Goichi Suda may not be opening a new studio in Canada, the US or the UK any time soon, but his ambitions and ideas are firmly parked in the Western hemisphere.
That doesn’t seem novel, but it is. Yes; a long list of Japanese studios today carry their publishers’ burden of building internationally-appealing brands – games that can become global, not national, blockbusters. But this is often born from the necessity of justifying rising development costs and, of course, Japan’s own cautious post-recession market.
Suda’s Western aspirations come from a different place. He and his studio Grasshopper has, for years, been driven by an underlying desire to tap into the West’s cultural conscience. Grasshopper finds its passion in exploring and playing with unfamiliar tastes and ideas – customs and fashions which are, ultimately, foreign to the studio.
The studio’s past successes – both commercially and critically – may lie in this distinction.
Develop has five minutes with the Grasshopper CEO as he tours Europe to promote his latest title, No More Heroes 2.
Firstly, are you pleased with the critics’ response to No More Heroes 2?
Yes I am very pleased with the critical reception of No More Heroes 2 so far. We obviously had experience already to create the game for the Wii, so by the time we developed the sequel we knew our way around the system very well. What I was most happy with was the 2D sections in the game. They managed to work very well for the game and also for the Wii.
The sequel wasn’t just focused on the Western market, but it the content of the game is more suited to Western tastes.
A lot of developers from Japan speak of the struggle in trying to appeal to the Western market. Why does your studio manage to overcome these issues?
I think it’s down to character, in our case. Travis Touchdown is a character that appeals to Western tastes. I don’t think it matters what country you’re in to appreciate the action of the game – as long as it’s inherently fun, people will enjoy it.
Your projects so far have been so well targeted to the Western market, I’ve always wondered if you would open up a studio outside of Japan.
[Laughs] I don’t speak English! I have to learn about the language, then I’ll think about it.
A number of studios have joined the path that Grasshopper is on and have built core games for the Wii, but the likes of Platinum Games and Visceral look like they are not going to repeat their efforts after just one roll of the dice. How much is persistence with the Wii console a key to making a successful title out of it?
Well, the reason why I wanted to create No More Heroes 2 was, in fact, because of the story. A lot of the feedback we got was talking about [the game’s protagonist] Travis Touchdown. Also, we have a lot of fans telling us that the system for the game really worked well with the Wii’s hardware, so even before we started working on No More Heroes 2 we knew the interface would allow us to make something good.
Grasshopper is still an independent outfit and it continues to grow. How large has your workforce become since it was founded?
We’ve now doubled in size, we have around eighty people now.
And you recently made a star signing, Akira Yamaoka. What will he add to the studio?
He will give us more leadership and creativity. He has the skills to lead our team to a certain level and make us a more powerful developer. The people I look for at Grasshopper are the types who have a strong passion, whether they have lots of experience or little.
Where does Grasshopper see its future?
We’re indie developers so we can really decide on which platform we make games for, though in terms of our relationships with our publisher, we sometimes have to meet their requests. That’s a priority. But I’m very interested in creating downloadable content somehow, I’m interested in working on the PSN and XBLA platforms.