There's crazy, and then there's Japanese studio Grasshopper Manufacture's particular brand of bonkers, which positively oozes from its upcoming title Lollipop Chainsaw. As the developer braces itself for the June release of its over-the-top teenage bubblegum gore concoction, we caught up with Grasshopper head banana Goichi Suda on the PAX East show floor and lived to tell the tale.
Push Square: GhM has long billed itself as a “video game band” and has become associated with a “punk” styling. What does “punk” mean to Grasshopper?
Suda: The first impressions, the first feelings, the first emotions that will remain in you forever, we call that moment, that feeling, the “punk.”
You have three GhM titles at PAX alone, Diabolical Pitch just released and you have another that you just announced, in addition to Lollipop Chainsaw. As the company grows, are you finding it difficult to maintain a “punk” ethos?
We try to maintain the “punk” ethos in our games whether it they are hardcore, or even the softcore/casual ones. I believe the punk element is in our video games, even if it is a soft (title). Fortunately we maintain a good relationship with the publishers, so I think we’re able to keep that.
Your games have a reputation for being conceptually off the wall, or bananas, or what have you. Is there an invisible line that you look at where, past it, you know is too far out? How do you balance the signature, for lack of a better word, “craziness” that you and GhM are known for versus what you can actually sell to somebody?
As the translator works her magic, confusion arises over use of the word "bananas." I circle my finger around the side of my head and Suda laughs in recognition.
I always think about something that attracts people’s attention. Not all craziness is good.
Oh, bananas! (laughs) I like bananas, maybe? (laughs) I always think about something that attracts people’s attention. Not all craziness is good, so (I aim for) something that attracts people, and people can see that attraction not necessarily as “craziness.”
So for Lollipop Chainsaw, then, where did the concept for the game and main character Juliet Starling come from?
I don’t know why, but out of the blue the image of a cheerleader with a chainsaw came to me came to my mind and I don’t know why, it just happened. I thought it was interesting and that it would be a great hit. I guess the background is that about ten years ago there was a Japanese TV show called “Gori” where the main character, Gorie, is a cheerleader but played by a male comedian. This character was very popular; maybe that image was in my subliminal conscious.
When I first learned of this game I immediately got a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe. I know that you’re a big film buff, so I was wondering what cinematic, television or other influences have you drawn on for this, being a teenage horror movie-type project?
I love Buffy, she is cute and charming. I wanted to create a heroine for Lollipop Chainsaw like Buffy; I wanted to make a pop star in the vein of Buffy. And Buffy’s boyfriend, Angel, was very popular with his own TV show, so I thought we had to have a boyfriend that had similarly strong characteristics, and thats why there’s a Nick. I’m hoping we can make a spin off game about Nick in the future! (laughs)
Lollipop Chainsaw is your first collaboration with someone in the film world. How did you hook up with James Gunn and how has your experience been working with someone from another entertainment industry?
He was recommended by Warner Bros. Working together with him, he is like the top level of the zombie industry, it was a miracle. It’s a great collaboration, and outside of work he fell in love with Lollipop Chainsaw, he became very passionate about it, which helped us create a great game.
When you say Warner Bros. recommended Gunn, does that mean you were looking for someone to collaborate with or did Warner see what you were working on and thought it would be a good fit?
I wasn’t looking particularly, but when working with Warner they suggested a possible collaboration with someone and they came up with James Gunn. We jumped on it because I thought it was interesting; I wanted to have a zombie specialist working with us.
Would the opposite interest you, where you yourself go to another industry for a collaboration in the same vein that Gunn has worked with you?
Yeah, I’d like to try it if the chance is given. That sounds very interesting. These days there are more collaborations with the movie industry, so that sounds fun.
Shadows of the Damned had a track from the band The Damned, and Lollipop Chainsaw includes the talents of Jimmy Urine from Mindless Self Indulgence. Is there a master wishlist somewhere of people you want to work with?
Personally I love Morrissey, I wish I could work with him. That would be great!
Many of the “bigger” games like Lollipop Chainsaw, Shadows of the Damned and No More Heroes feature your name prominently. How involved are you able to get in the creative process nowadays? You haven’t actually been able to direct a game since the original No More Heroes.
That’s right, No More Heroes was the last one I was completely involved with from the beginning as the director. We have had many titles in development at Grasshopper so it’s difficult for me to be involved as director, but in the future I’d like to be involved as director again for work on a smaller team.
So, just announced, what can you tell me about Killer Is Dead?
Please look forward to it! I can’t talk about it much.
Nothing at all?
I’m telling the same to everybody: this will be a very simple story but at the same time is very complicated. It’s contradictive but it’s true. That’s my theme!
Have you got hold of a Wii U development kit yet?
Not right now, no.
Is that something you are looking to get ahold of?
It’s hard to say. Maybe, maybe not. It’s really depending on publishers. We are developers, so it’s up to a publisher.
Thanks to Goichi Suda for his time.