ but even in that situation, because we’re leaving it more to the staff to figure out, they won’t necessarily take my ideas into consideration.
There are definitely times where I’ll call staff – not necessarily in a meeting – but I’ll call them and say, ‘Look, you’re going to do it like this.’ Speaking specifically about this game, originally when your player dies, they just had simple continue/quit options. But I really wanted this character we made called Kiwako to appear and direct the player. For things like that, I will put my foot down. It’s a game where rhythm is very important, because it’s a game that you’re supposed to play for a while, and so these are the kind of areas where I feel like the granular details are really important. Any time I feel that’s being affected, I’ll definitely call over staff and say, ‘Hey, let’s do it this way.’”
Suda’s obsession with wrestling surfaced in the Fire Pro series, and it’s been a recurring motif ever since
In Super Fire ProWrestling Special’s polarising ending, the protagonist, alone at home, takes his own life
An episodic follow-up to The Silver Case, The Silver Case:Ward25 was released in 2005 for mobile devices
British culture has heavily influenced Suda’s work – from Killer 7’ s references to The Smiths, to NoMore Heroes being named after the Stranglers song
Travis Touchdown was partly based on Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville, who Suda reportedly wanted to voice the hero
Suda is careful to ensure people are correctly credited for their contributions to his studio’s games. Damned’s in-game fables seem to bear his fingerprints, but Suda insists that in fact they were all the work of director Massimo Guarini
Lollipop Chainsaw might not have been Suda’s biggest hit with critics, but it’s Grasshopper Manufacture’s most successful release commercially by some distance
Despite Killer Is Dead’s disappointing sales, its director, Hideyuki Shin, is now helming Let It Die
Grasshopper and GungHo are playing coy on Let It Die’s release date. It may even be out by the time you read this