It might seem weird that Japanese independent studio Grasshopper Manufacture is partnering up with US powerhouse publisher EA; but it seems weirder to me that wacky, artsy Suda 51 is pairing off with serious, horror-loving Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame.
I went into my interview with the two Japanese developers with a bunch of questions I knew I couldn't ask; I lived in Japan long enough to learn that the direct approach is usually not the best. The questions I did ask, though, had some fun answers:
"What do you think of MadWorld?" I shot this one off at Suda directly and he didn't even wait for the translator. His face lit up and he exclaimed something about how cool it looked - like Sin City. And something about how he had a similar idea, but my Japanese ain't that great, so I had to wait for the translator to explain that Suda had a similar idea for a futuristic game that now he couldn't do because it would look too much like MadWorld.
Mikami didn't seem as thrilled. He's an "external board member" at Platinum Games, so he probably knows all the guys on MadWorld's dev team and wouldn't want to comment on anything of theirs that could be secret. Mikami is the man for horror, though, and that's how this odd partnership came about.
Suda 51 makes his games with a story first and fits them to genre later. His newest idea (the mysterious new project to be published by EA) seemed to fit well with the horror genre and so he took it to Mikami.
Now we get into globalization business talk. Skip this paragraph if you don't give a damn. The Japanese gaming industry is mostly closed off from Western gaming; at least, they're not as chummy as the US gaming industry is with the European industry. The tendency for independent developers in Japan is to find a big studio with a Western presence (Capcom, Sega, etc.) and work through them. But every independent developer is always afraid of having their idea screwed with in the name of brand marketing, and in Japan, the eternal "We'll think about it" runaround keeps games from getting made for years at a time. Not so with EA. Mikami and Suda pitched their idea and received an instant "When can we start?" which lead to GHM's new partnership with EA. So while it might look weird on paper to see Mikami paired with Suda and GHM paired with EA - it all makes sense in the global view of gaming politics.
Mikami especially wants to give Japanese developers the chance to go global; and Suda says collaboration is the future of gaming. There are a lot of rock star developers in Japan (Kojima, Miyamoto, Itagaki, etc.) that want to take their ideas to a worldwide audience and that's always good for the market.
Or at least it's good for me - I heart Japanese games.
I also heart horror games, so this is going to be an amazing year for me - Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil 5, Dead Space... That's an awful lot of horror games on the market already.
What do Suda and Mikami think about the possibility of too many horror games? Not much, really. They like horror too - and more horror can only be good. Bear in mind though, that Suda is an action man first and foremost. So whatever we see from the dream team is going to be a blend of action horror; with Suda as the action and Mikami as the horror. We will not see Resident Evil: The No More Heroes Experience, and we probably won't see Killer 7 Part 2: Electric Boogaloo.
The last thing we talked about in that awkward interview of my lousy Japanese, their lousy English and the translator trying to keep up (don't you just love language barriers?) was the concept of developing games for multiple platforms. Like Epic Games, GHM doesn't believe in making a game and then trying to squeeze it onto a system in a watered-down form to fit the audience; but they are determined to bring their game to as many people as possible.
The number one challenge, Suda says, is developing for the Wii. Its audience is less cut-and-dried than the 360/PS3/PC crowd (what with the inclusion of old people, young people and casual gamers) and what appeals to Wii people might not appeal to 360/PS3/PC people. He just has to have faith that his idea is good enough on its own to bring in the fans and not worry so much about maxing out an audience on a specific console.
I've got to say I was feeling pretty good about the mystery project when I was ushered out of the door. It normally irks me when a studio gives the "we can't tell you" spiel, but Suda 51 and Shinji Mikami are guys who know what they're doing. And hopefully EA trusts them to make an awesome game as much as I do; but then, if they didn't, they wouldn't have made them partners, right?