Is there anyone left in the video games industry that closely resembles Suda 51? We got the chance to talk to the creator of Killer 7, No More Heroes about his unique style, Shadows of the Damned, and whether he is a good boss (or not)!
“People say that Grasshopper has a punk style,” begins Suda 51, “but to me, personally, I think I’m post punk.”
Suda 51 – the creator of Killer 7, No More Heroes and, now, Shadows of the Damned - is, to put it mildly, a pretty interesting guy.
He’s supposedly 43, but bounds with the energy of a 5 year old loaded on red cordial. Teenagers wish they had his zest. He laughs at everything. He leans forward in anticipation of your next question, like you’re about to reveal the final resting place of the Holy Grail. I’m pretty sure I’m Suda’s last interview of the day, but he engages as if I was his first - as if my questions were the most important questions ever asked by man or bhudda. He treats them like gospel, and answers sincerely.
Simply put – there’s no one else like him in video games. Goichi Suda may be known as Suda 51, but he’s undoubtedly one of a kind.
They should have called him Suda 1.
“I grew up when video games were initially created,” continues Suda, “so I consider myself to be a next generation creator. And I think it’s really important for our generation to leave our own legend or legacy. We really have to come up with our own movement or revolutionary invention. That’s my objective. That’s my mission and that’s my style.”
Suda 51 is always referred to as a “punk” game designer, as a designer intent on bending and warping the rules of traditional game design. Now he claims to be ‘post-punk’ - more concerned with embracing improved aesthetics, and pushing forward, taking what he needs from gaming’s storied history, tossing the rest to the side.
“Punk is not just about breaking things or changing things, you know?” he says, after being asked which parts of game design have to be revolutionised. “You have to respect history and what’s relevant. That’s punk to me. Music is similar – you have logic and systems in music that you have to follow, but you work within that.”
“That’s punk to me.”
In an industry that’s notoriously collaborative, where the individual efforts of some get mired in the collective mass, Suda 51 has somehow managed to retain his unique voice. With more people involved in development than ever before, we wondered how Suda managed to keep making Suda games.
“I think my staff completely understand my style,” he says, thoughtfully, “and they think of it whilst creating.
“From there they just achieve it, they make that vision real.”
Is it a matter of strong leadership? Leading by example?
“Not sure!” He says laughing. In Japanese, I think I hear him asking his translator if he is a good boss.
She giggles hysterically.
“I’m not sure if I’m a strong leader,” he continues, “but I think it’s important to give your team the feedback precisely and quickly, and that’s what I try to do.”
For Shadows of the Damned, Suda 51 is collaborating with another veteran of Japanese game development, Shinji Mikami, creator of the Resident Evil franchise. We wondered how two titans of the industry managed to co-exist?
“Actually,” he claims, “we listen to one another quite well! Shinji Mikami has given me a lot of good support, he’s really helped mould his style into mine. It really worked out well - it’s a great partnership.”
Watching and playing the opening section of the game, we almost sensed the parts Suda was responsible for (the ridiculous dialogue, the art design, the dick jokes) and the sections Mikami had influenced (the Resident Evil style mechanics, the pacing). Were certain development tasks handled by the other? How did the work together specifically?
“We discuss things together of course, and at the same time we have our own tasks – that really is the key to a successful partnership,” he says.
“It’s not really calculated to be honest – it’s just is what it is!
“I think when I write, I imagine how the game will flow, and the gameplay. I kind of stress certain things in each scenario for the designers to work on. I really try and get all the details to work together. I guess instant thinking is really the key.”
I get a tap on the shoulder. My time is up. It feels as though I’d queued up for a theme park ride, rather than an interview. Other game journalists hover excitedly, whispering: ‘what question did you ask him?’ ‘What did he say?’ ‘Did he sign your copy of No More Heroes?’
Suda 51 has a charisma – that much is obvious - and it’s difficult not get wrapped up in it. Perhaps most importantly, however, it seems as though his games get doused in that same zest! A Suda 51 game is a Suda 51 game, quite probably as a direct result of that charisma - his red cordial energy burst.
But in an industry where individuality can be brow beaten out of existence, I’m glad Suda 51 exists. More importantly, however, I’m glad his video games exist.
And I’m glad I can get the chance to play them.