Yuji Horii

Game Designers and Programming

It seems there are quite a few people out there who think “I just write the stories, so I don’t need to know any programming.” But in reality, a certain degree of programming knowledge is necessary even for non-programmers.

If you brought nothing but your bare story and plans to a game company, its unlikely very much of it could be used.

Nowadays I don’t do the programming myself, but when I first started out I would program everything and bring the completed game to the software publisher. In this way I made Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken and Karuizawa Yuukai Annai all on my own. I did all the graphics as well.

Though I no longer program, even today I still use the knowledge I acquired then; I’m very conscious of the structure and methods of programming when I write a story.

By programmning knowledge, I don’t mean that you have to understand the especially difficult or complex aspects of programming. What is important is to realize that with computers, everything happens because a human ordered it thusly, so it isn’t about thinking up complex things, but rather to what extent you can simplify that which is complex.

Therefore all you need to know is the basics of how programming is done and how programmers think. Though computers may evolve and change, that underlying method of thought will not.

When writing a story for a game, just having a general outline of things won’t suffice. For example, with Dragon Quest, when I first started to think about the screen, I realized a map was needed. When the map was done, I worked on displaying a characters on it. Then I had to decide what their roles were. I had to think of how they moved, and what they would say. Depending on the circumstances of the game I might need to prepare a variety of dialogue for them too.

What I’m trying to say is that as you write your story and build your game’s world, you should think about what elements of the game the programmers will actually have to program. For that, a certain degree of programming knowledge is quite helpful, and I think it will also make for better communication with the programmers themselves.

Becoming a Game Developer

In school, I was very bad at geography and social science. I simply wasn’t very good at remembering things. I didn’t do very well in Japanese class either. However, it was at this time that I really wanted to be a manga artist, and I spent all my time drawing manga. To make the dialogue fit into the small text bubbles, you had to express yourself clearly and succinctly with short words. I think this was a very helpful experience for me.

In college I worked as a freelance writer. Since I thought a computer would help with my work, I bought a PC6001 computer. However, computers at that time didn’t have many capabilities and it wasn’t helpful at all; all I did was play games with it.

Since there weren’t many games out then, I started making my own programs using BASIC and assembly. I enjoyed seeing the computer act according to my instructions. I bought a book on programming, but it was too big and I never felt like reading it. In the beginning I only knew about 4 programming instructions. As I went along I’d encounter something I couldn’t do, then I’d read the book to find the answer, and I’d end up memorizing one new trick… that was how my learning progressed.

At that time, I was doing a game feature for Shonen Jump and I visited Enix to gather materials. While there I ended up applying for a game contest, and that was how I got my start as a game designer.

Dragon Quest

During the development of Dragon Quest, when I first told everyone that the spells would have names like Hoimi and Parupunte, they all went “what!?” and criticized the idea. I reassured them, “Look, its easy to change the names, so just try it out, and if at the end you don’t like these names, we’ll change it back.” As it happened, everyone fell in love with them. “It has to be these names!” (laughs)

Everyone on the development staff loved games and we’d often have heated debates. But because we were all dedicated to making a good game, those debates never turned ugly.

The final stage of game development is always a fight with the available memory. For each game we end up having to remove some number of monsters, and in DQIII we removed an entire town. Making all the NPC dialogue cohere is another challenge, but we somehow manage to get it done.

I always participate in the difficulty balancing. The playtesters give me their reports, then I play up to that point myself to check their comments, adjusting numbers as I go.

To make people happy

Movies, novels, manga, video games: each of them appeal to people in their own way… but they all make people happy. If you want to make games, you can’t simply study computers. The computer is not what you’re addressing; it is the person on the other side of the screen who you’re communicating with. In that sense, my advice to aspiring game designers is to look at the diverse world around you and then think of new ways you can bring people happiness.

Also, when you play games, there will be occasions when you think “oh, I’d do this differently here.” Eventually you’ll have accumulated a great number of such observations, and your work will gradually become more original. Even if your idea is to make a game like Dragon Quest, the experience of adding your own ideas to it will serve as a good object lesson for game development.