Yasumi Matsuno x Hideo Kojima (1999)

Yasumi Matsuno x Hideo Kojima – 1999 Developer Interview

This short interview from late 1999 finds legendary directors Yasumi Matsuno and Hideo Kojima having a collegial chat about their myriad influences, game design generally, and their impressions of each other’s work. Twenty years later, Kojima remains just as interested in movies, and, as mentioned in the closing of this interview, Matsuno has in fact just created some special online content for FFXIV.

Kojima: I first met Matsuno at the 1998 Tokyo Fantastic International Movie Festival. I was standing in line to see the premiere of Vampires at the Shibuya Parthenon… I was waiting on that spiral staircase there for 8 almost hours. (laughs)

Matsuno: That’s right. I never imagined I’d meet you at a place like that!

Kojima: We talked movies on that staircase for hours. You said you didn’t mind waiting if it was a movie you really wanted to see. I guessed then, that here’s a guy with the same DNA as me. (laughs)

When Ogre Battle came out, I remember thinking “how did he coax such beautiful graphics out of the SNES?” You didn’t rely on hardware tricks, it was more about good direction. I could see then that Matsuno was a capable director: someone who could first envision a game system, then create a scenario that would fit within its bounds, and do it all while utilizing the hardware specs to their fullest.

Even in the era of the Playstation 2, I think that’s still the most important thing: a good sense of direction. I don’t mean it in the cinematic sense per se: game direction is more about creating situations that draw players in emotionally, and about creating atmosphere. I could tell Matsuno was someone who could do that.

Matsuno: Everyone has their own style, I think, and I’m the type of director who wants to oversee and be involved in every little detail. If I’m going to do something, after all, I want to do it right, top to bottom.

It’s still kind of rare, whether you’re talking about a work of “art” or a commercial product, to see the signature of the creator in the work. And in that sense, I think there are very few directors like you in this industry. That’s also why I’ve played every Kojima game from Snatcher onwards.

But the thing is, and I feel this too when I play your games, is that they have a certain “policy” or inner consistency. I’m not saying that your games are direct reflections of your personal life, of course. Games aren’t vehicles for talking about oneself. All your games, however, are suffused with a certain “Kojima taste” that no one else can imitate. That is something to be admired in a creator. Personally, I don’t see myself as a “creator”. I’m a businessman who plans out commercial products.

Yasumi Matsuno’s first game as director, Ogre Battle, praised by Kojima here for it’s tasteful graphics and “direction” (a somewhat vague descriptor for a 16-bit game)

To me it’s only natural, since my work is more about doing all I can to please other people, which sometimes means suppressing my individuality. That is what one is supposed to do with a commercial product—and yet, if that’s ALL you do, it gets boring. Even if it’s just 1%, I’d like to leave something of myself in my games. Your works, Kojima, really give off that aura. There’s a lot for me to learn there.

Kojima: My generation really took a lot from the cinema, and much of that remains an unconscious influence on what we make today. I like to call it our “cinema DNA.” (laughs) Having grown up with movies and their influence, no matter what I attempt to create, that DNA will always make its influence felt and lend to my creations a “cinematic” shape. For those who grew up in the “manga generation”, likewise, all their own art has traces of manga in it. On the other hand, one thing I’m a little worried about today, is that the current generation of young game creators has grown up on video games themselves, and I don’t know if they’ve had time or room to absorb the influence of other arts and mediums.

In my case, it’s not so much that I’m conscious of movies when I create, it’s more that, as a result of having grown up with them, everything I make ends up feeling somewhat like a movie. It’s all stuff I absorbed unconsciously: a sense of what’s “cool”, beautiful framing, stylish lighting… and it’s all influenced me in one way or another. A single work becomes invested with many unconscious strands.

Matsuno: I think the people involved in creative industries today probably share a lot of those same “genes”, whether it’s loving movies, loving manga, or whatever. Even in cinema there are so many genres and directions you can go in, and I think it’s the same for games. With Vagrant Story, I had almost zero involvement in the visual presentation. I left most of it up to Akiyama, but in talking with him, I discovered he loved a lot of the same movies as me. What happens when you work with another human being who has some of those same genes with you? Unconsciously, it brings a feeling of unity to your creation. In that sense—and this isn’t only limited to directing, but also for programming, art design, and music—when building a team, I try to select people who share a lot of things in common. A completed work that has been coordinated in this way has a “special something” that audiences can sense and appreciate. It makes it more interesting.

Kojima, a well-known cinephile (with excellent taste) is seen here with Tetsuo: The Iron Man director Shinya Tsukamoto at the premiere of his 1998 film Bullet Ballet.

Kojima: One thing I don’t like about the game industry right now, is the clumsy addition of CG movies, without any sense of cinema. To the trained eye, it looks so amateurish. But Matsuno, your games don’t feel that way to me. You can tell they’ve been made by a staff with the same superior “genes”, people who properly understand film. And it lends your work an authorial quality.

I mean, you’ve just got a great staff working for you—I’ve never seen a game with beautiful graphics like Vagrant Story. It actually made me look askance at the Metal Gear staff for a minute, wondering if I’d somehow missed some flaw in them. (laughs) But yeah, the free look mode was done so well. It must have been tough to create, right?

Matsuno: Oh, it was. (laughs)

Kojima: I added a camera mode like that in Metal Gear, but all the developers hated it. The programmers, the designers too.

Matsuno: Hah, yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Kojima: Because you have to create polygons for the reverse side of every object, it’s a big gamble. Most games that have amazing graphics use a fixed camera. At first our staff thought Vagrant would also use a completely fixed camera, so everyone was really impressed when they saw the free look mode. To do that kind of thing right, I know it can take 3 or 4 times as much production time. (laughs)

Matsuno: We’ve got a lot of masochists on our staff. It’s when they’re pushed to their limits that they cook up something really tasty. And to extend the metaphor, rather than having an assortment of fresh expensive ingredients, it’s more like they’ll open the fridge, take out the slightly stale salmon and manage to make something delicious out of it. “We can still use this!” Everyone on our team has that disposition.

Kojima: What are you working on next?

Matsuno: As you know, Square has plans for more online games for the PS2, so I’ll be involved in that. They’re going to slowly start making more games that are designed around online features, it seems—though I don’t know the details yet. How about you?

Especially for the PS1 era, it’s easy to see how Kojima would have been wowed by Vagrant Story’s 3D visuals, which featured both thoughtfully directed cutscenes and a freely player-controlled camera.

Kojima: I’ll be working on another game, of course—something “game-y”, in part as a nod to players who have been around since the old days. Also, in terms of something new, I’m thinking it’d be nice to make something that utilizes the PS2’s new DVD capabilities. Something more cinematic, is what I’ll say for now.

Matsuno: I too would like to challenge myself with something new, rather than retread the same old ground just because it’s what people are expecting. That’s why I’m naturally drawn to the new possibilities of online games. I’d like to make something a little different from what people have normally seen in online games, something with a little bit of my own taste mixed in. I can’t really go into any specifics yet, though.

Kojima: I feel like the video game industry right now is in its last year of elementary school. Everyone is aware that next year will be the start of a new experience with middle school, but no one has figured out what school it will be or what it will look like. Through games, we may one day transcend boundaries like race, religion, and so on. Otakus have no nationality after all. (laughs) I mean, you and I could sit here just rattling off movie titles for 3 hours and be totally engrossed. (laughs)

Matsuno: I’ve got the feeling you’re going to make something amazing in the near future.

Kojima: First though, you and I should make a game together for the PS2. Something for the 100% maniacs out there. (laughs)

Matsuno: Yeah, I like that idea! (laughs)

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