Q&A: Tetsuya Mizuguchi
The Rez creator tells what's holding the Japanese game industry back, why cell phone games are cool, and where his own dreams are taking him.
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Tetsuya Mizuguchi seems to know something about everything. The creator of groundbreaking titles like Rez drops game industry insight, psychological analysis, and philosopher quotes as easily as Space Channel 5 heroine Ulala throws high kicks. The only problem is keeping up. Thanks to our tape recorder and several pages of scrawled notes, we managed it. Read on for our interview with Mizuguchi, held in San Jose on the last day of this year's Game Developers Conference.
GameSpot: There's a lot of interest in what you've been up to lately. Can you tell us how you're spending your days?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: Well, it's been about six months since I left Sega, and I've been looking at a lot of opportunities. I'm in talks with several different groups, but we're not ready to make any announcements yet. I think we'll be able to make an announcement at E3 or maybe next year.
GS: Are you working on opportunities in gaming, or are you looking outside the game industry?
TM: Well, that depends on just how you define "the game industry." But I've been thinking pretty widely about opportunities.
GS: Are you interested in portable devices?
TM: Yes, I think my next game will be for the PSP or Nintendo DS.
GS: Will that be Rez 2?
TM: In my mind, yes. But I won't use the Rez name because that belongs to Sega.
GS: Is it hard for you to be independent in today's game economy?
TM: I don't think so. Now I can work on anything, in any media, with anybody. When I was with [my Sega studio] UGA, if I made a presentation and Sega said "No," then it was over. Now, you know, I can take that presentation somewhere else.
TM: Are you going to start your own company?
TM: Actually, I already have. It's called Q Entertainment, and we just have 10 or 12 employees. I could see getting up to 20 people, but I don't want to get any bigger than that. If I want to make a big game, then I'll try to cooperate with a studio. I think production and design should be separate. For studios to be strong, they need a lot of people and advanced technology. If I had a studio, I'd have to spend all my time managing all those people.
GS: What do you think about the Japanese game development industry? Do you think the current decline in sales is due to the games or to changes in the market itself? Sometimes we feel that modern Japanese games lack soul--they just don't seem original.
TM: That's the truth. Japanese game companies aren't looking for new challenges, and they can't find a new way to do things. I tried a few new approaches at Sega, but nothing changed. The companies are very conservative, and they're not having good sales, which just makes them more conservative--it's a vicious cycle. That conservative mind-set was the biggest reason that I left Sega.
GS: It seems that part of the strategy for many companies is focusing on the US market.
TM: Yes, but I feel a big problem for the Japanese game industry is a lack of communication. Japanese companies don't have the ability to communicate with foreign markets in the US, Europe, or Asia--or at least, that ability is much weaker than it's been in the past. Japanese companies now have the attitude "if we just try hard, we'll be able to sell our games." But in fact, global tastes keep changing, and Japanese companies aren't able to respond to those changes. So Japan's game industry...well, I try to be international, and when I look at the industry in Japan, it's awfully domestic.
GS: At GDC's Game Hotel event on Thursday, you seemed unenthusiastic about cell phone games. Why is that? Aren't these platforms capable of delivering adequate gameplay?
TM: No, not yet. I think in five years or so, cell phones will have completely changed. In fact, in a way, PSP and Nintendo's DS are a prologue. For instance, once people get used to carrying a cell phone, they can't give them up. Think about it: There are people that get rid of their game consoles, but hardly anyone gets rid of their cell phone. It's a very powerful medium because it's tied so closely to human desires: You can communicate with other people anytime, anywhere. A game that takes advantage of that dynamic...well, it's a huge opportunity. There are a lot more cell phones out there than game consoles. There are still issues with sound and display though, so cell phones aren't perfect. I think there will be some convergence--PSP and other portable game devices could become more like phones, or phones could become more like portable game devices. Neither one would surprise me.
GS: How do you think the game industry will change in the next five years?
TM: I have a very optimistic outlook--I think things will be much better than they are now. On a global level, the game industry, or maybe I should say "the interactive industry," will be really strong. On the next consoles, games will approach the graphical quality of movies. Science and AI will have advanced a lot, and the games that take full advantage of this will be really good games. TV will be interactive, and on top of PCs, consoles, and cell phones, that means that anyone involved in interactive entertainment will have too much work to keep up. [Smiles] Or at least that's one way that things could go. But think about it: There aren't any people with interactive experience in television, are there?
GS: You were actually quite expressive at the Game Hotel event. What was on your mind?
TM: When I spoke at the Game Hotel event last night, the thing that I most wanted to convey was that questions like "What are games?" and "What is pop culture?" aren't really important. In the near future, we're going to be in a world where the question is "Is it interactive or noninteractive?" When someone asks you what kind of work you do, you're going to say, "I'm in interactive," or if you do something like making movies, people will say, "Oh, noninteractive, huh? That's kind of rare these days." I feel like the people that make movies and music put them in a box and say, "Go ahead and look, but don't touch." But people that make games are giving you a button and telling you, "Push it." If you can't touch something and have it respond, it's not fun. That's what I wanted people to take away.