Rez – 2001 Developer Interview
In this lengthy interview from 2001 (originally featured at the game music column of allabout.co.jp), Rez director Jun Kobayashi discusses the conceptual and aesthetic origins of Rez, including some early ideas involving retro game music that were abandoned. Kobayashi also talks at length about the influence of club music and whether Rez is a “music game.”
Jun Kobayashi - Director
—Who was your target audience for Rez?
Kobayashi: At first, I was thinking of a game for people who liked club music, something they could enjoy without actually going to the club.
However, after mulling it over, we finally decided on targeting people who are new to video games with Rez. I mean people who maybe bought a Playstation 2 and watch DVDs on it, but hardly play any games. Or people who think “games today are too difficult, I can’t play them.”
By the way, I’ve been playing games since the Famicom era, so for most games today I don’t need to read the instruction manual, I can just start playing. That’s all good for people like me who grew up with and experienced the evolution of Famicom, Super Famicom, Sega Saturn, and Playstation… but Rez was aimed at those who don’t have that experience, the kind of people who have just bought a PS2 for the first time. The PS2 may be their first experience with a video game controller, and I wanted to create a game that even those new users could enjoy.
With Famicom games you have a directional pad that moves a character, and when you press a button your character immediately jumps or attacks. I’m very familiar with those kinds of controls. Most games today are released for people like me, who are familiar with those kinds of controls, and developers then try to take that formula further and do more refined things with it.
Consequently, people whose first video game console is the PS2 see these more complex games and have no idea what’s going on. The buttons are too complicated and the appeal of the game is lost on them. Of course with a player like me, I prefer those kinds of games, but with Rez I wanted to immerse new players in a different world: one where a brand new sensation has been added to the traditional formula of “aim and shoot the enemy”-type games.
—What was the origin of the title “Rez”?
Kobayashi: The meaning comes from the verb “resolute”, the moment when sound and visuals are totally synchronized.1
Many people think that the title “Rez” comes from the Underworld song of the same name, and when we decided on the title we too were saying “oh, people are going to think this is from Underworld.” But we all agreed that was no reason to change the name, so we decided to just directly tell people that the Underworld track was also an inspiration for the title. (laughs)
—Was there any reason behind your choice to use wireframe (vector) graphics in Rez?
Kobayashi: We used wireframe graphics simply because I like them. (laughs) I loved those old arcade games like Star Wars and Missile Command—I loved them so much I would steal change from my parents to go play them. (laughs) With today’s modern hardware, I was certain that we could do something even more fantastic with wireframe graphics.
Games today can do 3D rendering easily, and the visuals can look very full-bodied and substantial. I really wanted to take those modern capabilities, but use them in a wireframe game. That was something I kept telling the staff over and over.
—The 1982 Disney film Tron also takes place in a digital wireframe world. I’m guessing you’re a fan?
Kobayashi: Indeed. When I saw Tron I wanted to be a CG designer. Although I make games now. (laughs)
Even today Tron looks great. The other day I watched it with the whole staff. It was the first time I had seen it in awhile, and seeing it made me a little self-conscious about our work. “How could it look this good?” Of course the designs are a little dated, but the visuals are so cool, and look surprisingly good.
—Why did you make the player character in Rez a human body?
Kobayashi: At first the player’s avatar was a mecha-looking plane, but it kept getting lost and blending into the backgrounds. It didn’t work at all.
Another problem with using a plane was that people would see it and default to their prejudices: “oh, it’s one of those kinds of games”… and they’d never even give it a chance, thinking it was a typical STG. Aside from that, we were using wireframe graphics for the backgrounds, and the player ship was causing those backgrounds to lose some of their presence. That was no good, so we changed it to a human body.
In the beginning, I think people who saw the human model felt a little uneasy about it. But to be honest, that was what I intended. I figured that as people played they would get used to it and it would seem normal.
—The player character also can turn into a ball?
Kobayashi: That happens when you devolve, when you’re almost dead. Also, for every 8 blue items you collect your character evolves.
When I first thought up Rez one of the images I had in mind was “fertilization.” That influence shows itself in the player character design.
The world of Rez takes place on the net. The player character is a high-level hacker, whose progression into a higher state of being is represented visually by those transformations. Finally, as he reaches a state approaching enlightenment—a disembodied existence of pure thought that is represented in the final form of the player as “light” or “soul”.
Also, regarding the player transformations, if you enter the third level boss while in the fourth zazen form, you can see a rare animation of the player moving his hands.
—Rez is different from a “music game” though, isn’t it?
Kobayashi: The way I understand it, a “music game” is one where you’ve added an element of gameplay to music. “If you don’t keep hitting this note it’s game over!” — that kind of thing. In that sense, the actual gameplay of Rez isn’t directly connected to the music, so it’s not a music game.
I always thought of the music in Rez as something to get the player excited… of course in other games, music serves a similar purpose, but with Rez I wanted to really emphasize the way music can do that.
In a music game you have to make the right sound at the right time or you lose, right? I wanted to make a game, and it didn’t matter whether it was a STG or FTG, but a game where while you were playing it however you wanted, you’d realize “oh, I’m making music here.”
Even if it doesn’t create actual “music”, I think it’s cool when the sounds of the game get you into your own internal rhythm. I feel like that used to happen a lot with older games. Using the “pyun pyun!” sound effect of a gun, for example, you’d tap out your own rhythm, and it felt cool.
Haven’t you ever been pressing buttons, firing your weapon, and unconsciously fallen into a ryhthm? Like in Xevious when you fire at the bacura enemies. In Rez I wanted to create a game that would encourage that feeling.
—I think game music fans are probably more immediately familiar with FM and PSG sounds.
Kobayashi: Yeah, and we took a chance by not going in that direction.
My very first idea for Rez that you’d control a Space Invaders-looking character, with retro style music in the background. As you played, club music would gradually get layered over the retro music. It would have been like a journey through the evolution of game music.
However, I felt that if the retro sounds weren’t the real thing (actual sampled sounds from the games) then it would be meaningless. Just using similar sounds would have been kind of cloying, and it would have diluted the original idea.
Even still, I thought it would have been amazing if we had been able to use Taito and Namco’s classic sounds from games like Space Invaders and Xevious. Just the game history aspect of it and all. But acquiring the rights was too complicated so I had to abandon that plan.
—You didn’t try to use sounds from Sega’s games?
Kobayashi: No, we didn’t. (laughs) I couldn’t think of any music from Sega’s STGs that really stood out. (laughs)
There’s Space Harrier, but that’s a little different. If it wasn’t those memorable sound effects from classics like Space Invaders and Xevious, I felt it would have been lame. Our producer, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, was also of the same opinion.
—And how did you create the sound effects for Rez, by the way?
Kobayashi: For the most part they were made internally by UGA. They sampled some sounds from popular artists too. The sound effects went through a lot of revisions.
—Why did you choose club music as the basis for Rez?
Kobayashi: Mizuguchi and I both like that kind of music. Mizuguchi likes trance stuff, and I probably incline more towards hip-hop. I guess those two styles are pretty different, but. (laughs)
Either way, we’ve probably both spent the same amount of time at clubs. And we were both right on the same page about one idea: how could we translate that trance-like sensation you get while listening to music in a club into a game? The problem is that being at a club where everyone is dancing, and being home alone playing a game, are two entirely different environments.
Try as they might, human beings can’t resist rhythm—I mean a periodic, repeating “don, don, don, don”… you see it in festivals, for example, where everyone is intoning that “Wasshoi! Wasshoi!” rhythm over and over at the exact same pace. That’s also how people get into that trance-like mind.
I wanted to take that great feeling, that you also experience when dancing and listening to music at a club, and with Rez, allow players to enter the same state of mind when playing the game at home. The music in Rez has the form of club music, but we arranged it specifically for use in a game: the development of the songs, transitions, how long notes right out, etc. All that was worked into a shape suitable for a game.
—”Trance” also seems like a keyword for Rez.
Kobayashi: By listening to something repeated over and over, you get led into your own internal world. That phenomenon has been proved in academic studies as well, and you can read about it on the internet or in books.
“Trance” is linked to shamans and festivals, and also to the rhythm of one’s heartbeat…
Eventually you realize the fact that in all human beings the heart beats at a regular interval, and humans thereby cannot escape rhythm. With Rez my intention was to present that idea to players in a game.
—Did you do any research on the nature of sound, things like waveforms, alpha waves, etc?
Kobayashi: For the sound, if I had to say, we relied more on what sounded good to our ears than any theoretical knowledge. For example, someone might say “this kind of soundwave would be good”, but it’s pointless if it doesn’t actually fit well within the composition.
In terms of theory I did do some research, but the songs weren’t composed by theoretical knowledge of synthesis. Instead, there were a lot of conversations like “I bet this sound would be good here” or “this part should have this kind of texture” or “this needs some more low end.”
Also, you know, when you go to a club and are listening to trance music, there comes a time in the song where you’re like “yes! I’ve got to go out and dance to this!” When you first get to the club you’re just milling about and talking to people, but as you sit there and the music washes over you, there comes that moment where you start to sense something really exciting is about to happen in the song. Then everyone goes out on the dance floor and the club just explodes.
So yeah, I’d say I did more research of that kind. (laughs) Trying to understand what moves people, what feelings get evoked through the music. I was especially interested in the kind of sensations surrounding the transition from presentiment–>explosion. And related to that, I investigated what kind of lighting was appropriate for those moments, and what kinds of colors were used.
So for Rez, I ended up placing more emphasis on how the flow of a song excites people, rather than the specific sounds. How do people get into the groove? That was what I focused more on.
—So were you intentionally trying to appeal to club-goers and the club scene with Rez?
Kobayashi: No, not particularly—I knew very little about techno music. If we’re talking hip hop, I know a bit. But I knew almost nothing about techno, not the roots of its sound or anything.
Until I started making Rez, I thought techno was white people’s music, but it actually has it’s roots in black music. I studied about it while we made Rez. My own musical taste was expanded during Rez, and I came to feel that “hey, techno is really cool too!”
Techno music is ful of moments that are about getting people into the groove. Especially because it has so many repeated rhythms. With hip-hop the focus is more on entertainment. So with Rez, I wasn’t studying the club scene so much as I was trying to understand what techno fundamentally was.
—And rave events like WIRE01 have been actively promoting Rez.
Kobayashi: We didn’t make Rez for club-goers, but I did think that it would be popular with that crowd.
But, unexpectedly, there was more of a response from everyday users, who reacted to the simple “joy of sound.”
I think people who go to clubs have really good ears to begin with, and their whole life is already suffused with music. When they play Rez they probably understand it all too well—”oh, I see what they’re doing!”
But other people’s first reactions were probably more like “Oh, the commercial looks cool” or “This is a STG? But it looks easy.” Then when they play it, I hope it’s like, “oh, this music sounds great. I like this.” If that leads them to check out the artists on the soundtrack like Coldcut and Ken Ishii, then that would be great.
As for club-goers, I think they’re already people with a variety of interests, and there’s a lot of creative types there. So I didn’t really make Rez for them; I wanted to appeal to the average person who wants a glimpse into the club world.
—You worked with the artist Coldcut, who is famous for the way he fuses music and visuals in his work. How did you end up working with him?
Kobayashi: Mizuguchi, the producer of Rez, met with Coldcut in the very beginning. Mizuguchi didn’t get very far before Coldcut stopped him and said: “You don’t need to say anything. What you want to do I already completely understand. It’s how I’ve earned a living for the past 30 years. Say no more!” Coldcut has an incredible wealth of knowledge about how sound and visuals go together, so it took him no time at all to agree.
At first we asked to use his new song Timber, but he was really insistent on writing new music for us, and so he did.
—Ken Ishii also contributed to the music for Rez.
Kobayashi: The first time we met Ken we showed him a version of the game without sound, and he got really interested: “No matter how it turns out as a game, these visuals look awesome! How soon can I start?” Even though he was very busy with his tour, he accepted without any hesitation.
—Were there any other artists who you approached?
Kobayashi: Yeah. Primal Scream, The Chemical Brothers, Junkie XL, Aphex Twin, Underworld, Fatboy Slim, Enigma, and others.
When we showed Aphex Twin the visuals for Rez he got really interested and said he’d do it, but he ended up being too busy with his own new album. The Chemical Brothers also couldn’t contribute for the same reason. We also met with Karl Hyde of Underworld, and he seemed interested too, but similar scheduling conflicts made it impossible.
—I understand the Rez soundtrack is coming out on CD this January 23rd?
Kobayashi: In the game, the player sort of remixes the songs depending on the rhythms he inputs. We used that idea as our foundation when deciding what form the soundtrack songs should take.
A surprising amount of work had to be done on the songs we received from the artist in order to make them fit in the game. Accordingly, for the official soundtrack release we went to each artist and asked them to remix the songs further, into their perfect, final form. So the music will be quite different from what you hear in-game.
—Well, please give a final message to all the new and casual players out there.
Kobayashi: Rez isn’t a difficult game, so please be sure to try it at least once.
As you play this game, you will surely experience rhythms that humans normally don’t create. I know everyone has their own taste with music, but I’m quite sure you’ll find the sensation of Rez unique.
Whether you find that interesting or not, of course, is something for you to decide after. So if you see Rez on display in a store or something, feel free to give it a try. It’s a “relax game” !
—Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for us today!
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He actually uses the English word “resolute” here, but the meaning is a little vague, since resolute actually means to have a firm determination. It could be a typical Japanese misappropriation of an English word, or he could mean something abstract.↩