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Interview: Goichi Suda - Grasshopper Manufacture

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

Suda51 talks Lollipop Chainsaw, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and what "punk" means to his studio

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!

So, bananas!

(Laughs)

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.

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User Comments (6)

get2sammybAdmin

#1

get2sammyb said:

Haha this is great Jon. Good work. I'm curious: what was Suda actually like?

JonWahlgrenAdmin

#2

JonWahlgren said:

He was super nice and very fun to speak with. He also seemed to think my iPhone case was totally rad, which, you know, it kinda is! I would've loved to speak with him more but some of my allotted time was lost for translation and I had maybe 15 minutes to speak with him anyway. Hopefully I'll catch up to him another time!

JamieOStaff

#3

JamieO said:

I absolutely love this interview, it is fun and quirky and its tone is completely in tune with Goichi Suda's personality. The industry needs more developers with the creativity of Suda51, the way in which he describes prioritising capturing a gamer's attention, by evoking a feeling or an emotion from the player through flamboyancy and style, has led to many memorable games.

I am a huge fan of punk rock music and to see such an independent spirit and a focussed identity in a Japanese developer, with the courage to push boundaries, is admirable. Especially when such an ethos is applied across the board on both a smaller project XBLA Kinect game, or a big budget mutliformat release. I also really enjoy how he embraces popular culture, whether or not through taking inspiration from movies, or music, as indicated here by the use of a band like The Damned, or showing respect towards a Joss Whedon TV show.

I often cite the creativity of Grasshopper Manufacture, alongside Platinum Games, as examples of how Japanese video game developers are as inspirational today as they were in the 'old days'. Gaming needs characters like Suda51: devs that are willing to experiment with style and artistry, especially in a world of safety-net minimal risk sequels and a barrage of holiday season dominating First Person Shooters.

I wish more developers were punks! A completely stellar interview, @JonWahlgren.

theblackdragonAdmin

#4

theblackdragon said:

I wonder if they'll be releasing the soundtrack on iTunes alongside the game — I love love love love MSI, i'd totally spring for it :3

odd69

#5

odd69 said:

I love the "punk" vibe in his games, for me that stands out amongst the others. Im not sold on lolipop chainshaw yet though.

JamieOStaff

#6

JamieO said:

Another part of this interview that I enjoyed was the discussion revolving around the different people Suda would like to work with, it's interesting to hear devs talk about people they admire, who are an influence from different industries, like film and music. I read an Unwinnable.com interview where Goichi Suda was buzzing because the interviewer had a Morrissey button on his lapel, in a similar way to how he admired Jon's Zombowie iPhone case.

A small tidbit that is along these lines, is that back in 2007 Gouichi Suda told IGN that his favourite video game is Out of This World. He reiterated this in a discussion with 1up, where he listed Éric Chahi as one of his favourite game designers.

I think it is cool that Suda has been so heavily inspired by Delphine Software's slick 1991/'92 2D game. It makes complete sense when you consider how Out of This World was brimming with style, creativity and fantastic art design. I think Push Square's @Dazza would like that snippet of information.

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