Katamari Damacy creator discusses past and future projects, the state of Japan, and playgrounds

Interview: Keita Takahashi

Is it truly surprising that Keita Takahashi’s next project is a child’s playground? If anything, the iconoclastic game designer always appears to be on the verge of walking out on the game business.

Though he won high praise from the industry for creating the Katamari Damacy series, that praise was seldom returned. Takahashi wants to see a decoupling of the art and business of making games; he is openly critical of the global business that drives the industry forward, and insists that his ultimate aim is simply to make people laugh and be happy.

Speaking at the fourth annual GameCity festival, Takahashi sits down with Develop to discuss his past and future game projects, the state of the Japanese industry itself and, of course, designing playgrounds.

Many were surprised to hear Capcom’s Keiji Inafune recently say at TGS that the Japanese industry is, essentially, dead and finished. What was your reaction to his comments?
[Pause] I didn’t actually hear the interview, I only read about it so I don’t know what the real meaning behind what he said was.

But I do understand to a certain degree that the industry as a whole is pretty much going downhill in Japan.

[Laughs, long pause, laughs, pause] It is a difficult question to answer, but pretty much all the publishers are after the money these days. Videogames are seen as a business overall. That’s definitely a reason why Japan is in decline.

Since the global games market has matured now, gamers always expect something to be put in front of them. Content is more driven by [demand] rather than ideas. So we don’t see many people coming out with brand new ideas, which is why the market is saturated at the moment.

Speaking of the game development process being run as a business, do you feel there’s a pressure on Japanese developers to create global hits?
Well, essentially, everything has become too big; the markets are too big, the companies which develop games are too big, and the publishers are too big when compared to the heydays of the industry.

I think one solution is to split the big international companies into different sectors, and make each sector focused on the market they’re based in. I think if this is done the industry could return to better times.

That being said, surely some developers like the idea of their games being appreciated all over the world?
This is just my personal opinion of course, but I believe videogames should always be a medium that everyone around the world can understand and enjoy. Forget the money side of things, games should just be pure fun and enjoyment.

Do you have a personal or professional interest in western games?
I haven’t really had much of a chance really to play any western games, but there are aspects to them that I am really interested in.

I one day would like to partner with a developer in the west and create a game with them.

Any studios in particular? Lionhead? Epic? Rockstar?
I’m not sure who. At IndieCade this year I had this idea for an FPS where the player’s character grows in size, gets bigger and bigger as the game progresses. But as you get bigger some weapons are too small to use, so you have to improvise; maybe throw airplanes at the enemies. That sort of stuff.

So I have this idea of making a fun and unique FPS, with the right team it would be a good FPS.

It’s a tremendous idea.
[Laughs, nods]

It’s great to see you here again at GameCity; you seem to have an attachment with the festival. Tell us more about why you’ve decided to fly over.
GameCity is a really positive event for the game industry, and I’m glad to see it’s growing in size as well. For this year’s event I haven’t yet had the chance to see everything; much of my time here has been on the playground plans so far.

Why do you want to design a playground?
I’ve been asked this a lot and I’m not quite sure why. I think that, nothing has really changed in my objectives. I want to make people happy, I want to create something that everyone can enjoy.

Of course, a lot of Katamari Damacy fans will hope you still have ideas for new videogames.
[Sarcasm] Of course they do! [Laughs]

I hope that people understand that what I’m doing with the playground is not a matter of shifting from one thing to another. This is all part of a single path I’m taking, my work is related, and the things I make are just branches of the same path.

I do have ideas for new games, but I think the one game I’m thinking about right now is even harder to explain than Noby Noby Boy.

Were you pleased with how Noby Noby Boy turned out?
Bringing the title out to the market is an achievement for sure, but for me personally, a bit more could have been done to the game. I’m not completely satisfied with the game, in terms of quality, due to the restrictions on budgets.

I won’t go in to what I wanted to add to the game, because that’s a really long list of things, but as an overall assessment, I think the game could have been much more detailed and easier for everyone to understand.

Ultimately, with Noby Noby Boy, I wanted to break the barriers between toy and game.

Your last title was released as a digital download, exclusively for one console. Is this something you’d like to return to?

Firstly, the PS3 exclusivity was initially decided only because we were developing the idea during the early stages of this generation, when it was difficult for us to go multiplatform.

It’s good that digital titles allow you to add things to them after they are released, it gives you room for new ideas. Though I see that as positive, I’m undecided on the digital movement itself.

The last time I spoke to you, I asked if you had an ultimate ambition in your career, though at the time you said you didn’t know. Are you any closer to a vision of what you ultimately want to achieve?

[Long pause] Essentially, I want to make people laugh and be happy. That’s all I need.

Thanks to Hidetoshi Nakatsukasa for translation

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