Tetsuya Mizuguchi takes aim: targets gamers' instincts

From Sega GT to Space Channel 5, one designer takes GDC attendees down the road toward greater creativity.

SAN JOSE--Former Sega producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi gave a fascinating explanation of his ideas today in his game design track lecture at GDC. Citing influences like Marshall McLuhan and abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky, Mizuguchi provided an overview of his work during his 14 years in the game industry and explained the thinking behind his groundbreaking titles Space Channel 5 and Rez.

Mizuguchi noted that when he started working in games, 3D animation wasn't available, and networked games were "unimaginable." Relatively quickly though, real-time 3D rendering changed the industry. Mizuguchi produced a series of racing games, drawing on the then-new technology, in Sega Rally, the motorcycle racing game Manx TT, and then Sega Rally 2. But his experience with these games left him unsatisfied. Though the graphics were getting better, "fun and excitement were lacking," said Mizuguchi. He added, "Video games were becoming more real, but that seemed to be the only thing that evolved."

This feeling inspired his work on Space Channel 5. Mizuguchi described this game as an attempt to present "more drama than possible in an arcade title." He also wanted the game to target women and casual gamers. He cited a section of the stage show "Stomp" as a key influence, specifically describing a "clap-and-response" routine in which a performer clapped rhythms and encouraged the audience to repeat them. The patterns grew more and more complex, and eventually audience members started laughing. Mizuguchi's interpretation revealed to him that this routine created a fun experience without any technology at all--just audience members' memories and reflexes.

Mizuguchi's next problem was adding comedy. Feeling it was difficult to add a comedic element just through music and rhythms, he used a mime to show his staff how to create comedy through character motions.

Where Space Channel 5 was a stylized representation of the world, Mizuguchi's next game, Rez, was abstract. He said, "From ancient times, people performed rituals to put them in a state of trance." He cited raves as modern-day examples of this propensity. The game engages as many senses as possible, not just through music and vision but through tactile feedback, as well as vibrating controllers and the infamous Trance Vibrator.

In conclusion, Mizuguchi commented that human desires can be divided into two categories. There are inherent desires, which are inborn and independent of culture, and there are acquired desires, which are learned from one's surroundings. As an example of this interpretation, he pointed out that Pokemon's global success was driven by its appeal to three inherent desires: collecting, raising, and fighting. No matter how game technology changes, he concluded, games that target these inherent desires will always find an audience.

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