When Tetsuya Mizuguchi's original Rez landed at US retailers for the PlayStation 2 in January 2002, it did so with a resounding thud. The uniquely styled abstract rhythm-shooter game sold just over 20,000 copies in the US over its lifetime, despite accolades from numerous reviewers. While the game was gone from store shelves in short order, it was not forgotten. Rez received an award from the Agency for Cultural Affairs Media Art Festival in Japan and became a sought-after piece for collectors.
Now Rez is getting a second chance at commercial success in the US, as Rez HD arrives on the Xbox 360 next week with an asking price of 800 Microsoft points ($10). As its name implies, the game has received an upgrade to high-definition visuals, but it also includes 5.1-channel surround-sound support, a fitting enhancement for the music-centric gameplay.
The rhythm gaming genre has been a frequent area of exploration for Mizuguchi. The Sega veteran and founder of Q Entertainment was the driving force behind Lumines, Meteos, and Space Channel 5. He also was the original designer of the Sega Rally series, collaborated with Phantagram developer Sang Youn Lee for Ninety-Nine Nights on the Xbox 360, and oversaw recent adaptations of the Every Extend and Gunpey series.
This week, Mizuguchi sat down with GameSpot to show off Rez HD and answer a few questions about the project, his career, and how they fit into the changing industry landscape.
GameSpot: A number of Q Entertainment games have been brought to the Xbox Live Arcade now. Why do you think your games are so suited to downloadable distribution, and specifically why Xbox Live?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: I think XBLA is a very good system for customers, the game players, because they can try the game easily. And if you like it, you can download it immediately. Six years ago, with Rez and Space Channel 5, the music action games and rhythm games weren't the mainstream at the time. I think it was a little bit challenging for customers [to understand]. But from my point of view, XBLA is a good fit for challenging games and new experiences. Also, Xbox 360 is high-def, high-resolution graphics and has a very good 5.1 surround system. That's a big point. It's easy to enjoy that kind of experience.
GS: When Lumines Live came out, a lot of gamers were upset with the way it was handled by microtransactions. Some announced features like artist-specific packs and the like never really materialized. Now that it seems to be over and done with, what do you think about how it was handled?
TM: I think the point was not the microtransactions. I think the problem was maybe the price, and people didn't understand how much [the game would cost] in total. The problem was in the communication process. But the situation is changing. It's getting better, and we did get the price down finally. I think Microsoft is making an effort to getting to people and changing the situation so it's getting better and better. I think the concept of Lumines Live was downloading the music like iTunes, so you can customize it with a music video. This is OK I think, but we should change the communication process with the game players.
GS: Having learned from Lumines, do you think you might try downloadable content in some form for E4 or Rez HD?
TM: No, nothing. Rez is Rez. It's kind of "The Complete Rez" to me, so there's no downloadable content.
GS: Are we likely to see more full retail games from you, or are you going to focus on downloadable offerings?
TM: Both. It depends on the game. This kind of music-based downloadable game, a challenging title, I think it fits to XBLA.
GS: You mentioned Space Channel 5. Sega's been revisiting its old licenses with Samba de Amigo, Rez, Golden Axe, and so on. Would you be interested in revisiting Space Channel 5?
TM: Hmmm, that's a good question. I felt that the big reason for Rez HD was because I had a big--not frustration--but difficulties. I wanted to make a gorgeous visual experience, but I had to look at jaggies every day on the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 systems. But that was the limit at the time. Now, there are no jaggies anymore and there's a very good sound system. With Space Channel 5, if I have reason to improve on the HD experience, I will do that. Have you asked Sega? [Laughs.]
GS: As far as rhythm games go, Rock Band and Guitar Hero have been huge in the US lately. What do you think of the instrument-based, toy-guitar games and what they're doing?
TM: I think they're opening up a new frontier, a new door. It's a very good phenomenon. The music-game genre is kind of getting stable, [like everyone is familiar with it]. One of the big reasons for it is technical innovation. About 10 years ago, it was impossible, or very difficult, to create that kind of timing game, or the Rez experience. But now it's getting better and better. Now it's no stress on the current systems.
GS: So if the notion of Rez HD is to get Rez out to everybody, will we see it on the PlayStation Network, the Wii, the PSP, or the DS?
TM: So my aim with Rez was that I wanted everybody to play and have the Rez experience finally. There were many hurdles, and I have to mention the efforts of many journalists explaining about "What is Rez?" for five or six years. And also the Internet environment and the blogs helped. This is just a restart for Rez with the Xbox 360. I'm very aggressive to bring [Rez to] the other platforms after XBLA success.
GS: At what point will you stop bringing the original Rez to other platforms and start doing a sequel?
TM: I also want to have the feedback from the people. I'm ready all the time, I'm always thinking about the future of that kind of experience and what is the next extension of the project. This is kind of a life's work to me.
GS: Some games show their age, but Rez holds up and feels contemporary still. Did you expect it to hold up this well?
TM: Five or six years ago? I needed time I felt for the original concept of Rez to filter through to everyone. But I had a confidence about it. Some people said, "This isn't my kind of game," but some people had a strong opinion that it was a new experience, a new type of game. There was some argument about if it was a game or not. But I wanted to make a new catharsis, not just a game, where the user makes a visual and sound performance. I wanted to present this game at a cheaper price [so people could buy and play it] casually.
GS: Between 99 Nights and working with HexaDrive on Rez HD, you've been open to collaborating with people. Would you think about collaborating with Harmonix on a new rhythm game?
TM: Yeah, it's very exciting. If we had a chance like that, it would be very exciting. I met [Harmonix founder Alex Rigopolous] 12 years ago. I went to Boston to visit him and I had the concept of Rez, so we [did some] brainstorming. He had a project before Frequency, before Amplitude, for Epcot Center. It was a good thing and a very happy thing to see him have a big success. It's a good relationship. Frequency and Rez, I think they've got the same smell.
GS: What else do you see out there that has the same "smell?"
TM: I smell it in some indie games. I get some e-mails from indie creators that say they got inspiration from Rez, and I think that's very nice.
GS: Do you think it's possible for someone unknown to make new games like you used to in today's market?
TM: I think if you could make a Rez-type game on a small budget, it would be possible. But I spent a long, long time to create even a very basic scheme and game design for Rez. Every sound, the music, programming... It took a long, long time to build and crash and build and crash... But we have a very good platform and tools now. The situation in the game industry is getting better. It's not easy to pitch publishers because most of them want the big, easy-to-understand titles now.
GS: Is there anything you've pitched that publishers just would not pick up on and you eventually had to give up on?
TM: [Laughs.] All the time! People always look at things on the surface. Even when I was at Sega, I had to make many, many presentations. It's like [Seattle Mariners star] Ichiro Suzuki; it's impossible to get a hit all the time, but his batting average around .300 makes him a top player. It's all the same. And I always have future ideas in my pocket and I'm thinking about them all the time. But the pitching experience feels like kind of a mission.
GS: Do you feel that your past work may actually work against you, because while they may have been critically acclaimed, games like Rez maybe didn't live up to sales expectations?
TM: It's a factor all the time. I'm expecting to have a very positive reaction from the market with Rez HD. But the trend is always moving. With Lumines on PSP, we made a presentation to almost all of the publishers in the United States. It had a bad reaction from the publishers. They said, "Sorry, there's no market for a puzzle game. There's no market for the music genre. So combining the music and the puzzle... Sorry." Only Ubisoft had an interest, and that was very good timing. After the success of Lumines, everybody said, "A puzzle game and music, what a nice idea! Where's the next one?" But that's the market. That's human. The important thing is to never give up. Never give up.