the allure of Wizardry
When I was in college I often went to game centers. I’d play Space Invaders, or maybe shoot balloons. But at that time I didn’t have any interest in computers, and I never imagined I’d personally own one. After college, when I was working as a writer, one of my co-workers, Doi Takayuki, owned an Apple II computer. He told me about this game he had called “Wizardry”, so I came over and checked it out. Unfortunately, the Japanese manual for the game then was full of errors, and you’d inevitably die right away. Still, we persevered and played late into the night, and the very next day I went out and bought an Apple II. (laughs) I bought it purely to play games.
Hajime Kimura, creator of Jungle Wars and other games, also came over to play. He was there for 2 or 3 days straight… as soon as he went home he bought an Apple II himself! Yuji Horii also joined our little “Wizardry Club,” and the two of us would go to a local cafe and talk endlessly about Wizardry. I had been into mahjongg and a variety of other games in the past, but I was so obsessed with Wizardry that I couldn’t tell which was my real life: the game or the everyday world. In our talks, Yuji and I often wondered about what made this game so addicting.
Horii began working Dragon Quest, and invited me to come help out. I had been thinking that I wanted to make a game so I jumped at the chance. Horii and I both had our start as freelance writers, and we felt that many games released at the time had poor writing. So for the game we were to create, we dedicated extra attention to the writing, even the monster’s names. It takes a name to spark the imagination, right?
Also, we both felt that its best if RPG protagonists don’t have too much personality, but are instead rather blank. If you make their personality too pronounced, the player will read the dialogue and think “hey, that’s not what I would say…” He’ll end up feeling like he’s just playing along to a pre-programmed script. So we imposed a limitation: the main character says nothing; the player has to imagine what was said from the NPC reactions and dialogue.
making an RPG
I worked with Enix on the Dragon Quest series up till DQIII, and after that I left to make Metal Max. When I make a game I don’t really follow a logical process, but I’m always thinking about whether the player would find it interesting or not. When I make dungeon maps, I like to use the graphics on the screen and then imagine I’m walking through it, creating the map as I go. Turning left here, a treasure box comes into view… I’m particular about that kind of thing. I’ve made so many dungeon maps now, at this point I can just use graph paper and get a feel for how big it should be on-screen. (laughs) Personally, I hate maps that are sloppy or disorganized. Its painful when I see maps where there’s no visual balance. But spending time on such things gets me scolded by the producer: “the players don’t care about that, hurry up and finish it!” (laughs)
Because I worked on Dragon Quest, when I think about making a new game, I feel strongly about not making just another Dragon Quest, but doing something different. But there’s a problem: I think Dragon Quest did certain things in the best way possible, and changing those things can result in a game that’s hard to understand, unwieldy, or annoying.
I think the “grammar” of RPGs has by now become mostly fixed. But the truth is, I want to smash those conventions. And yet its taken many years and many different people to refine these conventions, so I wonder if what we have now isn’t already the best or near-best form. In order to change it, I think we’re going to have to start changing the very mode of expression itself.
Lately, many have been talking about the degree of “freedom” in RPGs. Even within a set story, you can create freedom with sidequests and multiple endings. I don’t think these are especially great developments. Stories traditionally have 4 turning points, and when you think about the order of it all, a single beautiful pattern emerges. If you change one of those points, the beauty of the story will be damaged. Therefore, if you want people to be moved by your story, you shouldn’t give the player too much freedom.
For those who are thinking of making games in the future, I have this to say. You should know many things about the world if you want to create something. For example, if I tell a programmer “make it like that scene in that movie” and he doesn’t know the movie, he won’t know what I’m talking about. That’s what the commonly heard admonition “Watch movies!” is all about.
And remember, for every game people will have a variety of opinions; some will love it and some will hate it. So in the end, you can only rely on your own judgment when thinking whether something you appraise will be similarly liked by others. It’s important to keep that mindset. A game designer is a person who makes something he can call his own. Changing your ideas because of what others around you say is not the work of a creator.