Hippon Super! – November 3, 1994
Hippon Super is a gaming magazine with a slightly different tone than that of the more mainstream Weekly Famitsu. There are a couple adult games featured in the magazine, and even the interview with Shigesato Itoi has a different tone than usual. There isn’t much new information in this interview, but there are some really bizarre metaphors and confusing meta-speak.
I remember Itoi mentioning in another interview how he was careful with all the details, right down to the pauses in the script and text scrolling. In this interview, he states that the sound guy was so particular that he even had a fit about those small details. Perhaps Itoi wasn’t the only one polishing it up after all…?
This interview takes places soon after the release of MOTHER 2 and two months after the informative Weekly Famitsu interview.
From the Eyes of MOTHER 2;
All Eyes on MOTHER 2
“MOTHER could be my miniature garden.”
— When we hear the impressions of players who’ve finished MOTHER 2, there’s been a great response overall. We check online game forums pretty often, and there’s a lot of good things written.
Itoi I’m so glad to hear that. Since the internet is a closed-in area, people can really run their mouths off, y’know? When MOTHER came out, a lot of people were picking apart all its faults. I almost thought, well, I’m already a goner to these people–but since MOTHER 2 was so well-received, I’m satisfied that I’ve finally gotten across what I wanted to.
— The only thing that was hard was when it would start lagging and everything slowed down.
Itoi Yeah, the over-processing.
— But I’m sure that means you absolutely insisted on keeping the rest, even if it weighed down that aspect of it.
Itoi If I hadn’t cared so much I wouldn’t have been allocating everything with such horrible balance, with the limitless character counts and eight megabits [out of 24] of sound alone (laughs).
— Your attention to the sound is amazing. How much of a say did you have in it?
Itoi It’s all because of the people who had far more of a read on it than I ever could. [Music: Keiichi Suzuki, Hirokazu Tanaka] They basically put it together and told me okay, here’s the intro music. Then the person in charge of the sound was extremely particular on the text scrolling speed and the length of the pauses put between lines and such. I started wondering if we were running into programming bugs because he kept sending stuff back to me. I’d just pause and blurt out, “sooo……?” (laughs)
— That was a first, huh?
Itoi I got hounded on for some sound being really outdated or the text windows looking really shabby! I’d start wondering what the heck he was talking about. If the words within it weren’t interesting, then it’d be pointless.
For example, say there’s a tap faucet, and its “water” is video games. People are going to sell that water in all kinds of ways, with one guy saying it produces rainbow-colored water, another guy claiming red water, and still another saying it’s mint-flavored. At that point, aren’t they basically selling “hardware-in-software”? But all I want to drink is safe, delicious, plain old water. I mean, it’s tap water. You can drink as much as you want and not get sick of it, and if you’re presumably going to be drinking the next day, too, then it’s better off without colors. That’s the kind of approach I had going into it.
But if modern games are pieces of art, then they’re quickly evolving into realism. If looking like a photograph is the standard for what is highly esteemed, then it’s no different from some lady praising a wall calendar from some bank.
Look at Chibi Maruko-chan. She doesn’t take that long to draw, but it sells because it’s interesting, right? But if that series came to the Famicom, are people gonna complain the graphics are too tiny? Yes, they are. (laughs) But when it comes to hopeless poverty like that, I say live your life only alongside those who are poor. So to all the people who love the rainbow-colored games they’ve bought before, well… all I can do is apologize. (laughs)
— When I was playing the game and reached the end, I was so upset that it was almost over. But I suppose there are people who were dissatisfied with MOTHER 2 because it makes you feel that way.
Itoi Well, with that–children, for example, get really excited when you say hey, we’re going out for sushi! But even with sushi, there are yummy ones and bad-tasting ones. Adults are the ones that are particular about which sushi they eat, but it’s hard to get a kid to see how delicious a sushi is when he’s still ecstatic about getting to eat it in the first place. When they want three pieces instead of five, then all you can say is “Hey! You can go get your own dang sushi!” I’m not some kind of merchant. I know I can’t bring myself to sell something just by doing what it takes to please everyone. So I’d just tell people who want sushi and don’t care what it is to go and eat whatever, then. Oh, but–my sushi might end up just being a little ball of rice. I’m going for simplicity, after all.
— Did you have a drive to make a game that adults can enjoy?
Itoi Yeah, of course. I mean, there are less and less adults playing the Final Fantasy series. Plus, kids who play the Famicom are being called dorks by kids who don’t play the Famicom. Just like kids who like manga are told “So you go to Comiket, huh?” and suddenly aren’t popular anymore. So it’s kind of my dream for kids who play the Famicom to become popular.
— A Famicom that popular kids play, too?
Itoi Yeah, that! I think it’s really critical.
— It really is getting bad, isn’t it?
Itoi Like how band members are immediately popular just from being band members.
— I see where you’re coming from. Some stuffy artist out there will hear the music from MOTHER 2 and say hey, that’s pretty good, and that’ll be one way of getting into the game.
Itoi Yeah, like, “Whoa, that’s a fretless bass!” So I want it to be like a game made by a group of friends who grew up in the same culture. It’s not always about finding records that are awesome for having been pumped out by the production equipment of [Japanese record company conglomerate] Being, Inc.
— But what’s interesting is the kids who listen to music like that are the only ones that aren’t even aware of structures like Being.
Itoi If so, I’d like them to at least get a taste of the aura of Flipper’s Guitar, or something.
— It is about the aura, isn’t it? So which parts of MOTHER 2 were you particularly careful about regarding aura?
Itoi I’d say… all of it. The story, but the script was the main focus. I’ve got characters with a vivid reality to them, but the script lines that didn’t seem very realistic were very frustrating.
— There are a lot of tricks in the script and other areas that are borderline breaking the unwritten “standards” of games.
Itoi That’s not true–I’m following the rules. (laughs)
— Well, on top of having kept the standards, then.
Itoi Yeah… For example, the adults in MOTHER 2 tell lies. Telling a lie in a game means that the functionality of direction leading a player through the game becomes increasingly unreliable. Even though everything would be fine if they’d just said “go that way”, saying something like “If… if you go that way… you won’t like it” puts the game functionality in a tough spot. But realistically speaking, we’re surrounded every day of our lives by people who aren’t entirely honest or straightforward. That means it’d only make sense for someone like that to show up in a game–I see it as a given. The people who say it “fits” are the ones that get it.
— Going back to the script, there are quite a few lines that make the player acutely aware of their world outside the game. Was that intentional?
Itoi It was intentional. There’s no way I could express every little thing in a game. Its world isn’t exactly one of actual realism, so I’m barely able to maintain that intention along with the standards of what is “just a game”. If you don’t let out some of the hot air once in a while, it’s going to become really obvious how suspicious it is. Then people will really say, well, it’s just a game.
— MOTHER 2 is generally about “fated heroes”. Thanks to that, the gap between fantasy and reality is filled in strategically enough to quell any suspicions.
Itoi I don’t think there was any other way to do it.
— I had a feeling the cameraman was sort of serving that same purpose.
Itoi Well, someone else had come up with new logic that made it an entirely natural occurrence. I was really impressed by that. (laughs)
— Like you can’t bring yourself to accept a “meta” world. (laughs)
Itoi Yeah, it’s not meta. I didn’t know what it would take to let that cameraman be a part of that world. It’s actually more childish to do it that way; it’s more pleasant to just leave it as meta.
— So it’s the thought that you can’t accept?
Itoi I guess.
— Final Fantasy is a world that flatly refuses this meta perspective, but even so, everyone’s fine with it because it parallels with another time. Were there any reservations in using this same tactic with MOTHER 2?
Itoi That’s like having to choose whether it’s more fun to be required to follow a certain rhythm and chase things in order, or pull everything together all at once and carry it onward to wherever feels right.
— It’s clear that you at least kept things short.
Itoi I wanted to. I think there were more techniques I could have chosen from, though. We were five years late, but if it’d taken ten years, then there would have been even more to it. For example, if we could watch the things we’d done on a TV in a hotel room, that’d be fascinating. If we had an unlimited supply of time and manpower, we’d want to. But what I’d really like to try is something I was happy that [Satoshi] Tajiri mentioned: “When I reached my first battle scene I finally remembered that this was an RPG I’m playing.” Which means both the tone of the scenes and the controls are that of an action game.
— Oh, I get it. The controls are pretty similar.
Itoi Yeah. And I think it’d be most interesting if it could all pass as that. After all, action games are really luxurious; they don’t have set standards. So a great deal of MOTHER 2′s framework is based on how fun I think it would be if Super Mario could turn into an RPG with the graphics as-is.
— And it’s that desire that resulted in the game’s battle-entry method.
Itoi If it’s a really slow enemy, you can just run away. That part of the game-play is an action game. Whether that can be applied to the whole thing, well… RPGs aren’t fun when the player with the best manipulation of the controller wins. …There’s still a lot to figure out.
But we’re still talking about games in the context of what we know as “games”, so I think we need to take a closer look at it; if we remove the quirks and essences and things that make it a “game”, stripped bare it is just programming within a ROM to be played. It might be a bit of an adventure to get to that point, but if its visitor hasn’t abandoned it yet, then the world inside that ROM will only get more interesting. In America the Famicom is called “Nintendo Entertainment System”, right? It doesn’t say one word about games. I’d like to apply that logic.
–I don’t quite get exactly what that would entail, but do you mean it would be interactive in a way?
Itoi Miyamoto-san always hated RPGs, you know. He’d question whether battle scenes were really all that necessary. “Why can’t they just do rock paper scissors?” So I told him that without it, the game would be over in the blink of an eye. It’d be really passive, and without battles there would be no stress. There’d be no feeling of accomplishment when moving forward.
— So that’s what that “essence” of the game is.
Itoi And to make it feel more firsthand, I put in the rolling HP meter, involved chase scenes with monsters before entering battles, things like that. Even then, he questioned whether battles were necessary.
— That’s because he was sick of the battles, and the first Dragon Quest had battles as a major part of the game.
Itoi If you go to a beer factory, there’s beer that’s still not ready, called “young beer”. The alcohol content is low and it smells really strongly of barley. Everyone says it’s really good if you drink it cold, and marvels at how it’s the starting point of a good beer. (laughs) They just rant and rave about it. But if you turned that young beer into a product and sold it, there’s no way it would actually sell. (laughs) You can’t drink as much orange juice as you can beer, right? That’s the downfall of young beer, which is basically barley juice.
To make a long story short, I don’t think I’d play a finished ROM without battles if I knew the rest of the story and all that benefits it. But if you tell me to make one that you’ll play, I’ll do my best! That’s my goal! So it’s a question of what stressor could replace that of the battles.
— Also, the feeling that time has passed from the beginning of the game to the end is because of the battles up until that point.
Itoi Right? I’ve been thinking about that. It’s a part of MOTHER 2. Not just extending play time, but accentuating how important every moment is. When you put the Zombie Paper in the tent, you’ve got to spend a night, right? It takes time for it to work, and I’m not talking just a few moments. It needs to go through a process. It was my dream for people to see that as enjoyable. I don’t think it’s impossible for games to have a sense of speed come across through methods like that. So I’ll do my best to master that. I’ll focus really hard on pulling it off well in 3.