Yuji Horii and Yoshio Kiya were two of the giants of the Japanese RPG world in the 80s. This short but sweet interview offers a candid, broad look at their development process before turning to speculation on the future of RPGs. “Network rpg” is the term they use, but clearly the modern MMORPG is what they had in mind… in 1987!

Dragon Quest II interview
Dragon Quest III interview
Dragon Quest IV interview
Yoshio Kiya interview

Dragon Quest vs. Dragon Slayer – 1987 Developer Interview

with Yuji Horii of Enix and Yoshio Kiya of Nihon Falcom

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Yoshio Kiya in 1987.

Horii: We first started working on Dragon Quest III at a big company retreat in Hakone. That was in January, so I think we’ve spent about 7-8 months on the development so far.

Kiya: In our case, with Sorcerian, its development overlapped with that of Dragon Slayer 4, so combined we’ve been working on them both for about 5 months. We tend to take a long time. The Sorcerian team is 8 people: 4 graphic designers, 3 people working on the the story and scenarios, and one main programmer (me).

Horii: Whoa! You’re the only programmer? It’s the opposite at Enix. We form our “party” with about 20 people. With us it’s like, the scenario is done by me and one assistant, and the other 18 are programmers.

Kiya: I also help out with the scenarios, but the designers tell me I’m more of a devil’s advocate, always offering contrary ideas, “let’s try this here!” I try to stay out of the fine details of the scenarios as much as possible. But with 8 people all working in the same space, everything always turns into a big debate: “it should be like this! no, like this!”

Horii: That happens to us too. We’re always arguing about something. It took us an entire night to decide that your party member’s personalities should be shown to the player. The most recent pandemonium revolved around the Asobinin (goof-off/jester), and what kind of character he should be. By the way, Kiya, what’s your creative process like when making a game?

Kiya: We don’t have a clearly defined process. We start out with what’s possible for us in that moment, then work furiously from there.

Horii: Hmm, yeah, that sounds kind of familiar. At Enix we begin with a general idea of the story. One the gameplay system is decided, everyone starts working like mad on different things.

Kiya: The Dragon Slayer series doesn’t have a connected story, and the gameplay system changes everytime. I don’t like to do the same thing twice. As such, Sorcerian too is going to be an entirely different game from what we’ve done before.

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Yuji Horii promoting DQIII.

Horii: For Dragon Quest III, we’ve added a lot of different gameplay elements that aren’t connected with the main quest. This might make you laugh, but to replace the lottery game from Dragon Quest II, we’ve come up with something that’s even more exciting than a day at the races! And there’s a lot of branching paths… with the memory doubled, we’ve been able to add four times the content. And still it was a challenge to fit everything in.

Kiya: Yeah, for Sorcerian, I’m also creating a multi-story structure, with a variety of quests available at the same time. I don’t see anything wrong with games that you can finish quickly, but I want players to experience the joy of something deeper with Sorcerian. One thing on my mind right now is how to make an RPG without hit points or experience points.

Horii: Right, the term “RPG” has somehow been misunderstood by many of today’s games; they think that increasing your stats is roleplaying. Originally you inhabited the role of another character in an RPG. I mean, game systems where you defeat enemies and collect gold do help sustain players’ interest and ambition, but I feel something is being missed here.

Kiya: Right. In today’s RPGs, once you win the battle, the fun is over. I feel like RPGs need to think of a new game system that brings something new and fun, something more than combat to players.

When I think back on our game Xanadu now, it seems really strange to me. You start off with 100 hit points, but end up with over 6 million! Human beings just don’t change that much, right?

Horii: Well, as I mentioned, the main policy for RPGs should be how to make the player feel like he has become the hero of the game. We could make things more realistic, but in doing so, we might lose half the appeal of the game. Being games, there are some things you just can’t do away with. I want to make RPGs that let players experience new things different from their everyday life.

Kiya: Yes, in the future, RPGs will have to have more than one way to accomplish the main quest. They’ll need to have a more realistic world for players to enjoy, something that will really suck players in.

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Sorcerian and DQIII.

Horii: As for networked RPGs, if we start seeing network RPGs with habitat-like worlds, that would be great. You could be in them 24 hours a day.

Kiya: Yeah, being able to communicate with other players in a chatlog while you play… that would be really addicting.

Horii: Up till now we’ve done our best to program NPCs that appear human, but in a networked game, we wouldn’t have to spend any time doing that, and they’d be guaranteed to be interesting, since they’re real people!

Kiya: It would hugely expand the kinds of roles peopple could play. Maybe you want to play the old guy who runs the inn in that town, or you could run a weapons and armor store. There’d be so much more freedom.

Horii: Yeah, and there would be rivalries between players. They could fight each other, exchange information… it would be great. Now I really want to make a networked RPG!