Kan Naitou

getting started

I became a game professional 10 years ago, when I was 15. In elementary school, the games at the game center cost 100 yen, which was very expensive for a kid. But I had heard that if you bought a computer, you could play games at home for free… so my parents bought me a PC6001 computer.

I manually typed in the code from game magazines, and in doing so, I started to make my own modifications and teach myself how to program. In high school I took Electronic Science classes, and I learned that a friend was working part-time making game software. I thought, “If he can do it, so can I! I can make money from making games I like and messing around with computers all day!” And so I joined a game company. That was how it all began for me. Back then you had to make everything yourself in a game. You had to draw the graphics and write the music by yourself.

In my case, I never had any aspirations to become a professional game designer or anything. When I graduated high school I enrolled in college in a major completely unrelated to games. But time passed, and before I knew it, I had become a programmer. I had always loved creating things. In middle school I loved movies, and in a sense making games resembles making movies. Making a whole movie is a huge ordeal, but video games could be created by one person.

I wanted to make Famicom games when I saw how many copies they sold compared to computer games. At the time a computer game that sold well might sell 10,000 copies, but with the Famicom, every game sold at least 300,000 no matter how good or bad it was. I also wanted to experience that satisfaction of seeing your game lined up on the store shelf.

life at Chunsoft

At my company Chunsoft, we’re fortunate to have many people of good character (laughs). Before things get too busy, we go on company trips together to strengthen our solidarity, and de-stress as much as possible.

We also sometimes write plans for new games during these trips. Overall though, we don’t create planning documents for our games. We do have something, usually a copy of the pictures and text we brainstormed on the whiteboard. Whatever’s there becomes our planning docs. (laughs) And it sometimes happens that no one can read or understand what was originally written. (laughs) You know, technical issues, processing speed, and memory all come into play, so sometimes its better not to have a strictly defined planning document so early in the development process.

In any event, these trips are a lot of fun. One time we went to Yomiuri Land and rode the roller coasters early in the morning, and everyone felt sick for the rest of the day. (laughs)

If you release one game per year, it isn’t the case that you’re going to be busy all year-long. It’s the last one or two months that are insane. It’s just like summer vacation homework. (laughs) Towards the end things get so bad you’ll have to stay overnight at the office… there’s just a mountain of work to be done. This needs to be completed… Have to do that too… ahhh!! Can I really do this?! When you’re in that crunch time, you’ve got to try and enjoy it. The last two months are actually the most fun for me.

the life of a programmer

Many programmers have a lot of pride. They’re consummate engineers, people who really grasp the core of things. When a designer says, “Do this”, its quite common for the programmers to shoot back with “No! There’s no time, there’s no memory…” and so on. However, if you want to be a game designer, you need to have the ability to convince the programmers that your idea is correct, even if it’s difficult to implement. If you simply try to appeal to them based on your love of games, they will only get angry.

The ideas you need in order to design a game can come from all over the place. Not just other games, but tv, movies… When you do play other games, thinking about what you’d do differently or improve can also be helpful, and depending on the situation, a deeper analysis of the game can be important.

If you want to be a programmer today, I think learning C is a good idea. Assembly may become obsolete in the near future. And with C, you can program for any computer. More importantly, no matter what language you learn, the algorithms of programming are all the same. Those who learn BASIC can learn Assembly, and those who learn Assembly should be able to learn C easily. No matter how the language is structured, its the algorithms that are important, not the language itself. If you desire a challenge, assembly is fine to start off with too. If you start with a very high level language it may be hard to learn a low level language like assembly, so there’s that advantage too.

With game design, there are going to be parts of a game that planners couldn’t foresee or do themselves, and the programmers must compensate and support them there. There are also ideas that can only be conceived by programmers. If you just program in strict accordance with the original planning documents, you won’t create a good game. Programmers too must be designers. Because ultimately, whether the game is good or not rests on the programmers’ shoulders.

Another thing about programmers is that they are forever chasing the ideal finished product. With Landstalker, even after it was released there were things I was unsatisfied with. You discover these things when you’re in the thick of it, but there’s no time to fix or change it.

I always want to do new things. I want to create something that is my own unique expression. You’re always thinking, “in the next game I’ll improve this.” But I don’t think a 100% perfect form is ever possible.