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Tetsuya Mizuguchi Q&A

We speak with the designer of the Sega Rally series to get his thoughts on the public perception of United Game Artists, the success of Space Channel 5, his hopes for Rez, and the state of the video game industry.


Tetsuya Mizuguchi's United Game Artists has become known as a developer of some of the most stylish games to ever hit consoles. The team first made a name for itself with Space Channel 5, a dance and rhythm game for the Dreamcast that was praised for its eye-catching style. Following Sega's shift to third-party development and publishing, UGA's development focus expanded, resulting in the company developing titles for the PlayStation 2 and the Dreamcast. With its two most recent titles, Rez and Space Channel 5 Part 2, UGA has continued to refine its approach to mixing unique art styles with accessible gameplay. We caught up with Tetsuya Mizuguchi last week to talk with him about Space Channel 5, other UGA games, and the industry as a whole.

GameSpot: How do you feel about the way Space Channel 5 Part 2 turned out?

Tetsuya Mizuguchi: I think it turned out very well. The game reviews in Japan have been very positive. The average has been around a 9. Famitsu even gave it a Platinum award. In the first week alone it sold around 50,000 copies in Japan. And usually after the first week or two, sales drop off dramatically, but it's pretty much stayed consistent. I think the game may have some legs on it, and it should have a long run.

GS: Was there anything you would have liked to have added to the game but couldn't?

TM: In terms of a music rhythm game, I think I accomplished everything that I wanted to do with that kind of gameplay. If I were to continue the Space Channel series, it would probably change very dramatically. The gameplay would probably do a 180 and maybe even become an adventure game of sorts. So I'm trying to think of what else to do with the series rather than just continue on the same path, because I feel I've done all I can with a rhythm game

GS: So you do want to continue it, right?

TM: Yes, I'd like to.

GS: How do you feel Rez turned out?

TM: In terms of the way it was accepted by the public, I was a little surprised by its reception in Japan. I thought it was going to sell better there. But the market I was really aiming for was Europe because of the heavy techno culture that's there. It's only been on sale there for about a month now, so it's still too early to really see if it's going to get entrenched in the culture and the gaming market. In about two to three months I'll know about sales and the saturation of the market. As for the game itself, this is just the starting line for what I want to achieve. It's barely scratching the tip of the iceberg of all the different ideas that I had.

GS: So the game concept is something you'd like to develop further?

TM: I want to make something that's more dramatic, more involving, with visuals that will dazzle you. In terms of gameplay, there's a mountain of stuff that I still want to try and implement.

GS: Are you comfortable with the rail-shooter approach, or is that something you want to change or expand on?

TM: I haven't thought of it in too much detail just yet. There are many ways we can evolve this type of project. What I'm really waiting for is to see how Europe accepts this game and to see their input before I decide what to do next. On the other hand, I'm also considering doing something that would appeal more to the American market--trying to see what kinds of games Americans would want to play and then developing around that. I get a lot of e-mails from America telling me Rez is a great game and stuff like that. So I know that people who love the game in America really love it. There are people who understand the game. Other people have a hard time enjoying the game because it doesn't click for them and they don't get it. So I want to find that thing that will appeal to more than just the hard-core contingent.

GS: With the way things have changed in the industry, is it coming to a point where sales performance might start to affect how you feel about developing a particular game?

TM: Of course. [laughs]

GS: What do you think of the industry climate? It seems to be a very unfriendly place for new ideas and more open to cookie-cutter games.

TM: I think you're hitting on a global phenomenon that sees gameplay becoming very conservative. People are going for the meat and potatoes, going back to what's proven to be fun and not too innovative. I don't know the exact reason, but my feeling is that there've been a lot of people who have tried something different and it's ended up not being fun, so they've been burned by a few purchases. So everyone wants to stick to what they know is fun so they can get their money's worth. It's going to be hard to change that mentality.

GS: How does a company like UGA stay true to its creative roots? Are you going to have to do another Sega Rally game to pay the bills and fund the original games?

TM: Well, the Japanese market is very conservative in terms of what games they buy. But in terms of selling games, it's really a matter of targeting the correct market for each game. In terms of Rez, while it's not selling too well in America, it did moderately well in Japan, and I feel it will do well in Europe. Not all developers go for that million-seller--you know, to make the big bucks. But if a game is well designed and at least moderately well received, it's not too hard to recoup the costs, and that's what keeps most companies afloat. In terms of Space Channel 5 Part 2, I feel in the end it will probably sell about 200,000 units in Japan and that will put the word out enough for it. User satisfaction is pretty high. We also have Ulala on J-Phone in Japan, and there are 2 million users for that. So the popularity keeps growing and that will keep a safe user base for UGA in that respect. You can't always go for the big hits every time, but I want to try and go for that big killer app, so I'm mulling over ideas right now. But, in terms of sales, we do enough to get by.

GS: Given the current state of the market, that killer app might have to be a very conventional game. Do you still have one of those in you?

TM: Well, I don't really want to make a conventional, conservative type of game. I still want to push the envelope, but, like you said earlier, the whole image of UGA lately has been that we make artsy type games like Rez and Space Channel 5. And that actually wasn't intentional on our part. We just happen to create games like this because we're trying to find the core of what makes games fun and we're at a point where we're trying to decide what is appealing about games. Rather than aiming for a game that's a guaranteed million-seller like a Metal Gear or something like that, we want to make a game that's accessible to a large audience. A game that a large audience can look at and say, "Hey that looks like fun." Kids, adults, anyone--everyone should be able to look at it and pick it up and enjoy it immediately. If a game is enjoyable it will sell.

GS: Is there anything on the market right now that interests you?

TM: I really like Onimusha. The graphics are great, and there's a strong story there. One thing I really like is the concept that, when you kill someone, his or her spirit remains. Even though you're eating the spirit, it kind of shows hope that there's life beyond death. I feel that that concept and the drama behind the game is very interesting to me.

GS: Would you ever consider doing something on a portable system like the Game Boy Advance?

TM: Nothing that we've announced yet.

GS: Is Space Channel 5 Part 2 coming to the US?

TM: Nothing's been decided yet.

GS: Thank you for your time.

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