The Weird History Of Killer7, And Suda51's Love For The GameCube
It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
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First released in 2005, Capcom and Grasshopper Manufacture's Killer7 was widely regarded as the most subversive and bizarre game of its day. Blending on-rail shooter gameplay, adventure-style puzzles and traversal, and an incredibly strange and surreal storyline involving a group of assassins with seemingly multiple-personalities--the game pulled no punches with its incredibly over the top narrative and gory action. Created by Goichi Suda, otherwise known as Suda51, Killer7 has remained one of his most notable titles, and has amassed a cult following since its release on Gamecube and PS2.
While Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda51 have moved on to other games, which includes the No More Heroes series and Let It Die, Killer7's fanbase has kept interest in the game alive--which prompted the developers to remaster the game for modern platforms. Before its fall release on PC, we sat down with Suda51 to talk about the making of Killer7 and played the first mission of the remaster. During our talk, he spoke candidly about what he learned in the years since he created the game, and some of things he hopes could happen with it in the future. The following interview has been edited for readability and brevity, with Suda's responses interpreted through a translator.
What's it like returning to Killer7 after so many years?
SUDA51: It's a really mysterious feeling. A while ago, we redid The Silver Case and in the same way we redid this game in particular, and a lot of those memories and experiences that I had when I was making Killer7 were revived in my mind--and I kind of re-experienced all of that with this game. I remember that this level we're showing here, one of the early stages of the games, had to be redesigned about ten times. The way it worked back then was that they had to kind of do one level at a time--instead of designing much of the game all at once--so we just had to keep plowing through this and remake it until we felt good about it.
How was it working with Capcom on this game? It's a very unusual and surreal game, so I imagine they had some thoughts about what you had created at the time.
Yeah, it was actually a really good relationship because our producer, Shinji Mikami [creator of Resident Evil] said yes to everything. He didn't really say "no" or shoot down anything. One of the good things about working with Mikami-san, for example, like on this level here, was that he taught me more about level design--how fast the character should move, gameplay and all other things--so it was a really good experience. We were given a lot of freedom, but at the same time when we needed him to step in and give us some advice and guidance, he did.
This game was also a part of the experimental set of titles known as the Capcom Five, which included P.N. 03, Viewtiful Joe, the cancelled Dead Phoenix, and of course Resident Evil 4. What was it like working alongside those games while in development on Killer7?
Yeah, just speaking as a player, seeing those other games from the other dev teams at the time was like a 'whoa'-type experience. I'm just extremely gratified that Capcom allowed me to make a game within that community. I remember those times a lot, and it was a really big honor that I felt I had to pay back. I really put my all into into making this game good.
What actually motivated you to bring the original game to new platforms for the remaster?
Well, one thing that I want to point out is that the release on the GameCube version was the original version that they developed. One thing that is apparent before this remaster was that it hasn't been easy for players to experience the game, unless they had copies on GameCube or PS2--because how many people really have those things hooked up at this point? While more people have probably played the game on the PS2, the version that we fully stand behind is the GameCube version. With the remaster, we pulled from the original source on the GameCube, which is the version I want fans to play. I appreciate that the GameCube version was the original version, because it didn't seem like we had a lot of unique games like Killer7 for the GameCube back then. And beyond that, it's finally on something that's kind of more persistent, [the PC marketplace].
So the style of this game is very unique. Not only in terms of visuals, but also in its tone and focus on western media, particularly the surrealist films of David Lynch, by way of an action-thriller from Shane Black. Was that something that was always clear in regards to your vision--in how Killer7 is western media through the lens of a Japanese developer?
Yeah, in regards to Lynch and other action films, absolutely. I'm a huge Lynch fan, and his influence popped up there in some regards, but by the same token, it was really something where back then you really couldn't really make games as freely as you would have wanted to. And so I felt that this was a really big opportunity. And so, as you know, the game has five chapters to it. And it kind of feels like each chapter could practically be a different game--I tried to cram so much into it.
With Killer7, there's this lineup of radically different characters to play as. Is there a particular person in the roster that's your favorite?
Definitely Coyote Smith, His style, his personality, and all his unique characteristics. Unfortunately in the actual game itself, I didn't have a chance to tell all of his story and get everything I wanted to out there, but even still, I obviously know what I created and what is there for him. I just think he's really cool.
It did seem like there were some character that didn't get their full stories told. Were there any characters in particular you wished you had more time with to flesh out more?
Yeah. Well, basically Dan, Harmon, and Garcian's stories are pretty much told within the game. But with that said, everybody else, especially like Coyote and Kaede, I wished I could have told more. Particularly why Kaede has the blood on her dress. There are reasons for that. I didn't have a chance to put that in the game.
So each act of the game brings its own narrative and style, and while they can be seen as stand alone stories, they're all still connected together. Is there a particular one that sticks out for you as your favorite?
Everyone's favorite seems to the Super Sentai parody [in Mission 4, Alter Ego], but the Cloudman act is my favorite. As we were making the game, we always had an idea of where things were gonna go, but we also had to make sure things were still very interesting along the way. We thought about how we planned to keep things varied across all the acts, and how it would all come together in the end. And so that's why you have things like for example in Cloudman, when you have the last boss character, who's the ring leader, you get to understand him more as a character and see things from his particular perspective. Doing that allowed us to let the players basically see what I wanted do with Killer7, to have these characters, and their presence, sort of seep into the players themselves as they were playing it--and leave an impression on them after the game's finish.
That was kind of the goal for making everything different as well as making the balance of the game good to keep people interested in playing more. We tried to keep it fun for a while, but not all the time.
Yeah, the Curtis Blackburn mission was when the game took an even darker turn. While the game was consistent in its violence and mature themes, it was still mostly dorky and tongue-in-cheek. This chapter however seemed like a major shift towards bleak territory--which at the time of its release in 2005 seemed very unusual for games.
Yeah, it was always about trying to strike that balance and keeping things interesting. The chapter before that is like really weird and funny, kinda silly even. Yet in the same way, again, that has to do with messing with the player and how they're feeling--to really shake things up. We all put a lot of energy into making sure that every experience that the player has is different and beyond what came before.
When you look at Killer7 and how it fits into your history of games, it really sticks out as one of the darker stories, especially when compared to the not so serious No More Heroes. Just as an aside, do you think a character like Travis Touchdown would be able to exist--or even survive--in Killer7?
I think fighting these guys might be a little much for Travis. Plus I think the group of assassins wouldn't get along well with him. They might think he's a little annoying. He's a really nostalgic kind of guy, and his personality wouldn't mesh well with these guys.
It seems like you're being nostalgic for this game now.
Yeah, actually seeing this level being played again, I remembered all the work that went into getting this right. Overall, we probably cut half the puzzles from the game. This level is the Fukushima Situation. Within that, half of the map area was cut because otherwise it was too long. We cut about two hours of content from that, map wise. I would have loved to have kept it in. Maybe we could've unlocked the whole thing after, because the whole thing is actually in the game already. All the puzzles. The whole map. It's already in there. It's just that they cut it from a programming perspective and hit it with a flag.
So if someone were to go into the game's files they would be able to unearth all that cut content?
Probably yeah, actually.
Well, looking back on this game, what would you say was one of the biggest successes you found with the game?
Well, what makes me feel good about this game is that it all actually makes sense and that we were able to finish it to completion. It's a really weird game, but because the amount of care we put into every single location you visit and the thought that went into all the characters--how it looks, how it moves, and all of those things down to the minute detail of it--it still looks pretty good, you know? The fact that we were able to finish it, while still putting all that care into each and every scene, is something that I believe is still really good about the game. There's really no other game like this, or at least there wasn't at the time.
While working on this, the staff I was with really didn't really know what they were making. They didn't really get it for a while. There were actually multiple times during the project where I had to ask myself if what we were making was fun, are people gonna like this, or even if this game would even make it at all. And again there came a point when it all kinda clicked for everybody and it was like, yes, we get it. This is fun. You know? But eventually, there came a point where the staff kinda... got it. They all got on the same vector, and then things really picked up. I was very pleased to see it all come together.
Even after all these years, and after you moved on to other games, Killer7 remains a well-liked title. Would you ever consider a revisit to the Killer7 universe in any way?
Well with this game, I put all of my energy into it and I was kind of burnt out a little afterward. Honestly, I feel it's a really complete work as it is, so trying to revisit this and make a world like this again would be really daunting. I'm pretty happy with where things left off with Killer7. I unfortunately don't have the same amount of energy that I had back then to make a sequel or something, I'm too old for that now. Having said that, Capcom owns the rights to this, so if the company should allow it, what I would really like to do is to restore much of the cut stuff in here. I would like to make a more definitive version of the game that restores all the stuff that was cut. That's something I believe I can do.
What's the one thing you want to say to like maybe long time fans of the game?
Speaking to just the old fans, right now, thanks to the indie games movement, I feel this game, as you kind of mentioned, has a lot to offer for people. There's so many indie games that are out there right now doing cutting edge things, and I feel this is the perfect environment for young gamers to come into the medium. For gamers who have never had a chance to play this game before, and for those that I really want to reach with this. To give them an opportunity to play this game. And see what it's all about, and hopefully fall in love with it.